Look to Calif. for Ways

To Improve Va. Districts

Regardless of whether California voters step forward ["California Steps Forward," Editorial, Aug. 21], the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area hopes that the current California effort to change its system of redistricting will spur similar action by the Virginia General Assembly. We now have a redistricting system in which the officeholders often select their constituents, leaving the voters with no choices.

The legislative lines drawn by the General Assembly in 2001 have resulted in fewer competitive seats and fewer contested elections throughout Virginia.

The numbers tell the story. In the 2003 legislative elections, only 10 percent of the seats were competitive. In the upcoming elections for the House of Delegates, only 39 of the 100 districts in Virginia will have major party contests. Although the numbers are better in Northern Virginia, over a third of the incumbents in Fairfax districts will have no major party opponent this November.

Our members are joining with other League members throughout Virginia to take another look at how Virginia draws its legislative district lines. We hope that others will join us in working for changes in the procedures before the lines are redrawn in 2011, so that Virginia voters will have a meaningful choice when they go to the polls in the next decade.

Sherry W. Zachry

President, League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area

Annandale

To Many Outside Reston,

An Unwelcome Expansion

There is a brewing controversy between Reston and some of the neighborhoods surrounding it, several of which are in or near Herndon, Vienna and Oakton.

The Reston Citizens Association, a nonprofit civic group, has proposed incorporating Reston into a town. This would be of little interest to anyone not living in the original Reston deed tract were it not for the fact that the proposed charter of incorporation defines the borders of a future Reston as coinciding with those of Small Tax District 5.

The county Board of Supervisors created the tax district in 1975 to finance construction of the Reston Community Center. The tax district consists of many neighborhoods outside of Reston that have Vienna, Herndon and Oakton addresses.

I and several of my friends and neighbors conducted an informal survey of opinions among residents of the tax district who live outside Reston. We were surprised to learn that less than 5 percent of households were aware that they were paying a special surtax to support the community center. Everyone became agitated when told that soon they might wake up and be living in the town of Reston.

Opposition in the section of the tax district that is not part of Reston to Reston's annexation plan appears to be unanimous. The reasons given for such opposition are that homeowners outside of Reston do not wish to live under covenant restrictions typically imposed by Reston and have no intention of having their tax burdens raised without meaningful benefits. It became clear to us that Reston's plans are controversial.

A grass-roots movement to stop the initiative has been gaining momentum. Its Web site, www.td5c2.org, contains a history of this initiative and reflects the overwhelming sentiment of those who are deeply opposed to the incorporation of Reston. One thing is sure, this growing controversy has not played out.

Peter von zur Muehlen

Vienna

Up or Down? Trend Unclear

In Consumption of Gas

The article "Acute Pain at the Pump Stalls Gas Tax Revenue" [Page A1, Aug. 27] stated that gas tax revenue is down in Virginia, Maryland and the District and has been since June. This is attributed to the high price of gas and the reduction of consumption by the buying public.

But in a recent online Associated Press story, "High Gas Prices Not Deterring Motorists" [AP Web site, Aug. 15], we are told that "No matter how much motorists shake their heads in disgust at record pump prices, fuel consumption isn't expected to plummet anytime soon."

So please tell us, which is it? Gas consumption is going down or gas consumption is going up? Gas consumption can't be doing both at the same time.

James Baker

Alexandria

'Midgetville' Debate

Still a Growing Concern

Thank you for your thorough documentation of Wedderburn Neighbors' struggle to ensure that reason informs development choices in Fairfax County ["Fight Over 'Midgetville' Nears Its Final Round," Fairfax Extra, Aug. 25].

Given our long summer of stunning losses, however, readers might wonder why we press on and why our efforts have prompted the creation of www.FairGrowthNetwork.org, a Web-based communication and coordination tool that allows existing groups to work together on issues of cross-county concern.

The proposed Wedderburn development is not just one overly dense infill like so many others that seem to crop up overnight like clumps of brick mushrooms. If approved by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26, it will set three important precedents:

* First, it will formally bless new developer tactics to strip protective buffers from environmentally sensitive Chesapeake tributaries using unscientific and nonpublic procedures that stream ecologist Penelope Firth and I challenged in a Guest Column in Fairfax Extra on June 30. Fairfax County to date has ignored not only our analysis but also seven letters from stream ecologists and biologists protesting the county's decision to allow eyeball evidence of water flow to cancel the results of a scientific protocol used to identify which streams to protect from construction with 100-foot buffers.

Some of the factors used in this protocol are measures of continuing subsurface water flow that supports aquatic life performing important water-cleansing functions, but the county in writing has dismissed evidence of such continuing flow as of "no relevance" when canceling buffers in favor of construction. The county has similarly dismissed a letter from the Potomac Conservancy contesting the county's lenient reading of its own regulations in allowing this. (All documents are available at www.WedderburnNeighbors.org.)

If the Wedderburn development is approved, this treatment of Chesapeake tributaries in Fairfax will be established as final policy. Indeed, two Scotts Run tributaries are now under review for potential declassification using these same procedures.

* Second, the Wedderburn development will set a precedent on treatment of the Washington & Old Dominion trail, which bounds the property to the north.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, the county's Non-Motorized Transportation Committee, the Federation of Citizens Associations, the Providence District Council, the Friends of the W&OD Trail and more than 1,400 trail users -- including Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax) and Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax) -- have all asked that any development along the W&OD trail include a 50-foot undisturbed vegetative buffer and a minimum 25-foot building setback.

The developers are offering a 40-foot buffer and 20-foot setback (as the result of prior community pressure), which the Planning Commission on July 28 said was enough. The Providence District Council recently issued a resolution saying that this was not enough, however, and we agree. Thirty-two-foot-high houses, 20 feet apart on tiny lots, require the full buffer and setback requested in order to preserve the trail, especially in light of Dominion Power's massive tree-clearing project along the trail this year.

* Finally, the Wedderburn development seeks to vacate tree-save and buffer areas given as proffers in connection with prior developments and to use these same areas as "open space" to justify yet more density in a "cluster" development. But these areas were already promised to the public in exchange for past density increases. More density increases require new commitments and should not piggyback on past ones.

If the board allows the development to go forward to increase density yet again without exacting new benefits for the public, it will set the precedent that proffers of open space and tree buffers are of no lasting value -- they will be sacrificed willingly for yet another clump of brick mushrooms.

Deborah M. Reyher

for Wedderburn Neighbors

Vienna