It's not that Richard Ely doesn't like the children who attend the school in the wooded hollow below his Annandale home.
It's the noise they make at recess and the traffic caused by their parents taking them to school and picking them up that upsets him, he said. And now he fears the racket and congestion will increase if the Montessori School of Northern Virginia expands its hours to offer day care before and after school as a convenience to its students' working parents.
"To attack something like this, it's almost like attacking motherhood and apple pie," Ely said.
"We are not against motherhood and education," neighbor Raymond Nowakowski said during a Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing on the proposal. "We're being asked to put up with a lot of extra traffic."
About 100 students attend the school, which now operates fom 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. The school wants to expand its hours to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For many of the 270 Annandale residents who Ely says have signed a petition opposing the school's plan, the dispute turns on this issue: Should families with two wage-earners be granted a convenience at the expense of neighborhood residents?
"Who do we have to have child care for?" resident John Sullivan asked. "We need it for single parents, in particular for single mothers, in particular for single mothers who are minorities who have a great deal of difficulty getting equal opportunity and a decent wage. We're not talking about that here.
"We're talking about parents, both the husband and the wife, who can afford to pay $3,000 and $4,000 in tuition at the Montessori school. They want convenience. To me it's like one-stop shopping."
A county official said the school, on a dead-end road in a valley below street level on Pacific Lane not far from Braddock Road, is trying to keep up with the trend toward extended day care offered by other schools.
"The school feels they need extended care to remain competitive in the modern world where women work and families need this service to minimize the need for seeking child care in addition to the Montessori program," said Hank Strickland, a Fairfax County planning commissioner.
The school's administrator and principal, Betsy Mitchell, recently told the Planning Commission, which is expected to act on the center's request today, that a safe, stable place for children before and after school "is a need of the 1990s. It's the need of 70 percent of the parents in Fairfax County."
Mitchell said that the nonprofit school has no plans to become a commercial day-care center and that child care will be offered only for its students and the children of staff members. Car traffic around the school should not increase, she said.
Aileen Reynolds, president of the school, said its students need before and after school care or parents will have to take their children to another day-care center. The other alternative, she said, is that parents would face "another national tragedy -- latchkey children."
Reynolds said the traffic problems of Northern Virginia are important, "but so are education and child care."
Such disputes are common, child-care specialists said.
"It is not unusual for some new programs to face some resistance from neighborhoods around the country," said Mary Layton of the Child Welfare League of America. "It's not unlike resistance that's experienced when clinics or treatment facilities of various types or halfway houses are being considered. It's sort of the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome."