Parkway Plans Spark Outrage

Parkway Plans Spark Outrage

New community, longtime residents decry road realignment.

About 27 years ago, John Breslin bought a rambling property off Hooes Road in Springfield and set about reforesting it. He and his wife planted laurel, holly, cedars and azaleas. Whenever construction was going on anywhere near the house, Breslin and his family would go dig up plants before the bulldozers crushed them and replant them in their back yard.

In 2000, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) informed Breslin that his house sat right in the middle of the future new Rolling Road, a realignment VDOT envisioned to accommodate the Fairfax County Parkway extension, which had been planned since the 1970s.

That plan was opposed by neighbors south of the proposed parkway extension, and Breslin wasn't happy about it either, so VDOT agreed to study other alternatives.

Now VDOT has come back with a plan that would save Breslin's house but that would put the new divided Rolling Road in the back yard he has spent more than two decades preserving.

"We planted those trees 26 years ago," Breslin said, one warm morning last week as he surveyed his yard. "They're all going to be taken away."

His daughter Mary added, "We've tried to preserve this as open space. It's really a shame that the commitment to open space has not been recognized by county and state officials."

BRESLIN'S NEIGHBOR Bob Pease is in a slightly different situation. Unlike Breslin, he's lived off Hooes Road for only a year. The single-family-home development he lives in, Presidential Hills, was built in 2002 right next to Breslin's property. The road would sit right on the property line delineating Breslin's land and Presidential Hills, cutting them off from each other. It would be used by commuters headed to the Franconia Springfield Parkway on their way to downtown Springfield and I-95.

Unlike Breslin, Pease and his neighbors had no chance to express their point of view to VDOT three years ago, because their community didn't exist until the plans were drawn.

A public meeting organized by VDOT last week at Saratoga Elementary School brought out dozens of outraged Presidential Hills residents who said they had no idea the highway was on the books when they bought their houses.

"If they don't come through with real alternatives to this, they're simply blowing us away," said Pease.

Presidential Hills residents at the meeting were particularly incensed that they had not been notified about the meeting.

"We found out about this meeting by accident," Pease told local supervisors and VDOT officials assembled at Saratoga Elementary. "The idea that there was also no notice to residents is outrageous."

Christopher Reed, VDOT's Northern Virginia urban program manager, who was moderating the meeting, acknowledged that there has been a "delay" in mailing out notices to homeowners about the event.

Pease pointed to a VDOT report saying that the agency was not expecting any public opposition to the project.

"If you don't tell anyone, how can there be [any opposition]?" he asked.

Presidential Hills resident Ken Donnelly said the Parkway extension had come as "a complete shock to our community."

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Setnor, who also bought a house in the neighborhood, said the community ought to have been notified both about the road plans and about the meeting.

"I have not spent 27 years of my life, VDOT and supervisors, defending your rights to have mine ignored," he said.

"I know it's frustrating," Reed said.

"Frustrating?" Setnor shot back. "This is our life savings."

THE FINAL link of the Fairfax County Parkway has been in the planning stages for three decades, said Thomas Folse, the project manager for VDOT. But the U.S. Army's willingness in recent years to part with a section of the Engineer Proving Grounds has pushed the project into the design phase. Folse said the two miles of parkway planned would cost between $90 million and $95 million and be completed by 2008.

"It's really been a lot of coordination with the Army," he said.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), a vocal advocate of the road extension, who represents the Presidential Hills neighborhood, said it was the buyers' responsibility to find out what was planned in the area where they're planning to buy a house.

"The county and certainly my office couldn't possibly keep track of everybody that moves into the district or builds," she said. "I've tried to get the laws changed so that there would have to be disclosure by developers, and that never passed the General Assembly."

For McConnell, the road is critical to the region's Homeland Security as a way to evacuate Washington, D.C. "They know as well as I do that that road is going in."

Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd), who attended the meeting, placed the fault "squarely on the real-estate agent."

Although the agent is not legally required to tell buyers anything, Albo noted that "the buyer is paying the real-estate agent $10,000 to buy the house."

"At least send them in the right direction," he said.