School Street Property Sealed

School Street Property Sealed

City Council allows townhouse developer to build; property’s fate was questionable for 12 years.

If a housing development straddles two jurisdictions, what will happen with trash pickup? If one side of the street gets its trash picked up earlier, will the other side of the street sneak its trash to the other side? Or what if a fire breaks out in a house near the jurisdiction’s boundary line? Who will respond, the city or the county?

These are the questions Fairfax City Council members grappled with as they discussed a proposed housing development located on School Street and Route 123 that would straddle the city/county line. Yet the Council reluctantly voted 5-1 last week to approve Rocky Gorge Homes’ proposal to place 10 townhouses on the city portion of the property and 37 townhouses on the county portion.

The decision finalized the fate of the property. The city and county had been discussing what to do with the property for 12 years.

"There’s going to be an enormous pressure for this body and for the Board of Supervisors," Council member Scott Silverthorne said, regarding the differences in real estate taxes and public services that will be offered to different homes within the same subdivision.

Council member Gail Lyon hesitated before casting the sole objecting vote. She was concerned about where the children would go to school. Because the development straddles two jurisdictions, children from one home would go to Providence Elementary, while children two houses down would go to Fairfax Villa Elementary. Although the city and county school boards could make an exception for the development, Lyon didn’t like the idea of splitting the child population into two.

"That’s one of my stumbling blocks," Lyon said.

Because of the property’s history, the other Council members voted to rezone the property for townhouses, thus giving Rocky Gorge Homes the go-ahead. Council members also thought the development was attractive and that they might have less control over future proposals for the site.

"It was the best that could happen," said Council member Gary Rasmussen, in an interview after the meeting. Rasmussen had preferred mixed-use for the property, like a retail center that could transition between George Mason University and the city and be useful for university faculty and students. "In the end, it looks like a good-quality development," he said.

Council member Joan Cross also voted in favor of Rocky Gorge Homes’ request to rezone the property. "It was a really tough issue because of the history, but I think that we got a nice-looking development," Cross said after the meeting. "All in all, I think it turned out fine."

THE DEVELOPMENT HISTORY of the property began in 1987, when the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA) bought four lots adjacent to the city/county line. The FCRHA wanted to build senior citizen affordable housing, but the city objected, because the property was an entrance-way into the city. The city and county then attempted to implement their comprehensive plans for mixed-use development, by working with the schools, Inova Fairfax Hospital and George Mason University. Six years ago, the FCRHA bought the city portion of the property in order to consolidate it.

In September 1999, the FCRHA began to search for competitors to develop the site, with city representatives participating in the bidding. In September 2000, the FCRHA approved the bid by Rocky Gorge Homes. Fairfax County had changed its comprehensive plan in December 2002 to allow residential development. Fairfax City, meanwhile, changed its comprehensive plan for the area last week.

County interest in the city’s actions remained because any development would have its entrance within city limits.

THE REZONING for Rocky Gorge Homes occurs on the heels of the rezoning for Picketts Reserve, which occurred last year. A developer bought the property, which had been split by the city/county boundary. After a boundary adjustment, the houses will be in the city, while the park area of the property will be in the county.

Other properties that straddle city/county lines, according to Fairfax City’s director of community development David Hudson, are the Turnpike Shopping Center, the Fairfax Court Shopping Center and the housing development Maple Trace, located on Main Street.

Some of the proffers Rocky Gorge offered to the city include the creation of a park area at the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and School Street and the feasibility of preserving a large oak tree on the site. The developer also agreed to a suggestion by Council member Joan Cross, to give some funding to Fairfax High School, as the developer had agreed in its proffer to Fairfax County to provide some funding for W.T. Woodson High School.

The next step for Rocky Gorge is to submit a site plan for approval, with aims to break ground during the fourth quarter of 2003.

"We think they’ll be gorgeous," said Jack Anderson, on the townhouses. Anderson is vice president of land acquisition for Rocky Gorge Homes.