John ‘Til’ Hazel Jr., lawyer and developer who transformed Virginia’s suburbs, dies at 91
His son Richard M. “Dick” Hazel confirmed the death but did not provide an immediate cause.
For five decades, Mr. Hazel harnessed the region’s post-World War II population boom to build freeways, suburban subdivisions and shopping malls, forever changing the way of life for Washingtonians.
Like many property developers, Mr. Hazel was not a public figure but had a huge impact. With his crew cut and Virginia drawl, he came across to many as a charming and affable country squire. But the Harvard-educated lawyer was a shrewd politician who wielded powerful and lasting influence behind the scenes for decades as Northern Virginia emerged as a player in government procurement, technology and higher education.
He cultivated a wide range of powerful friends in development and politics, including Maryland developer Milton V. Peterson, his business partner for 20 years, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (D-Va.) and Tysons Corner Center developer Ted Lerner. Local eminences invoked his name with admiration.
“Til Hazel defined Northern Virginia,” said George Johnson, president of George Mason University from 1978 to 1996. “He imagined it, he caused it, he led it, and behind the scenes did more building or community than anyone.He tried to give it an identity.
First as a land use lawyer and later as a developer, Mr. Hazel has left his mark on much of the region. He advocated for the right to condemn land for the Capital Beltway and continued to develop homes now occupied by 1 in 10 residents of Fairfax County. He won a myriad of legal battles against environmentalists and other opponents of growth who reasserted property rights and allowed construction.
He was a force behind the rise of George Mason University, acquiring land and lobbying for a law school in Arlington, Virginia, donating money and rallying support from the Virginia business community. of the North to promote the expansion of the school. To the end, he fought for a second Beltway through Loudoun and Prince William counties that would wind around the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia into Maryland, but was stalled by a lack of funding and of political will.
Mr. Hazel attributed his success – and considerable fortune – to a vision of a future far removed from his childhood plowing the fields of the family farm his father bought in the 1940s in a rural Virginia crossroads called McLean. Mr. Hazel epitomized—and was largely responsible for—Fairfax County’s sophistication as a corporate headquarters, cultural hub, and mecca of safe suburban neighborhoods.
“A blind person could see the potential,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2001. “Fairfax was the frontier. It was open to ideas.”
The price of success was frequent confrontation with civil servants and activists disgruntled by the byproducts of growth that Mr. Hazel had literally paved the way for.
Critics blamed him for ravaging the countryside with quarter-acre plots and cars stuck in traffic. In 1988, conservationists stopped him from building a mall in Manassas Battlefield National Park, a fight that led to the federal government condemning the land.
Mr. Hazel’s mantra was consistent to the end: Developers could improve life in an area poised for growth, while narrow-minded civic activists (he called them “antis”) and government officials always ruined things. It made no sense for local politicians to wipe future roads off planning maps to satisfy anti-growth activists if the demand for jobs and homes was there.
In 1987, Audrey Moore was swept away as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on an anti-growth wave. But she had been the county supervisor since 1972, when Mr Hazel successfully lobbied to open the watersheds to water and sewer lines for development.
“I faced it as hard as I knew I would,” Moore recalled. “He was playing real Monopoly in Fairfax, buying land cheaply and having it rezoned to the type of development he wanted. I don’t think that’s positive. »
John Tilghman Hazel Jr. was born in Washington on October 29, 1930. He grew up in Arlington, where his father was a surgeon. A grandfather was president of an Arlington bank and an uncle was Arlington’s Commonwealth attorney.
After eldest Hazel bought a farm in McLean hoping to grow crops to feed the family during the Depression, Til often cycled or hitchhiked the eight miles from Arlington after the Depression. school to plow the fields.
In 1947, he enrolled at Harvard University, earning undergraduate and law degrees, then served for a time in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He returned to Northern Virginia in 1957, taking a job at a law firm in Arlington.
Mr. Hazel’s roommate while preparing for the Virginia bar exam was John N. Dalton, the state’s future Republican governor. The resulting friendship with Dalton and other powerful figures in Virginia—including U.S. Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.), with whom he hunted in Alaska—would later improve his access and polish his aura of invincibility.
Mr Hazel was married to Marion “Jinx” Engle for 41 years until her death in 1995. His second wife, the former Anne Barnett Merrill, whom he married in 1997, died in December.
In addition to her son, of Fredericksburg, Va., survivors include three other children from her first marriage, LeighAnn Hazel-Groux and John T. “Jack” Hazel III, both of Broad Run, and James W. Hazel of Charlottesville , Goes. .; two stepsons, R. Searing Merrill III and William Merrill, both of Tampa, Florida; 15 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Mr. Hazel’s company was hired to condemn land for a road that was to be called the Capital Beltway. Mr. Hazel argued these cases, becoming an expert in zoning, acquisition and eminent domain.
Then, as Fairfax executives hailed the growth, he was the go-to attorney to get the land rezoned. In the early 1960s, he served three years as a county district court judge and served as a lieutenant in U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr.’s Virginia political machine. At the time, the power of the machine was owned by large landowners. .
Mr. Hazel started his own full-time law firm in 1966, and by the early 1970s had become Virginia’s most prominent zoning attorney. He represented Lerner, who built the Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons II retail, office and hotel complex.
Around this time, the Fairfax County government was rocked by a series of zoning scandals. Bribes had become a way of doing business in many neighborhoods before federal and state officials cleaned up.
One of those charged was a state senator and political leader named Andrew W. Clarke, who hired Mr. Hazel to represent him. Mr Hazel argued that his client should be excused from trial for ill health, a defense the Commonwealth lawyer said was false until Clarke died in 1968, shortly after the charges were dismissed.
The scandals resulted in the corruption convictions of three county supervisors and heightened the concerns of many residents about the county’s rapid growth. In 1971, voters elected a local council that was trying to hold back development. Mr. Hazel, on behalf of the developers, fought politicians at every turn. He had no trouble picking up victories that overturned many building restrictions and demands on builders of affordable housing.
In 1972, Mr. Hazel became a developer himself, teaming up with Peterson, a hard-working developer with a reputation for making deals. The Hazel/Peterson companies built Burke Centre, a planned community of 15,000 just past Reston. Other major projects followed, including Franklin Farm near Washington Dulles International Airport, Fair Lakes, a 657-acre residential and office complex in west Fairfax, and Fairfax Station, an upscale subdivision off of road 123.
In 1984, Mr. Hazel became Virginia’s first chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a leading business group. Four years later, Hazel/Peterson paid $11 million for 542 acres in Prince William County.
The plan was to develop the land into a mixed-use complex of homes, offices and a shopping center. The Williams Center stood on Stuart Hill, the site of Robert E. Lee’s command at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862.
Conservatives and civic activists quickly mobilized to save the historic site from the Civil War. It was an uphill battle, pitting Mr. Hazel’s vision of progress against history buffs, and it drew international attention. Congress eventually condemned the property and preserved it as an addition to the National Battlefield Park. The feds gave Hazel/Peterson an $81 million buyout.
The real estate partnership dissolved in 1991 as a second generation went their separate ways. Mr. Hazel returned to practicing law, and he and Peterson remained friends.
In his final years living on his 50-acre estate in Fauquier County, Mr. Hazel saw a political climate increasingly turn against his views. Northern Virginia county councils wavered between encouraging more growth and reducing it, but the tide had turned against single-family homes in remote suburbs. “Spread” has become a byword – and not a good one – for the empire that Mr. Hazel has built.
He remained convinced that local leaders had no vision of where to put new people and new jobs. He rejected the massive urban-style redevelopment planned for Tysons Corner, saying the Silver Line under construction to Dulles Airport would do little to relieve congestion on the roads.
Asked to respond to criticism that he was one of the region’s biggest contributors to suburban sprawl, Mr Hazel told the Washington Post in 2010: ‘I made my decision early – better be respected that liked. I’ve always had a fundamental commitment to growth, prosperity, and people, and the antis are against all three. I’m not apologizing, I’m not defending it, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to me.