Some of the most powerful developers in Fairfax County are paying for a Virginia study that would stress the economic benefits to the state of building large commercial projects near Metrorail stations.
Some members of the Board of Supervisors, with an eye to limiting such projects, say they are trying to persuade local legislators who asked for the study to allow them to pay for and control the study so that it would highlight savings to the state attributable to Metro.
County officials charge that it is self-serving for developers to sponsor a study that would support the developers' own projects, but developers say the county has its own interests at heart in seeking to control the study.
John T. (Til) Hazel, a powerful developer in the county, said of the Board of Supervisors' interest in the study: "I'm sick of the assumption that if the government does something it's pure. When it comes to self-interest, the county board is the epitome of self-interest."
The study, which is not yet under way, springs from an attempt in February by some state legislators to slash the $21 million-a-year contribution Virginia makes to the Metro transit system.
Although the bid to cut Metro's funding was defeated by Northern Virginia members of the General Assembly, they warned that state money for the transit system could be cut sharply in next year's session. They agreed to commission a study that would highlight Metro's economic contribution to the state.
State Sens. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-Fairfax) and Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington), apparently fearing that a study funded by Fairfax County would be received skeptically in Richmond, asked Hazel and other builders to finance the study, which could cost more than $50,000, according to county officials. DuVal and Holland are the leaders of a committee of Northern Virginia legislators who will have to defend the state's funding of Metro next year.
Hazel has proposed building a commercial development at the Vienna Metro station that would include a 34-story building that would be the tallest in the county. Other developers have proposed large projects near Metro stations scheduled to open during the next two years.
"This will raise all kinds of questions in the public mind about the validity of the study," said Supervisor James M. Scott, a Democrat. "The study ought to be dramatically revised and another funding source found."
Hazel, who has backed some of the largest developments in Northern Virginia, took offense at Scott's charge. "I have long since tired of the old refrain that if a developer is involved in something then it is tainted or tarnished," he said. "The county government can be just as subject to tarnish and taint as anybody else in the world."
A number of county officials and politicians favor a mix of residential and commercial building near Metro stations. They say developers want highly dense commercial projects there.
Scott and other county officials say the premise of the study planned by developers is that tax-generating commercial projects are lured to the area by Metro stations. That premise, they say, is flawed.
Richard Hecht, staff economist for the county Office of Comprehensive Planning, said development is already lured to Northern Virginia and Metro merely attracts it to a specific location.
Scott said that if developers control a study concluding that building near Metro stations will generate substantial tax dollars, "The fear is that there will be pressure from the state or development community to increase" the scale of commercial projects at these sites.