After two years of negotiations, a plan by Media General Cable of Fairfax County Inc. to bring cable television to Burke Centre, the county's second largest planned community, has hit a snag, and some residents are threatening to take the community's potential $1.5 million in cable business elswhere.
Members of the Burke Centre Board of Trustees said officials of Media General Cable have reneged on a number of installation promises.
Board member Bruce R. Brown said Thomas E. Waldrop, Media General Cable's board chairman and chief executive officer, refused to honor several verbal assurances made to residents last year by the company's president, Sam A. Jernigan. He said residents are reluctant to wait much longer for the cable.
" Waldrop completely put the burden on the receiving parties and the cost on the consumer," Brown said. "He just basically pulled the rug out from previous promises."
"Some of the things Burke Centre was asking for I can't do for anybody else. We've been negotiating with Burke Centre for the best part of two years and have had nothing in writing," Waldrop said in a telephone interview. "To say we welshed on anything is not quite right. It's a difference of how we interpreted it and how they interpreted the agreement ."
Brown said Jernigan earlier promised a back yard underground installation plan for the controversial green cable boxes or "pedestals" that have caused a stir in other county neighborhoods where they are normally put in front of houses. He said Media General representatives also said they would indemnify Burke Centre against possible construction claims, would consider hiring a private mediator to settle disputes between residents and the company, and would develop a plan for full restoration of any damage to foliage or lawns caused by cable construction.
Waldrop said he has agreed to uphold Burke Centre's back yard cable box request, but said most of the development's other requests were too specialized and expensive for the franchise.
Waldrop said Burke Centre residents must guarantee Media General the easement rights to 100 percent of the development's 6,000 homes before the company starts its back yard cable hook-ups.
Ed L. Campbell, Board of Trustees president, said he was wary of Media General's stipulation to "restoration in kind" for damage to trees, bushes and lawns that resulted from cable construction.
"What does 'in kind' mean? If you destroy the grass, will you replace it with sod, seed or what? Their standards . . . don't work out that well for us," Campbell said.
Waldrop said his company would try to restore any damaged greenery as soon as possible, but, he said, it was difficult to install the wiring in a back yard because of large trees, pools and patios.
Brown said Media General's apparent disregard for Burke Centre's "uniqueness . . . and the fact we have to be treated a little differently" has most of the development's homeowners frustrated and angry over the delays and contract complications.
Brian Perkinson, a six-year resident, said he favors his community signing a cable contract with another company besides Media General. County officials ruled the company's franchise in this area is nonexclusive and subdivisions are legally entitled to do business with another firm.
"I hate to be backed into a corner and to have someone say this is what you're going to take," Perkinson said. " Media General has taken a hard-nose approach to Burke Centre so maybe we should tell them we're not interested."
District Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) said she hopes Media General and Burke Centre's board can settle their disputes before the community has to resort to another cable company.
"Burke Centre has a right to gripe . . . and we couldn't stop them from getting somebody else," McConnell said.
Burke Centre is one of three county planned residential communities that intermingle large commercial centers with a variety of residential housing ranging from low- and moderately priced town houses to expensive, single family colonial-style homes.
The 1,450-acre development, located off Ox Road in the southwestern part of the county, has an elected governing board and its own set of bylaws that regulate everything from rooftop television antennaes (they're not allowed) to the color of basketball backboards (shades of brown). The 10-year-old community has a population of 18,000, 400 acres of open space, 23 miles of pathways and trails, 25 tennis courts and five swimming pools.
Fairfax County supervisors awarded the 15-year cable contract to Media General in July 1982. The firm is an affiliate of Media General Inc., which owns several weekly and daily newspapers including the Richmond Times Dispatch and The Richmond News Leader.