Trails Plan Gets Planning Commission OK

Trails Plan Gets Planning Commission OK

After receiving a green light last week from the Planning Commission, the countywide trails plan amendment is now heading to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The goal is to make the county's trails-plan map up-to-date and a more accurate reflection of current realities and trends. When completed, the trail system will provide vital links between residential, commercial, employment and recreation areas.

"I had great faith in the job that the countywide trails committee, [at-large Planning Commissioner] Laurie Frost Wilson and county staff did," said Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch. "It was a complicated task and encompassed the whole county. It was a monumental undertaking [that] hadn't been done in 12 years, and they really did a great job."

Much of what was approved in the local area was originally proposed by Virginia Run's Deb Leser, Sully District's representative on the Countywide Non-Motorized Transportation Committee. The plan amendment now categorizes trails based on their construction material, rather than their usage.

Trails may be Major Paved (8 feet or wider and made of asphalt or concrete); Minor Paved (4 feet to 7 feet, 11 inches wide and made of asphalt or concrete); or Natural Surface (mulch, grass or cleared)/Stone Dust.

Leser was pleased with the actions regarding the Sully District. "But Sully's trails weren't contentious," she said. "The citizens knew what was going on in our district." Noting that the proposed trails plan culminated nearly six years of work, she extended a special thanks to Sheng Jieh Leu, the staff liaison between the trails committee and the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

"He created all the maps, charts and tables," said Leser. "This wouldn't have happened without all his hard work — he did an exemplary job."

However, one issue in the trails plan was controversial and pitted the Sully and Springfield districts against each other. In 1999 and again in 2001, the Springfield District tried to have several proposed bike and horse trails removed from its portion of the county's trails plan, but the county trails committee voted not to delete them.

Then in February, members of the Fairfax Station-based Occoquan Watershed Coalition (OWC) wrote to the Planning Commission, explaining the unique quality of RC (rural conservation) land in that district and asking that some 22 bike, horse and stream-valley trails be excised from the trails plan.

OWC Vice-President Bill Cole further noted that developers in his area already put in a network of private horse and pedestrian trails. Therefore, he said, these "outdated pedestrian, bike and horse trails [should] be erased from these plans because there's little likelihood they'll ever be built."

But many Sully residents and groups — including the Sully District Council of Citizens Associations Land-Use Committee — wanted these trails to remain, at least in the Sully District. "If you don't have bike trails, you have to drive everywhere," said committee member Jim Hart. "We want to connect the communities and parkland and provide alternatives to automobile transportation."

Agreeing, county trails committee chairman Ann Bennett wanted the Springfield RC trails to stay on the plan for both local and countywide use. "If you remove an entire portion of the county, it's difficult to connect to other jurisdictions, and it mandates that people are in cars," she explained. If that happens, she said, only those lucky enough to have private trails will get to enjoy them, but not the public.

However, at the May 2 Planning Commission meeting, Sully and the trails committee lost this battle. Planning Commission Chairman Pete Murphy made a motion to take these trails out of the Occoquan Watershed on the Springfield side. He did so, said Sully's Koch, because "most of them are in private ownership and the county doesn't have enough money to buy them all."

And although Wilson was pleased with how the rest of the trails plan turned out, she was disappointed with this particular ruling. Said Wilson: "Just because the trails are in private-ownership now doesn't mean that they won't be in public ownership someday."