The longstanding war between local governments and land developers is heating up in preparation for the opening next month of the 1981 session of the Virginia General Assembly.
On one side stands a coalition of three county governments -- Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun -- that want more power to control the pace of growth in suburban areas and to get more money from the state, primarily to repair and maintain local roads.
Their opponents are developers, who for the past decade have successfully fought governmental zoning and land use laws that would require them to help build and improve local roads.
Local officials brought their concerns to a House subcommittee hearing last week in Manassas.
"We're in trouble and I'm here to tell you we need help," said T. A. Emerson, an attorney for Prince William County who testified at the hearing.
For years, local governing bodies have required that developers improve or build roads leading to and from their developments. But in 1979, a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court (known as the Hylton decision) found that local governments can require builders to pay for roads only within the subdivisions, not for roads leading to or from the development.
The court decision has left Fairfax County with $600 million less than it needs to bring its secondary roads up to state standards, according to Fairfax Supervisor James M. Scott, who represents the Providence District.
Prince William officials say they need $350 million to fix their roads. "But we only have a budget of $2 million a year for road repair," said county attorney Emerson.
To ease their problems, Scott said, "We generally want more authority (from the General Assembly) to tie public facilities to growth. We are not trying to stop growth. We're just trying to to keep it from overwhelming us, particularly in the transportation field."
Del. Gladys Keating, from southern Fairfax County's 19th District, said her Cities, Counties and Towns Committee is looking at several possible solutions to the funding crunch. One involves increasing the state income tax by 1 percent and another would raise the state gasoline tax.
In addition, Scott said Fairfax County is considering a plan to finance road repairs through revenue generated from bond sales. However, Fairfax County voters have consistently rejected expensive bond issues for public improvements.
John Walvius, a vice president for Hylton Enterprises, however, warned against what he called the "scary proposition" of local solutions to a "statewide problem." Walvius said builders "strenuously oppose" a growth policy tied strictly to the timing of a developer's plans.
From the builder's point of view, Walvius said, "The fact is that we have thousands of people in this area who need housing and someone has to provide it for them."
Some officials contended one problem compounding the local governments' budget pinch is a financially strapped Department of Highways and Transportation, a state department some officials say is nearing bankruptcy.
"The judges have said the highway department has to pay for roads and they don't have any money," said Frank Raphlo, a Loudoun County supervisor. t"The issue is public services and who is going to provide them."
Several local government officials testified at the hearing in Manassas last week that local governments need rapid assistance from state lawmakers because the localities already have approved thousands of building permits, some in densely populated areas, but they don't have the money to provide services for new residents.
Said Keating, "County boards are afraid they are going to be taken to court if they deny zoning requests. They want specific language in the state code so they can do the most for the property owner and the private sector outside of court. Our road situation is really terrible. I'm talking about the Braddock and Keene Mill roads that are already choking everybody. We're trying to find out who pays and right now the state is not living up to its responsibility."
Keating said her committee's next meeting will be Jan. 6 in Virginia Beach. "Then we will consider the legislative possibilities, one of which is setting up a commission to handle this. We don't want to create some hasty legislation that will make things even worse instead of improving them," she said.