Growth in Fairfax County is out of control. That would seem to be an unexceptionable statement on the order of, say, the Earth is round. The polls say that about 75 percent of county residents think there's too much growth. In Tuesday's election, Audrey Moore, a minority-of-one on the board of supervisors for 16 years, was elected by a margin of 22 percentage points over her opponent, Jack Herrity, by running on a slow-growth platform.
But at the risk of being denounced as a "Flat Earther," I would say that growth hasn't been all bad. In fact, it's been desirable.
When I hear residents complain, as I constantly do, about "too much growth," I think back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. By almost everyone's reckoning, Fairfax was on a growth binge of truly alarming proportions. You could see the destructiveness all around. Whole woods were cleared and the land carved into environmentally wasteful quarter-acre lots. Outdated and overloaded sewage-treatment plants were sending millions of gallons of life-killing effluent into the Potomac River every day. The one drinking-water source the county owned, the Occoquan Reservoir, was a truly pathetic testament to unplanned growth. At one end of the reservoir, a pipe dumped in effluent from an out-of-date sewage plant. At the other end, water was drawn out by the public water authority. Pounds of copper sulfate were periodically dumped into the reservoir in a let's-hope-it-works effort to rid the water of pollutants.
To handle the pell-mell growth, the county was building the average of one schoolroom a day, but that wasn't nearly enough. Other services were sometimes nonexistent in fast-growing parts of the county. In all of western Fairfax, there was but one local library -- a storefront in Reston. If Reston residents needed police service instead of a library book, the nearest station was 10 miles away in Chantilly. There was a shortage of parkland, and there were few trails or other recreational assets.
And though services were woefully inadequate, taxes rose every year. The burden fell heavily on homeowners because there weren't many office parks or other sources of business taxes.
Fed up with that kind of growth, county voters in 1971 threw out almost all the incumbent supervisors. Into power came a group of Democrats who said growth had to be controlled. One of those Democrats was Audrey Moore.
It's 16 years later, and the effort to stop residential growth has been as unsuccessful as the effort to promote business growth has been successful.
But is there an exact parallel between 1971 and 1987? During the fast-growth years of 1966 to 1971, the population increased annually by an average of 23,466. During the so-called fast-growth years of 1976-1987, the population increased annually by an average of 12,930.
In 1971, 31 percent of the population was school-age, the most expensive population to serve. In 1986, school-age children were 22 percent of the population.
Single-family homes are still the predominant form of home building in Fairfax, but because of more sensible planning, the houses are often built on smaller lots and clustered together, leaving more land for parks and recreation.
Sewage-treatment plants are sending out effluent that is more hospitable to fish and plant life, and thanks to the state-of-the-art treatment plant on the Occoquan, that effluent is of near drinking-water quality.
While the county's population has increased by 49 percent since 1971, parkland has increased by 300 percent. It's now possible to walk, jog or bicycle on a trail that runs uninterrupted across the breadth of Fairfax, from the Loudoun County border to Alexandria. In Reston, one of the most urban parts of Fairfax, residents last month dedicated a 31-acre nature education center that's across the street from another 40-acre nature preserve dedicated in 1983.
In almost every section of the county there is now a local governmental center where residents can conduct routine business (such as picking up their auto stickers), see the police or get other services. Yet, in 16 years, the real estate tax rate has gone down by more than a fifth.
Growth that produces these changes is not all bad. Furthermore, it's not the environment-destroying growth of 16 years ago. It's occurring on less than 10 percent of the land, in areas that were set aside for offices and industry because they were unsuitable for homes. Who would want to live at the end of a runway at Washington Dulles International Airport?
Yes, there is terrible traffic congestion. Unfortunately, it will not be entirely solved by building more and wider roads. It will be solved by better management of the traffic. What Fairfax needs to do is build strategically placed HOV lanes for buses and car and van pools traveling to and from job centers within the county -- on the Dulles Toll Road, I-66 outside the Capital Beltway and farther down on either Braddock Road or Old Keene Mill Road. The future Springfield Bypass, a north-south route, should also have HOV lanes and so should Rte. 28. There is no incentive for residents who work in the county to travel in pools, as do residents who commute to the District, because there are no HOV lanes outside the Beltway in western Fairfax. The HOV lanes could be funded by a combination of developer, county and state aid.
The office space is not causing the traffic jams; the cars going to and from them are causing it. Keep the office space coming. It provides jobs, pays taxes and helps the economy in many indirect ways. There are loud screams about growth. But how many county residents would be willing to stop the growth of the single-occupant vehicle at rush hour?
Tom Grubisich who covered Fairfax County for The Post in the 1970s, is editor of the Connection newspapers in Fairfax.