Herbert Harris II
Herbert Harris II is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It's hard to say when I was first acquainted with the Groveton area. It was really when I was active in the Federation of Citizens Associations, probably in 1957-58, that I started learning enough to turn left at the Dixie Pig. When I came that was the great landmark, you know. I became familiar with the area more and more after, say, 1957-58.
Route 1 was such a traveled highway 40 years ago, that you got all these highway-oriented uses --the gasoline stations, the hamburger stands and what have you. So your problem was to correct, and to try to come up with planning policies that would start turning it around. I invented an ordinance in Fairfax County that stopped additional gas stations on Route 1 in 1970. Most of the zoning attorneys said the ordinance was unconstitutional and probably un-American and certainly immoral, but it stood up in court and it simply said that there were enough gas stations on Route 1 between Alexandria and Ft. Belvoir and that there would not be anymore. We overlaid a completely new zoning district over the whole Route I corridor and said "No more gas stations or drive-in restaurants." This, I think was to turn around the wide problems of development, to make it more serviceable to the community and to make it more aesthetically pleasing as far as America goes.
You have an equally important part of development and that is your housing problems --a lot of inadequate and inappropriate housing in that Route 1 corridor. A lot of people have been affected. I didn't realize, for example, when I first started working on the drainage problem in Gum Springs, that the swampy conditions in Gum Springs really hadn't existed all the time. It existed after Route 1 was built, which stopped the drainage. It took $470,000 to correct it. I went by there during the campaign, kinda expecting people to be glad that the last of the drainage problems was corrected. The only one that really talked to me about it were those that were mad because of all the tearing up that had occurred.
It's a challenge to retain some of the low and moderate income housing that we have, and up-grade it for people, and not just have everything go very expensive. Federal programs can help. I think people are afraid of them and I've had experiences where we suggested rather moderate size housing programs for low-moderate income people, and the communities tend to be a little fearful of them. But I think we've got to have this type of housing to replace some of the trailer courts, and some of the very inadequate housing some people are living in.
I hope we've at least chartered a course for recreation in the future. You've got two elements of recreation. You have facilities and when you talk about facilities, you're talking about land, and that means that you've got to make sure that you've set aside adequate parkland. As you know we have the district park, eighty acres set aside precluded from development. And hopefully, some of that can be developed into active recreation which means tennis courts and ice skating rinks if they ever get around to financing this type of thing. You need this type of active recreation for an area that has as many people living in it as this one does.
The facility, is just one part of it. The second part of it is equally important --and I think the Groveton area has done fairly well on it --and that is people organizing the recreation programs. I think you need to have parents actively engaged in Little League activities, in Cub Scout, Girl Scout type of activities, and activities relative to the library and the parks, to actually plan the programs. This is the hardest part about it –to get the people to put in the time and the effort that's necessary. You simply can't hire staff to do all these things. The community demands a lot of people volunteering a lot of their time to make these kind of programs successful.
It's very important to understand that schools are not just for formal education; they often are the most important public facility in the community. I've always been a strong advocate that a school should be used seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day, if possible. I was a strong advocate the whole time I was on the Board, and unsuccessfully so, for the year-round swimming pool, with respect to the high school.
We started in 1968 talking about the Groveton plan, which is really geared around the idea of tremendous citizen involvement. It took an awful long time to get people to understand this, and especially the school administration to understand this. The school kinda feels like their job is to teach, and the less you mess up the blackboards, the better off you are. But I think it's important to make the schools really centers of community activity.
With regard to the churches, I think more and more that churches should realize that their job is working in the community, helping other communities. I also think the churches should be doing a lot more as far as youth activity is concerned.
I stood at the head of the Harrelson tract and said that some time in the future, you could have a community center here. When I say community center, I just mean sort of a focus of activity, a place that says, "Hey, this is ours, the center of town." I think we've moved quite a ways along on that. The regional library is now there, the hospital is three-fourths there, and a mental health center is there. We have our new rescue station there. Between that and the hospital there should be a governmental center. This can start giving some focus, a place where people can go for government things, where they can meet and so forth. But --to create a community --I don't know all the different elements that go into creating communities.
It is important in a community as large as Fairfax County, for people not to take the attitude that, "Hey, I've got my school. I don't care whether somebody else gets his or not." It's not right. Our community can afford good schools, and it should be top priority. We should really have them.
I was chairman of the Federation's committee on schools in 1957. One of the most important things that bas been accomplished in the last years that took direct action in was the expansion of special education. We have an awful lot of young people that need the services of special education --the retarded those with special learning disabilities, and what have you. And I do think in the last five years, that we started making considerable progress in this area.
Have you got any area that you represent now that would have as mixed a community as that of Groveton?
I don't think so. There may be, but I've always maintained that that area, was as good a microcosm of the nation as there was. In every sort of way, economically, socially, and politically too, I've had all kinds of people try to describe my area to me as being one way or the other. They’d look at Hollin Hills and say it was very liberal, look at Belle Haven and say it's very conservative, look at Villa May and say it was very expensive, look at Bucknell and say very moderate, look at Gum Springs and say it was very poor. You have the complete spectrum, really, in that area. I think the great vitality that Groveton High School should and can have is the fact that it hassuch a hybrid strain.