Residential, Retail To Cover Laurel Hill Costs?

Residential, Retail To Cover Laurel Hill Costs?

As the Laurel Hill development project is further refined, factors are emerging that make the seemingly pain-free "gift" to the county of vast parkland a potentially expensive endeavor.

The Central\Maximum Security Facility land is home to 67 historic buildings that currently cost the county $2 million a year to maintain, through security and site maintenance. Restoration efforts to the buildings are priced at $175 a square foot. The Occoquan Facility contains an additional 43 structures, as well.

The Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Citizen Task Force is in the midst of a three-meeting series, presenting two plans to the south-county residents to address the Central\Maximum Facility, so the taxpayers would not have to foot the bill. Tim Sargeant is the chairman of the task force as well as a resident of Crosspointe. At each meeting, the members receive suggestions.

"There's a lot of misinterpretation," Sargeant said to the attendees of a Feb. 28 meeting at Crosspointe Elementary School. "The presentation we're delivering today has been altered from last Saturday. We make recommendations, the Board of Supervisors makes decisions. These are conceptual ideas."

According to the 2000 Comprehensive Plan, the Central\Maximum Security Facility site "could include government and non-hospital institutional uses, and if not feasible, this area should be used for park and open space" Sargeant thought that language was established before other requirements were implemented.

"That's before it was handed over to the county and historical preservation was factored in," Sargeant said.

Neal McBride, a member of the task force and the Lorton Arts Foundation, said the historic preservation is being dictated by the White House Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Lorton Heritage Foundation, the Government Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board and the Virginia Department of Heritage Resources.

THE PLANS the task force came up with for the 79-acre site central facility included a mixed-use development of residential, retail and commercial/education use. Concept A incorporated 400 units of multifamily and single-family residential and 102,000 square feet of retail space. It would refurbish some of the existing buildings, add 14 new buildings, construct a Main Street commercial area with some commercial space. Concept B would include 257 units of multifamily and single-family residential, 102,000 square feet of retail space and 175,000 square feet of education space. The University of Virginia, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College are possible tenants to fill the spaces on a rental basis.

The Occoquan Workhouse is a 55-acre section to the south, where the Lorton Arts Foundation is currently establishing The Workhouse Arts Center. The Lorton Arts Foundation has partnered with several outside groups for financing. The site contains 43 buildings, and the 2000 Comprehensive Plan included similar language for those buildings, as well. Some of those buildings were not architecturally significant and have already been marked for destruction, said McBride.

The site was the subject of a recent HBO film on the suffrage movement, "Iron Jawed Angels," and some filming by the HBO crew took place there. A grainy black-and-white photograph in the Women's League of Voters historic collection is the only thing that remains of the actual workhouse. The building is long gone.

Some of the nearby residents questioned the validity of the proposals.

"Those of us who live in the south county know that retail has not done very well," said Bob Robertory, a Crosspointe resident.

"What is the vision for this site?" asked Lynn Miller. "I don't think it adequately addressed what would be beneficial in this area. Let the vision be the deciding factor, not the money."

In the Laurel Hill mission statement, the term "World Class Asset" was a focal point for the transformation of the property. On the Laurel Hill Web site, Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian Institute and the Torpedo Factory Arts Center were listed as benchmarks of world-class assets to strive for. Liz Bradsher, a Crosspointe resident, didn't think either of the concepts were in line with those examples.

Bradsher also questioned the historic distinction. The prison buildings are brick, with some built by the prisoners themselves in the Progressive Era in the early 1900s. But it wasn't on the historic level with Mount Vernon, the Gettysburg Battlefield or Williamsburg.

"Why is this so historic?" Bradsher asked. "We're given this land but are now responsible for maintaining these buildings?"

Tearing down the historic buildings was touched on by Sargeant.

"If you propose to tear down a historic structure, you have to do a feasibility study," Sargeant said.

BEING FINANCIALLY self-sufficient is one of the task force's criteria, and that's where the residential and retail come in. Sargeant cited the 2000 Comprehensive Plan.

"Currently, the reuse area is not planned for retail or residential," Sargeant said.

The Comprehensive Plan cited "adaptive reuse" for the buildings, which includes keeping the existing buildings for future use. Adaptive reuse is an umbrella term in the Comprehensive Plan world. This could mean incorporating the buildings into office space or other uses. Steve Adragna, the president of the Crosspointe Homeowners Association, has seen changes before.

"Nothing is non-negotiable. If the comp plan needs to be modified, then so be it," he said.

Transportation improvements were mentioned, but were not a big point of discussion at the meeting. Currently, from the whole Laurel Hill land, there are three roads to take: Ox Road, Silverbrooke Road and Lorton Road. Ox Road was widened over the past few years, but Silverbrooke and Lorton are still on the drawing boards.

"There may be additional costs as we develop this," referring to road improvements, said Paul Moyer of EDAW, Inc., an engineering firm involved with the redevelopment.

For Steve and Connie Lowry, this was not the first meeting they've attended concerning the Laurel Hill development. Their house is near the intersection of Ox Road and Silverbrook Road.

"From the big picture, we don't want a lot of development and traffic," Steve Lowry said. "I notice the difference [in traffic] now."