Rookersville: Welcome to the neighborhood... model
Dennis Rooker is the kind of lawyer who wears a plaid, short-sleeved shirt to work, and sports slightly longish hair and keeps a coat and tie in his office closet for his more formal duties as chairman of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
And Rooker is the kind of supervisor that developers complain about when they say it takes Albemarle too long to approve their projects, and that the county is too stuck on the "neighborhood model" of development, with its new urbanism and pedestrian-friendly emphasis.
That doesn't bother Rooker. He's not in a hurry to green light development that could have adverse effects down the road, and he thinks decisions made "an inch at a time" will help protect the quality of life and natural resources in the face of unrelenting demand for growth.
Rooker came to UVA in 1968 from Pulaski, followed by his high school sweetheart and now wife, Ann. She was in the first UVA class that admitted women.
After getting his law degree in 1976, Rooker worked as general counsel for Worrell Newspapers, former owner of the Daily Progress, until 1986.
"I wanted to do something entrepreneurial," he says, and so he bought two papers in the Denver area. Currently he owns two magazines: the Scottsdale Airpark News and the New Mexico Business Journal, and an industry newspaper, the Coin-Op.
"I have good people running them," he says.
Rooker also began serving on boards and committees that deal with quality of life issues, such as transportation and the environment.
Former BOS chair Charlotte Humphris appointed him to the Planning Commission, and when she decided not to run for reelection in 2001, she asked Rooker to run for her seat, representing the Jack Jouett District.
He's seeking his second four-year term this fall, challenged by Republican Christian Schoenewald [who was profiled last week in his own Hot Seat –editor].
Rooker's toughest vote since he's been in office was approving the Hollymead Town Center. "I was uncertain how I would vote for a long time, until I was sure the proffers were adequate," he says.
The project first came before him when he was on the Planning Commission. "It's an example of what we're trying to do throughout the county so areas develop according to an integrated plan," he explains. "[Route] 29 was developed one parcel at a time," he says of the road residents complain about as the bane of Albemarle existence.
With the Hollymead Town Center, the county prodded several landowners to work together and come up with a plan. "Instead of 14 entrances on 29, you have two," says Rooker. And it's a place where people can live, work, and shop.
Rooker points to Old Trail in Crozet, which could end up with 2,000 homes, as a "good example of a well-planned community."
He asks, "Do you want 20 different people doing subdivisions, or one coherent plan?"
And he scoffs at builders' complaints that they won't get their money back from the sidewalks, bike paths, and street trees mandated by the neighborhood model. Again, he mentions Old Trail. "What builders are seeing is incredible demand. People want to live in a community where they can walk. They don't want to have to drive 10 miles to go to the grocery store."
Rooker admits there's one quality of life problem the county has been unsuccessful in regulating: barking dogs.
"There's not a good way to control barking dogs," he acknowledges.
But developers? That's another matter.
Why here? I attended UVA undergraduate and law school and never left.
What's worst about living here? Nothing.
Favorite hangout? Anywhere my family and friends are
Most overrated virtue? If it's really a virtue, it's probably not overrated.
People would be surprised to know: I enjoy playing the guitar and singing.
What would you change about yourself? I would be more creative.
Proudest accomplishment? Participating in bringing the county's Cell Tower Ordinance, Rural Area Plan, Groundwater Ordinance and Dark Sky Ordinance to reality
People find most annoying about you: Lack of patience
Whom do you admire? George Washington. He had a unique combination of courage, wisdom, and leadership ability.
Favorite book? John Adams, by David McCullough
Subject that causes you to rant? Exaggerated opinions not based on fact
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The advances in technology and communications
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The claim that invading Iraq would make the United States safe from terrorism
What do you drive? 2001 Audi
In your car CD player right now: Small Groups and Mayors, a jazz CD made by a friend of my daughter
Next journey? Most likely, to Nashville to visit my younger daughter and her new husband
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I broke a car window with a snowball when I was 9. My father took me for a visit with the local probation officer. It made quite an impression.
Regret: I wasn't invited to try out for the UVA basketball team. (Maybe Dave Leitao can get this oversight corrected.)
Favorite comfort food: Fudgesicles
Always in your refrigerator: Berries
Must-see TV: A tie between West Wing and Law and Order
Favorite cartoon: Dilbert
Describe a perfect day. Spending the day at the beach with my family
Walter Mitty fantasy: Playing quarterback for the Washington Redskins (during a winning season).
Who'd play you in the movie? Tom Hanks
Most embarrassing moment? Losing my bathing suit while water skiing
Best advice you ever got? It's not about what you take with you. It's what you leave behind.
Favorite bumper sticker? Wisdom lies between the facts.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO