THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, July 27, 1994 TAG: 9407270008 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A14 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Opinion SOURCE: By ROBERT T. DENNIS LENGTH: Medium: 78 lines
It is worse than ironic that Virginia's General Assembly - unable to deal meaningfully with legislation proposed by the Commission on Population Growth and Development following five years of work - voted after only two months of sporadic deliberation, superficial study and lots of arm twisting to subsidize construction of Disney's America. The theme park would spawn a new ``edge city'' so inappropriately located that it would broadly restructure at least the Virginia portion of the National Capital Region.
One hopes that, if nothing else comes of it, the Disney proposal will breathe new life into the commission's recommendations. It certainly should. The Disney proposal is a world-class illustration of the shortcomings of local, regional and state planning processes in Virginia.
The basic issue is clearly set forth in the Future Land Uses for Northern Virginia map prepared a year ago by the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission. This map is not a regional plan; it is instead a standardized compilation of the comprehensive plans of all the jurisdictions that make up the district. It demonstrates clearly that the jurisdictions of Northern Virginia have collectively ``planned'' 15 times as much commercial use as the market can possibly accommodate in the foreseeable future.
Though the most or all of the plans raise questions, the 1993 regional map starkly portrays Prince William County as a major offender. The county has zoned 77 million square feet for commercial or industrial development, statistically equivalent to today's downtown Boston, according to The Washington Post. Countywide, future development could yield the rough equivalent of two Manhattans.
Of course, growth of this magnitude could come only at the expense of the rest of Northern Virginia. Existing transportation infrastructure would remain underutilized, while the I-66 corridor and feeder roads would clog with gridlock. That infrastructure includes the Route 28 corridor in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, where a special tax district created by the General Assembly is already going bankrupt, and the $10 billion Metro system, which will probably continue to receive a $300 million annual subsidy until ridership increases. Air pollution would increase, creating problems for all of Northern Virginia.
Other regional issues have yet to be addressed by Prince William County, the General Assembly or anyone else. Where would the water come from to supply those two new Manhattans? (Inter-basin transfer from the Shenandoah has been mentioned.) How might huge increases in sewage generated in western Prince William impact the Occoquan Reservoir - the current water supply for much of Northern Virginia?
The commission was originally chartered to consider what new governmental arrangements might be necessary and desirable to empower Virginians to deal rationally with such issues. Although its report to the 1994 General Assembly ducked several controversial items, it is fair to say that the commission's work has identified the fundamental need for strategic planning by the commonwealth and realistic, disciplined planning at the regional level.
Instead of addressing those needs, which are difficult, the General Assembly found it easier to throw caution to the wind and vote $163 million in taxpayer subsidies to a county with less than 3 percent unemployment for a project which will ring financial and physical stresses to all the surrounding jurisdictions. This is the exact opposite of where the commission was supposed to lead us.
Next on tap for the Disney project is a federally mandated transportation review. This will last probably two years and create an opportunity for the General Assembly to reconsider where the commonwealth is heading. Wouldn't it make sense to arrange for major project review before subsidies are approved? If subsidies are in fact desirable, wouldn't it make sense to offer subsidies that strengthen rather than destabilize regional function? Wouldn't it make sense to subsidize new jobs in areas of unemployment rather than in areas of full employment? Wouldn't it make more sense to subsidize manufacturing jobs rather than service jobs? There are scores of such questions to be answered; the General Assembly should ensure that they will be addressed before taxpayer dollars are committed. MEMO: Mr. Dennis is president of the Piedmont Environmental Council. by CNB