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1970's - Advocate for Business

Above: John Moutoux in his orchard off Route 7, in August 1971.
(Copyright Washington Post; Reprinted by permission of the D.C. Public Library.)

At the start of the 1970's, there were over 454,000 residents in Fairfax, but only 34 percent of the residents worked in the county.

Home building had continued at a rapid pace, and because of concern about the pace of development, the Board of Supervisors had imposed a building moratorium. The Chamber, with 584 member companies, disagreed, and called for lifting the ban, and otherwise improving the county's business climate by abolishing the gross receipts tax and changing other fees.

"The Chamber's efforts will be to see that every dollar of revenue goes toward necessary services"

Opponents of the Board of Supervisors building moratorium protest outside a public hearing
in the winter of 1974. (Copyright Washington Post; Reprinted by permission of the D.C. Public Library)

The Chamber argued that eliminating development restrictions would make housing in the county more affordable. Also, reported Executive Vice President Donald Cook, "the Chamber's efforts will be to see that every dollar of [county] revenue goes toward necessary services" to preclude "activities glamorous in appearance but either beyond our ability to pay or of questionable value."

 Protestors opposed to the construction of I-66 inside the Beltway in Arlington.
(Photo courtesy of Jim Tingstrum.)

As the local elections neared in 1971, Chamber President William Wrench said the Chamber was "deeply concerned about an extremist element within the County masquerading under the guise of 'conservationists'." The Chamber of Commerce asserted that population increases were "neither good nor bad, but rather an inevitable fact of life with which we must learn to cope intelligently...We cannot prohibit or restrain growth which is a result of forces beyond our control." Although earlier development prohibitions had been overturned in court, a Board majority sympathetic to growth controls won in the fall. A year later, the Board banned new building permits in southeastern Fairfax, covering one-fifth of the county - but where 84% of the new houses were then under construction because of the fears - because of the fears of overloading the Lower Potomac Sewage Treatment Plant near Pohick Bay.

In 1971, the Chamber had 685 members and three staffers. The Annual Dinner was held again at Arlington's Twin Bridges Marriott and featured an address by Governor A. Linwood Holton. The next year, Chamber President William Wrench resigned three months shy of completing his second term to become the Chairman of the Fairfax County School Board.

 An aerial photo of Fairfax City, with the Massey Building in the center.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Rudolph G. Seeley, a World War II veteran who had developed his family's dairy farm into the Westgate office park, became Chamber President on June 1, 1973, at a dinner at the Twin Bridges Marriott. He told the Alexandria Gazette that his goals included conveying the fact that Fairfax business leaders and other residents all shared "the same concern to make Fairfax County a better place to live in." During Seeley's term, the Chamber strenously opposed the Board's building moratorium, saying the action would drive down land values, drive away businesses, diminish the tax base and drive up housing costs for the county's young families and workers. "The largest generation in our country's history is now entering the labor market, marrying and looking for housing in their native area - Fairfax County. With a moratorium we deny them housing. We deny them jobs. Are we to drive away our most valuable resource?" Col. Seeley demanded of the Board.

Business Recognition Week 1979 at the Springfield Mall. Shown here, from left, are:
Supervisor Martha Pennino, Chairman John Herrity, Supervisors Marie Travesky
and John Shacochis, Chamber President W. R. Bender, Supervisor Joseph Alexander and Earle Williams (kneeling).
(Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.)

Chamber Vice President William F. Blocher, Jr. told Supervisors their efforts to slow growth had actually unintentionally accelerated residential development because builders raced to start construction on large parcels before they were precluded from doing so. "Growth," he testified before the Board, "is in response to demand. In the area of housing, a reduction in supply will lead to higher prices." The Chamber believed that provided services required by citizens was best achieved by increasing the business tax base in Fairfax County, not restricting residential building. Blocher cited the fact that less than four percent of the county's acreage was zoned for commercial use as evidence of Fairfax County's disinterest in business recruitment and expansion. (By 1990, that had increased to 7.9 percent.)

Following the inauguration of Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity and several new Supervisors in 1976, a Blue Ribbon task force was empaneled to consider how to increase Fairfax's commercial tax base. County Executive Leonard Whorton called the county's reliance on residential taxes "a grave situation" that left the county unable to fund necessary services. Citizens had reacted to higher tax bills by defeating public school bond referenda in 1974 and 1975. By collecting more from industry, it was theorized that the county could meet its service needs while minimizing household taxes. Consequently, the Economic Development Authority was reconfigured and better funded and given a goal of attracting enough new businesses so that in the future, twenty-five percent of the county budget would be collected from the non-residential sector. The county's business tax base grew substantially in subsequent years and this target was met, while also providing local jobs for residents and eliminating commutes to other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, despite some opposition, Dulles Airport became the first in the United States to have supersonic Concorde jet service in 1976. Although it ended in 1994, other Dulles traffic increased dramatically.

In 1977, in the midst of the worst drought in decades, the Fairfax County Chamber, the Northern Virginia Builders Association and the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors started a water supply campaign, advocating drawing water from the Potomac to supplement the Occoquan reservoir. Believing an inadequate water supply would retard business growth, the coalition urged federal, state and local officials to take immediate action to address the crisis. The Chamber also endorsed proposed legislation, later adopted, to create a 4% sales tax on retail gasoline to help fund Metro.

Years before, in describing the stations planned for Fairfax, the transit agency said "because all suburban stations depend heavily upon patrons arriving by motor vehicle, special lanes will be provided for wives to drop off or pick up husbands...Parking lots at many stations will enable thousands to arrive by car, park all day and take Metro to work."

U.S. Senator John W. Warner, left, Virginia Governor John Dalton, center,
and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. meet on Capitol Hill to discuss the
Metrorail system with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Andrew L. Lewis, Jr. (not shown).
(Copyright Washington Post; Reprinted by permission of the D.C. Public Library.)

Chamber Executive Director James M. Guiliano told Northern Virginian magazine in 1978 that "real tax reform is a priority to this chamber," and cited BPOL as an example of a levy that was "inequitable and administratively almost impossible to administer." He also noted that the organization is "trying hard to get women and minorities to join...For instance, a large number of women currently hold leadership positions with our chamber." As the decade closed, the population of Fairfax was 584,000, with 130,000 public school students, an increase from 122,000 ten years before. There were 48 medium and high rise office buildings in the county.

Jack Herrity, right, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Police Chief Richard King
congratulate a Fairfax County Police officer as he receives an award at the Chamber's First Annual Valor Awards
program in 1979. (Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce)

In the Chairman's words...

For over 32 years I have had the honor of serving on the Chamber Board as an officer and director. Over this period we transitioned from an internal "what's-good-for-business-is-good-for-the-community" focus to a broader "quality-of-life" focus with the right mixture of "quantity and quality" economic growth. I am proud of the caliber of excellent leadership we had put into place for the remainder of the 20th century. Our challenges for the 21st century require the same dedication and commitment in our leaders.

Bill Blocher
Chairman, 1977-1978









Hisory of the Chamber compiled by Christopher J. Bright