Stafford County, Va., is so rural that there isn't a drugstore in all of its 250 square miles. Long-time residents like it that way.
But a wave of newcomers, creeping slowly southward from metropolitan Washington in search of lower taxes and bargain-priced homes, already is changing the country character of Stafford County.
County officials, admittedly caught unawave that suburban sprawl had advanced so far so fast, acknowledge that drugstores-and a lot more-are about to burst on their largely unprepared locality.
Like Fairfax County to the north, where many a farm vanished quickly in the development and growth oof the 1960s, the signs of change are already visible in this area 50 miles down Interstate Rte. 95 from the Nation's Capital:
The county's population has doublea to 40,000 in seven years;
Juvenile complaints have shot up. Families in which both parents make the long commute to and from the Washington area each day cited as a factor;
Several secondary roads have buckled under the stress of increased traffic loads;
The county has been forced to begin work on a second high school to alleviate overcrowding, and two elementary schools are needed "as fast as we can build them" said one county supervisor;
Homebuyers' complaints have multiplied in the wake of shoddy workmanship, lax county building codes and a vastly undermanned county inspection force;
The county's supervisors, the target of growth-related demands rushing in from all directions, are being forced to reassess both methods and philosophical preferences. "Damned if the whole county isn't going communnist," grumbled one frustrated board member.
"It's all come so quickly, it's been a hell of a shock to the system," said George Smerigan, Stafford's zoning and planning administrator and a key figure in the county's battle to get a grip on its problems.
"We just can't build the houses fast enough. And gas prices don't make a difference. The cost of buying that same home in Fairfax and carrying it with taxes more than makes up the difference."
The scope of the housing problem is enormous from the county's view-point. More than 1,200 building permits were issued last year and, with only four housing inspector on the county payroll, officials concede the county has "aided and abetted" the conditions homebuyers complain of.
"We have four men who have to do everything, electrical, framing, plumbing, heating," said chief building inspector Ira Boutchyard. "One man will have to check more than 20 permits every day. He's got to make a mistake once in a while."
The county has not succeeded in channeling the growth, much less slowing it. Although Stafford adopted a comprehensive development plan in 1975, the plan only recommended-it did not require-that new construction occur around existing sewer plants in the northern and southern ends of the county.
County officials now acknowledge that those efforts have failed with subdivisions using private septic systems and wells scattering development throughtout the rural areas of the county.
These boom conditions in Stafford's housing industry have led to numerous complaints by homebuyers, not all of whom have a way to gain quick legal relief.
"The country' wide open-it's one of the few remaining places where you can still pay $33,000 and get a home on one acre," said Larry Jones, a former Hyattsville resident who moved his family to the Mine Ridge subdivision in southern Stafford last year.
Jones came to Stafford because, he said, "the cost of housing was just too prohibitive in Prince George's County." But Jones soon found his $32,000 colonial-front house on a quiet, winding lane just north of the Rappahannock River to be "something of a mistake."
"The roof shingles flew off last year," he said. "The colums on the front of my house are not plumb and the only road into my property is rapidly deteriorating. This county is a great place to live in, but I feel a litel shortchanged by what's happening here."
In Aquia Harbor, the county's highest-priced development, the ceiling in the foyer of Joseph and Kay Brown's-appeared before the board of supervisors to complain about the shoddy construction and lack of official supervision given builders.
As a result, supervisor James M. Winkler, who represents the Aquia Harbor district, introduced legislation similar to existing laws in Fairfax and Prince William countries for tighter licensing and bonding of contractors.
Winkler's bill also would require closer inspections of all phases of building and routine spot checks of building sites by county inspectors.
Winkler's proposal won plaudits from local businessmen and newcomers eager for better services. But the measure was tabled, at least until May, after several long-time residents complained that their relatively unencumbered way of life was slipping away into a maze of bureaucratic red tape.
Supervisor George Embrey called instead for a moratorium on building in the northern end of the county, where growth is having its strongest impact.
"All this bill is going to do is cut the small businessman out and put it into the big man's hands." Embrey said.
"I'll be damned if the county isn't going communist. In the past year we've passed so many new laws that soon we'll need a permit to go to the bathroom." CAPTION: Picture, Supervisor James Winkler wants tight contractor law. By Linda Wheeler-The Washington Post