Bracing for what they see as a renewed assault by high-powered developers, civic groups in Fairfax County have succeeded in the first step of their drive to limit forthcoming development in one, and possibly two, areas of the county.
Their political clout was best demonstrated last week when a coalition of community groups forced Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) to abandon her call for a delay in the adoption of a development plan for rural Centreville.
It also led to the shelving of a county staff-backed plan to permit the construction of tall buildings on the periphery of Tysons Corner.
"We're letting the elected officials know that the citizens of Centreville and all of Fairfax have had it with a small group throwing development parties and leaving the people with the tab -- and the mess," said Richard Korink, a lifelong Fairfax resident who has been a driving force behind efforts to control the pace of development in Centreville.
That message was driven home to McConnell in no uncertain terms Thursday night, according to Korink and other civic leaders who confronted her during a private meeting. By the end of the 1 1/2-hour session, McConnell had reversed herself and agreed to proceed as scheduled with the adoption of the citizen-backed plan during a Board of Supervisors' meeting on Feb. 10.
"She did a one-eighty degree turn ," said Korink.
McConnell said in an interview Friday that she was uncomfortable with her new stance, but added that the increasingly assertive residents left her no alternative.
"If I had my choice, I would delay it and try to make some order out of chaos," she said. "I feel like I'm bowing to the will of the people, but there are too many unanswered questions."
McConnell said she spoke Friday with two of the principal developers in the Centreville area yesterday -- the Hazel-Peterson and Cadillac-Fairview companies -- and was told they may drop their plans to build there unless the county amends the citizens' report. The developers have complained that the density proposals advanced by the residents are too low to support economical development.
The 24-member citizen task force was appointed by the county supervisors three years ago to recommend how Centreville, one of the last largely undeveloped areas in Fairfax, should be developed. The study team also included county staff members and representatives of the developers.
Centreville residents were startled two weeks ago when the developers appeared at a Planning Commission meeting with their own plan, calling for twice the densities suggested by the task force and for recasting the area from residential to predominantly office-commercial use.
When McConnell subsequently proposed a delay to give the developers a chance to make their argument, Centreville area residents went on the offensive.
They sought out community leaders in other areas of the county for support and they began discussing ways to oust McConnell in the 1987 county election unless she backed them.
"I think she finally realized how serious we were," Korink said. "I think she realized that this wasn't just us talking but that it was residents from throughout the county." McConnell has said she reluctantly will support the residents this time.
Likewise, Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) has pledged to support McLean area residents in their vocal opposition to a proposal by county planners to ease height restrictions along the outer edges of Tysons Corner.
That issue will come before the Board of Supervisors tomorrow, and there appears to be little inclination on the part of board members to reject the residents' position and allow the taller buildings.
It has not always been that way in a county that accurately trumpets itself as one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
In most significant cases, according to participants on both sides, developers get what they want. The supervisors defend their record, contending that the courts have tied their hands on development issues and left them little choice but to approve developers' plans.
Residents counter that the County Board members lose their will to fight when confronted by the lavish plans presented by polished, well-heeled developers.
As evidence, the civic groups cite the county's approval of plans for dense development in the Fairfax Center area, the Tysons II project in Tysons Corner and the Silverbrook development slated to be built near the Lorton Reformatory in southeastern Fairfax County. All were approved despite stiff resistance by residents in the affected areas.
David D. Fitch, vice president of the Cadillac-Fairview Co., said developers are more attuned to the concerns of residents than in the past. Conceding that poor planning characterized several developments during the county's rapid buildup of the past two decades, Fitch said developers "have learned a lot from that experience and now are much more active in planning and funding transportation systems."
But Thomas B. (Bo) White, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Civic Associations, said he was optimistic that the apparent successes in Centreville and McLean will reverse the trend that has favored developers in Fairfax County and give residents more of a say in development-related issues. "I think this sets the stage for it," he said.