Republican Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity plans to ask the Board of Supervisors today to claim the authority to review and approve all future public housing projects in the county in an attempt to win control over the county's housing authority.
In addition, Supervisor Thomas M. Davis, also a Republican, plans to ask the board to require that, in the future, all sales contracts disclose to prospective buyers any public housing that is planned for that particular development.
"It's not something I plan to make into a campaign issue," said Herrity. " This is not a Democrats-versus-Republicans thing." He said he wants to get the housing authority under control. He compared the authority to a "loose cannon on the deck," calling it "inept, arrogant, overbearing and insensitive."
There is, however, a dispute about whether the board has the legal authority to actually kill a public housing project, or whether it can merely review a project and give its recommendations to the housing authority, as authority officials argue.
Nonetheless, public housing has been a political hot potato since the Fairfax Redevelopment and Housing Authority was created in 1965 to finance low- and moderate-income housing construction in the county and many politicians expect it to be an issue in this fall's county elections. The most recent flap revolves around a public housing project planned for the Circle Woods subdivision, located between Fairfax City and Vienna off Lee Highway (Rte. 29-211.)
Most of the residents were unaware when they purchased their Circle Woods town houses for between $70,000 to $95,000 that the development had been designated for public housing since 1976.
Homeowners are upset that they were not informed of the plans by the developer, and that the hous- ing authority wants the public housing tenants to be able to use the swimming pool and tennis courts.
In a stormy meeting last month with Democratic Supervisor James Scott, who represents the area, residents of the development let it be known they would work to get Scott defeated unless he helped stop the project. Scott, a longtime supporter of public housing, refused.
At a recent meeting to plan for the upcoming elections, county Democrats spent much of the time discussing the housing controversy and their fears that the Republicans had adopted public housing as a campaign issue. The Democrats concluded there was little they could do to turn the issue to their favor.
The housing authority, whose officials declined comment on Herrity's recent remarks, has been a source of irritation to the board since its creation was approved by voters in a 1965 referendum by a 120-vote margin.
The housing authority funds its activities through bonds, removing the board's control over its budget, and the authority can take part in numerous housing and community development projects without prior board approval.
Before the 1965 referendum, the county distributed material informing voters that the board would approve the amount, type and location of all public housing, Herrity said.
He said his proposal would merely enact what was promised to the voters, although he acknowledged that the statements in the pamphlets are not legally binding.
Last month, the Circle Woods residents asked Scott to request that the board hold a hearing on the project.
Scott refused, arguing that the board had already considered the matter when it approved the developer's rezoning request in 1976.
At that time, the board agreed to the developer's town house rezoning proposal on the condition that public housing be provided.
But the residents felt that another board hearing is needed, and Herrity agreed. "We hold public hearings on everything from soup to nuts," he said.
Pointing to the Circle Woods controversy, Davis, who represents the nearby Mason District, said a county ordinance is needed to require developers to disclose on sales contracts any public housing plans. "It is not unreasonable to ask that buyers be informed of this," he said.
In 1979, the board passed an ordinance--referred to as "The Bill of Particulars"--designed to inform prospective buyers of any type of public housing or public development planned near their area. But developers fought the ordinance in court, where it was struck down.
The court ruled that the county had overstepped its authority. Because his proposal is much more specific, dealing only with public housing, Davis said the board has the authority to impose the requirement.
"No one can argue that it is unreasonable," he said.