First, we thank The Washington Post for the article on issues relating to "smart growth" ["A Campaign for 'Smart Growth' Goes Online," Fairfax Extra, Sept. 9].
For any resident concerned about gridlocked roads and crowded schools, discussion of this topic is important.
Indeed, we want to expand upon a vital point raised in the article: that many developers are misusing the benign and friendly "smart growth" label to promote a radical urban transformation of Fairfax County -- a potentially grim vision that voters have neither endorsed nor had a chance to debate openly.
Despite numerous calls from the community for impact studies before these projects reshape areas such as Dunn Loring, Vienna, McLean and Reston, the developers and planners are recklessly pushing their plans forward one by one, seemingly without regard for their overall effect on our neighborhoods and region.
What is "smart growth," and why are conscientious citizens deeply concerned by how it is being applied in Fairfax?
Our arguments with "smart growth" are not with its theoretical benefits, which include encouraging Metro use -- by concentrating higher-density housing near the rail stations -- and supposed reductions in sprawl, on the theory that these urban clusters preserve open space that would have been gobbled up elsewhere by single-family houses.
Unfortunately, in practice we are seeing a painful gap between the developers' hype and their actual proposals. Taking one plan mentioned in your article -- the proposed radical urbanization of neighborhoods near the Vienna Metro station -- what we are seeing is not "smart growth" but a frightening combination of developer greed and county planning that is naively optimistic to the point of negligence.
This plan, currently before the Planning Commission and known as Fairlee-Metro West, would replace 61 single-family homes with 2,350 residences, a nearly 40-fold increase. It also would drop in eight high-rise buildings of 10 to 14 stories. In another neighborhood immediately to the west, a second developer is seeking to plow under about 70 single-family homes, replacing them with 1,300 new residences. Both developers have cited "smart growth" to justify their plans.
Our objections to the planned replacement of 130 homes with nearly 3,700 could fill an entire news page, but we want to highlight three:
* Traffic. County planners say about a third of the Fairlee-Metro West residents would commute by rail. In the nearly 3,700 homes proposed in these two developments, it is fair to estimate that more than 70 percent of all residents would commute like the rest of us -- by car.
Additionally, the current Metro West proposal includes about 300,000 square feet of office space. County planners expect that only about 9 percent of the office workers will commute by rail.
What does all that say about traffic? Together, these "smart growth" developments would put at least another 1,200 daily riders on Metro, and they almost certainly would add about 5,000 daily rush-hour drivers to this already insanely gridlocked area. In responding to these concerns, Dr. Gridlock wrote Aug. 26, "At some point we will reach a saturation point where nobody moves at all. The county supervisors seem to be in a race to get there."
* Schools. According to county planners, the 2,350 units proposed in the Metro West high-rise project at Vienna would add only 260 children to the county school system. We find this number staggeringly naive. It would mean nine of every 10 new units would have zero children and that the 10th unit would have one child. The project's lead developer has proposed putting 10 trailers into a local elementary school, a proposal one local PTA called "pathetic." The real impact would almost certainly be on a far higher scale, and we see no evidence that county or school officials are preparing appropriately.
* Open space. Perhaps the most cynical assertion about Fairfax-style "smart growth" is that it will reduce sprawl elsewhere. In fact, we are seeing the opposite. Developers, perhaps encouraged by the county's lax oversight, are seeking to increase zoning densities throughout the county, even in areas such as Dranesville that are nowhere near Metrorail. In the Fairlee-Metro West proposal at Vienna Metro, the developer and the county have gone a step further. Not only are they paving significant open space, the current county proposal would destroy 10 acres of wooded county parkland, to save a private developer the cost and inconvenience of maintaining a storm water pond on his own property.
With developers seeking to radically transform and in many cases urbanize our county, the time has come for an urgent reassessment of our land-use agenda. Some growth is, of course, inevitable, but it has to be responsible or we will be swamped.
We need our county planners to realistically assess the impact of all new projects and to scale them back or find better remedies for their impacts on roads, schools, parkland and other basic services. We need our elected leaders to promote an open community debate instead of keeping this crucial issue below the public radar screen.
Residents are right to be concerned about "smart growth," at least in the form it's being force-fed to us in Fairfax. Based on the current developments proposed for Dunn Loring and Vienna, as well as the gargantuan changes envisioned for Tysons Corner, our county's planning for the future looks anything but "smart." And the unchecked, runaway "growth" seems frighteningly like a malignant urban cancer that is threatening neighborhoods, schools and roads throughout Fairfax County. County officials are considering a developer's plan to replace single-family homes in neighborhoods near the Vienna Metro station with eight high-rise office and residential towers. William S. Elliott, left, and Doug Stafford, who live in the affected area and oppose the plan, have helped form a new group called Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth (www.FairGrowth.org), which they hope will bring together residents throughout the county who are concerned about the impact of such developments on established neighborhoods.