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Oakton Homeowners Fight to Protect Community

Residents Examine Zoning Proposals

<bt>When George Lehnigk’s turn came to speak before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Jan. 31, he used an audio recording to remind the commissioners of his previous appearance at a public hearing.

In 1998, Lehnigk was shocked to learn that a proposed housing development at the corner of Chain Bridge Road and Blake Lane was going to cause the removal of many old-growth trees that had given Oakton its name.

When Lehnigk spoke out at a June 1998 Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting about the development, Commissioner John R. Byers (Mount Vernon) and other members of the planning commission criticized him for not voicing his opinion earlier in the planning process.

But not everything that Lehnigk heard that evening was negative.

“Given your newfound understanding of the process and the comprehensive plan and how it all fits together, I would hope that you’d continue to stay involved,” said at-large commissioner Walter L. Alcorn in 1998. “Community involvement and development of a community vision is one of the fundamental tenets of planning and we’re interested in good planning.”

Three years later, Lehnigk is still involved in protecting green spaces near his home. He and other Oakton residents spoke in support of one nomination and in opposition to another as part of the 2001 north county cycle of the area plans review (APR).

The APR process began in May 2001 when citizens from the Dranesville, Hunter Mill, Providence, and Sully districts submitted nominations to amend the Fairfax County comprehensive plan. Over the following months, citizen task forces from each district met to review the nominations and make recommendations to the planning commission. Beginning Jan. 30, 2002, the planning commission began a series of public hearings to address the nominations. Once the public hearings are finished and the Planning Commission has made its recommendations, the nominations will go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

<mh>Providence Planning

<bt>Before the start of the Jan. 31 public hearing, Planning Commission chairman Peter F. Murphy, Jr. (Springfield) encouraged those making presentations to be brief and to the point.

The night before, the Planning Commission heard 60 of the 90 nominations in the Dranesville District. The remaining nominations, which concerned proposed amendments for the northern section of the district, had to be carried over to the Feb. 7 public hearing.

Murphy’s request was taken to heart by those making presentations for the six nominations that concerned the section of the Springfield District that had been part of the Sully District before the 2001 redistricting. The most significant nomination dealt with rezoning the area around Fairfax Towne Center to promote greater density of housing.

It was when that focus shifted to the Providence District that the public hearing hit its first snag.

Former Fairfax supervisor Jack Herrity took advantage of the public comment portion of a nomination regarding the James Lee Conservation District to discuss the Tysons Corner area of the Providence District.

Before the APR nominations reached the appropriate task forces last summer, the Board of Supervisors decided to defer indefinitely the consideration of 13 nominations dealing with the Tysons Corner area. The board authorized a special hearing for those nominations once the environmental impact study on the rail to Dulles project has been completed. In the past, Herrity has questioned the need to run a rail-line through Tysons.

“The EIS is going to give you the information you need to determine the traffic impact on the Tysons area in the Providence district by the type of planning nominations made and the density proposed,” Herrity said to begin his statement.

When commissioner Alcorn questioned Herrity whether he was going to address the issue at hand, he answered, “You can figure it out.”

Herrity suggested that the planning staff or the Virginia Department of Transportation should conduct traffic impact studies on the Tysons nominations before the review process begins.

“This is something downstream that you should look at,” Herrity said. “I do not believe that the Metro system is necessarily going to solve the impact that you’re going to create by the significant density being proposed by some of the plan nominations being in the Tysons area.”

<mh>Hunter Mill Road

<bt>Discussions about preserving green space in Oakton and nearby Hunter Mill Road took up a good part of the evening. Lehnigk and others spoke in support of a nomination to add a park option to a 33-acre parcel occupied by AT&T. They also supported a nomination to limit the development of an 18.93-acre parcel on Hunter Mill Road near Chain Bridge Road to 40 to 60 percent of the property. The land is currently under development by the John Laing Homes.

“We’re back with these nominations to see if this really is a meaningful mechanism for change that you have proposed for us which actually yields the implied results or whether Mr. Byers was just throwing us off the trail in 1998,” said Lehnigk.

Robert Adams of the Hunter Mill Defense League spoke in support of a nomination to add language to the comprehensive plan designating Hunter Mill Road a heritage resource.

The 7.2 mile road which runs through all four of the north county districts is home to more than 30 historically significant landmarks, including Native American relics, Wheelers Gristmill, Brown Chapel and the Fairfax Hunt Club.

“The Hunter Mill Defense League is proposing to add this language as the first step toward recognizing the historic significance of the entire corridor,” said Adams.

Not only has the Virginia Department of Historic Resources already given the road landmark status, Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-35th) introduced legislation to designate Hunter Mill Road an historic byway. Earlier in the week, the House transportation committee approved the bill. In addition, the Fairfax History Commission added three Hunter Mill sites to its list of historic resources.

<mh>Doughnut Hole or Tomato

<bt>The culmination of the Jan. 31 public hearing came over a conflict of residents living southeast of the Vienna Metro station. The disagreement stemmed from a nomination by Christopher Management, Inc. to increase the density of the property it owns at the corner of Nutley Street and I-66.

William F. Janssen, president of the West Briarwood Home Owners Association, submitted two nominations to increase the density of the West Briarwood development from 1-2 to 3-4 dwelling units per acre. He and his fellow residents were concerned that their neighborhood would sit like a hole in the doughnut of the Christopher development.

“There’s absolutely no justification for leaving this area at R-1 to R-2,” said Janssen. “It is not fair, not equitable, and not good planning to leave that hole in the doughnut sitting there with 45-year-old houses at plan for R-1/R-2.”

Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods opposed the upgrade in density, claiming that it would negatively impact their communities.

Speaking for the Briarwood Citizen’s Association, Kenneth Lawrence “strongly opposed” Janssen’s nominations.

“We’re satisfied that [Christopher’s nomination] as approved by the APR task force will lead to a final Briarwood infill development that produces positive outcomes for our community,” said Lawrence. “But, we feel no such satisfaction from the other nominations. Instead, we believe that these will lead ultimately and inevitably to an extremely adverse impact to our stable and viable neighborhood.”

To illustrate his point, Lawrence expanded on Janssen’s food metaphor. “The other nominations will, we believe, create a stuffed tomato that will inevitably overflow into our stable and viable neighborhood,” he said.

The public hearing ended with five nominations in the Providence not heard. They will be carried over to the Feb. 7 public hearing.

<mh>What’s Next?

<bt>Any nominations not addressed by the planning commission during its initial round of public hearings will be carried over to public hearings on Feb. 6, 7 and 9. Mark up on all northern county nominations will take place on Feb. 27 and 28. The Board of Supervisors will begin its public hearings on the nominations in March.

“When the public hearing is closed on each item, the record will remain open for you to submit written comments,” said Murphy. “Quite frankly, there are so many speakers through this whirlwind process that your written comments are very important to us. Sometimes the oral comments are a bit fleeting.”

Those interested in submitting written comments on any of the area plan review nominations can send them to: Fairfax County Planning Commission Office, Government Center Building, Suite 330, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035-5505.