When the board of trustees of Fairfax County's Burke Centre dissolved its swimming pool task force last week, angry residents of the planned community reacted as though the Soviet Union had just stepped on Solidarity.
"What they're trying to do is squash any opposition," said resident Ellen Penar.
The task force dispute was only the latest in a series debates that has disrupted the polite suburban democracy of this 4,000-family new town development in southwest Fairfax. At stake is the shape of the still-uncompleted town, as the controversy has pitted cluster residents against their cluster chairmen, cluster chairmen against their board of trustees, and county supervisors against other county supervisors.
"We've been accused of Gestapo tactics and they've been accused of speaking without representing the community. So fine, touche," said Linda M. Stalvey, one of four elected trustees and a leader of one faction. "When people bought into Burke Centre they thought they were buying into utopia, and now they see it isn't."
The partnership that created Burke Centre, which includes three of Northern Virginia's most influential developers, wants to build more single-family town houses instead of the large number of stores and mix of housing that would include apartments that it originally promised.
The proposed changes touch on the issues that most stir hearts in Fairfax: schools, traffic and the specter of public housing and even swimming pools, which is why the pool task force met an early end. It is dissolved after its members complained that the proposed changes would mean too many houses per swimming pool.
The Fairfax Board of Supervisors turned down the developers' request by a 5-to-4 vote on Monday, but some residents, including Stalvey, are circulating a petition urging the board to reconsider next week.
Supervisor Marie Travesky, whose Springfield District includes most of Burke Centre, is lined up against her fellow Republican but frequent opponent John F. Herrity, who represented Springfield before his election as board chairman.
Travesky supports the plan amendment and said most Burke Centre residents do not want major retail or apartment development, which would disrupt the neighborhood. After the board vote Monday, she sent a transcript of the discussion to chairmen of each Burke cluster, or neighborhood.
"I urge you to carefully read the transcript," Travesky said, naming the supervisors on each side of the issue. I will volunteer to testify in court should the partnership desire to choose that route for the plan amendment."
One day later, Herrity released a statement indirectly criticizing the developers for threatening to build 1,000 units of subsidized housing if the community plan was not changed.
"I am quite concerned about the rampant rumors and innuendos of massive public housing invading the Burke Centre community," Herrity wrote. "There is no way the board of supervisors would allow that number of subsidized units in any community in the county."
John T. (Til) Hazel Jr., who with Milton V. Peterson and Arlington apartment king Giuseppe Cecchi developed Burke Centre, had said the partners would need government subsidies in the sluggish economic climate to build the 1,000 apartments they had promised under the present plan. Under the law, Hazel said 20 percent of those units would have to be set aside for low-income families.
A housing authority spokeswoman said, however, that any new subsidies would have to be first approved by the county supervisors, and Penar said the developers were trying to scare residents with the threat of public housing into supporting the amendment they want.
"People are starting to feel this is being rammed down their throats by the developers and some of the elected trustees, and they're starting to wonder why," she said.
Opponents of the change to allow mostly single-family homes fall into three groups: Those who want more swimming pools and community centers, those who fear the new plan would increase the number of children in the already crowded local schools and those who want to preserve the varied housing mix.
Proponents of more single-family homes and less commercial development said most residents no longer want stores and apartment buildings near their homes. They also say traffic would be snarled with the construction of apartments and stores.
Plan opponents also accused the developers of wanting a change because they can develop homes faster than a shopping center and apartments. "What they really want is the increased profits which town house zoning will bring," said Al Mannato, a lawyer who lives in Burke Centre.
But Stalvey said most residents unfairly mistrust the developers. "A lot of people have tried to paint them with black hats," she said. "Well, obviously they're not developing Burke Centre as a charity case. But I think they're doing a good job. They're very concerned about the community."