- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

Sprawl has become a problem so big everyone has a position on it. Sierra Club, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, the American Planning Association, the American Institutes of Architects and the National Association of Home Builders all have come out with reports and position papers on the subject.

While it's easier to agree in principle, one person's smart growth often looks pretty dumb when a specific design is presented.

Fighting over real differences in the particulars and some overarching principles like how much density or road construction is appropriate obscures areas of agreement, according to F. Gary Garczynski. As president of National Capital Land and Development Co., a Woodbridge, Va., residential developer, and senior officer with the NAHB, he's trying to secure a place for home builders at the sprawl discussion table.

He is part of the "Group of 40" real estate industry and environmental groups organized by the Urban Land Institute to tackle the issue in this region.

According to Mr. Garczynski, developers can support the environment and still take Loudoun County government to task for restricting growth in a way that he says ends up promoting sprawl.

Q: Why do home builders care about sprawl?

A: I think around the country home builders are concerned about how we grow so that we can have a balance between housing choice and still have clean air, clean water, open space, all the things that people identify as being vital to the quality of life. We in Washington are almost a microcosm of how we want to grow.

What we home builders are saying as an association is that smart growth and how we grow as a nation is not just a slogan and it doesn't have just one definition. It's not [Maryland Gov.] Parris Glendening's definition, it's not an urban growth boundary. Smart growth is a process. It's political because you have to develop a consensus about how you want your city or region to grow. Then you have to convert your consensus into a comprehensive land use plan that's going to be the road map for how you're going to grow.

Q: So how can that be done here in D.C.?

A: It's first of all getting the people who are the players, who have the role of instigating growth, to come together. Those stake holders are the citizens themselves, public officials, the home building community, community activists, environmental groups.

Q: This is a pretty fragmented group. How do you bring them together?

A: Well that's the challenge. It shouldn't be all environment at the sacrifice of housing choice, it shouldn't be rampant housing growth at the sacrifice of the environment. How do we get to that middle ground? We can only do that if we talk to each other about the realities.

Q: I think there's an impression that smart growth is an environmentalist issue. But you say you're a smart growth supporter. You're an in-fill developer. What's your vision of smart growth? How does smart growth look like to a developer?

A: To a developer, smart growth is establishing a plan that has balance in it, in terms of infrastructure in place, which are roads, water and sewer. That gives people a true mix of housing choice, that can still be a magnet for economic development. And recognizes that none of that is possible if the water's not clean, if the air's not clean. That's what I want to see from our industry.

No one wants to see sprawl from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. We ought to say, how can we fit in all those components in without that low-density, automobile-dependent development continuing to happen?

Q: I think that's one of the reasons there's a fight going on in Loudoun County. Open space is a very big issue there. You've said that county officials don't see the best way to go about preserving it.

A: That's because I don't believe they're looking at us in terms of a region.

Q: How do they see themselves as not part of the region?

A: They are the home base of the fastest growing airport of in the world, they are the mecca for what Gov. [James S.] Gilmore calls the new "Silicon Dominion." When you have those economic development magnets, you have to understand you have to have housing to support those employment centers. And you have to find that balance between open space and housing and employment opportunities and realize they fit into the big picture.

How do you deny the fact that suburban Maryland has commuters coming into Virginia and yet say there can never be another river crossing or any improvements to circumferential transportation. We do have to find housing for those people if we want this economic prosperity.

Q: So what should Loudoun be doing with its policies?

A: I think they have to have more of a balance and acknowledge that housing has a place. And you have to ensure that there's a good mix of housing offered. When you talk about 10- to 50-acre lots west of Route 15 you border on being exclusionary.

There's a place for an open space network but what you don't want to see happen is Loudoun shutting down unto itself, being very restrictive in the face of those employment hubs and having development leapfrogging to the next county. And then what have you done? You've created sprawl. Let's find a way to have compact development and offer housing choice in Loudoun and still preserve open space without being over reactionary.

Q: The environmentalists support this and Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York is sympathetic.

A: If smart growth talks about putting density near your transportation hubs, why did Loudoun downplan all the nodes on the Dulles Greenway, when potentially that's going to be a development corridor, and could also have light rail or Metro out to Leesburg. Right now the jury is still out, but if you listen to the rhetoric it's certainly to slow growth in Loudoun. But if you're slowing it in Loudoun, where do you want the growth to go?

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