Setting Growth Agenda

Setting Growth Agenda

Citizens meet to develop new growth management strategy.

Russell Ekanger summed it up. The Vienna Little League president, wearing his baseball cap, explained that an explosion in the number of players has made it difficult to find enough fields.

Ekanger placed the blame for this squarely on top of the new houses which have been sprouting up around the county. "Please stop this insidious, crazy, excess growth," Ekanger said.

Most of the crowd of about 220 citizens, elected and appointed officials, county staff and developers in the auditorium of Oakton High School erupted into applause. The Tuesday night meeting was sponsored by a confederation of groups which generally espouse slow-growth views, and was the first in a series designed to develop an agenda for changing the way the county handles growth and development.

"It is not anti-development," said Charlie Hall, Vienna-area resident and master of ceremonies for the night.

Hall said he hopes to conduct a series of meetings across the county before having another, larger meeting next February. At that time, Hall said, they hope to adopt the guidelines, just in time for the 2007 election season. "If our elected officials … adopt this formal agenda, there will be fundamental change," Hall said.

After Hall's opening remarks, a series of speakers came up to expound on the 12 items which they say are most critical to changing development policies.

THE SPEAKERS invoked a wide-ranging list of criticisms, generally directed at the Board of Supervisors. The board, they say, needs better information about environmental impacts; needs to use its existing powers; should be more strict about enforcing developer's promises; should pay more attention to the impact development is having on quality of life and should be more responsive to citizen's desires.

Others called for changes to county regulations which would reform the way the county deals with trees and stormwater and would impose penalties on developers who do not comply with their promises.

Jody Bennett, of the Vienna area, said that the public hearing process needs reform. She noted that often speakers will come and give well-considered presentations at the public hearing. Once the hearing ends, Bennett said, its becomes apparent that the decision was made before it began. "Out comes a prepared decision," she said.

About two dozen others, from all over the county spoke about a variety of issues. Some called for more bike lanes or increased transit while others called for less developer money in political campaigns.

One speaker disagreed with the group. "I feel like I live in a different county than what I saw here," said Carl Noller of Reston. He said that he sees trees all over the county, and that empty buses are a sign that more public transportation is not needed.

Lori Cole of the Vienna Town Council told the crowd that if they wanted to see some real change, they would need to show up at the ballot box. "Let them [elected officials] know that you are going to vote these issues at election time," Cole said.

Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) was the only member of the board to attend the entire meeting. Board chair Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) came late.

After it ended, Smyth acknowledged that some of the speakers had made good points. "Certainly, there are all sorts of ways we can improve the process," she said.

However she took issue with many of the speakers. Some of their assertions, she said, while true did not give the entire picture.

She also challenged some of the other speakers. Smyth, who served on the Planning Commission before joining the Board of Supervisors, said she did not recall some of the speakers ever having participated in the process they were criticizing. "How do you know what you're complaining about?" she said.