Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois (R) took office just a few weeks ago, but she is already gearing up to tackle tough issues that have dogged her predecessors. DuBois is preparing to confront a budget out of Richmond that will undoubtedly raise her constituents’ taxes for the fourth consecutive year, and to use her experience as a planning commissioner to help the district as it struggles with increased development and land-use debates.
“From the financial forecasts we’ve had, the assessments will probably be going up 10 percent. That’s the fourth year in a row that Dranesville has seen double-digit increases,” said DuBois. In tandem with the increase will be budget cuts that DuBois recognizes will not be popular. “We’re going to have to prioritize programs. Everyone is not going to get what they’re asking for. The schools, for example, do we give the school administrators everything they’re looking for?” questioned DuBois.
One way to raise additional funds may be to create a county tax patterned after the taxes cities are allowed to levy. Before DuBois took over for Stuart Mendelsohn, a legislative package was submitted that supports giving counties the right to levy an additional tax. “I support it, but my concern is that it might come with some additional responsibilities that we may not be ready for, and there may be some mandates we don’t want that go along with it,” said DuBois.
If given the opportunity to use that tax, DuBois is looking at a cigarette tax of about .50 cents to raise money for the county.
A restrictive budget package could force all area district supervisors to make some tough decisions about how parks are funded and the programs they are able to offer. Again, DuBois will turn toward prioritizing projects as a method of getting the most out of the monies available to her.
“Out of the parks we have here, and there are a lot around with different needs, one of the top priorities is completing the trails. What we hear most often from people is that they want these completed,” DuBois said.
IN RESPONSE TO concerns raised over the use of area athletic fields, DuBois created a task force that is made up of representatives from each side of the debate to discuss Issues such as the use of lights on fields, to facilitate dialogue between the groups.
As for emerging park space, in McLean her focus is on the Clemyjontri Park which she believes can become a beacon in the community. “This is a park for handicapped children. It will be the only one in the county, the whole county, dedicated to handicapped access and to handicapped children.” Fund-raising for the park which is planned so that children with handicaps can play side by side with children without handicaps, is actively going on, and DuBois intends to promote those activities as the project develops.
In Great Falls DuBois thinks the Turner Farm Park project needs attention. “The people in Great Falls are anxious to see Turner Farm accelerate, so some work can be done there,” said DuBois.
Land-use issues top DuBois’ active file. She believes there are opportunities to slow growth in McLean with creative decisions at the planning level. McLean has lost nearly all its large tracts of land, so there really aren’t many opportunities for new subdivisions in the area.
In-fill development is the area DuBois thinks should be watched. In-fill development is where a house is torn down and either two replace it or one large home is built. “What we are going to start seeing in the older neighborhoods is a house here and there being torn down and replaced. This is going to raise issues of neighborhood continuity,” DuBois said. “We’re going to have to figure out if we can do something about that, and I’m not sure we can because it’s a land-use issue.”
Because additional roof space and grading to pave long driveways could create drainage concerns, DuBois thinks it might be possible to curb development of this type based on concerns over storm drainage.
This type of creative governance is music to some local citizen groups. Sue Turner of the McLean Citizens Association said, "We'd like to see her expect more out of commercial developers. To put more demands on them before giving them the nod to go forward."
GREAT FALLS HAS fewer options to slowing down development because there are still large real-estate parcels prime for development. “There are several big tracts out there that could go on the market. There could be a lot of houses built out there without there being a zoning issue, so there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” DuBois said.
DuBois hopes to leave a legacy as a statesman and as someone who worked for the goals set down by the community. In order to achieve that, she plans to be proactive in her communication with constituents. She already has an Interactive Web site available, which receives a large number of hits each day and allows residents to personally e-mail her with questions and comments. In March her office will begin sending out e-mail newsletters that touch on issues that have been decided or are under advisement, to residents who have provided an Internet address. DuBois says this electronic forum will give her an opportunity to "work with the community on the vision they want."
That's good news to many residents and citizens organizations that felt shut out of the District Supervisor’s Office during Stuart Mendelsohn's time. "The special-interest groups had the previous supervisor's attention, and everyone else was shut out. We welcome this change. It's a relief to the community," said Turner.
Big projects, such as expansion at McLean Bible Church and the development of Evans Farm, are often cited as instances where it was felt the previous administration made a decision early on about development and turned a deaf ear to citizen concerns, according to Turner.
MENDELSOHN BELIEVES DuBois is well-positioned to handle the issues being dealt with in the district because of her experience and the experience of her staff. "She's got 16 years’ experience in the Supervisor’s Office. She knows the issues, and she has relationships with the people Involved," said Mendelsohn. Additionally, he says the staff is an asset to her because "most of my people are still there, and they know the issues and people well, too. I felt very comfortable stepping down knowing [DuBois] was there."
Having relationships with people in different sections of the government and development Industry will serve DuBois well as she tries to help get the Dulles Rail project back on track. There are currently two tax districts (for commercial properties only) to help fund the project. According to DuBois, a third Western tax district is being formed by businessess in the area to make the rail a reality. Working with the groups is one way DuBois believes she can help make the rail a reality.
While the rail proposal is still years away, DuBois feels there are things she can do now that will make a difference to people. In McLean, she intends to push for the revitalization plans — especially the pedestrian walkways, to be completed as soon as feasible. She's also looking into the possibility of moving some of the utility wires underground in the downtown section.
She's also mulling the idea of moving McLean Day into downtown McLean Instead of at Lewinsville Park. "That's really an interesting idea," said Mendelsohn. "It would promote the revitalization and promote the things we've been working on for so many years. If she can do it logistically, it's probably a good idea."
Logistics, however, might be a problem, as Turner points out. "That's a bone she's throwing to the local merchants, but I don't know how she's going to get the booths and carnival rides down there," Turned said.
In Great Falls, DuBois’ "wish list" Includes getting a new firehouse for the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department. That has been problematic in the past because of disagreements over volunteer department needs vs. county department needs. "I hope I can get them a firehouse, like Stu [Mendelsohn] was able to get them a library," said DuBois.