"We've had so many battles here in McLean we ought to qualify for historic status," said Lilla Richards, vice president of the McLean Citizens Association.
But the battles Richards was referring to have nothing to do with military engagements. They're modern. ongoing battles and the adversaries usually have been the McLean Citizens Association versus local landowners and developers. The ammunition had been legal, economic and political, and the war, so far, looks like it's a draw.
The McLean Citizens Association, a 480-member body representing 34 separate subdivisions, started life 60 years ago with the quaint name of the McLean School and Civic League." Over the years it's done its share of planting trees, donating memorial plaques and lobbying for traffic lights and parks. But recently, the organization has been deeply concerned with controlling the effects on McLean of the burgeoning development in northern and western Fairfax County.
"We don't want to become another Tryson's Corner," said Willian Stell, MCA president and a local McLean businessman.
"So we keep an eye on all applications foe zoning or rezoning that come to the county. And there are numerous applications now," said Stell. "The halt in construction due to the sewer moratorium and other measures the county took to slow growth has now broken loose."
In McLean, the pressures for growth exert themselves strongest in the central business district - that 270-acre web of streets, gas stations, parking lots, vacant land and shops that spreads out in quadrants from the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Boulevard.
Pressures to expand the central business district, or CBD as it's known in planning jargon, and to allow more dense development within it are constant.
The area now looks like an overprosperous country town - streets intersecting every which way, small brick houses next door to gas staions. It's anything but urban, and the citizens association wants to keep it that way.
"People around here see McLean as the place they go to the doctor, the dentist, the cleaners, and dancing lessons," said Richards. They want to be able to drive there with ease and park free, said Richards.
The MCA's planning and zoning committee, headed by Richards, checks every rezoning request that comes into the county.
"If a rezoning request falls within the PLUS plan (the county's comphrehensive land use plan), we normally approve it," explained Stell. "If not, then we testify to that effect before the zoning body of the Planning Commission."
The PLUS plan for McLean's central business district was developed largely by area citizens, under the direction of Maya Huber, a MCA board member. It calls for a low density, low rise central business district, limiting the population of the one-half square mile area to 5,000.
For landowners in the area, the PLUS plan is an anathema, since, if it is followed, it deprives them of the opportunity to sell their land at top dollar for high-rise, high-density building. While the bog money moves west to Tryson's McLean business district landowners are left holding small pptatpes.
The McLean Landowners Association had fought tooth and nail to have the PLUS central business district plan chucked out in favor of a new scheme, which the landowners hope will recommend more development. So far they're managed to get the County Board to hold a public hearing on whether there will bw a new study. The hearing date is July 5, at 7:30 p.m.
"When the CBD plan was developed, they really didn't consider economics," said Melinda Rhinchart, president of the landowners association. "A plan for a business district needs an economic basis. We want a viable McLean. Unless you have adequate density, you'll have decay," said Rhinehart. "The MCA wants to keep an invalid alive."
But the MCA looks on its community as anything but an invalid. McLean is known nationwide as a good address, smacking of mansions, sweeping lawns and the good life. Even if they live in more modest houses, McLean residents represented by the MCA don't want in their community the kind of intense development they see happening at Tryson's and Bailey's Cross-roads.
Recently in their efforts to contain it, the MCA has run a foul of its own representative on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, John P. Shacochis (R-Dranesville), who is past president of the organization.
It was Shacohis who moved to holf a public hearing on a new scheme for the central business district when the association wanted the hearing idea killed. "Let us say we have less cordial relations with Mr. Shacohis than you would expect us to with a former president," said Stell.
Shacochis says in the CBD dispute he is simply trying to get at a viable plan which will be best for everyone. "I'm not saying the present PLUS plan is good or bab. It just needs an outsider to look at it," he said.
Shacochis has suggested that any new plan be drawn up by outside planning consultants, a position the citizens who devised the PLUS plan consider a slap in the face.
In another matte where Shacochis and the MCA are at loggerheads - the widening of Great Falls Road. The Supervisor contends that widening the road is the only safe thing to do. The MCA, while it acknowledges the dangers in the winding two-lane road, wants to see Great Falls Road improved but retained as a two-lane thoroughfare. A four-lane road, they fear, would become a major commuter route. But Virginia Department of Highway's policy prohibits improving a two-lane road without widening it to four. So that matter has yet to be resolved.
Rochards and Stell are eager to point out that the McLean Citizens Association is not just a nay-sayer organization.
Of the 28 resoning cases involving the McLean Planning District presented during the past 14 months, the association opposed nine. Three of those were later withdrawn. The MCA gave its support to the remaining 19. Twelve of those gained favor from the group after developers made significant design and density changes.
Negotiations between the MCA and developers can be quite involved.
For instance, when the Beatty Elmore development group sought to build a 30-unit-per-acre mixed use facility on Elm Street, the MCA planning and zoning committee negotiated with them to provide a connector street and a pedestrian walkway. That development is due to begin construction soon.
Meanwhile the MCA has successfully fought off a nine-story office building further along Elm Street near Chain Bridge Road.
The association has the reputation of being a tough adversary. Its leaders, like Stell, Huber, and Richards, are known for doing their homework and arguing both cogently and cooly.
This winter Richards and Huber, who both headed county PLUS task forces, came under attack as "mere housewives" from PLUS opponents.
So Richards appeared at a February Planning Commission meeting sporting a tag which said "Mere McLean Housewife." At the next she trotted out another. It said, "Housewives do it Better."