2002: A Symmetrical Date for an Uneven Year

2002: A Symmetrical Date for an Uneven Year

Growth Stresses Schools, Parks, and Drivability of Roads

As symmetrical as 2002 was numerically, it was the year that an uneven tax burden caused citizens to balk.

The year started with double digit increases in property tax assessments; for Dranesville District residents, it was the third consecutive year their property taxes had increased by 10 percent or more.

Voters answered on Nov. 5 with the resounding defeat of the half-cent sales tax referendum, a vote widely interpreted as the voice of the voters saying “Enough already!”

At the same time, they gave emphatic approvals to bonds for public safety and parks.

In retrospect, the election revealed voter anxiety over what many saw as an erosion of the quality of their lives.

They had moved to Fairfax County for its lush parks, high-quality schools, and low crime rate.

Now, they felt pressed by rising property taxes, decreased open space, seemingly endless streams of traffic, and the vague sense that a low crime rate wouldn’t necessarily keep them safe.

Nassim Saliba, a resident who says a proposed expansion of the Verizon technical facility on Chain Bridge Road would block the sunlight from his house said “My quality of life changed completely” with the proposal.

He saw John Foust, the president of the McLean Citizens Association as a champion who would fight for his rights. “I salute Mr. Foust,” Saliba said. “It is the American way to vote for the community and not to vote for the big corporation.

The same night, Foust resigned the MCA to run for Dranesville Supervisor in 2003.

Just two weeks, earlier, his likely opponent, Dranesville Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois, had voted against a proposal to rezone 13.5 acres at Tysons Corner from commercial, which has no impact on schools, to residential, which would introduce an estimated 152 new students into the public schools.

“The consequences to the school population and traffic in Tysons are going to be immense,” commented Spring Hill Elementary parent, Jan Pascoe.

“Government needs to notice that things are happening from the left, from the right, from behind, and from above.

“The average citizen feels attacked; bamboozled,” she said.

They Came, They Saw, They Overcrowded

The questions on the Nov. 5 ballot reflected converging demands on the county’s infrastructure that are the outcome of boisterous economic growth. With no public facilities ordinance to require that infrastructure, such as roads and schools, be in place before development proceeds, “for planning purposes, we are the tail of the dog,” said Jane Strauss, Dranesville District’s representative to the Fairfax County School Board and a McLean resident.

Ironically, Nov. 5 was also the day that Fairfax County’s planning staff recommended approval of a rezoning request from Tysons Corner developer West*Group that presented Strauss with a dilemma about where to assign the potential residents of 1,354 new homes.

West*Group’s plan to rezone 13.5 acres from commercial to residential would permit development of 1,296 condominiums and another 58 single-family attached townhouses, high-density residential of development of the kind needed to support rail to Dulles Airport.

The condos would form four towers at Westpark and Park Run Drives, each one 150 feet tall.

That would bring high-density residential development into Tysons Corner, but not close enough to the planned location of a Metro station, critics said.

West*Group was criticized for its proffers; $200,000 shared among three public schools when the impact of its new development would require six new classrooms costing $350,000 each.

In response, West*Group upped the ante, offering $700,000 for schools to be phased in incrementally as the development progressed.

That still fell short $440,000 short of the $1.14 million for schools that would be justified under new residential development criteria which will go into effect Jan. 7, 2003. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to review West*Group’s application on Jan. 6, 2003.

The $1.14 million is determined by multiplying the projected 152-student increase by $7,500 per student.

West*Group’s rezoning proposal set off a storm of protest when the proposal reached the Planning Commission on Nov. 20 and residents discovered, late that afternoon, that the new development would feed not into the Marshall High School pyramid, as originally indicated by FCPS facilities planners, but into the McLean Pyramid, beginning with Spring Hill Elementary at the base.

A boundary adjustment is under way now because both Spring Hill and Longfellow, the middle school, are both overcrowded.

Although Strauss quickly suggested an administrative transfer to move the new development into Westbriar Elementary and the Marshall pyramid, that just as quickly raised concern from Westbriar PTA President Julie Dallen.

Her school is not now overcrowded, she said, but 93 more students would push it past its capacity.

After Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn voiced the ire of his Dranesville constituents in the McLean and Langley Pyramids, West*Group suggested he should recuse himself because the Washington office of his law firm had represented a start-up company in which West*Group principal Gerry Halpin had a financial interest.

Mendelsohn pointed out that Providence District Supervisor Gerry Connolly, a Democrat, stood to gain some uptown office quarters, Connolly charged him with stalling to gain time to build opposition to the proposal.

An angry Mendelsohn said he needed time to evaluate his legal status since if he acted, he could be found guilty of a Class I misdemeanor.

The West*Group rezoning was deferred until 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 6, 2003, leaving the Dranesville citizens who had come to testify on Dec. 9 with no air time.

Andrew Chapel Boundaries Anger Residents, Perplex Officials

At the same time that West*Group’s proposal was under consideration, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) officials were holding public meetings to establish boundaries for a new elementary school to relieve overcrowding in three elementary schools in McLean and Great Falls.

At the third meeting on Dec. 4, the fourth school boundary proposal to be presented by FCPS facilities planners angered several groups of citizens in Great Falls.

Those who live on Harriman Drive didn’t like their assignment; their street formed the boundary between Andrew Chapel and Great Falls Elementary School sites.

Anyone whose driveway entered Harriman would be reassigned to Andrew Chapel, under the plan.

In an area in northwest Great Falls that includes the Ridings, other residents suggested that students who live south of Route 7 should be reassigned to Armstrong Elementary, rather than moving students in Great Falls from one elementary to another.

“They have adequate space given that their students occupy 300 square feet per student and Forestville occupies 67 square feet per student,” said Ridings resident Tim Higgins.

And several families in the Falls Run subdivision on Springvale Road said their neighborhood would become an attendance “island” under the plan.

Parents at Middleton, south of Route 7, pleaded to be assigned to Andrew Chapel to avoid a lengthy bus ride from their subdivision to Westbriar Elementary.

And Westbriar PTA President Julie Dallen publicly asked who should absorb the cost impact of educating children who will live in West*Group’s new development.

“It occurs to me now, in retrospect, what a lousy site Andrew Chapel is,” called out one man in the audience at the third public meeting on Dec. 4.

The final boundary proposal was expected to go forward to the Fairfax County School Board for a public hearing in February, with no further parent meetings scheduled before then.

When Fairfax County Public Schools staff presented its proposed capital improvement program for 2004-08 to the School Board on Dec. 19, it included an unfunded addition to Langley High School to accommodate 400 students. The school is expected to be overcrowded by 700 students (see www.fcps.edu/Capital Improvement Program/Cluster I).

Parks Feel the Pressure

Meanwhile, another sector of government also angered some McLean residents.

On Dec. 11, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) approved a “memorandum of agreement” granting McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) license to install artificial turf at one of two soccer fields at Lewinsville Park. MYS would share the $700,000 cost of installation with Marymount University, a private university in Arlington County with an enrollment consisting of 23 percent of Fairfax County residents.

As a quid pro quo, Marymount would play its fall soccer and spring lacrosse season games there.

MYS said the artificial turf would increase the amount of playing time by half without requiring an additional field.

Citizens shot back that with only 23 percent of its student body claiming Fairfax County residency, Marymount fell far short of the two-thirds residency that county policy required for use of its fields.

Lucille Maloney, who lives near the park, called the proposal “a desperate and ill-conceived attempt to transform a tiny piece of greenery in the center of town into an athletic multiplex. It would be ludicrous if it weren’t being taken so seriously,” she said.

“We are aghast that [McLean Youth, Inc.] would go behind us in a cabal to alter the character of our neighborhood by attempting to have lights, Astroturf and a university added to Lewinsville Park,” Maloney said in a letter to the FCPS. “MYI is a user of the park, not an owner. “

Both the McLean Citizens Association and the Lewinsville Coalition, umbrella organizations for homeowner groups, wrote resolutions opposing the deal with MYS and by extension, Marymount.

At almost the same time, on Dec. 9, the Board of Supervisors raised the residency requirement for field use by groups to 75 percent of the players.

Kinghorn’s original letter to Mendelsohn, requesting consideration of the deal with Marymount, was dated April 3, 2002. But it was June 5, two months later, before citizens learned of it.

Dranesville District’s Park Authority Representative, Rick Thoesen, was out of the country on June 27, when a public hearing was held at Spring Hill School.

Between April, when the request was first brought to Mendelsohn, and December, when it was approved, only one meeting was held in August between MYS and the citizens organizations.

But by year’s end, the FCPA board had unanimously approved the proposal with the understanding that a “2232 hearing” would not be required by the Fairfax County Planning Commission. Such hearings necessitate the conversion of property from private to public use.

If the Planning Commission required such a hearing, the board said, they would reconsider the agreement.

Members of the WLHA said they were waiting on the outcome of the Planning Commission’s recommendation to decide whether to sue.

Thoesen said he felt the benefit to the community of the increased playing time outweighed the neighbors’ concerns about parking, noise, and stress on the park.

“This is a progressive, innovative approach to the County’s athletic field shortage,” said MYS Chairman Ted Kinghorn.

“The board should be praised for its ‘can-do’ attitude and its willingness to look for creative ways to support our youth.”

“The artificial turf field will be the first of its kind in Fairfax County and the first installed by a soccer club in Northern Virginia.

“We hope and expect that this field will be a showcase athletic field for Fairfax County,” Kinghorn said.

Some members of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association promised a lawsuit in answer to what they said was exclusion from the process.