How did Vienna achieve its small-town character in the midst of this area's rapid development, and how does it manage to retain it?

I am often asked this question by Fairfax County residents. The short answer is simple: because we said a firm no to the frequent unsuitable rezoning requests prevalent from the 1950s to the mid-1980s, which would have resulted in a town far different from the one we enjoy today.

But how many town residents are still among us from those decades who remember the strong sense of purpose and commitment of time and energy that united residents and civic associations to actively involve themselves in town affairs, learn the issues, oppose unsuitable development and therefore give us the legacy that is the Vienna of today? I worry that after a 20-year respite from rezoning battles inside and outside our borders, we are so convinced the war is won that we have allowed complacency to overtake us.

Just the other side of the Vienna Metro station, the proposed Fairlee-Metro West project would rezone for about 2,000 apartments and townhouses, two office mid-rise buildings and possibly a grocery store and other retail and support services. County planners have paid little heed to the project's obvious traffic impact on Vienna despite vigorous objections from the Town Council and residents in our southwest quadrant.

On our southeast border, the rezoning requested for the 13-acre Wedderburn tract for up to 29 additional houses would, as proposed, have placed a cut-through traffic burden on town residents. In this project, some residents have become active and united in a way that revives the citizen spirit of past decades and, together with the Town Council, have achieved a better traffic pattern for the development.

If this is not sufficient to arouse our interest, look toward Tysons Corner, where the Fairfax Board of Supervisors will consider changes to the county's development guidelines that would allow hotels, offices and condominium towers -- some up to 25 stories tall -- on nearly 800 of the 1,700 acres in Tysons. And over at Tysons Corner Center, there is a major expansion underway that includes another building, a parking deck, a 16-screen movie theater, restaurants and more retailers. By 2009, more than 1,000 residential units are planned for Westpark in anticipation of rail service to Tysons.

Meanwhile, here in our oasis there are issues we ought to be thinking about, even if they seem somewhat insignificant compared with what is taking place outside our borders. These include suggestions to raise the height limitations on buildings along Maple Avenue, thereby altering the low skyline many see as an important component of Vienna's small-town character.

There is also a possible townhouse rezoning request in the historic district. And there is the problem of accommodating ever-larger houses and additions to the maximum permitted square footage of lots under current zoning. Since a sense of open space between dwellings has traditionally defined our residential areas, the latter issue needs to be addressed. It will be studied by the town Planning Commission in its review of Vienna's comprehensive land-use plan.

I may sound like Chicken Little saying, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" All I am really trying to do is remind us that the town we have today was achieved only with citizen interest, involvement and input at both the town and county levels. We seem to forget sometimes that we have the right not only to challenge the decisions of our Town Council but also to question and challenge the Board of Supervisors.

To roughly paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for unfortunate events and decisions to adversely affect the town we have created is for all of us good citizens to do nothing. Please stay interested, informed and alert. Recent development proposals in Fairfax County could threaten the quality of life in the town of Vienna, argues Town Council member Maud F. Robinson in this essay, which first appeared in the newsletter for the town of about 15,000 people.