Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Developers start front groups to fight community coalitions

An area construction developer has set up a front group to battle citizen-based coalitions seeking to save their neighborhoods form sprawl.

In a move surely to be copied in Montgomery County, a Fairfax developer is running a front organization called "Citizens for a Better Life." Other developers and construction trade associations like the model and indicate they will replicate it.

"Citizens for Better Life is not an ordinary citizens group," the Washington Post reports. "Instead of coming from the community where the projects would be built, Citizens and other groups like it are organized by the builders themselves."

The front group looks like a normal grassroots community coalition and "masquerades" as an organization of local citizens. It has its own nonprofit status, T-shirts, and a website. It was set up to fight local residents opposed to the developer's plan to build 2,000 new homes and the controversial MetroWest development near the Vienna Metro station.

The developer's family members recently appeared at the hearing to counter local residents' testimony, even though the members of the front group do not live in the community, according to the Post.

The success of poorly funded, all-volunteer community groups inspired the developer to create the phony organization. The Post says the group does not reveal its connection to the developer on its website.

"They see how organized their opponents are and have determined that they need to fight fire with fire, appropriating the very tools that community groups are using to influence public opinion," according to the article.

"We get involved because these are our homes," a local resident tells the Post. "We are legitimate local residents. These special interest groups are driven entirely by profit. They're distorting and subverting the public process."