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Sides Agree on Deferral of Church Application

If there is one aspect of the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church application for affordable housing issue that the various sides can agree upon, it's the deferral of the hearing in favor of additional study.

"I feel vindicated by the deferral," said Kirby Court resident Gary Fremerman, one of 60 to 70 people who attended a meeting last Wednesday evening, Jan. 23 at the Longfellow Middle School. "We only expected 30 to 40 — that shows a lot of interest by the community," he said.

"There's just not enough information out there to make a sound decision," said Fremerman, identifying as the chief concerns of the residents, "it's too big and too commercial for our neighborhood."

Fremerman is referring to the application by the church calling for the western portion of nine-plus acres of land on church property to be used for the development of an affordable housing facility. Just over five of the nine-plus acres has been earmarked for the facility designed to accommodate up to 150 beds and a housing facility for its workers.

The church application slated for a public hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Wednesday, Jan 30 was deferred by that body last week.

"It has been deferred to a date yet to be determined," said Joan Du Bois, Dranesville representative to the Planning Commission.

"Joan is to call a meeting in March to bring together both sides — to try to understand the facts and hopefully work from there," said McGwire Woods land use attorney Lee Fifer, representing the church. "We're looking forward to it and it makes sense to defer until that meeting takes place," he said.

Two nominations were filed regarding the western half of the church property in question, said Du Bois — one for the affordable assisted living facility. The other nomination called for "a park option to be included in the comprehensive plan text," said Du Bois.

Fremerman also referred to the comprehensive plan, noting that "it actually uses a term 'cumulative impact,'" he said. That means "when more institutional development is proposed, its impact on the neighborhood needs to be considered," he said.

Fremerman said that the combination of the church, middle school, Haycock Elementary School and Temple Rodef Shalom have created an impact on the community by surrounding the residential neighborhood. "The purpose of the comprehensive plan is to protect neighborhoods like ours. This neighborhood has existed since 1954. Because we've been encroached upon, there ought to be increased sensitivity — when a residential area is gradually overrun by institutional issues," he said.

"The community is very sensitive to what the land will be used for," said Du Bois, calling for further discussion. "It's necessary to provide an opportunity for further community discussion of all interested parties to review this proposal," she said. "This issue is not ready to move forward. When there is a land use issue that controversial, it's not ready to go forward — and that doesn't mean it's a good use or a bad use — we don't have all the facts to make that determination."

<mh>Size

<bt>"Why does the facility have to be so big," asked Fremerman. Citing the "Guide to Retirement Living" Fall-Winter 2000 issue, Fremerman noted that of the 42 assisted living facilities in Fairfax County, only three contained 100 or more beds.

"This should be part of the feasibility study," he said.

Fremerman referred to the study authorized by an allocation of $50,000 in Tier One Predevelopment Funds under the Affordable Housing Partnership Program, said Fairfax County Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville).

"Might not another parcel in Fairfax County be more suitable," asked Fremerman.

"These grants are done regularly," said Mendelsohn. "The purpose is to encourage groups to go forward with housing projects to get more low income housing in Fairfax County. The same was done with Harbor House in Herndon," he said, citing an example. "This is not unique. It's unique because the actual project is controversial — controversial in terms of number of units."

"Clearly we need this kind of housing in this community — it's just not yet determined if this is the best location for it and what size facility can go there. The deferral is appropriate to make a better determination about the project based upon the feasibility study," said Mendelsohn.