Residents Clash Over Zoning Requests

Residents Clash Over Zoning Requests

It was neighbor against neighbor last Wednesday as the Fairfax County Planning Commission reviewed area plan review (APR) nominations for the Hunter Mill District.

The APR process, which comes around every four years, gives Fairfax County residents the opportunity to change the county’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan serves as a guideline for future zoning decisions. Renaissance Housing, for example, wants to build four to five dwelling units per acre on a parcel that is zoned for one-quarter to one-half a dwelling unit per acre.

Mark Looney, an attorney representing Renaissance, appeared before the Planning Commission last Wednesday arguing that the plan should be changed. After the Planning Commission makes recommendations on the Hunter Mill nominations, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to approve or deny each proposal. The proposals for increased density along Hunter Mill Road, which generated more discussion than any of the other Hunter Mill proposals, have all been recommended for rejection by county staff.

John Thoburn, owner of the Golf Park at Hunter Mill, also argued in favor of higher density along Hunter Mill. Since his family's parcels are near the Dulles Toll Road and the future rail-to-Dulles line, Thoburn said higher density is in order.

"I think it would be irresponsible to build multi-million dollar homes in an area near the second-largest commercial center in Northern Virginia," Thoburn said. "It should be used for affordable housing."

The parcels lining Hunter Mill Road are zoned RE, allowing .2 to .5 dwelling units per acre. Thoburn pointed out the county’s description of RE zoning, which says RE zoning should be used to preserve an "open and rural" character.

"Maybe it was open and rural in the 1960s, but it’s not open and rural today," Thoburn said.


<bt>Other Hunter Mill residents disagreed with Thoburn. Jody Bennett, from the Hunter Mill Defense League, noted comprehensive plan language designating the land along Hunter Mill Road as a "residential buffer" area separating commercial centers in Tysons Corner and Reston.

"Our lands are always under attack by developers," said Bruce Bennett, transportation chair with the Hunter Mill Defense League. "Every year we say we’ve solved it once and for all. The solution, once and for all, is to keep it as planned."

Thoburn and his family have been trying to redevelop their land for around ten years. For this year’s APR process, Thoburn has proposed mixed use development for land across from the golf park, at a parcel where the Thoburn-owned Fairfax Christian School now sits. Thoburn would like the comprehensive plan to allow residential, office, retail, institutional, and recreational uses at the 46-acre site. He would also like to raise the floorspace to area ratio (FAR) to 1.0, meaning that for every square foot of land on the parcel a square foot of floorspace would be allowed.

Ronald Christian, from Lutheran Homes Inc., has made a nomination on a Thoburn-owned parcel around the corner from the Christian School. Christian would like to build housing for the disabled and elderly on the five-acre site, adjacent to the Edlin School and the VDOT property yard along Sunset Hills Road.

"Things have changed in the last five years," Christian said. "We’ve got minorities who cry for homes now. That’s a big change in the last five years. I would like you to think about those who it is easy to forget."

Christian, who filed the nomination with Thoburn’s cooperation, proposed 20-plus units per acre on the property, with a total of 200 or more units.

Many residents were sympathetic to the need for additional disabled-accessible housing, but said the neighborhood was not conducive to such high-density development.

"This is still a high-rise building in the middle of a low density area," said Don Skidmore, a resident of the nearby Equestrian Park neighborhood. "It’s being used as a ploy to change the zoning."

Elliot Eder, another member of the Hunter Mill Defense League, agreed with Skidmore. Eder said that allowing the disabled-accessible development would create a need for more surrounding development.

"There are plenty of grocery stores in the area," Eder said. "You have three 7-11’s in the vicinity. But the only way you couldn’t get to those places would be if you couldn’t drive. That’s why I see this as the tail wagging the dog."

<mh>Loss of Lots

<bt>Renaissance Housing purchased the 116-acre Bachman Farm, along Hunter Mill Road, in 1997. At one point the developer drew up a proposal to build according to plan, with .2 to .5 dwelling units per acre. But, Looney said, the impending realignment of Sunset Hills Road pushed the developer to increase the allowed density on the parcel. Although there are many possible routes over which the road may be diverted, Looney said one of the options will take away as many as nine residential lots.

"I felt some shock to see the plan to develop up to five dwelling units per acre," said Renee Yuengling, the president of the nearby Equestrian Park Homeowner’s Association. She said VDOT is no longer considering aligning Sunset Hills along the Renaissance parcel. Skidmore estimated that the road, if built onto the Renaissance property, would only take out two to three acres, leaving enough land on the 116 acre property for a profitable by-right development.

Looney said that regardless of the county’s decision concerning the Renaissance property, he would like to see a community study of the entire area, including the parcels owned by Thoburn.

"We don’t necessarily suggest four to five dwelling units per acre," Looney said. "The answer might be eight to 12, or maybe one to two with school sites or other community facilities. It seems it would be incumbent on the planning commission to set up a community group to settle once and for all what this area should look like."

Frank de la Fe, Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner, was positive about pursuing such a study.

"There are a lot of issues that really should not be looked at piecemeal," de la Fe said. "I would like to talk about a study."