The telephone never rings at Annie Snyder's house anymore. A month ago, the Prince William County activist incinerated her five extensions.
Call her number now and a recorded voice says: "We're sorry, we no longer have any telephones. But if you'll leave a message. . . . "
Not exactly what most people expect when they phone Snyder, 63, the grande dame whose crusades to preserve the rural western quadrant of the fast-growing county have been a thorn in the sides of dozens of politicians and developers for more than three decades.
Developers and political opponents said she has cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs by her fights against development in the county. Yet she is so respected by her environmental allies -- as well as some of her political foes -- that many can scarcely utter her name without becoming gushy.
So how can she not have a telephone?
"It was a rebellion," Snyder said. "A rebellion against the phones and the time they usurp in your life."
Later, she admitted the real reason. "Doctor's orders," the former Marine Corps first lieutenant said. After 35 years of computer mailings and organizing, after thousands of letters to the editor and a won-lost record even Washington Redskins' coach Joe Gibbs might envy, the crusades have taken a toll, and Snyder is turning the volume down on her public life.
To Snyder's opponents, her semiretirement must be welcome.
She is credited with stopping a $35 million amusement park proposed for western Prince William by the Marriott Corp. and with blocking a proposal to build a large cemetery on the grounds of the Manassas Battlefield National Park. She was a leading force in promoting federal legislation to expand the park, which lies just east of the 180-acre farm near Gainesville where she lives with her husband, Pete. She's fought numerous shopping centers and trailer parks and rezonings.
"I am a person who believes that land is a resource and not a commodity," she said. "I think it's absolutely critical that we keep productive land next to urban populations. And I believe with all my heart and soul in the power of one vote and one voice."
Her tactics are familiar to opponents: tireless research, a small army of volunteers, a knack for using the media, letter campaigns, no compromise and stunning energy.
The volunteers who often work with her are well known. Recently, when a top county official wondered whether Snyder would oppose a road bond referendum on the ballot, he asked, "Is Annie going to get her guns on this one?" Chances are, the reference was not to Snyder's collection of rifles, displayed in a case in her living room, but to her allies in activism.
The costs of her activism have been high. Snyder has had severe diabetes for years. Until recently she slept only three or four hours a night. She once suffered a miscarriage after she stayed awake all night preparing a statement for the county Board of Supervisors.
""You better believe it's affected my health," Snyder said of her community work.
Her crusades have also affected her standing with some in Prince William County. An advocate of the value of community, Snyder has embittered some of her own neighbors by thwarting their development plans. A Republican, she has drawn the wrath of the party for enlisting Democratic support when it advanced her cause. An activist, she has found recently that her involvement can actually hurt a cause; she knows there are supervisors in Prince William County who are tired of hearing her speak out against development."She's been too damn effective," said G. Richard Pfitzner, a supervisor from the eastern end of the county. "But she wants it all and is never willing to give competing interests anything."
County Board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt said, "Mrs. Snyder is certainly in a class by herself . . . . In many respects I find her quite admirable."
"She knows everthing," said county attorney John Foote. "Her tentacles are everywhere. She's crafty, she's savvy, she knows where the bodies are buried."
Snyder said she is driven by a concern for the environment and a mission of protecting scarce resources, especially ground water, in the western end of Prince William County.
But her foes say she is selfish and interested primarily in slamming the door on others seeking to move to the western part of the county, where Rte. I-66 slices across and intensifies pressures for growth. They say she wants to preserve that part of the county for rich people who can afford farms and houses on large lots.
"The rap on Annie," said a county official, "is that she's always against projects, and rarely for them."
"She's a crackpot," said John D. Marsh, Snyder's neighbor and one of the most effective Republican fund-raisers in Virginia. "She thinks that development should never come out to the country. She's probably the most disliked woman in the county, a real environmental nut."
Marsh said that Snyder's professed goal to preserve natural resources is "a lousy idea as long as it interferes with other people's rights."
"I've never been antigrowth," Snyder said. "That's unrealistic . . . what I am against is destroying natural resources that are irreplaceable in the name of growth.
"Developers always tell me, 'You're here and you don't want anybody else to come in.' But the funny thing is that it's always the people who have a lot of money to make from development who say that."
"She has cost this county very, very dearly in tax revenue and jobs," said Donald P. White, a former supervisor from the Gainesville District, where Snyder lives. "Obviously, she's been effective. She has an amazing ability to stir people up."
"I bet I'm the only woman you know who's going to have a bouncer at her funeral," Snyder said. "I've already arranged to keep my enemies out who are going to want to come and dance on my grave." She chuckled, throwing her head back, then said with a twinkle, "You know, friends come and go, but enemies are forever."