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Letter: Inhibiting Progress

— To the Editor:

In last week's Gazette, an article by Gerald A. Fill concerning the master planning of Westgrove Park referred to opponents of the off-leash dog area (OLDA) as "environmental protection advocates." Another article on the same subject in another publication referred to these same people as "environmentalists." In each case, they were referring to those who support keeping the park in its natural state, namely Friends of Dyke Marsh (FODM) President and chief lobbyist Glenda Booth and other FODM members, among others.

I found myself asking "What is an environmentalist?" Why is Glenda Booth and why are her FODM colleagues referred to as "environmentalists?" Do reporters just make the assumption that they are environmentalists or is there some justification for bestowing that honorable description on these community members? From my perspective, I don't believe the evidence supports that lofty designation.

Being against property development doesn't make one an environmentalist. Most developments are environmentally friendly — county staff and our state and local ordinances make that the case even for by-right developments. Seeking to interpose unreasonable conditions on development doesn't make one an environmentalist. Fairfax County requires developments on sensitive lands to demonstrate no net loss of water quality. I recall frequent battles, while a member of the MVCCA's environment and recreation committee, with other members who wanted developers to exceed the county requirements to obtain approval from the committee. My perception was that these zealots were trying to interpose unreasonable conditions on development to stop development. This is wrong.

Turning back to the Westgrove OLDA, every scientific expert says that the OLDA is a best management practice. Moreover, the biggest known environmental hazard in our area is the proliferation of geese and the infiltration of their feces into our bodies of water. The presence of dogs at Westgrove Park will surely reduce the presence of geese. In my opinion, anyone who opposes a best management practice that simultaneously addresses the goose feces issue can't possibly be considered to be an "environmentalist."

The same goes for people (Ms. Booth, FODM and others) who advocate a restoration plan for Dyke Marsh that would destroy a significant fish habitat. The National Park Service's (NPS) outside expert said that filling in that habitat does nothing to enhance Dyke Marsh. Moreover, those people are apparently unconcerned that NPS has not provided cost estimates for the proposed restoration options. Do "environmentalists" advocate unreasonable government actions without regard to their potential costs? Not in my book.

Are those who tried to extract, from the proposed developers of Kings Crossing, all manner of land restoration concessions on neighboring properties, "environmentalists?" No. Based upon the presence of the Wal-Mart that resulted from their actions and the actions of others, they don't earn that designation in my opinion.

I've been told by numerous county officials and developers that Mount Vernon is the most difficult magisterial district within which to obtain approval of a development project that is not "by-right." They tell me the reason is a handful of local residents. These "activists," from my experience, fancy themselves "environmentalists," but are in truth, are mostly people who have discovered that most residents are apathetic and don't participate in the civic arena. If they just show up at meetings, study development plans and visit with county officials who are required to politely meet with them, they can find ways to throw monkey wrenches into reasonable development proposals and wield significant power. I see them at all the meetings — they rarely succeed in thwarting development proposals, but they always succeed in delaying those proposals and costing the developers more money. They also "succeed" in delaying the date on which property owners can begin earning income from their properties. Those increased costs are just passed along to the rest of us in the form of higher rents, and greater cost of goods sold by renting businesses.

No, these people are not "environmentalists." They are just people with too much spare time who seem to delight in throwing sand into the gears of progress.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon