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Planning Process for Laurel Hill Under Way

How to make the largest land mass in the former Lorton Correctional Facility the most user-friendly was the topic of the Fairfax County Park Authority's (FCPA) first public meeting on what is now known as Laurel Hill.

Titled "Prison to Parks," the information session was held at Mount Vernon High School on April 8 under the joint aegis of the County Authority and the Northern Virginia Park Authority. It concentrated on the master plan schedule for developing 1,600 acres of the 2,700 acres once used to contain the District of Columbia Lorton Correctional Facility.

At three times the size of New York's Central Park, the site is scheduled to encompass three interim ball parks, an 18-hole public golf course, and bike and pedestrian trails. "There are a lot of possibilities. This is the first of a series of public meetings to get citizen input," said Judy Peterson, public information officer, FCPA.

Philip Niedzielski, FCPA, explained that there were "two different planning processes taking place simultaneously." One is by the Park Authority and the other is by the Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force.

The latter organization was established in October 1995, and re-established in September 1998, when Congress approved the Lorton Corrections Act. It's primary purpose is to assess the reuse of approximately 150 acres that contain 113 buildings, according to Tim Sargeant, chairman, Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force.

"There are four phases being undertaken by the Park Authority," Niedzielski explained. "There is a great potential for public/private partnerships. And, there will be many opportunities for public input."

He emphasized, "This public/private partnership means we will have a new high school on-line much sooner than normally possible." He also noted, "There is a long history of planning for this site."

Sargeant explained, "We have been meeting since November 2002. Our mission is to transform Laurel Hill to a world asset. And, to be as financially self-sufficient as possible."

He also noted the committee will have its next meeting on April 22 in Room 232 of the Fairfax County Government Center beginning at 7 p.m. There will also be two meetings in May.

"The goal of the task force," according to Sargeant, "is to contribute to the transformation of Laurel Hill. In this capacity Laurel Hill will serve as an enduring cultural, educational and recreation landmark that enriches the lives of all Fairfax County residents as well as those beyond the county's borders."

Sargeant noted the task force has adopted six principles to guide the review process for the Adaptive Reuse areas during the Master Planning Process. They are the following:

* Contributes to Laurel Hill as a world class asset;

* Is financially self-sufficient;

* Adheres to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan;

* Addresses historic and environmental guidelines;

* Is compatible with uses in and around the Laurel Hill site; and

* Addresses on-site and off-site transportation impact.

PRIMARY CONSULTANT to the overall project is EDAW. "The size of this site rivals the City of Fairfax," Paul Moyer, EDAW project consultant, told the crowd assembled in the school cafeteria.

"There are over 300 million square feet of buildings on this site. We've had a team looking at and analyzing every one of those buildings," Moyer said. "We also need to think about road improvements to make the area accessible to the community."

In addition to outlining the various possible uses for the site, attendees were also briefed on the planning process involved. It will involve a series of stakeholder meetings.

The Laurel Hill site has some of the most extensive meadow areas in Fairfax County, according to the Authority personnel. It is home to numerous field birds and the only barn owls which have been reported anywhere in the nation over the past several years.

In order to obtain input on the myriad issues, opportunities and ideas pertaining to the park's future development, a series of stakeholder meetings has been scheduled on individualized subjects.

* April 28 - Environmental and Cultural Resources - 7 p.m. - Herrity Building, Suite 106-107, 12055 Government Center Parkway.

* May 3 - Presentation and Proposal Workshop - Location and time to be announced - To be listed on the Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks.

Joseph Sicenavage, landscape architect for FCPA, summarized the potential for the park and open space portion at Laurel Hill by stating, "We believe Laurel Hill will touch the entire country."

Additional information on Laurel Hill is available at: www.fairfaxcounty. gov/laurelhill.