The Mulford School has long been a fixture on Old Centreville Road in Centreville, where Beverly Mulford teaches preschoolers lifetime skills and, along with her husband and sons, gives riding lessons to horse enthusiasts.
But all that may change by summer 2003. With the Mulfords' blessing, Pulte Home Corp. is currently seeking a rezoning of that 6.1-acre site. And if Fairfax County approves, townhouses will someday dot that land.
Last Tuesday, Jan. 15, land-planner Inda Stagg presented details of the plan to the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee. The property is presently zoned for one home per acre, and Pulte is applying for a rezoning that would allow as many as eight homes per acre.
That would enable Pulte to build 47 single-family, attached townhouses there, at a density of 7.7 homes per acre. Said Stagg: "It's planned for residential development at 5-8 homes per acre, so we're certainly in conformance with the [county's] Comprehensive Plan."
However, Mulford hasn't yet notified all her students and their parents about her future plans. "I have no intention of closing the school," she said, the day after the WFCCA meeting. "I intend to have school next year — I'm enrolling students."
But that's fine with Pulte and, indeed, Stagg wants to reassure all of Mulford's students that they can continue attending classes there for quite some time. "Regardless of what happens [with the proposed rezoning], there's no way Pulte would begin construction prior to the end of the next school year," said Stagg. "The school will be open through the end of the  school year."
Steve Coniglio, Pulte land-acquisition manager, says that — although the sale is contingent on Pulte's obtaining the rezoning — the contract was signed in late summer/early fall. And local Sully District officials knew of the possible sale and rezoning as early as November.
Coniglio said Pulte began talks with the Mulfords about the land during the summer. "[Beverly] Mulford's son, Gardner Mulford, a real-estate agent, asked us if we'd be interested," said Coniglio. "He was talking to us about another piece of property and said, 'By the way ...'"
But he doesn't mind waiting awhile before having access to the land for site-preparation work and the start of construction. "No one from Pulte will be on the property doing any work until after the 2003 school year," said Coniglio. "It gives me time to get my entire site plan and all my engineering done, so it works out good for [Mulford] and for us."
The nearly four dozen townhouses are planned to have brick fronts and two-car garages, with parking also available in their driveways, for 155 parking spaces total. The homes would be built on the east side of Old Centreville Road, 200 feet north of Singleton's Way and just south of Sunset Ridge Road.
"There's a two-story frame house there now, a horse barn, playground and swimming pool," said Stagg. "All of that will be demolished."
She said the neighborhood has access onto Old Centreville Road; there'll be sidewalks on both sides of the streets, plus trees, a tot lot and a gazebo. Also planned is a community-gathering area with benches plus an open space for meetings.
The WFCCA's Jim Hart advised Stagg and Coniglio that there are graves and Civil War trenches "within spitting-distance" of that property. So, he said, "It behooves you all to be very careful about what might be on the site."
And, noting that the soils through there are "basically rock," he said the neighbors would probably need some blasting proffers from Pulte to protect their homes from any damage during construction.
Wanting to make sure that people in the surrounding residential areas are made aware of what's proposed, the WFCCA's Carol Hawn also asked Pulte to "try to contact" the Singleton's Grove community. Stagg said she would, as well as residents of the Sunset Ridge neighborhood, also nearby.
In addition, Hawn alerted Pulte to the fact that a huge, historic oak tree — "multi- branched and trunked" — is close to the property, on Giant Oak Court, and is even in the "Big Tree Registry." Explaining that its roots may extend a long way, she warned Coniglio that "some special care" may have to be taken when digging there.
Coniglio said the new townhouses will probably sell in the mid-$300,000 range. "I think this is the very last parcel in Centreville that could have so many houses on it, so we want to get it right," said Hart. "And I like that you have so much brick."
Pulte will return to the WFCCA in March or April with further details. The proposal is scheduled to go to the county Planning Commission on April 18.
Pulte is also doing the massive renovation of the Centreville Farms community, and Coniglio said he's pleased to be doing work in the Sully District because the people here, such as Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch, are "really good to work with."
He said the Mulford site is ideal for a townhouse community because that's what it's already surrounded with on three sides. Another plus, he said, is its proximity to a busy road and shopping. "We need to respond to the needs of an urban area," said Coniglio. "The key to development isn't stopping growth — it's managing it."