As the most recent round of decisions on the Celebrate Virginia project roll through the appropriate Stafford County committees, members of Rappahannock Area Grassroots, formed specifically to oppose the development, have been noticeably and uncharacteristically quiet.
Last week, two key meetings were held--one to decide zoning parameters and the other to create a community development authority--and only one member of RAG spoke, a striking contrast from meetings earlier in the year, during which a dozen or more members regularly voiced their opposition.
In recent weeks, members of RAG have been bypassing the public hearings concerning Celebrate Virginia, choosing instead to try to influence the November elections. Leaders of the grass-roots group say the shift in tactics is an attempt to educate citizens about ways to control growth and to oust the pro-development members of the Board of Supervisors.
They say their silence is not a sign that RAG is fading, but they acknowledge that their vocal opposition was falling on deaf ears.
"We want to move away from just going to meetings and speaking," said Paul Lewis, RAG spokesman. "We do not necessarily want to just go and rant to the wind.
"It's not really effective or good for the community to speak all the time."
Celebrate Virginia is a planned development on nearly 2,000 acres in both Stafford and Fredericksburg. The developer, the Silver Cos., has not finalized its plans, but the project is slated to include an industrial park, golf courses and houses in Stafford and a tourism hub and retail outlets in Fredericksburg.
RAG is now trying to work with opposition candidates for the Board of Supervisors. For example, many RAG members are campaigning for Pete Fields, a slow-growth proponent running against incumbent Alvin Bandy for the George Washington seat.
"I respect their commitment to controlling growth and their environmental concerns," Fields said, adding that he welcomed RAG's support.
RAG does not formally endorse candidates, but the group has made it clear that it supports the opposition candidates. In addition to Fields, Jack Cavalier is running against incumbent Lindbergh Fritter in the Griffis-Widewater District, and Bill Gray is vying with incumbent Robert Gibbons for Rock Hill's seat.
"Hopefully we'll get some new blood and fresh faces," Lewis said. RAG is also trying to spur anti-growth candidates to run in next spring's elections in the City of Fredericksburg, Lewis said.
RAG formed more than a year ago after a highly volatile zoning hearing on Celebrate Virginia was held in Fredericksburg. Hundreds of people packed City Hall, with the overwhelming majority voicing strong opposition to the project. Nevertheless, the City Council voted to rezone land to accommodate the development.
The most dogged opponents of the project then formed RAG. Initially, the group counted more than 200 people on its mailing list, but that number has been scaled back in recent months to about 150, Lewis said. About 35 to 40 people show up at group meetings, he added.
In the 14 months since RAG formed, the group has attempted to convince the public that Celebrate Virginia is not the economic panacea that many local leaders claim and that the development would lead only to more unwanted growth. In addition to speaking at numerous public hearings, the group has held rallies, distributed newsletters and met regularly to spread its word.
RAG's boldest attempt to stop the project was to file a lawsuit trying to oust the Fredericksburg City Council and the mayor over zoning action for the project. Members of RAG charged that the local leaders acted negligently because they ignored the wishes of residents, but the case was thrown out of court after a judge found the charges baseless.
Despite repeated futility in their efforts to effect a change of policy concerning Celebrate Virginia, RAG has forced the Silver Cos. to address their concerns.
"We've had to spend a lot of money to get the truth out," said Jud Honaker, vice president of the Silver Cos. "For the misinformation they spread, we then have to spend money to correct the information.
"It's frustrating; we ought to be spending our energy and resources on making the project better instead of addressing this group."
Members of RAG, meanwhile, see a greater purpose served by their efforts.
"We're not necessarily pleased with how things have turned out, but we are pleased that the community is talking to each other," Lewis said. "We're pleased people are asking a new set of questions, like what would they like to see happen with regard to their community.
"To be a part of that debate, as a group we've found it satisfying," Lewis said.
"The fight is not over."