Fairfax County developers John T. Hazel Jr. and Milton V. Peterson have agreed to allow the county to delay a decision on a controversial zoning application in the Fair Oaks Mall area, presumably until after the November elections.
The developers' application, to build offices and town houses on almost 600 acres of undeveloped land in western Fairfax, is the keystone of a county plan to promote intense commercial development in the area.
However, some county supervisors have been nervous to act on it in an election year because of charges it will worsen traffic problems, already a sore spot for county residents.
Nonetheless, the county has approved another nearby development application from Hazel. That one calls for a 465-town house development named Fair Woods, on a 93-acre lot on Rte. 50, just north of the larger site. It is the second rezoning the county has approved for the region slated for intense development near Rte. 50 and I-66.
Separately, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge has consolidated more than two dozen suits brought by landowners who are protesting the county's development restrictions in the Occoquan watershed, the largely rural southwest quadrant of the county that surrounds the I-66-Rte. 50 area. Those cases are expected to come to trial in September.
Hazel said he agreed to let the supervisors delay action on his application for a 588-acre commercial and residential development at the request of a County Board subcommittee that is preparing a report on transportation needs in the Rte. 50-I-66 area.
Under state law, the county would have had to take action on Hazel's application in September, one year after he filed it, had he not waived the time requirement.
Critics said Hazel pushed through one application while delaying the second because he believed he would have a better chance of getting board approval on the more controversial project if he delayed the vote until after the November elections.
Hazel said in an interview that numerous transportation issues need to be resolved in connection with the second, larger project. He also said that because commercial development is involved in the second case, it is a more complicated application.
The board last summer set contribution requirements for off-site road improvements that developers of commercial properties should make. Election year jitters, however, have made the supervisors reluctant to apply the formula.
The Fair Woods residential development is expected to bring developer donations of $350,000 for off-site road improvements. About two-thirds is slated to be used to connect Rugby Road to West Ox Road.
Democratic supervisors Audrey Moore and James M. Scott have argued the improvements will benefit Fair Woods residents and therefore should not qualify as off-site improvements for the larger tract.
Scott said the board must decide "how much of the off-site money is available for something that appears to be on site." Moore warned the board's decision could set a precedent. "If you do it for one, you've got to do it for everybody else," she said.
Francis A. McDermott, attorney for the developers, argued the development was off site because it would not directly connect Fair Woods subdivision with West Ox Road.
"This is only the second rezoning in the 50-66 area. This is a learning experience for us," said Supervisor Martha V. Pennino, a Democrat from the Centreville district and chairman of the Rte. 50-I-66 transportation improvements subcommittee.
In the Occoquan cases, the court has agreed to allow the more than two dozen landowners to choose their three best cases to bring to trial.
Marc E. Bettius, an attorney for the landowners, said the county's comprehensive land-use plan is illegal because the county's annual review process is inadequate under state law.
Bettius, who also represented the first applicant for residential development in the Rte. 50-I-66 area, told the court the water quality arguments used by the county to justify the "downzoning" should be rejected because the county is allowing intense development in the Rte. 50-I-66 area, which includes land in the Occoquan watershed.