The Ladies of Pageland Lane

Page Snyder (left), Mary Ann Ghadban and Philomena Hefter in their “war room.”

In Prince William County populist conservatives and liberal smart-growthers have found common ground in fighting Northern Virginia’s proposed Bi-County Parkway.

by James A. Bacon

The command center for the fight against Northern Virginia’s Bi-County Parkway can be found in the dining room of Mary Ann Ghadban’s farmhouse on Pageland Lane in western Prince William County. Dubbing it the “war room,” Ghadban and her buddies Page Snyder and Philomena Hefter spend countless hours huddling and plotting strategy there. They have requisitioned the dining room table, littering it with papers, notebooks, coffee mugs, pens, highlighters, post-it notes, computer paraphernalia and stacks of documents. In the corner looms a map showing where the proposed route of the $400 million parkway would snake along the edge of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. No one will be holding a dinner party there any time soon. That’s OK, Ghadban laughs. “This is putting the room to good use for the first time!”

An agreement between the National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation outlining the terms and conditions for running the four- to six-lane highway past the battlefield was nearly complete when Ghadban got wind of the project last year. She turned to Snyder and Hefter, friends and neighbors whose homes would be impacted, too.The three women have dedicated themselves to dissecting the project and warning the citizens of Prince William County what it means to them.

The ladies of Pageland Lane are not professional organizers, although Snyder did learn some tricks of the trade from her mother, local legend Annie Snyder, who spearheaded the defeat of plans by Disney Corp. and, later, mega-developer Til Hazel to develop land near the battlefield. She certainly has her mother’s rough-and-tumble spirit. A banner on the fence in front of her house just down the country road shouts, “Say, ‘No!’ to Tri-County Parkway!” A home-made sign nearby proclaims, “No Highway. Manassas Battlefield Park Betrayed Us.”

Hefter, whose deceased husband served as Prince William County planning commissioner, does much of the research. She issues Freedom of Information Act requests and dredges through the mind-numbing minutiae of public documents to spot subtle changes in VDOT or Park Service stances.

Ghadban, a local real estate developer, hones the message. She downloads audio clips from public hearings, blasts out the email newsletter and maintains the web presence. “We’ve learned about Facebook,” she says, beaming as she adds, “We have 1,500 likes.” Then, she qualifies, “We don’t tweet. I can’t quite get a grasp on it.”

They may be amateurs but they have taken on the Republican McDonnell administration, the Prince William board of supervisors, local chambers of commerce and various groups funded by real estate developers, and they appear to be winning. So successful have they been in stirring up opposition and packing public hearings that a half-dozen GOP members of the General Assembly have joined the movement to stymy the project. The administration felt compelled to hire a Washington, D.C.-based communications consultancy, agreeing to pay $289,000 to “engage the public and foster a deeper and wider understanding” of the parkway project.”

The three amigas have tapped a vein of conservatism on the rural fringe of the Washington metropolitan area that responds to the call for fiscal sobriety and property rights. Remarkably, some of their most important allies in the struggle are typically thought of as liberal — smart-growth groups such as the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Southern Environmental Law Center. While those organizations have not turned out intimidating masses of citizens to attend public hearings, they do bring to the debate a deep knowledge of Northern Virginia’s transportation system, the bureaucratic machinery of VDOT and the political process.

The working relationship between the Pageland populists and the smart-growth movement is too informal to be termed an alliance. But their messages often align. They largely agree (a) that the Bi-County Parkway is a waste of public dollars, (b) that the project is driven by developers who want to enrich themselves at public expense and (c) that building the parkway is inconsistent with the goal of preserving the Civil War heritage of the Manassas National Battlefield Park and its environs.

The cooperation is reminiscent of the ad hoc alliance between fiscal conservatives and conservationists in 2002 when Northern Virginians defeated a referendum to impose a regional sales tax to raise money for transportation construction. The arguments back then were similar — the revenue would be co-opted by development interests and tax dollars would be wasted on bad projects enabling sprawl. But after the referendum was defeated, the two sides went their separate ways.

One problem, suggests Chris Miller, president of the PEC, is that the two groups don’t trust each other due to disagreements on other issues. He points to the example of Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, a controversial social conservative who opposes the Bi-County Parkway. “There is no member of the General Assembly who is more in tune with what is going on in his district. But people [in liberal conservation organizations] just can’t get over his social positions,” Miller says. Similarly, he adds, he didn’t exactly feel encouraged to engender conversation across the philosophical divide when the Tea Party burned him in effigy. “I take it little personally.”

America is so politically polarized today that liberals and conservatives don’t spend much time talking to each other. But the battle over transportation policy is an area where they could benefit from doing so. Strip away the culture-war issues, and the big divide in fast-growth regions is not between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, but between the growth party and the preservation party, between those who would utilize tax dollars to perpetuate the geographically expansionist, autocentric pattern of development that has prevailed since World War II and those who would support walkable urbanism and preservation of the countryside on the other. Read more.

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14 responses to “The Ladies of Pageland Lane

  1. A wonderful article, Jim.

    And my congratulations to the rabble rousing Ladies of Pageland Lane!

    • There are many key sentences worth pondering in the Ladies of Pageland Lane. One of them is: “The Pageland ladies aren’t anti-development, and they are certainly not anti-business.”

      No, in fact the Pageland ladies are on to something that is the reverse of anti-business. And something that is nothing even close to NIMBYism.

      The issues at stake here is far bigger and far different from NIMBYism or anti-business, or standing in the way of progress. No, these ladies are standing in the way of destructive business practices, and the ruination of where they and we all live. They are standing in the way of those who, for too long, have taken control of local government, local institutions, and public monies, using a whole variety of devices to wield destructive business practices for their own financial gain and for their own personal advantage.

      Thus opposition to these forces includes the idea that the pro-growth business interests and powers that have run Northern Virginia for the past forty years by gaining control over roads, land use policies, airports, public transit and private taxing and tolling authority are now imposing policies and decision that are now obsolete and counter-productive to the point of now running not only Northern Virginia, but the entire region, into the ground. In the process these policies are wasting vast sums of money while they create ever more dysfunctions that leave wastelands in their wake, while at the same time lining the pockets of a few with public funds, or private profits derived from the fruits or misapplication of public funds.

      The out of control forces are strangling this region. They are shutting down transit and commerce throughout our region. They are severing community from community. They are forcing interstate traffic (whether into, out of, and through our region) to a grinding halt. Jacked up tolls and traffic rob workers of the livelihood, and their families of their time. They are killing off small business. They killing off healthy growth and wealth creation and quality of life. They are killing old neighborhoods, running them down into ruin in their quest to gobble up and spit out ever more cheap land to profit themselves at public cost through the building of ever more roads that breed ever more traffic and congestion, rather than diluting it and diverting it in creative ways that allow our region and all its parts, whether old or new, suburban, or urban, or rural, to thrive and prosper in a modern world that is leaving these old policies and ways of “doing business” behind.

      The obsolete short sighted policies of these entrenched business interests are wasting public monies on a vast scale. Look at the gigantic waste – the million dollar bus stop, the 1.6 billion dollar crystal people mover, the grotesque waste on the silver line, all of its going into somebody’s pocket. And these folks are doing it in pursuit of their own interests that now are resulting in failures that grow ever more apparent as they increasingly litter our landscape from Quantico, Virginia to Frederick, Maryland.

      Look at the wealth killing rush hours that now shut Maryland off from Virginia. Look at the traffic that shuts off DC off from Loudoun. Look at the interstate traffic that daily turns our region into a functional mess because Tyson Corner steals its road every business day of the year. Look at the failing Dulles Airports whose future has been mangled and throttled by the misguided, selfish, over reaching, counter productive actions and policies of its own private special interest boosters and proponents, those all too eager to make a quick buck for themselves at the expense of the taxpayers who use the airport and the whole region that depends on it.

      More and more it becomes plainly apparent that Northern Virginia, and its citizens, and the citizens of the entire region, are being abused by special interests who have held the levers of power for decades and now are pushing obsolete policies that use the public’s money in ways that bring far more harm than good to the vast majority of the citizens who pay the bills, and whose money goes to line the pockets of a very few who make the decisions but take no responsibility for them, and take only the profits.

      This is what the three ladies of Pageland Lane are up against. They need all the help they can get.

      • PS – and now these business interests contrary to their most recent but ever changing story want to build a corridor called a “Parkway” that goes at the airport from all the way south to I-95 that will be filled with trucks that serv warehouses, distributions centers, and light industrial zones to be built nearby. This project will jump start and feel their latest vision of Dulles Airport and future development along points south to I-95, and east to the Capital beltway, and west and north through the Virginia Piedmont to 1-81 and Point of Rocks (and wherever else they can bust some roads and rail lines through).

        • For more information on this subject, including tactics and methods, see two articles and commentary below on this website –

          1/ “MacDonnell Team to Spend $289, ooo in Taxpayer Money to Sway Taxpayers on Bi-County Parkway, and

          2/ Air Cargo Case for Dulles Crashes and Burns, Will MacDonnell Pivot to New Justification?

          And also numerous others.

  2. NIMBY is easy.

    Hey, I don’t live in Northern Virginia and fight that traffice, and I don’t ship through Dulles. I’m sure there are other places in the US ready to accommodate the business. But I do agree it is problematic for VDOT to hire an outside PR firm to try to shore this up when there are perfectly capable private organizations who have a stake in this who should be paying the tab. I’ve seen the Northern VA Transportation Alliance weigh in and Bob Chase is no slouch.

    • The problem for the Governor and VDOT is many elected officials are convinced this is little more than a raid on the Treasury. The road would not fix transportation problems, and there are no airfreight companies pushing for facilities at Dulles.

      MWAA has a problem at Dulles – the Airport is too expensive. Its costs are high and passenger volume is declining. United has a stranglehold on the gates. Its prices are high. Jack Potter, head of MWAA, needs to reduce IAD’s costs and attract a low-price airline or two to Dulles.

  3. geeze… I thought if the gov was successfully in getting the GA to pass a gas tax increase, he got to choose how to spend it….

    😉

    • Don’t you understand, LarryG – this is just like Obamacare.

      Obamacare and the transportation bill were both passed by the officials we elect to consider such legislation. They were both signed into law by the requisite chief executive.

      However, there are those who still oppose the measures. They don’t have the votes to overturn the legislation. Democracy and the Constitution are mere words to these people. They don’t need no stinkin’ votes! Instead, they will oppose everything about the new legislation outside the legislative process.

      They will defund Obamacare. They will shut down the government.

      They will oppose every road project in an effort to avoid spending the approved additional revenues.

      The ladies of Pageland Lane are NIMBYs. Fine. Every new road project has NIMBY opposition. If I were them I’d probably oppose the project too. They are not the problem.

      The problem is the small cadre of nihilist Tea Party sore losers who are only too happy to use extra-legislative methods to thwart the will of the people. They dress up like Samuel Adams, carry guns because “it’s their God given right” and then use every slippery, slimy trick in the book to turn back the will of the people as expressed in the actions of the legislature and executive branch.

      • It IS pretty interesting that a minority of one house of Congress can – quite legally – crash govt into the ground.

        AND… I’m betting that folks like Cruz, Rand and Rubio and others will likely all get re-elected and not suffer at the hands of voters next election.

        It’s pretty bad when Paul Ryan has now become the equivalent of a RINO!

        I place blame directly at the feet of the Jim Bacons in this world!

        In their heart-of-hearts, you KNOW they secretly love the tea party, right?

  4. Pingback: Smart Growth News – October 9, 2013 | Smart Growth America

  5. This is a superb column,for which many thanks. Years ago in the 1960s when I joined the fledgling environmental movement it contained countless conservatives as well as progressives. Nixon the pragmatist recognized this, as did John Erlichman, a land use lawyer in the North West, who became a stalwart supporter of the new Council on Environmental Quality and then the EPA.

    That link between real conservatives and progressives still exists at the local level in many places, but it has been ignored by Republican and, yes, Democratic party organizations. Witness McAuliffe’s failure to articulate opposition to the Bi-County Parkway, while the shameless Cucinelli grabbed the banner, albeit probably without much conviction.

  6. I went to a meeting on 10/8 where a planner from DRPT spoke about transit. The fastest growing form of transit today is commuter bus. Again, this is the fastest growth rate not an absolute number. People living in the exurbs and hinterlands are riding commuter buses in growing numbers.

    • Good observation.

      Perhaps, however, one of its problems is that its “system” is too cheap and too practical. It does not generate enough fees and costs to go around for those in charge, so it doesn’t get built or promoted. So it goes the way of the 10 grand bus stop. Now, only a million dollar bus stop generates enough “Jack” to spread around for those in charge, and those who do the work for them, designing, engineering, and and building the Million dollar bus stop.

      I read today that Metro plans to shut down the only direct bus service from Downtown DC to Dulles Airport. Folks are up in arms. It’s a great service the bus customers say. So Why shut it down?

      As time passes, the reasons will become ever more clear.

    • Moreover, many of the commuter bus routes are operated by private companies that are making a profit. People will pay for good reliable service and a guaranteed seat.

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