DRIVE ALONG narrow back roads through the rolling greenery of outer Northern Virginia and read the signs: For Sale, For Sale, For Sale. Like the diced, spliced and developed land near more-traveled byways, the acreage here is headed for radical surgery by subdividers.
Pick a county -- Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier, Stafford, Spotsylvania and outward -- and see the houses sprout. Rezonings of yesteryear are done deals, with more to come. But at least today local leaders aren't all salivating at the prospect of prospecting developers.
Taxpayers have learned that residential growth doesn't automatically fatten revenues. New neighbors put new demands on the governments for big-ticket items: schools, roads, water and sewer lines, public transportation and social services. To cushion and curb the impact, officials are increasing fees to developers.
This month Loudoun supervisors raised fees to $10,712 per dwelling for some single-family homes, up from a previous $4,550 to $10,290. Last month Spotsylvania imposed new fees on developers. Last year Prince William established a graduated increase of up to $15,250 per house by 2001. The fees get passed on to buyers.
Because of historically tight state controls, Virginia county leaders teamed up this year for a pitch to lawmakers in Richmond for more authority. But developers who fight building fees pay hefty amounts to candidates and incumbents who oppose limits on growth, so the joint local effort fell on deaf ears. Gov. Gilmore, too, has expressed opposition to laws limiting growth -- a position buttressed by real estate and construction interests that paid $1.2 million into the 1997 Gilmore campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
But over time, the pressures of residential growth on taxpayers are likely to increase political pressures for more local controls. If Virginia is to avoid the extremes -- uncontrolled growth or freezes on new housing -- some fresh meetings of minds are in order.