Legislators, Constituents, Exchange Ideas

Legislators, Constituents, Exchange Ideas

Approximately 55 people met with their representatives to the General Assembly Saturday, speaking out on issues ranging from the defeat of the half-cent sales tax referendum to cuts in the hours that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is open to serve them.

“Cutting back the hours at DMV was the stupidest thing in the absolute world,” Eddie Eitches told state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-32nd), Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-34th) and Del. James M. Scott (D-53rd). “You’ve got to do something. We are now worse than the District.”

Howell said Gov. Mark Warner (D) has announced reopening the branches that were closed, including a DMV office in Sterling that serves Great Falls, and restoration of some hours. However, DMV will still be closed on Wednesdays, she said.

Dan Putziger of Falls Church said he voted no on the sales-tax referendum because he believed the money would “build roads somewhere else. I do not trust that any tax is going to anything more than another road, another lane, that will fill up in seconds,” he said.

“It was clearly specified in the bill where that money could go,” said Howell. “It was unfortunate that we didn’t do a better job of informing citizens” before they voted, she said.

Callahan said 40 percent of the state’s funding for transportation is already earmarked for spending in Northern Virginia.

“Granted, it is being dumped in the Mixing Bowl,” he said. Then, it will go to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then, Rail to Dulles.”

ANDREA DELVECCHIO of McLean protested the low number of affordable dwelling units (ADUs) in a Tysons Corner rezoning approved last week by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Four high-rise towers with 1,296 condominiums and apartments weren’t required to contribute any ADUs — residences sold below market to lower-income individuals who qualify — because of an “elevator clause” that exempts buildings more than four stories tall that are served by elevators.

West*Group’s rezoning for 13.5 acres in West*Park included 58 townhouses. Under the county’s formula for ADUs, eight ADUs will be required for the entire 1,354-unit development.

“Can’t West*Group maybe provide for subsidized condominiums in the high-rise, so maybe someone could live there and work in the grocery store?” DelVecchio asked.

She said more affordable housing must be made available so low-income families can stay together.

Howell, who worked to develop the Embry-Rucker homeless shelter in Reston, said homelessness is a multidimensional problem.

In serving on the AHOME Board (“Affordable Housing Opportunity Means Everyone”), she said she had learned that the approach to homelessness must be regarded in terms of incremental improvements rather than wholesale fixes.

“It is a very complex situation; it is a very expensive, but essential service for a community to provide,” she said.

Karen Hunt of Vienna said the sales-tax referendum failed last November because of voter concern that it would contribute to urban sprawl.

Hunt asked the legislators to support a proposed bill that would allow counties with populations of more than 55,000 and growth of more than 1 percent in the previous year to defer development plans when the localities determine that infrastructure, such as schools, is inadequate.

“We’re really coming to a crux here,” she said. “The bottom line is, it’s all tied together.”

SHE ALSO ASKED what it would take to repeal the Dillon Rule, and later, Fairhill Elementary PTA president Meg Stofko asked what the Dillon Rule is.

“It’s a constitutional provision that localities can do only what they are specifically enabled to do by the state,” said former schoolteacher Jim Scott, delegate for the 53rd District.

“It contrasts with ‘home rule’ in Maryland, where [localities] can do anything not specifically ruled out by the state.”

He pointed out that in 1970, when the state constitution was revised, the local governments asked that it be continued.

Scott explained it would take several years of legislative process to repeal the Dillon Rule and later said such an effort would have little support statewide.

But Callahan said the Dillon Rules serves “as a crutch” for local governments that don’t want to accept responsibility for services. “They can blame it on the state for something they don’t want to do anyway,” Callahan said.

John Foust, running as a Democrat for Dranesville District supervisor, said counties need the authority to limit development until adequate public facilities are in place. “It’s an important tool for local governments to have,” Foust said.

“It’s not in this year’s legislative package” from Fairfax County, said Callahan, a Republican. But Foust said such a measure is included in a larger regional package of proposed legislation.

The construction and real-estate industries have maintained high levels of employment in the downturn in the economy, said Joe Jacobs, predicting that “all development will come to a halt” if public facilities ordinances are adopted.

“The state does not get into local land use,” said Callahan.

“The localities have more power than they would have you believe. They control zoning and rezonings. They control comprehensive planning and master planning. The Board of Supervisors voted for the type of development they are doing [at Tysons Corner],” he said. “They like to pass the buck to us.”

Dranesville District Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois, a Republican candidate for Dranesville supervisor, was present at the meeting but did not comment. She voted against West*Group’s controversial rezoning.

Olivia Jenney of McLean asked the legislators to “double your efforts to provide us with information pro and con on the issues we are all interested in.”

She said before the recent vote on a half-cent sales tax referendum, “the facts were so mauled that there was no way we could possibly answer all the misinformation.”

“I, for one, don’t get wrapped around the axle about taxes,” said Clark Tyler of Hallcrest Heights in McLean, “and user taxes are OK, like gas and cigarettes. I can’t imagine anyone not being willing to pay more for transportation,” he said.

“I would support tax increases, if they went to health care, education or mental health,” said Kelly Schlageter. “I am gay. I would like to be acknowledged.

“This is Virginia,” she said. “I don’t expect marriage [between gays] to be accepted.” But she favors legislation to permit that legal benefits such as health care be extended to domestic partners, she said, and she asked that consensual sex between adults be decriminalized.

Bill Sargeant said that because condoms are effective only 80 percent of the time, decriminalizing a Virginia law against sodomy would pose a health risk.

“If you reduce the penalty,” he said, “you are encouraging an act that is not appropriate.”

TYLER THANKED the legislators for “helping us find the right pressure points” to push for sound walls to protect his community from the anticipated spike in noise if and when rail service comes to the Dulles Toll Road corridor, adjacent to Hallcrest Heights.

In answer to Jenney’s question about funding for the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) in Herndon, Callahan said, “They have an identity problem. Most people don’t know who they are.”

But the CIT’s budget of $5 million, half of what it once was, is “probably secure,” said Callahan, the second most senior member of the House of Delegates and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.