Photo credit: Virginia Law Foundation

by Ken Reid

Northern Virginia is the object of admiration and contempt, in Republican circles, and even among some liberals in economically stagnant Maryland and Washington, D.C.

In the last few years, Loudoun County, where I had a political career as a Republican, has gone “blue” as has Prince William and much of Fairfax counties.
Some conservatives lament the influx of liberals and also immigrants, notably from Asia and Latin America, though of late, Latinos seem to be voting more Republican.

But the counties and cities that make up “Northern Virginia” – Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and cities Alexandria, Fairfax, Manassas, etc. – are one of the most prosperous regions in the U.S. It is nearly recession-proof due to the largesse of the federal government, particularly defense and homeland security dollars (which we Republicans support, no?)

The success of NoVa is also due to business leaders who in the 1950s and 60s saw the area, particularly Fairfax County, as a potential economic engine. One of those was John Tilghman Hazel, known as “Til,” a Harvard-educated attorney and developer, who passed away March 15 at his farm in Fauquier County at the age of 91.
Hazel helped build Tysons Corner into the mecca for jobs and retail that it is today. This land-use lawyer with a gruff Virginia accent, crew cut and and bulldog of a face “was hired to condemn land for a road that came to be called the Capital Beltway,” The Washington Post obituary writes.

“Then, as Fairfax leaders welcomed growth, he was the go-to lawyer to get land rezoned…. [He] represented Lerner, who built Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons II shopping, office and hotel complex,” the Post reports.

Joining with developer Milton Peterson in 1972, the Hazel-Peterson Co. built Burke Centre, a planned community of 15,000 people second only to Reston; Franklin Farm near Washington Dulles International Airport; Fair Lakes, a residential and office complex on 657 acres in western Fairfax; and Fairfax Station, a high-end subdivision off Route 123.

The jobs followed. By 2005, some 116,000 people were working in Tysons Corner, among 650,000 jobs in Fairfax County alone. The Dulles access road was just a driveway to Dulles Airport until the mid-1980s when the Toll Road was opened and the technology companies followed. The corridor is now dotted with skyscrapers bearing the names of America’s biggest employers.

I first got to meet Mr. Hazel, as I always called him, when I lived in Montgomery County, Md., and organized a group of citizens to advocate for a second river crossing north of the I-495 Legion Bridge. Hazel, who in the 1980s chaired the Greater Washington Board of Trade, was a huge proponent of transportation investments like an Outer Beltway and was a main benefactor of the business group the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which I worked hand in glove with on this issue for many years. Maryland’s intransigence has been a leading reason why a second crossing never happened and why traffic congestion in the D.C. area is so bad.

When I moved to Leesburg in 2002, I caught up with Mr. Hazel again to see if he was willing to support a parallel group to NVTA that would galvanize citizens to lobby their legislators for transportation funding and projects and thwart NIMBY opposition, which killed most of D.C.’s planned highways.

He watched my PowerPoint in my Leesburg office and said: “What you have Ken is passion!”

Yes, I was very passionate about transportation and lamented Richmond’s inability to get funding for needed roads. So, I ran for Leesburg town council in 2006 and Mr. Hazel supported my campaign and future efforts – though, not once was I even contacted for a vote on one of his projects. I became a leading transportation advocate among municipal elected officials in NoVa.

At least when I knew him, Mr. Hazel spoke his mind, once in a private meeting calling then Gov. Mark Warner “the worst governor Virginia has ever had!” ( to the face of Warner’s transportation deputy secretary). Each time we met, he encouraged me to “keep fighting.”

He was a bull in a China shop. And, due to his success, he personified Northern Virginia and the love/hate relationship it has with the rest of the Commonwealth and D.C. region.

Hazel became the poster boy for slow-growthers and anti-tax advocates who opposed either new growth or new money for transportation, notably the 2002 failed referenda to put a half-cent on the sales tax to fund projects in NoVa and Hampton roads (which Hazel supported with lots of money).

Nobody seemed to mind his avid support for education, such as acquiring land to build George Mason University in Fairfax in the mid-60s, constructing a GMU law school in Arlington, expanding the Flint Hill School in Vienna, and for K-12 funding. But because he supported growth, he and those in the NoVa business community have always been suspected by the purist conservative activists and environmentally conscious no-growth leftists.

Clearly, the Til Hazels of the world won out. Today, Fairfax County’s population is 1.15 million, Prince William, 482,000 and Loudoun 425,000. But there is still this love-hate relationship.

For years, Richmond was controlled by politicians of both parties who refused to support funding or any program that would help NoVa be more successful. This attitude is prevalent as NoVa is a significant bloc in the General Assembly, but it’s still there.

Conservative Republicans admire the growth in NoVa, but not the demographics it has attracted, specifically Northeasterners leaving Blue states and bringing their liberal voting habits with them. Conservatives resent this demographic change instead of figuring out a way to reach out to these voters.

Even in death, the contempt and admiration of Northern Virginia, a byproduct of Til Hazel’s efforts, will endure, but may he rest in peace. And God bless his family.

Update: The population of Fairfax County has been corrected to 1.15 million.

Ken Reid is a former Loudoun County supervisor and member of the Leesburg Town Council and currently lives in Tysons Corner. He is active in Republican politics in Virginia and authored the book, The Six Secrets to Winning ANY Local Election and Navigating Elected Office Once You Win.

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19 responses to “Remembering Til Hazel”

  1. Scott A. Surovell Avatar
    Scott A. Surovell

    Nice Tribute. Til Hazel was a legend. I’m surprised few are mentioning the law firm he founded – Hazel Thomas – which was an institution itself before it was acquired by Reed Smith.

    Fairfax County only has about 1.14M people, but who’s counting?

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I drove by Mr. Hazel’s farm everyday on my way to work for 22 years. My what a spread of countryside this man owned. Fairfax should at least name a highway after him. Not sure if that can happen now.

  3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “…not once was I even contacted for a vote on one of his projects.”

    I’m sure you recused yourself from such votes given his campaign support…

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    A puckish sentiment for a few years was expressed on bumper stickers in the Fredericksburg area: “Don’t Fairfax US”!

    On the transportation angle. I’ve driven many urban regions, from DC to Charlotte to Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, LA , etc… and they all have similar characteristics especially at rush hour. I don’t know that another bridge would help NoVa – it’s basically a car-centric region – was designed that way by Hazel and others . Yes, they have ‘town centers’ but they really don’t function as self-contained centers but rather islands with plenty of cars coming and going, etc.

    The one thing that changes behavior is tolls that vary according to congestion levels. Not every trip needs to be taken at rush hour and tolls tend to encourage more thought into such decisions, IMHO of course.

    1. tmtfairfax Avatar

      I often found myself working on the other side of issues than Til Hazel, most especially the Outer Crossing. I give him credit though for being honest enough to admit the main reason he wanted the new bridge was because it would enable him to develop more land. (He also stated that he saw no reason to put money into infrastructure for Tysons because he didn’t own any land there.) Too many people nowadays pretend they are seeking someone else’s money for the public good. His naked candor was, in a sense, very refreshing.

      But clearly, Hazel had much more impact on Fairfax County and NoVA than any elected official.

      May he rest in peace.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Few, if any developers believe that they should pay for roads beyond the ones directly serving their developments. But most of them are big proponents of regional transportation projects even though they are often also – GOP who eschew higher taxes. Take Gov Youngkin and company, cut transportation taxes even as many in NoVa decry the lack of funding – local and state which does come from taxes!

        Condolences to the family and Til’s admirers.

      2. Ken Reid Avatar

        Very untrue about the Techway and Tysons. The Outer Beltway was first put in regional plans in the 1960s , and other cities have 2 or 3 beltways for regional bypass of traffic. designed to divert interstate traffic and SUPPORT future growth. I can tell you from living in Loudoun for nearly 20 years that growth came to teh areas along Outer beltway/Bypass alignments even though NONE of those roads have materialized. Furthermore, Til Hazel was pretty much out of the develoopment business when the issue of new river crossings was revived in 2001. The Post obit stated: “The real estate partnership was dissolved in 1991 as a second generation took separate paths. Mr. Hazel returned to practicing law, and he and Peterson remained friends.”

        Finally, Hazel was skeptical of the Metrorail project through Tysons, not because he had no development interests there, but because he thought it was going to be a big waste of money and an area not conducive to transit oriented development. And, I now live in Tysons and I can tell you the Metro is used very little and TOD is difficult to achieve due to the all the highways and four-lane arterials with people driving 50 MPH.

        1. tmtfairfax Avatar

          Sorry, Mr. Reid, but I heard Hazel say what I wrote. Early 200o’s. He may not have been developing but he still owned some property in Loudoun County. Maybe, he was being sarcastic.

          The Techway/Outer Beltway cannot be justified. VDOT’s most recent driver survey showed that only 7-8% of the drivers crossing the Beltway into Maryland head north on 270. People living in Loudoun County near possible routes for the Outer Beltway don’t want in it their neighborhoods. And, of course, Maryland/Montgomery County oppose it as well.

          And, if it were to be built, why didn’t landowners propose to build it under the Public-Private Partnership law? If it were viable, tolls should have paid for it. The act was passed in 1995. They were looking for access to other people’s money.

          As to the Silver Line, I heard what I heard. Maybe it too was just sarcasm, but I heard it. On the merits, the Silver Line was built to enrich the pockets of Tysons landowners. Indeed, Gerry Connolly voted to add a station in front of SAIC’s HQ on Route 7, at the same time he was an SAIC VP. Further, the Silver Line did not meet federal standards for funding. Only through heavy lobbying did GW Bush administration blink. More crony capitalism.

          I don’t see Til Hazel as a bad guy, and he certainly made a huge impact on NoVA, while advancing his interests. But I see him as a winner in crony capitalism. He’s far from the only one. Once again, may he rest in peace.

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          adding beltways encourages sprawl and actually encourages more auto-centric development and congestion.

          In many, many places, a trip that could be made on foot – just a block or two away , cannot be safely made without trying to cross a high speed road. This chops up development into isolated enclaves that can only be accessed safely by auto.

          1. Ken Reid Avatar

            Sprawl. Lordy. We’ve built so much transit oriented development in the DC area and its done very little to reduce vehicle trips. We’ve build the entire Metrorail system,and more (Silver Line and Blue Line to FedEx Field)and people don’t use it. Ridesharing and electric cars and remote work has made public transit obsolete especially rail transit. As for the Techway/Outer Beltway, it’s interesting how opponents will find one minute “fact” to reject the whole deal, or say there’s “too much citizen opposition.” I am aware of that opposition, but if the ICC were connected to Virginia, you’dsee a HUGE decrease in traffic on the Legion Bridge and 495 in Maryland each day because the interstate traffic would use the ICC/Techway. it could alleviate traffic on I 95 in Virginai, which was a nightmare in early January. Other cities that are bisected by rivers (like the Potomac) have many, many more bridge crossings that we do. THey also have regional bypasses. We don’t. But We shall see what happens when the toll lanes come to I-270 and and 495 in Maryland and whether it relieves anything at all.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            the more you expand the road network – the more you encourage auto-centric development- sprawl. no decrease in traffic, but MORE because virtually all destinations depend almost entirely on the auto. People move far from their workplace and depend on the auto to get them there and back – of course during rush hour.

            Yes, the POTENT opposition is primarily NIMBY not greenie – and from neighborhoods built originally from new expanding roads! It’s self-limiting – build a new road, develop the land now more accessible then that neighborhood and others like it do not want a new road cutting through it!

            Simple stuff. These days most bridges built are tolled and that tolling not only pays for the bridge, the tolling itself is a congestion management tool.

            I support roads, they are vital for modern life and economic vitality but we need to recognize that there are physical and fiscal constraints to too many. Building new arteries through existing developed areas can increase costs to 100 million per mile – even to add lanes to existing because all the overpasses and interchanges have to be re-built to add those lanes. Building new roads on the fringes of existing development brings MORE traffic from the newly-developed land back onto the original overcrowded roads. Just look at what happens when Loudoun cars travel east back onto the original beltway and interstates. Look at what happens when places like Stafford and Facquier develop more “affordable” housing, which, in turn, brings MORE traffic on I-95 which then comes into NoVa and the beltway.

            It’s a never-ending issue that requires more and more tax money that drivers don’t want to pay and now we have a Governor who actually wants to reduce transportation revenues!

            As said before, dream on about projects, but in the meantime, we need to tend to existing issues created by the false premise that more roads will reduce congestion. Never happens, not on NoVa, not anywhere. NY City now has a de-facto cordon toll on it’s many bridges – more bridges did not reduce congestion at all!

            Ditto with places like Seattle or Cincinnati – all are now tolling bridges.

            That’s the only way new bridge crossings should work. Heavy tolls to ensure decisions about moving “out” to more “affordable” homes is not encouraged/motivated by subsidized “free” roads. The HOT lanes on I-95 south to Fredericksburg are working. People are making decisions based on “costs” both financial and time-savings. If we had done all expanded roads this way to start with, we could have: 1. had the money to build new roads, 2. – a rubrick to decide if new roads could actually pay for themselves with tolls and 3. a tool to manage congestion and keep the lanes open at rush hour.

            What we did was build dumb roads that are self-limiting and not sustainable. Eventually, you get to a place we are at now where the reality of major new roads is more pipe-dream than possible.

            Do you support toll roads? simple question!

          3. Ken Reid Avatar

            I do support toll roads and bridges, and variable pricing — what’s more, the public does based on their use of them. Some 1500 lane miles of freeways were not built in the DC area and the development — you like to call it “sprawl” — still happened. It’s planning commissions and local electeds who approve the development without the requisite infrastructure. You must be a believer in “induced demand.” if so, you also believe in the tooth fairy 😉

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            I do think if you build more roads that provide faster travel times, they will get occupied until they reach the same congestion levels of other “competitor” roads. It’s a network.

            re: planning commissions, local elected approvals.

            where would the money come from to build new regional roads BEFORE development?

            I don’t see too many urban areas that did that. It’s usually after the fact, no?

            Toll Roads do “fix” that by getting a loan and paying it back with tools, so we agree on that. It takes significant analysis to determine if a toll road will attract enough traffic at a given toll to be financially viable. It can be a risky venture for private sector investors and a big fail if the State does that analysis.

            I LIKE SmartScale especially for larger projects. Even the northbound I-95 bridge over the Rappahannock failed SmartScale – had to get Atlantic Gateway money.

            “sprawl” to me is building a road from an existing developed area to a relatively undeveloped area building more houses there rather than infill development so you never really get to a “real” city – just endless expanse of low-density development that then becomes NIMBY against re-zoning for dense and new regional roads.

          5. Ken Reid Avatar

            why dont you give us an example of a road built to a “relatively undeveloped area” that caused more development there? Please provide your evidence, too.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            how about Spotsylvania County – population 15K in 1963? We and Stafford have NoVa commuters out the wazoo. Craps up I-95 and then the beltway at rush hour. Build more /wider roads west to Loudoun and same thing happens. Right?

            what causes population growth to become more dense and more multi-story buildings verses low-density auto-centric development spread out across a region?

            People who want single-family detached don’t want to live in dense multi-family and new and expanded roads provide them the means to move further out until they find “affordable’ single family detached. Right?

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Although he is probably not that well-known today, Til Hazel was, as Scott Surovell said, a legend. If one person could be singled out as the one most responsible for Fairfax County’s, and Northern Virginia’s, growth into what it is today, it would be Til Hazel. As a result of his representation of developers in the 1960’s, he was responsible for much of the case law that governs what local governments can do to manage growth. As the article by Mr. Reid indicates, he was involved in almost everything, from the Beltway to Tysons to George Mason. He did not seek the headlines, but he was there.

    I met him once. I was a relatively new member of the Division of Legislative Services and was staffing a study subcommittee to which he had been appointed. Unfortunately for me, I was too much of a novice to realize that this plain, sort of rough looking, soft spoken man that I was sitting next to was already a legend.

  6. Ninety-one years old. Good for him. I hope his final years were happy ones.

    He was one-of a-kind.


  7. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Few had a greater impact on 2oth Century Virginia. And the impact continues into later generations of what is a great family. It was more than just him. It was also, as Scott notes, the long partnership with Bill Thomas. Condolences to the family.

    My first real encounter. It was 1986, I was policy director at RPV, and the Baliles transportation special session was about to begin. Wiley Mitchell, the caucus chair, called all the R legislators to the Upper Room at RPV and introduced Hazel, who proceeded to peel the paint off the walls “encouraging” uniform support for Jerry’s coming transportation tax bills. I had never heard legislators spoken to that way, and in all honesty I’m not sure it was that effective, but I never forgot that meeting. A little bit of “Last Hurrah” and a little bit of the opening of “Patton.”

  8. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    Loudon is 425,000. Wow! As a former 30+ year resident of NOVA (Alex/Arlington/FC) starting in early ’50s I remember the restful drive through sleepy Loudon Co. and its Middleburgs, etc. on the way to get apples.

    Wondering when the county seat will have to change its name to remain PC.

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