The Gainesville District, long a hotbed of community activism and political dissent, plays host Tuesday to Virginia's only three-way Republican primary, as two challengers vie to unseat controversial first-term Supervisor Edgar S. "Ed" Wilbourn III.

With thousands of homes slated to be built in Gainesville in coming years, the fiery primary campaign has focused largely on the politics of growth -- and is being closely watched throughout Northern Virginia as a measure of the issue's potential power.

Kevin Paul Childers, a Manassas criminal defense lawyer, and Martha W. Hendley, a longtime community activist, have both attacked Wilbourn for opposing many development limits and say his career as a home and office builder puts him in conflict with the interests of most residents.

Both say they would work to enforce Prince William's new "Rural Crescent" plan, which eliminated nearly 30,000 potential houses and set aside half the county -- including much of Gainesville -- as an enclave of farms and 10-acre estates. Wilbourn voted against the plan when the Board of County Supervisors approved it last year.

"Progress is not just more, it's not just bigger -- it should be better," Hendley said at a recent community forum. "Smarter growth is the one solution to many problems."

At the same time, the two contenders have struggled to differentiate themselves from each other, acknowledging that the three-way race could end up splitting votes in the incumbent's favor.

Hendley has focused on her long residency in Gainesville and on her efforts as a preservationist and slow-growth activist.

Childers trumpets his newcomer status as a plus and said he also would focus on education and other issues aside from growth.

"As the new kid on the block, I don't owe anybody any favors," said Childers, who moved to Lake Manassas from Alexandria three years ago. "I can bring a fresh perspective on our problems."

Wilbourn, meanwhile, bills himself as a "proven leader for controlled growth," and says he opposed the "Rural Crescent" because it did not remove enough inexpensive and dense housing from planning maps.

"It's broken before it starts," Wilbourn said.

The incumbent also says Gainesville politics have been dominated by naysaying protesters for too long and claims credit for helping deliver new schools and parks planned for the district.

"I'm a more complete candidate than either of my opponents," Wilbourn said in a recent interview.

"Both of them say they are for quality growth and quality economic development, but their positions show they're just throwing out political spin."

These and other debates have raged largely outside traditional public forums -- only one joint debate was held during the campaign -- relying instead on a flurry of spending on yard signs, fliers and hundreds of cable TV spots.

Wilbourn has spent more than $42,000 on his 1999 campaign so far, according to finance documents filed last week, leaving him with nearly $23,000 in the bank as of May 26.

In the nearly eight weeks before that date, he collected $13,300 in itemized cash donations -- most of it from construction companies and other development interests.

Hendley has spent just over half as much -- most of it coming from personal loans and gifts -- leaving her with less than $2,000 on hand.

Childers reported having just over $4,000 after doling out more than $16,000 on campaign expenses.

Both challengers have said they lag Wilbourn in financing because they have vowed not to collect money from developers or their allies.

Wilbourn brushes aside the allegation as "sour grapes" on the part of candidates unable to garner popular support.

"They are trying to make that an issue, but the issue is that they haven't expanded their base," Wilbourn said.

Just over a week ago, both Childers and Hendley sharply questioned Wilbourn's role in helping choose a potential site for a park that is partly owned by a major campaign contributor.

Wilbourn decried the criticism as political posturing that threatens to doom a new facility.

The winner of Tuesday's Republican contest will face Democratic nominee Gary Friedman in November.

Kevin Paul Childers

Age: 44

Community: Lake Manassas, in Gainesville.

Years in Gainesville District: Three; has practiced law in Prince William County since 1992.

Education: JD, 1990, Catholic University Columbus School of Law; Law Review Staff, 1988-1990; graduated ninth in class; selected as Moot Court Brief Coach for Catholic University; Law School Intercollegiate Competition, 1989, won Best Brief; BS, 1978, Memphis State University.

Occupation and work experience: Trial attorney practicing law in Prince William County since 1992; assistant public defender, Alexandria, 1991-1992; U.S. Department of Education, Public Affairs Office and Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1987-1991; aide to U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins, Florida, 1985-1987; press secretary to Republican Congressional candidate Tom Bush, District 16, Florida, 1984.

Political offices and civic activities: Founder in 1991 of the Catholic Business Network of Northern Virginia. With more than 150 members, the organization is devoted to aiding the indigent and needy in Northern Virginia and providing resources and funds for education. Merit badge instructor in astronomy for Gainesville Boy Scout Troop 924, 1997 to present; active with People for Catharpin School; street representative for his residential community; appointed as a guardian ad litem by the Prince William County Juvenile Court to represent the interests of children in Prince William County; active parishioner, All Saints Catholic Church, Manassas, 1996 to present; member, Prince William County Republican Committee, former member of the Prince William County Bar Association Judicial Selection Committee Study Group; supporter of responsible growth advocate Ruth Griggs's campaign in 1998, Board of Supervisors, Occoquan; Prince William County Committee of 100; member, Virginia Trial Lawyers of America; member, Northern Virginia Astronomy Club; member, Parish Council, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Alexandria, 1991-1993; volunteer, WETA Public Television, 1985-1986.

Family: Wife, Betty.

What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?

Establish a clear policy with specific guidelines under which any requests from developers for deviations or exceptions to the current Comprehensive Plan can be reviewed. The reason is because the Comprehensive Plan, although less than a year old, is under constant barrage from developers seeking exceptions and exemptions -- and they are getting them. However, there are no policy guidelines or rational criteria set out in the Comprehensive Plan or elsewhere to guide the supervisors and the planning staff in making decisions about whether or not to allow specific exceptions and deviations.

This places our county and the Comprehensive Plan in an extremely dangerous and precarious legal posture. Without policy criteria that is specific and clear to guide the Supervisors in determining which deviations and exceptions should be granted, and more importantly why they should be granted, our county leaves itself open to a very strong legal attack on the basis that the county is making exceptions to the Comprehensive Plan in an "arbitrary and capricious manner." As a lawyer, I can tell you that this is by far the most successful legal challenge developers historically make against managed growth plans such as our Comprehensive Plan. The Heritage Hunt retirement development is a case in point. The developers argued that because the development would have no children using our county schools, they should not have to pay as much in proffers. The board granted the request but did so without applying any objective criteria, policy objectives, or making rationally based findings that the development would be "revenue positive" regarding level of service needs. We must establish a policy and guidelines to work through the many requests from developers for exceptions to the Comprehensive Plan.

I strongly support our Comprehensive Plan and believe it will not only control high-density residential development but will bring in the economic development we must have for our tax base. However, if we continue along the path we are on now and approve deviations and exceptions without rational criteria and specific policy guidelines, then the plan will be undercut by legal challenges and will ultimately be found to be unconstitutionally vague and thus unenforceable.

Second proposal: Overhaul our county's building permit and inspection process to streamline it and improve this now extremely burdensome process. The reason is because if we hope to attract the new economic development I foresee we must make it easier for businesses to build and relocate in our county.

In 1997 our county's Commercial Plan Review time was 8.5 weeks. In 1998 it increased to 12 weeks. Yet our county's goal for 1999 and 2000 is the same 8.5 weeks we had in 1997. Meager efforts are underway to improve this very serious problem. For example, there are no funds for additional construction inspectors in the fiscal year 2000 budget.

There is, however, a supplemental budget request of $103,315 for three additional inspectors and $35,315 for one additional plan review technician. But we can and must do better than that. We should have the funds for new plan reviewers and technicians in the primary budget and we should hire more of them. This makes sense, especially if you consider that the permit fees collected by our county in 1998 totaled $6.8 million from applicants while our county spent only $3.2 million for plan review and inspection services. Additionally, the fiscal year 2000 budget anticipates fee revenues to increase by $455,000.

It's time for us to get serious about helping businesses locate in our county. We should allocate more of the fees for the service they are intended to provide. And we should add more reviewers and inspectors, streamline the process and aim for a four-week turnaround at minimum.

Martha W. Hendley

Age: 55

Community: Mailing address is Manassas; telephone number is Haymarket; voting precinct is Catharpin.

Years in Gainesville District: 15

Education: BS in chemistry, Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia.

Occupation and work experience: Retired real estate appraiser.

Political offices and civic activities: President, Prince William Coalition for Smarter Growth; president, Citizens Against Roads for Developers; chairman, Ben Lomond Manor House Commission; co-chairman, Congressman Wolf's Task Force on Stone House Intersection.

Family: Husband, James.

What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?

Smarter growth. Prince William County needs to do everything it can to achieve more control over rapid residential development. For future rezoning requests, we need to follow the Comprehensive Plan. For the 46,000 units already approved, the county has less control. However, there is the "High Growth Coalition" of 22 other Virginia jurisdictions who are experiencing the same problems and have united to seek more power from the state. Prince William County is notably absent from that group because the board decided not to join. As president of the Prince William Coalition for Smarter Growth, I helped lead a successful grass-roots effort supporting the passage of the new Comprehensive Plan last year. Our arguments were driven by facts and figures which we used to persuade the members of the board that the plan was in the best interest of all county citizens. The board is a collegial body and a majority must be persuaded in order to take any action. I would argue that the goals of the High Growth Coalition are the goals of Prince William County. I would argue that it is in Prince William County's best interest to join the High Growth Coalition and have input into their platform and influence over the outcome, rather than being left in the dust. We need to use what we have to manage residential growth better and to seek more local control from the state.

Lower taxes. The citizens of Prince William County are burdened with the highest real estate tax rate of any county in Virginia, yet the county is struggling to keep up with needed services. Rapid residential growth has given us crowded roads, schools and playing fields and unfunded infrastructure needs of $300 million. Our taxes went up last year with a hidden tax called a trash fee. Instead of giving citizens a tax decrease, supervisors gave themselves a pay raise and additional staff. First, I will look for every way possible to decrease the tax burden on citizens starting with having developers pay the cost of the infrastructure needs their developments create. Every dollar not paid by developers has to be made up by county taxpayers. Second, I will form a bipartisan task force of citizens and business people to go line by line through the county budget to find ways to lower our expenses. Our community is filled with very talented, experienced, and knowledgeable people who can make valuable contributions to the county with their time.

Third, I would work on two specific aspects of economic development to increase county revenues -- Innovation and tourism. The county's tourism industry grew 17 percent last year and has plenty more room to grow. Selling the Innovation property will put it back on the tax rolls and relieve the county of paying interest on the debt it owes on it.

Edgar S. "Ed" Wilbourn III*

Age: 53

Community: Haymarket

Years in Gainesville District: 13

Education: BS in engineering, associate degree in architectural engineering, minor in urban planning.

Occupation and work experience: CEO of $100 million company; county supervisor; contract consultant; general contractor.

Political offices and civic activities: Gainesville district supervisor; one of the founders of Giving Back charitable organization; regional board, Boy Scouts; county audit committee; Virginia county government finance committee; church trustee; Boys and Girls Club Western Prince William County.

Family: Wife, Sara; two children.

What are your two top policy proposals, and how would you gain support for them?

Combining duplicated tasks of county departments, boards and authorities. Our performance audits indicated potential savings of nearly $11 million annually if we eliminate government turf wars and combine duplicated services.

[Del. Michele B.] McQuigg [R-District 51] and I worked hard to develop an impact analysis matrix to be used as an objective means of determining Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments. The matrix included every tax revenue generated by a project and every service demand required due to the project.

Dr. [Stephen S.] Fuller of George Mason University made further improvements to our impact matrix and it should be ready to use. This tool will take the politics out of proffers and impact analysis. We need to take a professional approach to all aspects of county government if we expect to operate at maximum efficiency and be the most effective with the resources we have.