Growth by Democracy

Recently, two letter writers have argued against the smart growth movement in the name of, among other things, individual property rights and economic gain (mostly their own, I suspect). Regardless of how they might negatively cast this sea change in public opinion, make no mistake that the vote for smart growth represents democracy in action. This is about local people making decisions about their own communities and how they want it to grow.

This movement can be starkly contrasted with the mostly out-of-county/state developers and builders who see Loudoun as purely a commodity to be bought, sold and, finally, expended. They want local government that is hands-off and, if that fails, centralized power is fine when it is at the state level (where the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association liberally spends its money to buy influence). What motivates smart growth supporters is the knowledge that when citizens are silent and developers are calling the shots, Fairfax County-type sprawl is the result. If there is a minority in this debate, it is those who cannot forget their own private self-interest long enough to see the ugly reality they are creating. It is extremely ironic that developers and builders sell and embellish the "countrified" image of Loudoun and then work, behind the scenes in Richmond, to strip local government of any power to preserve it.

All this is not to suggest that there are not legitimate property rights issues that need to be dealt with as smart growth is implemented. But I have full faith in democracy--local citizens can and will find a reasonable path. In the meantime, those who have less faith in democracy or who see it only as a malleable tool will continue their efforts to divide and pave.



No Defense for Builders

I would like to respond to the Dec. 12 letter "Hitting the Nail on the Head" offered by Jeffrey A. Scouten, Loudoun Chapter president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (NVBIA). Exactly what planet are you from, Mr. Scouten? I cannot believe your nerve in trying to imply that the overdevelopment of Loudoun County--which can be attributed, in no small way, to your NVBIA builders, developers and speculators--has been a positive thing. Can you really believe that the systematic destruction of countless acres of land has been good for the citizens of the county? Your letter tries to give the impression that you and the NVBIA are doing something good for Loudoun and should be supported by the "vocal minority." This vocal minority, as you call them, spoke pretty loudly on Nov. 2, Election Day. Have you forgotten that your darling, Dale Polen Myers, was soundly defeated, and not for the first time? I think the "vocal minority" spoke. How dare you act so proud of the NVBIA accomplishments in Loudoun County? For example, do you really believe deep in your heart that the atrocious development at the town of Leesburg's entry at Routes 7 and 15 has been well thought out? Do you really feel that this type of development exudes quality and the best use for the land? From the ticky tacky new outlet mall up to the Wal-Mart, it is nothing but a cheap-looking, poorly planned hodgepodge of embarrassing overdevelopment. It looks as though the circus came to town and simply never left.

Would you like more evidence that your precious NVBIA has no idea what the word quality or professionalism means? Take a look at the travesty being carried out at Big Spring Farm, just north of Leesburg. Here was a beautiful piece of land that should have had high-quality, large-lot estates placed on it. Instead it looks like something the town of Manassas would build. They have an excuse; their town has always looked forlorn. Leesburg/Loudoun has not. How can you defend such waste of land? You cannot blame it on previous owners or lack of space. This was rolling open land, and this is the best that could be planned. Shame on your NVBIA for such a callous disregard for the land and for letting your bottom dollar speak louder than quality.

Your NVBIA members have had their way for a long time now, and finally the citizens of Loudoun County have spoken, clear, loud and firm: The days of business running the county are over, and the people are running the government again.

I know you and your NVBIA "bullies" must be bristling because your gravy train has hit a bump in the road. Your "Pave to the Clarke County line" mantra has been challenged.

And finally, your mention of the fact that Loudoun is the "envy" of many is not even true any longer. In fact, Loudoun is now viewed as a prime example of a county run without any constraints or controls by the building industry. A look at recent financial newspapers in Chicago and Denver now refer to Loudoun as "Lousydone," and at least one Fortune 500 company looking to relocate to the East Coast has looked at Loudoun County and has made a beeline to North Carolina because of the pace of development, poor construction and impending gridlock, both on the roads and in the schools. Word is out: Loudoun County has killed the golden goose and the feathers are everywhere!

You have had your chance. You instead let greed and ignorance color your view of how this county should develop, and it is a constant painful reminder each and every day to all of us who drive past the monuments to your legacy.

It is now time for government in Loudoun County to be run by the citizens. I don't think you will have to worry about people speaking up at public hearings and sharing their feelings with the new Board of Supervisors. I only hope you and the NVBIA can stomach what you will hear.



Frazer Farm Not Yet Lost

I'm writing to express my frustration with Loudoun Healthcare, a community hospital, with their recent handling of farmland granted to them--Frazer Farm, a beautiful piece of historic land between Hamilton and Lincoln ["Sale of Farmland Looms for Hospital," Dec. 12]. What I do not understand is the constant decision-making being made in our businesses and communities based solely on money. This decision is wrong, for it ignores the value of the nonmonetary issues associated with the community and its history. This land is currently under contract, as I understand. Loudoun Healthcare can still make it right.



The Value of SOL Testing

Mr. and Ms. Levine's quarrel with SOLs ["The Flaws of SOL Testing," Letters, Dec. 12] seems to boil down to the following objections:

(1) SOLs are too difficult for some students and too easy for others.

(2) SOLs do not reflect other qualities that students may have.

(3) SOLs reduce all students' knowledge to several multiple-choice questions.

(4) SOLs are a terrible disservice to students and generate more harm than good.

Furthermore, the Levines focus on a tiny percentage of brilliant students who may not pass SOL, students who otherwise have wonderful personalities or are good in some subjects but not so in others.

I assure the Levines that students with wonderful personalities, computer smarties but word-poor, talented writers but math-deficient, all will succeed in life with or without SOL. However, there is a sound and rational justification for SOLs. The purpose of SOLs is not to decide which path a student will take in their lives; it is to help our society to see how well the public schools perform, and we need that "sounding board" desperately. Let me explain with the following few simple points:

(1) The public education is a monopoly, and the only way for parents to enforce any accountability is through standards and to measure students and schools that way. Whatever their deficiencies, they are much better than the alternative: no way to compare one school to another. We cannot know how a school performs compared with other schools based solely on regular grades since they are not meaningful to make such comparisons. We parents are tired of school officials telling us: Trust us. With the monopoly, the teachers union that itself has opposed testing of teachers, SOLs are the best weapon that parents have.

(2) SOLs are essential for poor students in inner cities where public schools are usually much worse than in the suburbs. SOLs show parents of those students very clearly the great disservice being perpetrated by those schools when compared with suburban schools.

(3) Multiple-choice-question SOLs are a trade-off between the cost and time it takes to evaluate schools and students. Whether 10 percent or 50 percent of students pass SOLs is not relevant; it is important how they compared with others. The public school system is not accountable to parents despite its trappings of public oversight; it is a regulated monopoly with all its inefficiencies, lack of innovation and high prices. The greatest disservice that we can possibly do to our children is not a testing system, but the continued maintenance of government schools.

The Levines are asked to note that we do not need a SOL-like testing system for companies operating in the free, competitive market such as our grocery stores. A measuring system is not necessary--we can take our business elsewhere. For instance, in Leesburg, we have four major competing grocery stores. The Levines are asked to imagine if we had instead four branches of government stores run by a Food Board--it is ludicrous to think that we would be better off. Likewise, if all schools were private, we would not have to worry about testing students; schools would devise its ways to deliver truly excellent education because they would have to under competition.

But, since students are forced to attend particular schools, we need to use every measure we can muster to enforce accountability. Therefore, as long as students and parents do not have a choice, we need standardized testing.



Lyme Disease Concerns

In response to "Coexist With Nature" [Letters, Dec. 16], Bridget is finishing a 28-day course of antibiotics and seems to be recovering nicely. However, I am disappointed with inaccuracies in the original article, "Lyme Disease Triples" [Dec. 5] regarding my comments on the feeding of deer in Cascades. I stated the deer were being fed in the parkland, not in neighbors' yards.

My intent is to inform the public about the rapidly increasing incidence of Lyme disease, not to place blame on neighbors for my daughter's illness. Deer carry the ticks which carry Lyme disease. The deer population is far above normal for this area. (See Wednesday's Post regarding the managed kill in Fairfax). Is this due to a reduction in natural habitat? Most likely that and the lack of natural predators. Man has certainly encroached on wildlife in the name of progress. The overabundance of "progress" in Loudoun County for the last 10 years has probably contributed to the rise in the deer population. Sad as it may seem, we cannot ignore the fact that these graceful animals are displaced and are causing property damage and bodily harm.

My concern is twofold: Are we artificially bolstering the population of deer by allowing them to be fed year-round by the public? Are we sufficiently informed about the symptoms of Lyme disease to allow us to quickly and accurately diagnose it?

My daughter's illness is alarming and frightening. In my search for a diagnosis and cure, I cannot ignore the fact that the area in which my children play with their neighbors is very likely a breeding ground for infectious disease. What better way to coexist with nature than to allow for natural selection to thin the deer population? Less deer equals less ticks.