Perhaps Karen Wedekindt started off on the wrong foot. The Centreville resident is an elementary school teacher and when she came to testify before the Board of Supervisors she "played the teacher card," insisting that the Board members give her their full attention.
"All eyes and ears on me," she said.
It kind of worked, those seated at the dais looked quizzically at her standing behind the podium. She may be a teacher, but as Board Chair Gerry Connolly (D) reminded her, she was not in a classroom.
Wedekindt then launched into a indictment of Fairfax County's land use practices, centered on a 1.75-acre property on O'Day Drive in Centreville. "Nobody wants more development," Wedekindt said.
The land, about 1,000 feet north of Lee Highway is now occupied by a single home. The developers, Carl Bernstein and Horacio Magalhaes, had proposed building 10 townhouses on the land. The property is the last piece of low-density land in the midst of an area developed with townhouses.
Wedekindt talked about her experiences during the development process. County staff, she said were very helpful, but told her that no matter what the nearby residents want, the development would go through.
"I thought I had a voice," she said. "I don't."
She then accused the board of doing no more than pay lip service to the citizens while they kowtow to development interests. "I vote you to be my voice. You smile, listen and nod and then, I learn, you do what the developer wants," she said.
The Board was quick to respond to Wedekindt as she walked back to her seat.
“I hope you certainly are inculcating in your students a greater faith in the democratic process than you have indicated here," Connolly said.
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) raised the specter of the Dillon Rule, saying the Board is all but helpless to reject development proposals.
"It's just too bad that some of our citizens do not educate themselves," she said.
Connolly backed her up, pointing to a string of losses in court in the 1970s over development issues. "They [a past Board] lost time and again in court. We were beaten by the developers in each and every case," he said.
In those cases, Connolly said, not only do the developers get to go ahead with their projects, but the community does not get the benefit of the proffers.
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) lives nearby and remembered back to the time when Wedekindt's neighborhood was developed, along with many of the developments in the western part of the county. Each time, he said, property owners would come in and protest the new development. "The arguments were the same, 'I live here. Don't you dare change my neighborhood. Don't you dare allow new houses,'" Frey said.
Frey also pointed to the Dillon Rule. He noted that the area is planned for higher density, and that the proposed development conforms with the plan.
"It's a high growth county. We don't have the ability to say when it's enough," Frey said. "Unfortunately, in Fairfax County, overdevelopment is the house built after mine."
The surrounding developments are actually built at a higher density than the proposed development, he said.
While he said he would personally prefer that the land stay undeveloped, Frey said that is not an option. The choice is not between this plan or nothing, it is between this plan or a different plan, Frey said.
Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) sympathized with Wedekindt, but framed the issue as one of fairness. The property owner should not have his project blocked essentially because he is the last one to ask to develop. "You are talking about a property owner, an old timer, someone who has lived there longer than anyone else has. They're just asking for fairness," Bulova said.
Frey, in making his motion to approve the project, said the thinks the community will be better off with it. There had been another option, he said for two fewer houses, but no proffers. A two house difference, he said would be insignificant. "I think the community would be worse off with fewer units and no proffers," Frey said. The Board approved the plan unanimously.
During the board's discussion, Wedekindt left the auditorium, visibly upset.
After the vote, Connolly looked up into the seats of the Board auditorium and didn't see her.
"I guess undivided attention only goes one way," he said.