When Gretchen Kopf moved to Reston from New York City last December, she didn't think she would have to worry about noise and safety. After all, Northern Virginia is hardly the all-night metropolis of Lower Manhattan.
Yet, during Kopf's first night in Reston, the professional fund-raiser said she didn't feel safe. So, only 48 hours after moving her belongings into her Whisperhill townhouse, Kopf welcomed a 9-week-old Boxer puppy named Colonel into her home. Colonel is now Kopf's 10-month-old, 65-pound, four-legged security guard.
"The first night I moved in here, it just didn't feel right," Kopf, who lives alone, said. "With all the trucks, idling at night and the drivers loitering, sometimes in the bushes; I just didn't — and still don't — feel completely safe."
A thin layer of trees and shrubs is all that separates the back of Kopf's two-story Victorian townhouse from Stevenage Road. Stevenage connects Reston Parkway and Bennington Woods Road and it serves as an access to the nearby Home Depot shopping center. The road, and the many trucks parked there overnight, with their refrigerators running, has caused many sleepless nights for Kopf.
Stevenage is zoned commercial on the south side and residential to the north, Kopf and her neighbors would like to see that changed.
Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) first addressed the issue with the full board on July 1. At that time, the Board of Supervisors approved the installation of "No Parking" signs along the north side of the 30-foot-wide street.
<b>KOPF IS ONE</b> of many Whisperhill residents who, in the last two years, have complained about Stevenage Road. Nearly 1,300 Whisperhill residents signed a petition to rezone the road to prohibit commercial vehicles from parking on either side of the street and to outlaw overnight parking for any vehicle. The petition says that the road "has become a commercial dumping ground, storage lot, vagrants' hangout, eye sore and most importantly a safety concern for all residents located nearby."
Last Thursday, the Reston Association board unanimously approved a letter of support for the Whisperhill community and the 1,289 people who signed the petition. The letter urged the county's Board of Zoning Appeals to prohibit commercial vehicle parking along Stevenage. The RA board said the rezoning application is "an urgent matter that has a major negative impact on Reston."
"All the credit goes to the citizens for engaging the community in the way they have," said Doug Bushee, the RA board's North Point representative. "It was their pressure that got the county involved in the way that it is, now."
Gerald Valloy, Reston Association executive vice president, applauded the collaborative effort. "That is just the right way for people to come together, it's really a reflection on what happens when the entire community works towards a common good."
Valloy said the board's unanimous decision to support the petition drive was a no-brainer. "Having all those trucks parked along that street is an obvious safety concern for those neighbors," he said. "I think it was right for our board to support the hard work of those 1,200 some-odd neighbors that signed the petition."
Hudgins thinks the success of the petition will go a long way in fixing the problem. "It helps to substantiate the concern we have about Stevenage. We wanted as much support as we could muster and the petition is a definitive statement," Hudgins said. "It's a very positive thing. They live in the community and they see what is going on around them. Who knows better than them?"
Bushee said safety of the children who play at Reston North Park along Stevenage Road was arguably the most important concern for the RA board. However, complaints of trash and noise were not overlooked or discounted, he stressed.
<b>LIKE MANY OF HER NEIGHBORS</b>, Kopf said she dreads the coming fall and winter months. "There's absolutely no protection once the leaves fall," said Kopf. "It's very unnerving. The truckers sleep in their cabs and go the bathroom in the woods. Plus, I can't sleep with my windows open at night because the big refrigerator trucks are running all night long."
Across the street from Kopf, Tammy Gummel, a sales trainer who has lived on Hollowind Court since 1999, has similar concerns. "You can't open your windows and you can't go to sleep at night. Other than that, it's great," she said. "It's steadily been a bigger problem since 2000, it's been creeping up the last couple of years."
Neighbors have complained about finding trash, everything from beer bottles to condoms to pornographic magazines, along the street and in bushes behind their homes. One neighbor said a naked man ran through her house before disappearing back into the bushes.
Gummel said she doesn't mind hearing teen-agers or even the drive-thru window at the Wendy's. "That's fine, I knew that was part of the deal when I moved in," she said. "But the drivers and the trucks, I didn't bargain for that. Everybody and their brother parks back there. This is just ridiculous and the street is just disgusting with trash."
<b>HUDGINS SAID</b> that after consulting with commercial owners, "It is clear the best solution to the problem for both the residential and community communities is to prohibit parking on the south side of Stevenage Road." Hudgins took the issue to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 24. The board authorized a public hearing to prohibit parking on the south side of Stevenage Road. A date for the hearing has yet to be announced, Hudgins said.
Hudgins said her office is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and she is hopeful that there will be a public hearing within 30 days. "My message to the staff and VDOT was pretty clear: let's get this done, now," Hudgins said.
If the Hunter Mill Supervisor's proposal is passed, the County Code would be amended to include Stevenage Road as prohibited parking in a commercially zoned area.
According to Hudgins, the move to allow a public hearing is significant because the county does not prohibit parking in commercial areas unless their is a clear safety concern. Neighbors say there are several traffic dangers caused by limited sight lines into and out of the park and shopping center. The poor visibility is exacerbated by excessive speeding along Stevenage, many neighbors said.
"The speeding is what drives me berserk. Cars and trucks travel 40 and 50 miles an hour up the road and there is a kids' playground right up the street," Kopf said, pointing out her front porch towards Stevenage. "If I had kids, which I don't, I would never let them anywhere near that road. If my dog ever got loose and ran across the street, that would be it. The sad thing somebody is going to get hit out there, if nothing gets done. You'd think they could put up a radar trap, the police station is just right down the road, but they don't do anything."
Angel Schneider moved into her townhouse on Red Tree Way in June 1998. "The situation here has gotten steadily worse ever since," she said, standing on her front porch. "There is just more and more commercial traffic and more and more noise."
Schneider, who is vice president of her community association, said she is not optimistic that the county will find a solution any time in the near future. "The sad thing is it's going to take some innocent child getting hurt or kidnapped, God forbid, to get anything done around here."