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Kings Crossing Neighbors' Land Bulldozed

Developer vows to correct mistake.

Residents of Fairview Drive, whose properties back to the planned Kings Crossing development site, now have an unwanted 20-plus foot roadway of red mud clay cut through their previously rustic backyards thanks to unauthorized bulldozing.

Without seeking permission from homeowners or Fairfax County officials, a subcontractor working for an engineering company retained by JPI Development Co. of Vienna, a regional partner with Dallas, Texas, based Archon Corporation in the development Kings Crossing, cut an extended roadway through the wooded area surrounding the rear of the development site on Route 1 just south of South Kings Highway. In doing so they felled mature trees, destroyed underbrush, created a red clay spillway into Quander Brook and damaged private property.

"It's abominable and atrocious what the developer has done. I've never experienced anything like this before during my 17 years as a supervisor," Gerald "Gerry" Hyland said when informed of the cut through private homesites and a Resource Protection Area (RPA).

"They never should have gone across private property to get to the rear of the Kings Crossing property. This community never should have had to experience this. It needs to get fixed like yesterday," he said. "Someone has made a very grave mistake."

There was no argument with that assessment by Greg Lamb, senior vice president, JPI. "We are accepting full responsibility and we will work with the property owners to rectify this," Lamb said. JPI and Archon are working together to redevelop the site now occupied by Michaels and Chuck E Cheese into a mixed use development.

"JPI has not gained from what has happened. We are going to do what ever it takes to make this right. We will be contacting all the residents to arrange a meeting. We are fully prepared to work with the property owners. It was an accident and we have to now solve it," he said.

AS OF TUESDAY afternoon, Lamb said, "Our plan to begin rectifying this calls for us to engage a civil engineer to map out what has happened. Then we're engaging the services of a reforestation and wetlands consultant."

The reason given for the roadway cut was to provide access to the rear of the Kings Crossing property for a core boring rig. However, at the entrance point, at the south side of Michaels parking lot, where the bulldozer made its original incursion there was a steep drop followed by a steep climb all on red mud clay which appeared to challenge the safe navigation of a large core boring rig.

"As a contract purchaser we are doing our due diligence geophysical investigation of the property. We hired the services of an engineering company to do core borings and look for any soil contamination on the site," Lamb said.

Homes along the north side of the 2400 to 2600 blocks of Fairview Drive are situated on lots as deep as 475 feet. Lots extend from the street to the base of the slope at the rear of the Michaels building. Although, the rear portions are extensively wooded, they are private property as identified on homeowner plot plans.

One of the most severely impacted lots is that of David Dale, 2520 Fairview Drive, president, Springbank Neighborhood Association. The bulldozer cut a path directly through the rear of his property. "I've talked to the police from the Mount Vernon Station and filed a formal trespass complaint," Dale said.

"I also called the county's Code Enforcement office and made a formal complaint. They both have given me case numbers in the event we take formal legal action," he said.

Both Dale and his neighbor, Martin Tillett, 2410 Fairview Drive, were away at the time of the clearing operation. "I got an e-mail on July 28 from a neighbor who said she had been hearing equipment operating in the woods. I suspect the damage started on or about July 26," Dale said.

"Our original understanding was that the natural area between the existing homes and the new development would be maintained as a park. That way they [Archon] could have what they want and we could have what we want. The county's comprehensive plan has always indicated the wooded area would be maintained as a park," Tillett said.

"We've made it clear to Gerry Hyland over the years that we wanted the wooded area to be maintained as a park buffer. And this stream bed needs to be preserved. One of the reasons many of us moved here is because the plan called for the wooded area to remain a park," he said.

"We are all in favor of the Kings Crossing Development. We look forward to being able to walk to shopping, restaurants and theaters. But now we have received letters from JPI indicating they want to buy our homes to increase the development. I think it's only going to be minimal commercial and a lot of new homes," Tillett said.

Lamb verified that a letter had been sent to the homeowners. But, he said, "We will be talking to them about this property." He would not verify or deny JPI's desire to acquire the properties along Fairview Drive.

NOT ONLY WERE home owners impacted but also the bulldozer apparently plowed its way through a County Resource Protection Area [RPA]. "I called the county's Stormwater Maintenance Division and the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District to report the damage," Tillett said.

Both Dale and Tillett were worried not only about the erosion factor into Quander Brook but also the potential to increase the mosquito breeding habitat due to the defoliation. "With the heavy rains of the last couple of days all the water running through the cleared area has been leaving ponds. We have enough mosquitoes in this area without this," they said.

"Do they have in mind ignoring our desires just to get this development? We think we should have a place at the table. We just got this stream named with the help of Gerry Hyland. One of the reasons for getting it formally named was to form a group to protect it, "The Friends of Quander Brook," Tillett said.

Greg Stein, 2612 Fairview Drive, said, "Kings Crossing is off to an inauspicious start. Archon has certainly made an impact on the community. The road has not only caused damage to private property, but has violated environmental restrictions placed on the property as part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed."

"Archon, in a few short weeks, has done what residents could never have done -- clear away the trees and brush and make the land unusable. Now, with the rains, Quander Creek is full of dirt and runoff. This continues a long history of less than cordial relationships with the past and present owners of the Kings Crossing site," Stein said.

"They (JPI) sent us all certified letters that they want to buy our properties to make the Kings Crossing development work. They said they'd pay above market value," Stein, a former vice president of the civic association, said. "But, no prices have been mentioned."

David Paul, an Archon local director, based in Washington, D.C., claimed to have little or no knowledge of the incident until contacted by the press. "I wasn't in charge. Taking the test borings is the responsibility of JPI. But, we will deal with the home owners," Paul said.

THE POTENTIAL ADVERSE impact to the creek did not sit well with James Davis, chair, Mount Vernon Council Environmental and Recreation Committee. "This is exactly what we should be expecting. This is where development and environmental policy clash," he said.

"It's the citizens that need to monitor these situations. It's just bad development policy. And, in this case, it's destruction of private property. They cleared out a lot of substantial trees that are probably worth a lot of money," Davis said.

His committee has scheduled a stream monitoring of Quander Brook for Saturday at 9 a.m. "It is intended to be a biological monitoring," Davis said

Tuesday morning, Charles Unger, Hyland's chief of staff, brought an array of County officials to the site to view the damage. John A. Satterwhite, senior engineering inspector, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, said, "I got a call about illegal land disturbance, that's why I'm here."

Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation has been actively pursuing the Kings Crossing development. When asked their reaction to the alleged illegal land clearing, Becky Witsman, executive director, said, "We don't have enough information to make a judgment at this point. We've been asking the Archon people for weeks to sit down and tell us their plans. But, they keep telling us they aren't ready to talk."

On June 30 Witsman sent out a memo stating, "We are beginning to receive preliminary information indicating that the new owners of the primary Kings Crossing property (old K-Mart Center) do intend to pursue a mixed-use development ... including some of the adjacent property."

She followed that with, "Any action in the Mount Vernon and Lee districts requires meeting with a wide array of interests." One of those interests, the Springbank Neighborhood Association, is scheduled to meet on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Groveton Baptist Church, according to Dale.