<bt>If the Planning Commission gives its approval, a family shelter will be built in western Fairfax County in the near future. The plan got a thumbs-up, last week, from the Springfield District-Fairfax Center Land-Use Committee.
"I think this is great," said committee member Gail Brugger. "Fairfax County needs a shelter [here]; I'm all for it."
The 20,000-square-foot shelter is proposed for construction near the intersection of Route 29 and Stringfellow Road, just west of Meadows Farms Nursery. It would house up to 20 families and predominantly serve single parents with children — mainly in elementary school or younger.
Estimated building cost is $5 million, according to Carey Needham, chief of the Building Design branch of the county's Department of Public Works. The county is providing the land, and the Board of Supervisors already appropriated $1.2 million toward the shelter, in addition to $1 million proffered by a Tysons Corner developer.
But the $5 million price tag covers only Phase 1 of the project. The second phase includes construction of two transitional housing units, each 3,000 square feet and serving three families. The proposal also includes some 50 parking spaces, an outdoor playground and a multiuse court.
In January, the county's homeless population included about 850 school-age children in more than 350 families — with a constant waiting list of 60-80 families seeking shelter. And although three other parts of the county have homeless shelters, there's none in the western part, where the need is just as critical.
The site under consideration is 5.7 acres along the northwest quadrant of Hampton Forest Road and Route 29, but it would have no direct access from Route 29. Instead, entry would be via the adjacent Estates of Fairfax subdivision, through a service-road stub. A modified traffic signal is planned for Hampton Forest Road.
The shelter would be mostly two stories, and the transitional units would also be two stories. They'd have shingle roofs and siding with brick accents to fit in with nearby homes. The shelter would have a maximum of 17 daytime staff members, plus four volunteers.
"Some 30-70 percent of the shelter families will be employed, and about 75 percent in the transitional housing units," said Needham. "A Department of Family Services van or minibus shuttle will take them to shopping or other transportation to get to their jobs."
He said the county will install pedestrian walkways at the north end of the site and along the Route 29 frontage and will escrow funds for the future widening of Route 29 in that area. Needham said the shelter would have no noise impacts, and Kathy Froyd with the Department of Family Services said residents would probably have a 10 p.m. curfew, and children playing outside would be supervised.
The property to the west of the site is owned by the Park Authority and will remain open space. Storm-water-management facilities are to the north, the Estates of Fairfax is to the east, and Route 29 is to the south. The site would be lit and fenced — especially at the north and west property lines. The county would own and operate the facility and would contract out the day-to-day management to a private vendor.
THE MAJORITY of the land-use committee was in favor of the shelter, with Claudette Ward being the lone dissenter. She said that land is zoned for low-density, residential use, so it's not in compliance with the county's Comprehensive Plan.
"And it's not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, which is mainly single-family homes on large lots," she added. Noting the parcel's "environmentally sensitive nature," she said, "We should see how the storm-water-management pond will be constructed before this is approved." Needham replied that the county is in the process of verifying all the EQCs (Environmental Quality Corridor) and flood plains on site.
The transitional housing units are earmarked for the Route 29 portion of the site, but committee member Jeff Saxe recommended they be located instead on the north end of the property, "so their residents wouldn't be subjected to the highway noise."
Needham said they were put there "so they'd be more compatible the nearby single-family homes. And there's a 70-foot setback from the property line." Brugger agreed, saying the two units are consistent with what she sees along Route 29.
COMMITTEE MEMBER Tom McDonald said the county should put in the asphalt trail planned between the site and Stringfellow Road before the facility is built. However, Brugger noted that people already walk up and down Route 29, without a shelter being there. Regarding the pond, she said, "I'm sure the county will do what's best for that area."
Then attorney Keith Martin stood up and spoke. Representing the Estates of Fairfax and its builder, Equity Homes, he said that development is the one most impacted by the shelter.
"And I can honestly say, [both entities] are here in support of this proposal," he said. "We think it's the right location and the right thing to do. We need to help these people." Martin also said the project is consistent in density and impact with other things in this area, such as churches, day-care centers and schools.
Clifton resident Stan Reid asked if the county's mapped the perennial streams going through the property.
"We're mapping the EQC, wetlands and 100-year flood plain and being careful in delineating everything that needs to be protected," Needham said.
"If residents hurt themselves, who's on the hook for liability?" Reid asked.
County Executive Anthony Griffin said the county "has its own risk-management program and protection for excessive loss."
Steve Dennis of Fair Lakes Glen asked about the construction schedule, and Needham said they hope to start building the shelter in spring 2005 and finish 15-16 months later. At the same time, he said, "We'll set up pad sites for the transitional buildings and will try to set up a public/private partnership to build them."
Paul Hyman of Fair Lakes Glen asked if his community would be affected by the facility, but Needham assured him it would be "professionally operated, and it won't affect your safety or property values."
"I think if Equity Homes thought [that would happen], it would be fighting like crazy against it," said committee member Lowell Smith. "I strongly support it."
Calling the shelter compatible with and well-buffered from the surrounding neighborhoods, Saxe said the building would be much smaller than the typical church.
"I think it's important to locate a family shelter in a residential area, and I think it's compatible with the Comprehensive Plan," he said.
Ward still disagreed. "A church is a Sunday operation — this is 24/7," he said. "There's community opposition to a shelter here; we don't want it." However, she was the only opponent at the meeting, and in the end, the land-use committee approved the project, 7-1. Next stop is the Planning Commission, probably in January or February.