A proposed Fairfax County Charter, approved by a county legislative committee this week, leaves the door open for the community of Reston to become a town if sufficient support can be mustered in Richmond when the matter comes up before the Virginia General Assembly in 1979.
The charter draft also would leave the way open for other densely populated areas of the county, such as McLean and Burke, to pursue the town status through the General Assembly.
The question of town status is likely to produce heated controversy when the charter is considered by the County Board of Supervisors Monday. The board plans to debate and approve any charter draft before it is submitted to the General Assembly in January.
When the legislative committee met this week to consider the draft, county staff members presented several options designed to deal with areas which might want their own local governments.
Among the options: community service districts, which would be arms of the county designed to finance specific services not provided by the county; townships, which would be separate political bodies within the county, but would require approval from the board of supervisors for any local ordinances or tax levies, and limited town status only for Reston, which would allow it to operate as a town under Virginia law, without the power to become a city or to annex any surrounding territory. A fourth proposal would allow any community to seek special town status.
Instead of supporting any of the options, the committee decided, by a 4-to-2 vote, that the charter should remain silent on the whole matter, thereby letting Reston gain town status (if the citizens vote to go that route) through House Bill 34, which was introduced and passed last year but must be re-enacted in 1979. If passed, HB 34 would give Reston the same limited town status as proposed by county staff members.
The legislative committee has been grappling for some time with the problem of how to allow Reston some kind of limited town status, if it wishes, without setting a precedent that would allow other communities to follow suit and nibble away at the county's jurisdiction.
However, according to committee chairman Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D - Fairfax), the charter, by remaining silent on the matter, will set dangerous precedents.
"I'm not sure the county should lay itself open for the potential of municipal chicken pox breaking out on the whole county," said Gartlan.
"I don't see what's so bad about municipal chicken pox, or community government," replied Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D), who represents Loudoun County and part of Fairfax County, including Reston. "Is it really fair for Reston to have gone to all this trouble to get a legislative consideration of town status and then have that right taken away (by prohibitive language in the charter)?"
Gartlan said later he believes the threat of areas inside the county becoming towns would make the county's planning process more difficult.
"Also there are economies of scale that cannot be met by smaller entities," he added. "And it's difficult to establish whether or not a town can provide for itself."
In Virginia, towns remain under county jurisdiction for real estate taxing purposes, but may also levy their own real estate and business taxes and control zoning within the town limits. Residents pay both county and town taxes. In addition, towns may contract with the county for some services. By contrast, counties have no jurisdiction over cities.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Herrity, who serves on the legislative committee, said he is opposed to incorporation of any county area not already a town or city.
"I don't feel the committee has done its job in this respect," he said. "I'm not opposed to a provision for local communities, either as community service districts must be spelled out."
"Unless there's a provision allowing local governments, I'm not going to support this charter," said Del. Raymond E. Vickery (D - Fairfax), who introduced HB 34 and represents Reston.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote next week on a final draft to submit to the legislature. An approved draft would be sent to Richmond to be introduced in the General Assembly no later than Jan. 12, according to Gartlan. A two-thirds majority in both chambers would be required for approval.
In Virginia, charters are usually held by cities and towns. Charters define the structure of local governments, bestow police powers, spell out relationships between departments, regulate how boards and authorities operate and delineate the jurisdictions' financial structures - among other things.
Aside from the flexibility a charter gives a jurisdiction, it can also protect the locality from annexation by adjoining cities. Language in the Fairfax charter draft would prohibit annexation of any portion of the county by any city.
The charter, however, would allow annexation of parts of the county by towns such as Vienna and Herndon and would allow those towns to become cities, subject to legislative approval. Herndon has never annexed part of the county. Vienna annexed three square miles in 1956.