Last Wednesday Hunter Mill District planning commissioner Frank de la Fe, along with the rest of the Planning Commission, denied proposals by both John Thoburn and Mark Looney to raise density allowances on property along Hunter Mill Road. The proposals were both part of the Area Plans Review (APR), a process which, every four years, gives residents an opportunity to change Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan guides future zoning decisions in the county.
And even though de la Fe denied the proposals, Looney, an attorney representing Renaissance Housing, was optimistic. In explaining his reason for denying the proposals, de la Fe said there is still room for further examination of land along Hunter Mill Road.
"It’s clear to me that there are a number of issues related to this area," de la Fe said. "So far they have been looked at separately, but we should have a comprehensive look. And I will look into this in the future."
The idea for an additional examination of the Hunter Mill corridor was not original to de la Fe, though. At a public hearing around a month ago, Looney first suggested a study of the area "with parties that are removed somewhat from the 20-year history of this area. We’d like someone to look at it with a fresh set of eyes, to look at the opportunities in the area and the limitations, as well."
Looney would like the county to bring in an "urban land institute" to look at the housing that exists in the area, to look at the development pattern, to talk to area residents and to make a recommendation on future growth.
"We don’t mean to presuppose what the results would be," Looney said.
de la Fe said he would like to involve a local university, or possibly an individual graduate student in the study of the area surrounding Hunter Mill Road. He agreed with Looney's notion that the area needs to be examined with a fresh pair of eyes.
de la Fe said transportation issues also need to be included in a density study. The Virginia Department of Transportation has introduced several possible alternatives for the re-alignment of Sunset Hills Road. Some of those alternatives would direct the road over property nominated for change in the APR process.
"The VDOT plans, over the years, have changed," de la Fe said. "Right now there are a variety of alternatives and, frankly, with what's going on in Richmond, we don't know when the project will get done."
Most of the land along Hunter Mill Road is currently zoned for residential development at .2 to .5 units per acre. Looney nominated the 116-acre, Renaissance-owned, Bachman Farm to go from .2 to .5 residential units per acre up to four to five residential units per acre. Thoburn nominated a 46-acre parcel of land, across from his Golf Park at Hunter Mill, for mixed use including residential, office, and retail uses at a floorspace to area ratio of up to 1.0.
MEMBERS OF THE HUNTER MILL Defense League, a group of area residents, want to keep the low-density character of their neighborhood intact. They say their neighborhood is established as a low-density buffer between the commercial centers of Reston and Tysons Corner.
"Maybe in 50 or 60 years this will change, but right now we have a well-organized community," said Bruce Bennett, member of the Hunter Mill Defense League. "We know what we want."
Fellow defense league member Elliot Eder wrote a letter to the Fairfax County Planning Commission arguing against further study of the Hunter Mill corridor. Jody Bennett, another member of the Hunter Mill Defense League, said an additional study of the area, so close on the heels of the APR process, would be superfluous.
"This particular area has been looked at since 1985 by a number of task forces put together by the supervisors," Jody Bennett said. "And they have unanimously said that it should stay the same."
Bruce Bennett said that if a developer wants to build along Hunter Mill Road, that developer should adhere to the current zoning. He pointed to a project along Hunter Mill Road where a developer explored higher density and commercial development but ultimately decided to build by-right.
"They’re putting in 18 houses on the corner of Hunter Mill and Baron Cameron," Bruce Bennett said. "This is the way it’s going."
Looney said that without the kind of study he is suggesting, there will be no consensus between residents and developers along Hunter Mill.
"Unless you want 20 more years of prolonged positions going back and forth, you need to have someone come in here and say, here are the opportunities, do they comply with what the community wants?" Looney said.
APR nominations denied by the Planning Commission are not forwarded for consideration by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.