After nearly 30 months of frustration, confrontation, obfuscation, and plain old socio-political tug-of-war, a brokered solution to the closure of Woodlawn Road may be at hand. But, it is not imminent.
That was the word delivered to Mount Vernon District residents by Col. T.W. Williams, Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, during the 17th Annual Town Meeting of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland held in the Little Theater of Mount Vernon High School last Saturday morning.
"We are looking at the option of taking Old Mill Road through Fort Belvoir to connect with Woodlawn Road," Williams said during his presentation. "It has now moved forward to the Department of The Army."
As further explained by Donald N. Carr, director, Public Affairs, Fort Belvoir, "After the Department of The Army, the proposal then has to go to Department of Defense so they can report back to Senator Warner (John R-VA). Then Congress has to appropriate the funds to build the new road."
The recommended proposal grew out of a study conducted under the aegis Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District. It was one of seven possible solutions under consideration to reconnect traffic flow from Telegraph Road to Route 1 across Fort Belvoir, previously served by Woodlawn Road.
During a public scoping session last fall, pertaining to Fort Belvoir's Master Plan, Hyland and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, delivered a message to Williams from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors demanding Woodlawn Road "be restored without further delay."
In his comments that night, Hyland declared, "The Board believes it is imperative a road be developed immediately. And, we will not support any intrusion to Huntley Meadows Park."
The BOS letter that night further stated, "After reviewing the proposed alignments shown on the feasibility study, the Board's preferred alternative is the reopening of Woodlawn Road incorporating force protection "hardening" measures to meet security concerns."
Williams, acknowledging a close working relationship with both Hyland and Kauffman, outlined other positive developments between Fort Belvoir and the community at large which included:
*An agreement on maintaining the Woodlawn Little league fields at their present location.
*Clearing the Engineering Proving Grounds to turn the land over to VDOT a year ahead of scheduled enabling the last link in the existing Fairfax County Parkway to be completed.
*Holding a series of meetings to keep the public informed as to proposed changes at the military installation.
Williams' announcement of an agreement on a preferred solution to the Woodlawn Road controversy tied into last year's Town Meeting bombshell of the potential closing of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. Woodlawn Road's closure has been one of the reasons cited for a loss of revenue at IMVH.
PRIOR TO "DEPARTING" on his annual Virtual Bus Tour, giving the audience an overview of changes in Mount Vernon District over the past 12 months, Hyland stressed, "For the last year we have been engaged in keeping the hospital where it is and working to increase its services."
He referred to the work of the Southeast Health Planning Task Force and the group he formed, known as the Citizen Alliance Rescue Effort (CARE), to bring pressure on Inova Health System to not move IMVH or diminishes its services. But he said, "We need your continued commitment to keep the hospital here."
Hyland also announced that he was now a member of the IHS Board of Directors representing the BOS. "In stepping down as Vice Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I have taken on a very important responsibility." This gives Mount Vernon District two representatives on the IHS Board. One year ago there were none.
As part of the effort to keep and improve IMVH services at its present location, Hyland revealed that CARE has recommended an Inova Healthplex be established in the Lorton area. It is expected the final report of the Task Force will be released this month covering all aspects of IMVH's evaluation and future prospects.
Herbert E. Harris II, a former Congressman and Fairfax County Supervisor, proclaimed from the audience, "The reason we have a chance at saving Mount Vernon hospital is due to your [Hyland] efforts." Harris serves on the IMVH Task Force and has been highly critical of IHS's perceived efforts to build a case for moving the facility to the Lorton area.
With that, Hyland donned a new blue and white windbreaker jacket with yellow lettering on the back proclaiming "Hyland's Virtual Bus Tour," and his traditional black cap, to begin the computerized visual status report on changes throughout the Mount Vernon District. The jacket, he explained, was a gift from a constituent.
DURING THE TOUR, which is always a major highpoint of the annual event, Hyland elaborated upon a host of developments which have taken place in the District or are in various stages of accomplishment. These included everything from new commercial enterprises, to the ever increasing number of residential developments, to transportation initiatives and various land use proposals. [see related story].
Prior to "pulling out" on his imaginary bus, Hyland recognized the presence of the District's two congressmen, U.S. Representatives James P. Moran (D-8) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-11). In doing so, Hyland said, "I am thrilled to have two Congressmen now representing Mount Vernon District."
Moran told the 400-plus audience, "The fact that you are all here this morning is a testament to your dedication to your community." He then emphasized that the federal appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House of Representative had "a lot in it for the Mount Vernon District."
As proof of that, Moran revealed, "There is a lot in there for Route 1 improvements. There's $400,000 for the affordable housing trust fund; $1.5 million for an anti-drug task force; and another $1.5 million for anti-gang efforts."
By contrast, Davis told the crowd, "This is going to be another difficult budget year on the Hill. Unfortunately, the strategy now is to try and squeeze domestic spending."
As Hyland stated at the start of this year's Town Meeting, "We have these [town meetings] to give you [the residents and taxpayers] information and to hear from you about your needs and concerns. What we do in Mount Vernon we do together."
WITHIN THAT FRAME of reference, the audience is given a detailed briefing about not only developments in the Mount Vernon District but also about governmental developments impacting all of Fairfax County. Kicking off that briefing was newly elected Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, Gerald E. Connolly (D).
He outlined his priorities for the BOS as:
*Increasing the number of affordable housing units —
Mount Vernon District is now the fastest growing area of the county, according to Connolly. "Only three percent of County employees can afford to live in the County," he said. "We need to find new incentives for developers to invest in affordable housing."
"We have 30 watersheds and only one has acceptable water quality," Connolly said.
"We have to put renewed emphasis on mass transit," he said. Connolly noted there are 2.25 million commuters in the region. "We need to get more people into telework. Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in the area to adopt a telework plan." Connolly insisted, "We are going to get rail to and from Dulles because in 15 years the Dulles corridor will be the largest commercial area in the region."
*Tax relief —
Connolly pleaded for the audience to put pressure on the General Assembly to give counties the same taxing authority now enjoyed by cities in the Commonwealth. "If we get this authority we will reduce property taxes. The state has created an over dependence on real estate taxes" in the counties, Connolly said.
Buttressing Connolly's position on transportation, Kauffman addressed "Transportation Plans for the Coming Year." He noted, "There are now proposals to put HOT (High Occupancy Travel) lanes on I-95 to connect to HOT lanes on the Beltway. "We are making progress in having a transit network in place," he said.
Kauffman told the audience: "The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is on time and under budget. The Mixing Bowl (Springfield Interchange Project) is on time and on budget with the new one and one half mile ramp scheduled to open by next October."
In support of both Connolly's and Kauffman's assessments were the presentations of Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin and Chief Financial Officer Ed Long. Griffin outlined the "Challenges and Opportunities for 2004" while Long explained, "We have redesigned the budget process to tie in to the strategic planning process of the County."
Griffin divided his presentation into seven area: 1. Emergency Management/Homeland Security; 2. Environment; 3. Old vs. New In the County; 4.Social Challenges; 5.Transportation; 6. Maintaining Quality of Organization; and 7. Balancing Budget vs. Expectations.
Each emphasized the need to change the dependence on real estate taxes with Long noting, "Sixty percent of revenue is now tied to real estate taxes."
Kicking off the topic of public safety was Fairfax County's acting police chief, Suzanne Devlin. It was her first day in that role having replaced Thomas Manger, who retired and took the position of police chief for Montgomery County in Maryland.
She pointed out that she had started her career with Fairfax County Police in the Mount Vernon District. "It is fitting that my first day as acting chief is back in Mount Vernon," she said. The audience expressed their support for her and on her becoming the permanent chief by a sustained round of applause when she was first introduced at the beginning of the meeting.
Devlin, in a cloaked reference to the controversial Patriots Act, stated that security should not take precedence over individual rights. But, she encourage everyone to be more vigilant in their observations pertaining to both crime and security.
She explained that citizens can "interface with police over the web" as well as by telephone. "We are working on a daily basis with the federal government" and other jurisdictions in the area to secure a safe environment. "We will be opening a regional intelligence center in the spring," Devlin revealed.
IN SUPPORT OF the effectiveness of the county's police force, Connolly had noted as the beginning of his presentation, "We have the lowest crime rate of the 30 largest districts in the nation."
Emphasizing that point he said, "Last year, Prince George's County had 7,000 car thefts, we had 700. The District had 700-plus murders. We had seven. We did not have a single gang-related homicide last year."
As for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department's efforts in public safety for the past year, Chief Michael Neuhard, related, "This past year we suppressed 90,000 incidents. That's over 225 calls per day."
He explained, "We have a working relationship with Fort Belvoir and with the Mount Vernon Estate. We are initiating our second Citizen Emergency Resource Training [CERT] class with 60 students. We will be expanding this into the Mount Vernon District this year."
Neuhard was followed by a special presentation from police Captain Larry Moser, head of the Mount Vernon Station, and Battalion Chief John Caussin, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, serving the Mount Vernon area. They explained the efforts put forth by both departments during Hurricane Isabel, particularly in the Belle View area.
To accentuate those actions, not only by the two departments and public officials, but also by the many residents of Belle View and New Alexandria, Moser and Coussin showed a videotape presentation made during the fall disaster. It emphasized 2,200 homes were impacted by the storm and its aftermath.
CLOSING OUT THE formal presentations were Dr. Brad Dreger, acting superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Dan Storck, newly elected Mount Vernon School Board Member. They gave an overview of the successes and challenges faced by the school system.
Throughout the four and a half hour program audience members posed questions to the panel on everything from, "What is the county doing to help George Mason University increase its academic ratings?" to "What will it take to get the county to take control of the roads from VDOT?"
For those who could not attend, the meeting was videotaped and will be shown on Fairfax County Cable Channel 16. Air dates are February 7, at 9 a.m.; February 13, at 8 p.m.; and February 21, at 9 a.m. Copies of the videotapes will also be available at Hyland's office in the Mount Vernon Government Center by mid-February.