Last spring, Gov. Charles S. Robb told a crowd of cheering Northern Virginia officials that their region had won the coveted state-supported Center for Innovative Technology.
The governor promised that the center, with the help of most of the state's public universities and colleges, would become a showcase luring high-tech jobs and dollars to the Washington suburbs.
The schools were to lend their staffs and research facilities to private industries to help them translate high technology ideas into products and, more importantly, jobs. All this was to be coordinated and approved by "the CIT," a research clearinghouse to be located next to Dulles International Airport.
But now those optimistic projections may be jeopardized by bitter fighting among the groups that last year were working hard to secure the $30.2 million center in Northern Virginia. Moreover, some officials say they remain uncertain about just what the center is supposed to be and are unconvinced it will work.
"It makes me skeptical to this day," said state Sen. Dudley J. (Buzz) Emick Jr., a Democrat from southwest Virginia and long an opponent of the center.
Northern Virginia officials accuse Robb of turning his back on the project now that it is mired in disputes with the developers who donated the land.
"The whole issue has been almost dead in the water," said Denton U. Kent, Fairfax County deputy county executive for planning and development. "It's a very confused situation, and the problem is not knowing how to break out of it."
Almost eight months after state officials signed a contract with landowners who donated 35 acres of land for the CIT on the Fairfax-Loudoun County border, the parties still have not agreed on a precise location for the CIT main building or plans for adjoining private development.
The project has been stonewalled by the same political issue that has been at the center of virtually every major political controversy in Northern Virginia's fast-growing suburbs in recent years: how much commercial development can be grouped on one area of land. Another unresolved issue is who will pay for the new roads that will be needed.
Some members of the state legislature, which spent days debating the CIT proposal last year, say the governor and local officials are to blame for overlooking potential problems in their zeal to push the pet project, which was touted as the keystone to moving Virginia into the high-tech era.
"The problems were foreseeable, except for the rush," said Emick. "They went too fast."
Other legislators say some officials are embarrassing themselves by putting the blame on Robb.
"I'm surprised that Fairfax County has taken the attitude that it has at this point," said Del. David G. Brickley, a Prince William County Democrat who was chagrined that Robb picked the Fairfax-Loudoun site over a location in Brickley's county. "To be offered a gift horse of this magnitude, and then not work with the governor's people -- to just kick it in the face -- is just inconceivable to me."
Last week the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, angry that Robb has refused to meet with them to discuss the CIT's problems, ordered its task force of county officials and citizens to suspend all meetings until Robb or the landowners offer the two counties money for road improvments needed to serve the anticipated development.
Robb's office refers all questions concerning the CIT to the center's newly appointed director, Robert H. Pry. Pry acknowledged that the project faces "problems in communications" among the state and county officials and private land owners. "There are difficult, complex issues," he said. "But I do not see them as unsolvable."
The landowners' 35-acre donation to the state for the CIT site on the Fairfax-Loudoun county border is contingent on the counties' granting the zoning that is being sought by the landowners. The landowners have indicated that they want to build more office space on their adjoining land in Loudoun than the county is willing to allow, county officials say. Both counties say they will need more road money from the state to accommodate development around the site.
The density sought by one of the landowners, a Jordanian businessman, would be roughly equivalent to the zoning recently approved by Fairfax for the massive Tysons II commercial and retail center, according to county officials.
Officials from both counties say they are being hampered because landowners have yet to file development requests, even though the filing deadline was Nov. 1. There is a rezoning application pending in Fairfax, but it does not address all the development issues that county officials say the CIT raises.
"I think we're going to get it all worked out, but how can we do that when one outfit . . . hasn't even come up with a development plan?" said Fairfax County Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, a Republican whose district includes the CIT site.
Some officials last year hailed the straddling of the CIT location between Fairfax and Loudoun as a stroke of genius by Robb, who was courted heavily by several counties that all wanted what they considered a valuable state project. But county officials say it has become a logistical nightmare to comply with that decision and the contrasting zoning requirements of Fairfax and Loudoun.
The problems have been exaggerated because local officials are miffed that, in the rush to cement plans for the center, they were excluded from the negotiations over the deal approved last year.
"You don't know what was promised," said Del. Robert E. Harris (R-Fairfax). "All sides had some ponies thrown in, but they're finally facing up to the reality."
Northern Virginia officials also accuse Robb of refusing to help them secure the millions of dollars they say they need to widen the congested two-lane Sully Road (Va. Rte. 28), the main artery cutting through the area. Fairfax and Loudon officials say the proposed CIT development will require adding four more lanes.
"You can't go ahead and plan until you have some notion of how you're going to resolve these road problems," said George M. Lilly, of the Fairfax County task force. "I don't see Fairfax or Loudoun just rolling over and creating an intolerable traffic situation there."