New Development Web Site Launched

Just released today: Citizens groups concerned with Fairfax County development policies announced a new Web site that allows residents in all parts of the county to discuss their concerns about the direction and effects of growth. The address is  www.Fairgrowthnetwork.org
    More of the statement released:

The site, www.Fairgrowthnetwork.org, combines elements of a community newspaper and an electronic town hall meeting, organizers said. Visitors can read local development news posted by member groups, find links to media articles on development, learn about hearings and meetings on a community calendar, and exchange views in electronic discussion groups. The site also updates readers on important county-wide issues, including urban development projects, enforcement of stream and water protection laws, and transportation policy.
"Citizens cannot just be observers and peripheral commenters in the evolution of our county," said Deborah Reyher, one of the site's organizers "We are the community, and our views and concerns about how we want to live in our community should play a center-stage role in development debates."
Development controversies have become increasingly sharp in the past year. Residents in numerous areas, including Vienna, McLean, Great Falls, Reston, the Sully District, and Mount Vernon, all have objected to a County process which all too often brushes aside legitimate community questions about increasingly dense development proposals.
Reyher, a Vienna resident and a member of Wedderburn Neighbors, said the Web site will help different communities identify the issues that connect them. For instance, her own community�s fight to protect a local stream from development has found echoes in McLean and in the Hunter Mill area, she said.
"Common problems require common solutions, and the sharing of resources, insight and expertise to achieve them," Reyher said. "Our goal in partnering with other groups is to recast and re-energize the role of the citizen."
William S. Elliott, a spokesman for Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. (FairGrowth), another group sponsoring the Web site, said the site is the next step in a year-long evolution that has reshaped public debate over development.
Elliott, who lives in the Circle Woods neighborhood, said citizens were isolated and felt powerless a year ago when they challenged a proposed urban high-rise community near the Vienna Metro station. As FairGrowth formed, it made contacts with seemingly distant communities to discuss their growth concerns.
"We found that there were many, many shared problems," Elliott said. "There was a feeling that the County was neither listening nor responding to questions, and even worse, there seemed to be no real overall plan for how to deal with all the growth that is being proposed. We felt citizens needed a new voice."
Elliott said he hopes the site will expand a dialogue that flowered dramatically in the spring with two town hall meetings. The first attracted nearly 600 citizens to Oakton High School, the largest citizens' meeting on general growth issues in Fairfax in at least 20 years.
The new Web site allows individual groups to create their own news pages, and also to link readers back to their organizations� own Web sites. Reyher said the site has been specially designed by iBelong Networks, a local business specializing in online communication solutions for communities and organizations, to make it easy for computer novices to list their news and calendar items with no technical expertise.
The Network is in the process of linking additional citizen and civic groups to www.Fairgrowthnetwork.org.  As many as 15 community organizations from around Fairfax County are becoming involved. Those groups include Notollincrease.com, the Hunter Mill Defense League, McLean Citizens Association, Citizens for Fair Zoning, South County FairGrowth, and Friends of Burke�s Spring Branch.
Hunter Mill Defense League Transportation Committee Chair, Bruce Bennett, emphasized the value of wider communication among these groups. "For twenty years, HMDL 's mission has been to maintain the integrity of the comprehensive planning process. We welcome this opportunity to broaden the lines of communication county wide."
Catherine E. Saunders, a member of Friends of Burke�s Spring Branch, agrees. She said her group began as a small local effort to protect a stream in the West Falls Church area. Her perceptions changed when she realized that other neighborhoods felt development plans threatened to cause lasting environmental damage.
"Too often, issues related to development end up being treated as local matters," Saunders said. "Watershed protection needs to be addressed on a county-wide basis, and sharing information through the FairGrowthNetwork Web site will help us to accomplish that purpose."

By Steve Fehr |  September 22, 2005; 3:33 PM ET  | Category:  Neighborhoods
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