Traveling southbound on Silverbrook Road, it's easy to forget the plan for vast expanses of park land crisscrossed with bike trails, a golf course, an art complex and ball fields on the former Lorton prison land known as Laurel Hill. What's not easy to forget are the bulldozers and bucket loaders, kicking up dust while they construct nearly 1,000 high-dollar homes.
Names such as Pulte, Centex, Richmond American, Ryan, Washington and Engle developments dominate the landscape. In the stretch of land going from the present south-county school sites to Lorton Road, Pulte is putting up 630 homes, Centex has 100 active adult homes, Richmond American has 51 "patio homes," Ryan has 64 "luxury townhomes," Washington Homes is constructing a "luxury living, planned community," on the same stretch of road as Engle properties. Representatives from those communities did not return calls.
Accompanying this number of homes are supporting retail, public services and traffic. Currently, there are two ways out for all the cars for those homes — northbound on two-lane Silverbrook Road, or south on Silverbrook to Lorton Road, which goes to I-95. In the past, this expanse of land did not contribute to the traffic because it was home to open space and a prison. It will now contribute over 1,000 cars to the already gridlocked roads. The park land is still part of the plan, but since it is publicly funded, it's a long way off.
"We haven't even finished the master plan," said Judy Pederson, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Park Authority. "Then we need to fund it."
Pederson is part of the Laurel Hill task force. The only transportation improvement currently under way in the area is the highway interchange at Lorton Road and I-95.
"We know that there needs to be [transportation improvements]," Pederson said. "We have meetings every single week on this."
Jaak Pedak, of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation's (FDOT) planning department, said that their traffic impact analysis does not reflect two cars per house. During peak traffic times (i.e., rush hours), the plan came up with a figure of .56 cars per house, which was calculated at 394 cars at that time.
"The impact isn't going to be as great as it appears to be," Pedak said.
THIS IS ALL in the Mount Vernon District under the auspices of Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D). The 234 acres were exchanged with Pulte for an 800-acre horse farm on Gunston Road. Now the 800-acre Meadowood Farm off Gunston Road has been transferred to the Department of the Interior and "cannot be developed," Hyland said.
Pulte was the only player in that deal with the county, but since then, it may have partitioned its 234 acres to the other developers, according to Hyland.
The rest of Lorton Road improvements are scheduled. Silverbrook, on the other hand, is years off.
"Lorton Road is presently on the plan to be improved. Silverbrook will have to be improved," Hyland said.
Pedak said a portion of Silverbrook will be widened to four lanes in front of the developments in accordance with a proffer arrangement with the developer, but not the whole road. This will cause a bottleneck situation where the four-lane portion of Silverbrook transitions into two lanes.
"That's where there's going to be a problem," Pedak said.
The rest of Silverbrook Road is a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) or FDOT concern. Although no visible efforts by the developers are under way right now to widen Silverbrook Road in front of the developments, Pedak said it must be done in a timely fashion.
"Those houses will not open until the road is improved," he said.
An additional lane on Route 123, parallel to Silverbrook, west of the prison land, is under way as well.
"That's the major improvement you'll find in that area," Hyland added.
Route 123 does intersect with Furnace Road and Lorton Road and then to the end of Silverbrook, but no plans are in place to connect the middle part of Silverbrook with Route 123.
THE HOUSES going up are comparable to other communities popping up in Northern Virginia. Descriptions such as "patio homes from the $400s," and "luxury townhomes from the $300s," followed by a "luxury living, planned community," scream high dollar. Jan Cason, a representative from Richmond American, described "patio homes" as something for the homeowner who does not like yard work. In other words, they are large houses on small lots and close together so there isn't much yard, according to Cason. They will be completed by the fall of 2004. Cason didn't know about transportation improvements.
"I'm sure they're going to take care of the roads," she said.
The contract was recently awarded for the 18-hole golf course, and construction will begin soon, according to Pederson. It was designed by renowned golf course designer Bill Love and will cost between $12 million and $13 million to build, but that includes the maintenance facility and club house. It is utilizing "viewscape," according to Pederson, using current views of the historic prison facilities.
"He's one of the best-known golf course designers in the country," Pederson said.
The course will open in May 2005.
Pederson looked at the original alternative for the land, which included more houses and less park land. Through negotiations, some of the land was saved. Another 800 acres of forest will be untouched.
"This is a long-term project. The whole tract was slated for housing," Pederson said.
If the land was slated for housing, as Pederson said, this was by the state and county, because the federal government turned it over when the prison closed on July 15, 2002, through the "Lorton Technical Corrections Act," passed in 1998.
According to the transaction, this required the county to develop a Re-use Plan that would "maximize use for land for open space, park land or recreation" prior to the county acquiring the property. On the Comprehensive Plan Amendment, the site is 2,725 total acres. It includes 44 acres for an art center, 21 acres for a fire and rescue facility and cemetery, 430 acres for the Northern Virginia Park Authority, and another 22 acres labeled as "non government," on Pohick Road.