An important and invaluable voice in western Fairfax County land use since moving here 11 years ago, Jim Hart is the 2001 recipient of the James D. McDonnell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Service.
"It's certainly appropriate and certainly well-deserved," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), presenting the award at Monday night's quarterly meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA). "Jim Hart is the hardest-working man out here."
Hart, of Virginia Run, has been on the WFCCA's Land-Use Committee since 1994 and served as its chairman from 1998-2000. He was also WFCCA president from 1996-98 and has been a member of the county's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) since 2000. He also takes an active interest in regional transportation issues that could affect this area.
And he's not afraid to speak his mind when he believes a particular business or something about a residential development could be detrimental to the citizens. McDonnell always set high standards for Centreville's development, and so does Hart.
"Centreville is the place it is today because of the community involvement," said Frey, stressing how the WFCCA makes sure developers "pony up" improvements and follow county guidelines. "The WFCCA has had a tremendous impact on the community."
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. "Kate" Hanley noted that she receives e-mails from Hart on a number of things on a regular basis. "I'm always glad to get them," she said. "It's nice to know citizens out here are paying attention to the issues."
As for Hart, for once, he was actually surprised. "I pride myself in knowing everything that's going on out here, but I didn't know about this," he said.
A long-time community activist, McDonnell died in January 1998. He served 14 years on the Land-Use Committee and was chairman when he died of cancer at age 50.
"Jim was an inspiration," said Hart. "I'm not a natural volunteer, and it's largely through [his] encouragement that I got involved in the WFCCA. This means a great deal to me. I'm honored, and I hope I'll continue to live up to the great example that Jim McDonnell set for us."
Hart represented his former community, Heritage Forest, when he moved to Centreville in 1991. And when he first attended land-use meetings, he said, "I was content to sit in the audience and ask questions, now and then." But both McDonnell and Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch (a former McDonnell Award recipient) urged him to become more active.
Right up to the end, said Hart, McDonnell was a role model for him in his unselfish qualities and his commitment to public service. "He had serious health problems — bone cancer, but he kept coming to meetings and keeping us on top of land-use cases," said Hart. "And he set a really good example of trying to bring diverse viewpoints together to have a consensus in local land-use issues, without partisanship."
Besides the WFCCA, Hart's also served as an at-large member and chairman of the countywide trails committee and was on the county's Board of Equalization, dealing with real-estate assessment appeals. An attorney in partnership with the son of Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. in the Fairfax City firm of Hart & Horan, Hart does construction and real-estate litigation.
He's former chairman of the Construction Law and Public Contracts section of the Virginia State Bar and former chairman of three Fairfax Bar Association committees. And in June 2000, he received the President's Award from the Fairfax Bar and was named an honorary Lord Fairfax.
"I've always believed members of the bar should try and contribute their time to community activities — and not necessarily law-related," said Hart. So what keeps him doing it? "I'm very bad at saying 'no,'" he replied.
He's also learned a lot by serving in all these organizations. "Fairfax County is a wonderful place to live, and I'm fortunate to have gotten to know such nice people in all these activities," he said. "We have such talented people with good ideas — civic-minded individuals who want to make the community better for everybody."
Hart says citizen groups are important because the community is strengthened by broad participation in civic activities, whether they be schools, homeowners associations, churches or other organizations. "The Centreville area is pretty strong in that regard," he said. "A lot of people take pride in their community and want to give back something to it."