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Change Comes to Georgetown Pike

By Beverly Crawford

In McLean and Great Falls, when people speak of the issues that are coming “down the pike,” so to speak, they usually mean Georgetown Pike, the two-lane, at-grade road that in June 1972, was named Virginia’s very first scenic byway.

Colvin Run Road in Great Falls was also named a scenic byway two years ago.

Its character is protected by its very own treatise, Va. Senate Document 43, which spells out the road’s character and sets forth the criteria for maintaining it, establishing speed limits and limiting structural changes such as turn lanes.

The pike, 13 miles long, is the address for churches, schools, residences, horse farms and nine different parks.

Although it also serves as a heavily traveled pathway from Route 7 in Herndon to Route 123 in McLean, where commuters quickly gain access to the George Washington Parkway and I-495, Georgetown Pike is the main street in Great Falls. In McLean, it forms the spine of historic commerce.

But even as the Pike remains the same, in both communities, proposals for changes signal growth from residential development.

A proposal for an additional river crossing to connect Virginia and Maryland resurfaced this summer when officials in both states decided to take another look at the idea of a “techway” to cross the Potomac west of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Previous proposals have focuses on three crossing points: Seneca Road in Great Falls, the Fairfax County/Algonkian Parkway and Route 28 in Loudoun County.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is proceeding with plans to widen Route 7 to a total of six lanes. The widening is slowly proceeding from west to east with the next segment, from the Fairfax County Parkway to Reston Parkway, now in the planning stages.

A new traffic light is planned at the intersection of Seneca Road and Georgetown Pike to relieve stress there, and the intersection will be leveled.

Proposals are now being considered that would widen I-66, the interstate highway that travels west from Washington to I-81, the north-south thoroughfare in western Virginia.

WITH RESIDENTIAL property assessments -- and the resulting taxes -- rising in Dranesville at the average rate of 52 percent over the last four years, sales of new homes and resales are robust.

Great Falls grew after World War II from a dairy farming community into a bedroom community to Washington.

Eventually, it developed a cachet based on golf, horses, beautiful parks and low density that triggered a long growth spurt that now threatens some of the pleasures that originally attracted new residents.

A conflagration over where to build a new elementary school, which continued for two years, pitted well-established neighborhoods against the new growth along Route 7, where recent arrivals resisted being assigned to the attendance area for a new elementary school that carried a Vienna address.

McLEAN DEVELOPED almost coincidentally after a 14-mile electric trolley was built in 1906 to take Washington residents to Great Falls National Park in the hot, humid summer months.

One of the stops along the way grew into McLean, named in 1910 for John McLean, the publisher of the Washington Post and one of the developers of the Washington and Old Dominion Trolley Line.

Since then, much has changed.

Construction began last month on a 69-unit development of high-end condominiums priced between $900,000 and $1.5 million, to be known as “The Palladium of McLean.”

It replaced a grove of trees that sheltered two family businesses, Wooly Knits and Mrs. Beale’s outdoor market, to become an icon for the kind of growth that interests the sophisticated urban residents of McLean.

Their more laid-back neighbors in Great Falls resisted acceptance of public water and sewer connections north of Georgetown Pike for fear they would inevitably introduce added density.

Great Falls residents prefer two- to five-acre home sites north of Georgetown Pike, all of them served by private wells and septic tanks rather than public water and sewer.

Tysons Corner, which lies just south of McLean and east of Great Falls, has been identified as the new downtown of Fairfax County.

But while many Dranesville residents work, shop and relax at Tysons, it exists under a separate governmental identity, that of Providence Magisterial District.

In recent months, two new residential developments have been approved there that will result in almost 2,000 new households in five new buildings.

Tysons II Land Company, which plans a high-rise residential structure near the intersection of Route 123/Dolley Madison Boulevard and Tysons Boulevard, also gave land at that intersection for a Metro station for rail transportation into Washington, D.C. if funding is made available from the federal government by 2005.

Other proposals now in the pipeline, identified by MCA Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman Adrienne Whyte, include:

*More athletic fields at Spring Hill Recreation Center at the intersection of Spring Hill and Lewinsville Roads, owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority. McLean Youth Soccer (MYS), a private nonprofit organization that claims to have 3,500 young players, proposes to revise the master plan for the county-operated recreation center to include two to three more soccer fields and a baseball field. Citizens in the surrounding area say they prefer a passive use, natural area with a walking trail that would preserve the headwater Bulls Neck Run.

*Development is continuing at Lewinsville Park, where MYS entered a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority and Marymount University to share the use of a rectangular field after artificial turf is added. MYS and Marymount will pay for the turf to be installed on public land, then share its use.

*McLean Bible Church proposes a 70-bed overnight respite center for disabled children at Route 7 and Lewinsville Road. The MCA has said it would prefer to see full build-out of the existing church facility before the potential effect of a new facility can be evaluated.

*Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority proposes a new structured parking facility at West Falls Metro from Oct. 2003 to 2004 -- a garage -- at Route 7 near Haycock Road. It would add more than 700 spaces but temporarily displace about 350 during the year it is under construction. Parking replacement plans are not yet firm.

*The Fairfax County Park Authority is raising $5 million to build out a new 17-acre park near the intersection of Routes 193 and 123 in McLean, Clemyjontri Park, named for the four children of Adele Lebowitz who donated 17 acres of land for the park.

* Winchester Homes plans to develop a large parcel of land

between Great Falls Street and Haycock-Longfellow Park in

east McLean.

*“Little” Langley School, the Potomac School and Oakcrest School for girls all plan expansions to accommodate the growing baby boom “boomlet,” which has also crowded public schools.

*The Lewinsville, an adult residence and day care center on Great Falls Street that is operated by Fairfax County, will expand and add assisted living beds.

*The proposal for a new “techway” river crossing and widening of Route 7 continues to attract attention from the people who live in Great Falls, defined as the area bounded by the Potomac River to the north, Loudoun County to the west, Route 7 to the south, and Towlston Road to the east. In Great Falls, citizens closely guard any proposals that would intensify residential density.

*Although a recent proposal for a new elementary school on Trap Road south of Route 7 faced strenuous opposition from residents who wanted it located in the Great Falls community, one of the factors working against a proposed site was the limitations imposed by the absence of public sewer.

*When Fairfax County supervisors voted to eliminate the rural “parkouts,” where trash was collected at Great Falls Elementary School every Saturday morning to keep large trucks out of the neighborhoods served by private roads, citizens formed a private service, Dranesville Trash and Recycling, to save it.

*In McLean, a duplicate effort established Cooper Trash Parkout Inc., which collects trash at Cooper Middle School on Saturday mornings.