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Neighborhoods Split on Fairlee Proposal

Planning Commission hears over 70 speakers in late-night public hearing.

When it comes to the proposed Fairlee development at the Vienna/Fairfax Metro, it's one neighborhood against another. The Circle Woods Homeowners Association is dead-set against it, but the neighboring L&M homeowners Association is all for it.

The two associations went head-to-head at the July 22 Planning Commission meeting arguing over the Fairlee Plan amendment, which will put about 2,350 housing units, 300,000 square feet of office space and between 25,000 and 75,000 square feet of retail in 14-story towers next to the Metro station.

At issue is the future of the neighborhood. Will it remain the quiet suburban community favored by Circle Woods, or will it be turned into the lively Metro-oriented, walkable town center that L&M residents favor?

"We just want to maintain our quality of life," said Mark Tipton, a Circle Woods resident, who with his wife knocked on doors to collect about 120 signatures from neighbors opposing the development.

"We've talked about smart growth over the past few years. We've talked and talked and talked," said Tim Bradshaw, of L&M, a community named after its tax map designation. "I think it's time to embrace smart growth, and you can't get much smarter" than Fairlee.

UNLIKE ARLINGTON COUNTY, which has concentrated development around its Metro corridors, Fairfax County has never had a comprehensive plan for the area around Metro stations. As a result, the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station is surrounded by a sea of parking lots with mostly single-family homes nearby. Now the county wants to change that. In the Fairlee case, county staffers are recommending that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors approve the redevelopment, which, they say, will help the county manage growth by focusing high-density residential units near the Metro station.

"The county policy plan strongly encourages high-density, mixed-use development near Metro," said county planning chief Fred Selden. "Smart growth, in a nutshell, is nothing more than locating housing at places of transportation advantage."

After listening to over 70 speakers in a public hearing that went until the wee hours of the morning, the Planning Commission deferred decision on the issue until Sept. 9.

THIS IS THE second time in about a year that the Planning Commission has pushed back the Fairlee application.

Last year, when faced with loud opposition from Circle Woods residents, Linda Smyth (D), then Providence District planning commissioner, deferred the application and set up a task force to study the development proposal.

The application has changed over the last year. Pulte Homes, the developer, has acquired an additional 3.75 acres on the north side of the property, which will allow more homes and easier connections to the Metro, said Tim Sampson, an attorney with Walsh Colucci, representing Pulte.

"I think its interface with the Metro is better," he said.

According to the developer, about 32 percent of the residents will use Metro, a figure that Circle Woods residents say is overblown.

Richard Bochner, a resident of Virginia Center, who chaired the working group and who supports the application, said the development would not produce more than 50 additional cars per hour during rush hour.

"That's less than one car per minute in the peak direction, which is not a significant impact."

Even if the ridership estimates prove correct, no indication has been given that the Metro system is capable of handling all the new riders, said Peter Slivka, president of the Circle Woods Homeowners Association.

"Metro is saying they cannot afford to continue with the growth of Metro," he said.

Laurie Genevro Cole, a Vienna Town Council member, who spoke on behalf of the Council, agreed with Slivka.

"Let's look at this for what it is: an urban development being put into a suburban community," she said.

Slivka said the proposal was too dense and would place an urban development right next to an established suburban community.

"We do not feel that the 14-story or even the 10-story buildings we're talking about should be built," he said. "We don't want to see that kind of skyline."

The new development plans also call for turning part of East Blake Lane Park into a storm-water-management pond, which, Sampson said, would correct erosion problems in area streams.

"What the pond does, it grabs all that water as it goes downstream and detains it," he said.

Some in Circle Woods, such as Jackie Sharp, said the pond would ruin the park which "is home to many animals, including deer."

TO THE RESIDENTS of that L&M neighborhood off Blake Lane, however, the only way to make sure that the traffic remains in control is to make it possible for as many people as possible to live near Metro.

"Jobs are here, people are coming here. We need to provide adequate housing for them," said Pete Young, of the L&M Homeowners Association. He has lived in the area since 1953.

Many in the L&M neighborhood are closely following events in Fairlee because all but a handful of L&M residents have agreed to sell their homes to Centex Homes, a developer planning a similar high-density project. If the Board endorses the Fairlee proposal, it could set a precedent, making it easier for the Centex proposal to gain approval.

Slivka on Thursday said he was "offended" that people with a financial stake in the outcome of the Fairlee deliberations would testify.

"Most of the speakers have sold their homes to Centex," he said. "Those homeowners will not be here when the development is complete. We in Circle Woods will still be here."

But one Circle Woods resident took issue with his neighbors. Scott Teixeira said he was "embarrassed" by his neighbors. In 1976 when the county was considering the rezoning application that would produce the current Circle Woods community, many surrounding communities, including the Town of Vienna and the old Fairlee neighborhood, opposed it, using the same arguments Circle Woods is using today against Fairlee.

Neighboring communities, Teixeira said, were "all begging the Planning Commission to reject the [Circle Woods] application on the basis that they were an established neighborhood."