A lot of people, including some public officials in Northern Virginia and Fairfax County, are rather more entertained than enraged by the periodic intemperate, self-serving and insulting speeches of Til Hazel and his colleagues of the development community.
Not long ago this influential and successful developer blasted public officials for their asserted failure to build sufficient roads. And he characterized zoning controls as "a bunch of government bureaucrats running the development industry."
Hazel's reasoning seems to be that the economic well-being of Northern Virginia is wholly dependent on a future of continuous high-density land development extravaganzas unimpeded by governmental regulation. This rosy outlook, we are told, will hold down our real estate taxes and provide even more jobs. (Who will apply for these jobs is not specified. Northern Virginia already has an extremely tight job market.) And any citizen or local government official who does not agree with this philosophy is shortsighted, lacking in courage (sometimes called "guts") or, it is implied, a hopeless idiot.
What is never explained is why the real estate tax dollars annually paid by Fairfax County homeowners have been in a sharply rising spiral for the past 20 years, during which Hazel and his colleagues have achieved unparalleled success in pursuit of their announced objectives. Never mentioned by the Economic Development Commission, the County Chamber of Commerce, New Dominion magazine, the Business Council and other "voices of progress" is the fact that all of this good stuff brings with it increased congestion and increased demands for police and fire protection, education services, social services, recreation services, planning services, building inspection services, welfare services, judicial services, transportation services -- you name it. The whole rationale creates the image of a huge dog chasing its tail faster and faster. (Hazel says he will view the Fairfax County election for supervisor from eastern Fauquier County. There they struggle along with substantially less "progress" and a real estate tax rate of 72 cents compared with $1.32 for Fairfax County.)
And, oh yes! I read that our unbelievably congested highways are solely and exclusively attributable not to development but to "state and county officials too timid to build highways." The real problem is that Hazel and his colleagues grossly overload the highways before they can be built. Rte. 50 west of Fairfax City is a prime example. This is a four- to six-lane divided highway built several years ago. Until recently, it handled a heavy flow of traffic expeditiously. Now, however, the development of high-density shopping centers, office parks and industrial areas adjacent to Rte. 50 has forced the installation of stop lights at nearly every intersection, and traffic is gridlocked. Even a 10-lane highway won't move traffic as long as there are stoplights at every intersection.
Some people are not certain that their grandchildren should be taxed to repay the bonded indebtedness necessary to build the road system required by Hazel's and other's developments. And other people do not like the idea that their front yards and our little remaining open spaces are being condemned to build such roads. Every equation has two sides. I am not much of a mathematician, but I do seem to recall that equivalence can be achieved by adding to one side or by subtracting from the other. In my judgment, transportation is being cleverly misused as a huge red herring by the pro-development community to divert discussion away from and mask the real issue of limiting development to tolerable levels.
Let us not kid ourselves. The land development issue is controversial because it involves major concentrations of corporate and personal wealth and constitutes a highly visible business by which great fortunes can be made and expanded very quickly. And all of these resources are being deployed with consummate skill to mold supportive public policy.
But who are the real beneficiaries of all this? I sort of doubt that those of us who sit in our overheated cars on gridlocked highways feel enormously endowed by the constant and seemingly irresistible outward march of what Hazel and his colleagues characterize as progress and prosperity. What we need to do is cut the baloney, decide when, how and at what level we balance development with facilities and then say, "This is enough." -- Charles A. Robinson Jr. is the mayor of Vienna.