Neighbors Differ on Open Space Petition

Neighbors Differ on Open Space Petition

City Council considers petition to purchase Grefe property for open space use.

Just past the congestion of Main Street, down Orchard Drive and into the quiet dead-end street of Mosby Road lies a wooded area with its own stream and footbridge. Cul-de-sacs surround the woods and trees older than grandparents provide shelter for the deer and poison ivy.

The Raigers, who live next to the woods, sometimes see walkers walking off their dinner, impromptu hikers rambling through the woods and 9-year-old boys racing down the hill and across the bridge on their 10-speeders. The Raigers like their backyard and want to keep it that way. Like 170 of their neighbors, they signed a petition which asks Fairfax City to preserve the area and turn into a park. They even said they would be willing to pay more taxes to keep the area as is.

"When it comes to the quality of life, it's worth it to pay something more," said Rebecca Raiger.

Although the City Council was impressed by the resident turnout that came to speak in favor of the property's preservation at a recent City Council meeting, the council needs to consider costs and the wishes of everyone involved.

"The council is considering all the options," said Councilman Scott Silverthorne.

THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION, owned by the Grefe family heirs, faces possible development. One plan for the property by Batal Builders shows eight homes being built at the woods' present location. A retention pond would catch all the runoff water that's normally caught by the stream.

The petition signers say they want the city to buy the Grefe property for several reasons. The Raigers say they occasionally spot wildlife and deer. Their neighbor, Andy Werthcamp, president of the Southeast Fairfax Citizens Association, says there's a number of very large trees that date back to just after the Civil War. These trees would be cut, Werthcamp said.

"Once the trees are gone, they are gone forever," Werthcamp said. "The city has an opportunity to preserve an environmental area."

Another reason they say the property should be preserved is because the stream belongs to an RPA, or resource protection area. All RPAs connect to the Chesapeake Bay. In 1988, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which designates bodies of water that connect to the Bay.

A map on the city's Web site shows that the stream is part of an RPA. The Grefe property stream is the headwaters for the Rabbit Brach, which runs into the Occoquan River, which ends up in Chesapeake Bay.

However, an application was recently submitted to remove the RPA designation from the area, according to David Hudson, Fairfax's director of community development and planning. As a result, the city is working together with the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department to assess through technical analysis whether the stream's actually flow into the Bay.

"If something were designated as an RPA, it would affect what a developer could do. You can't pave over where the creek is," Werthman said.

If the city were to preserve the property, it would create open space for an area that sorely needs it, preservation supporters say.

"The southeast quadrant has the least amount of park land," Werthman said.

Rebecca Raiger said she thought the city could put trails and a bike path into the area, such as Daniels Run.

"I don't think anyone in this neighborhood has any objection if the city wants to create paths," Raiger said.

Her husband, James, says the city should support their petition because citizens voted last year for the preservation of more open space. That advisory referendum, passed in November 2000, allowed the city to collect as much as five cents from a taxpayer's real estate tax, and have that money go towards the purchase of park and open space. The collection of this money would take place for five years.

The referendum passed almost 2-to-1, and the city has allocated three cents from real estate taxes for the past two years. At the end of 2002, $1.6 million will have been raised, said city manager Robert Sisson.

"We're supporting the green space in other quadrants of the city," said James Raiger, arguing that it was time for the southeast quadrant to receive some of those funds.

CAROLYN GREFE CHAPPELL'S FAMILY has lived in Fairfax since 1948. Her family has lived on properties on Mosby Road since 1962 and she has lived in her current residence since 1975. Her father, Ted Grefe, was a developer and builder and built many of the houses in the area, including her house and her mother's house. Ted Grefe died in 1989 and her mother June Peterson Grefe died in November 2001.

After their deaths, the estate went to Chappell and her brother and sister. Chappell says they would like to develop the property because it respects their father's wishes.

"Our plans are the same as our father's plans. … My father, at the time of his death, was negotiating," Chappell said.

Chappell said the decision about the property should rely on the family, because in addition to owning the property, the family has had to pay taxes on it for 50 years.

"Everyone wants to do something else with our property," Chappell said.

Family friend John McGeehan says the city needs to ask itself some serious questions before acquiring the property. At the heart of these questions is fiscal responsibility, said McGeehan, an attorney and property owner in Fairfax.

"Are they wisely spending the money," McGeehan said.

McGeehan questioned the city's possible acquisition of the Grefe property because of where the land sits and how much money would be involved. Because the land lies tucked away inside a neighborhood, only people immediately surrounding the land would be aware of it. An open space should be accessible to everyone in the city, he said.

"It only benefits people bordering the property," McGeehan said.

Additionally, McGeehan is concerned that the size of the land, close to three acres, might be too small to make a purchase worthwhile. The city has purchased land before that's not being used as well as it could be, McGeehan said.

The city "has Blenheim, the post office site, it has a lot of land they're not economically using," McGeehan said.

Chappell says the fuss over the property has been trying for her family.

"We had no idea it was going to be a major trauma," Chappell said of her neighbors who want to preserve their property. "It's upsetting the three of us because they're upset."

DURING THE LAST City Council meeting on Oct. 8, more than 25 citizens showed up to support the city's purchase of the Grefe property.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, the council adopted a resolution, 4-2, to initiate a condemnation proceeding for the three acres of tract off Mosby Road. This is the first step towards acquiring this property for open space use. In several weeks, the city will prepare an appraisal which will serve as a basis to purchase the property. This appraisal ensures that the property owner receive the proper market value. The owner may accept or reject the offer.

City council member Gary Rasmussen said the petition for the Grefe property is similar to other open space proposals in regard to the citizens who want the open space.

"It's typical in some way, in that you have neighbors close to the property who would like to see it an open space," said Rasmussen, when asked how the Grefe property compares to other open space proposals.

The difference between this particular request and other open space requests is the property's isolated location. Unlike other open space proposals, the Grefe property is not as well known or centrally located.

"If we purchase it, we want it open up to the entire city," Silverthorne said.

Funding for the purchase would come from the open space fund, as well as from borrowed money, said Sisson.

"Any sums that are needed to purchase the property in excess of the open space fund will be purchased by borrowing money," Sisson said.