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Votes

Park Options Lead APR Approvals

Parking Garage, Dark Skies Amendments Pass

Of the 31 Dranesville District APR nominations to be heard by the Planning Commission, 13 were approved and heard by the Board of Supervisors on Monday evening, March 4. Three of the 12 denied items called for park options, most notably at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean and the Andrew Chapel School Site.

The six deferred items will be revisited again, on an individual basis, said Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois (Dranesville). The nomination regarding the future of Lowell Avenue — to close or not to close, should be brought back before the Planning Commission within a month — the earliest of the six, said DuBois. An item deferred less than six months does not require an additional public hearing, while those items deferred beyond a six-month span do require another public hearing, said DuBois.

Another deferred item is the nomination for an assisted senior living facility to be placed on the property of the Chesterbrook Presbyterian Church on Westmoreland Street in Falls Church.

The two Great Falls deferrals were nominations regarding historic districts at Dranesville Tavern and Colvin Run Mill, said DuBois. "I deferred them to allow for more community discussion," she said at the Wednesday, Feb. 27 Planning Commission meeting. She believes they will be voted upon "within a couple of months. I plan to walk the area with Karen Washburn to get a better perspective," said DuBois. Washburn, a Great Falls resident, nominated both items and serves on the Fairfax County History Commission.

<1b>By Sanford D. Horn

<2b>The Connection

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Park options dominated the field of Dranesville-based Area Plan Review (APR) nominations heard by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Monday evening.

The 13 APR nominations that survived last month’s Planning Commission hearings passed without opposition from either the public or the Board of Supervisors. Of the nine McLean-related nominations, six called for park options, while half of the four Great Falls nominations has a park option goal.

"I’m quite satisfied," said John C. Ulfelder, representing the Great Falls Citizens Association, following the Dranesville portion of the March 4 public hearing. Park options were called for on two parcels of land that previously had no site-specific text related to the future of the properties — the nearly 23-acre parcel of the Georgetown Pike and adjacent Grange Park and the roughly 32-acre parcel currently serving as an equestrian facility.

Ulfelder won the preservation of the dark skies above Turner Farm Park situated north of Leesburg Pike and west of Difficult Run. "There are plans to set up an observatory at Turner Farm Park where there are some of the darkest skies in the D.C. area," he said.

"We’re proud to have the darkest skies in the region — proud to have this facility," said Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, in support of the nomination, which passed without objection.

"We’re on the cutting edge," said Ulfelder. The goal for Turner Farm Park is to have a "regular observatory and astronomy classes for Fairfax County Public Schools. We need an agreement between the [Fairfax County] Park Authority and the Analemma Society for locating, constructing and operating an observatory and related facilities. Examples of related facilities would be a sundial garden and exhibits," he said.

IN THE McLEAN AREA, park options were granted for six properties, one of which is the four-acre Mehr property on Old Dominion Drive. "I’m here to speak from the heart," said McLean resident Susan Turner. "For 50 years the Mehrs have been plowing two acres. Artists have captured the scene on two acres. There are chickens and dogs. Some children have seen their first chicken there. The Mehrs want it preserved as green space. It would make a lovely spot for a playground for children or a garden spot. If years from now the county doesn’t buy it, perhaps a land conservancy will," she said.

The board granted a park option on a 3.76-acre parcel of land adjacent to the west of Haycock Elementary School. "This used to be a quiet area and not very developed. Now it’s heavily developed," said Falls Church resident Diane D’ Arcy, defending her nomination Monday night. D’ Arcy said she noticed the school property had trailers on it. "This could be useful for the school. We want the county to be able to buy it," she said.

BY CALLING for a park option at the 33-plus-acres Scott Run properties located north of Lewinsville Road and east of the Beltway, APR Task Force member and McLean Citizens Association board member Adrienne Whyte said, "We’re being responsible — recognizing the environmental sensitivity of that land. I’m so thrilled the citizens got involved and saw this through the end. They made a huge and lasting impact on how the properties in their neighborhood will or will not be developed."

Development would be limited to one to two dwelling units per acre with the understanding that development would take place at the low end of the density range and should not exceed one unit per acre. Mendelsohn added a caveat to that language, that "new development[s] have lot sizes similar in size to the immediately adjacent residential subdivision."

The park option granted at the Spring Hill School site places a 100-foot protection around Bulls Neck Run. This is a perennial stream that is not mapped as such, yet, said McLean resident Frank Fuerst, president of the Bulls Neck Conservancy.

Granting the park option protects the stream until the mapping officially designates it as perennial, said Turner. "Bulls Neck Run runs all the way to the Potomac," she said.

There is scientific evidence supporting the perennial claim, said Fuerst. "Crayfish could not survive if this stream were not perennial," he said.

The board also granted a park option on a 10.5-acre parcel owned by the Fairfax County School Board at the Old Dominion school site south of Hunting Mill Lane.

"This is a wooded site on the interior of our neighborhood," said McLean resident Edward Newberry, president of the Greenway Heights Civic Association. Newberry did object to the possibility of active use, calling for passive use only, citing the existence of trails on the property.

Turner called for the parcel to be preserved as parkland "until needed as a school site."

Mendelsohn acknowledged receipt of 34 e-mails and letters from residents within Newberry’s association. "This is a beautiful site — isolated. I’m sensitive to the cards and e-mails," he said, but decided to leave the determination regarding passive or active usage to the Park Authority in voting for the park option.

WHILE MOST of the nominations called for park options, one called for increased parking via a garage at the 26-plus-acre- WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) site and a change in zoning from commercial use to residential use.

"There is a tremendous unmet need for parking," said Whyte, noting there are currently 1,064 spaces. The addition of a 65-foot tall parking garage abutting up to I-66 would net approximately 800 additional spaces, she said.

The other main component of the nomination called for the removal of language from the Comprehensive Plan setting aside 130,000 square feet of land for commercial use. Whyte’s nomination included language designating land for residential use at 30 dwelling units per acre. "Development of residential encourages metro usage. With more parking, more people would use metro and stay off the roads," she said.

Passage of the APR nomination by the Board of Supervisors will lead WMATA to conduct an environmental study and examine the traffic impact before constructing the new parking garage, said Whyte.