Under the canopy of tall trees sit the abandoned houses, their front doors wide open as if waiting for guests to arrive. A dogwood tree blooms on another abandoned lot, proving that time continues even though the houses themselves have become decaying relics. The only sounds reverberating through the Fairlee neighborhood on a mid-morning Monday are clipped birdcalls and the ever-present low hum of distant traffic roaring along Route 66.
The Fairlee neighborhood with its quaint cottages and starter homes is becoming a ghost town, an eerie repose in the midst of the bustling Nutley Street corridor. One by one, residents are leaving Fairlee to make way for a new development. In time, all of the 65 houses will be torn down, and only the memories of playing children and backyard barbecues will remain. What may take the place of the neighborhood is a proposed mixed-use development that will have condominiums, townhouses, office space and some retail within walking distance of the Vienna Metrorail station.
"Me and my neighbors have known that ultimately something would be done there," said Scott Texera, board member of the Circle Woods Homeowners Association. Circle Woods borders the Fairlee neighborhood to the west. "In that context, we are generally pretty satisfied [that] it's going to be residential."
Texera was one of about 120 citizens who attended a recent community meeting sponsored by Providence District supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D) to learn about a proposed development for the grounds of the Fairlee housing subdivision and the neighboring, mostly-wooded Sweeney tract. Developers Clark Realty and Pulte would work together to develop the 53-acre, Fairfax-area site, bordered by Route 29 to the south and the Vienna Metrorail station and Route 66 to the north. Although designs are still tentative, the development could include 2,129 residential units comprising 291 attached townhouses, 276 stacked townhouses and 1,652 condominiums, as well as 200,000 to 250,000 square feet for office space and 20,000 square feet for retail.
It would also include creating a main road that would connect Route 29 to the Vaden Drive bridge next to the Metro station, with hopes of easing congestion on Nutley Street.
THE DEVELOPMENT would be built in installments, with full completion anywhere between 2010 and 2015. After build-out, the development could generate $7.5 million in county tax revenue and $26 million in increased real-estate-tax revenue.
The fate of the two parcels had been uncertain for years. Although Fairlee resident Linda Pierce accepted a buy-out from Clark in 1999, others in her neighborhood had refused the offer. According to the comprehensive plan, development could occur only if the Fairlee subdivision was fully consolidated, or fully bought-out.
With the last nine landowners accepting the buy-outs after the county completed its area plan review last year, the developer now needs to seek an out-of-turn amendment, or an amendment outside of the review cycle, to move forward.
"I think there's less environmental impact in the long run," said Pierce, approving of a higher-density residential development within walking distance from the Metro station.
However, not all of the 35-acre Sweeney tract, which had been owned by the Sweeney family, will go toward the proposed development. Four and a half acres will be developed by a separate developer for senior housing. Located off Saintsbury Drive in the northwest portion of the Sweeney tract, the site will contain three buildings with a total of 112 units. Ground may break for the senior housing as early as this year.
The next step for the 53-acre site is the submission of an out-of-turn amendment to the county's comprehensive plan that would combine the two parcels and increase the density of the site. Pending approval from the County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, the site would then undergo a rezoning process to allow for mixed-use development.
Yet, as developers navigate through the planning and zoning, residents of neighboring housing subdivisions hope the county will take their concerns into account. For Texera, concerns of his homeowners association include the increase of traffic volume that would result from higher density, as well as the desire for an adequate noise and visual buffer between Circle Woods and the new development and connecting road. He also wants to ensure that developers propose expanding pedestrian linkages from their subdivision to the Metro station.
"We generally believe the time is right to develop that land," Texera said.
OTHER CONCERNS raised by citizens attending the recent community meeting were pedestrian access to Metro, affordable housing, open space and adequate public facilities such as schools and utilities to support a higher-density development. Current density limits call for one or two dwelling units per acre for Fairlee, and four or five dwelling units per acre for the Sweeney tract.
"We’re going to have to look real carefully on the potential impact of the surrounding community," said Connolly. "This could generate a lot of impact."
Although the development’s proffers won’t be finalized until the rezoning process gets under way, proffers could include the connecting road between Vaden Drive and Route 29, roadway design and construction, construction of an off-site intersection, land dedicated for public purposes, funding for a community center and off-site recreation, and a contribution to the county school system.
Part of the money the developers had paid Pierce for her land goes towards her new home in Chantilly. Although she hasn’t moved from her home in Fairlee, she’s planning to dig up and take her peonies, lilacs and daylilies with her. Others who have already moved out have taken some of their plants as well. The ones who remain have until June 30 to move out, although Pierce had heard that those who had signed their contracts later might have later moving times.
"I think it’s pretty positive due to the number of people I know needing housing or looking for housing," said Pierce of the developers’ proposal. Pierce approved of higher density near the Metro, versus creating sprawl by building into Prince William County. She also hoped the development would have some affordable units "It’s one thing to move out so more people can get housing," she said.