Citizens Have Their Say at Final Session

Citizens Have Their Say at Final Session

What to do with 79 acres within the 3,000-plus acres now known as Laurel Hill, the former site of Lorton Prison. That was the question posed to the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force.

At its third and final public information session last Thursday night at the Fairfax County Government Center, Tim Sargeant, Task Force chairman, spelled out the alternatives and fielded question. The final analysis was "additional time will be needed for additional research."

Sargeant explained, "This is a county-wide process. The Task Force is not an authoritative body. It is only advisory."

He advised those in attendance, "There has been a call for additional research. It's going to take some time before we make our final report to the County Board of Supervisors."

Originally it was expected the Task Force recommendations would be given to the supervisors by early Spring. But as they received citizen input it has become apparent to the Task Force that further study is needed before a report can be produced, according to Sargeant.

The Task Force's goal is "to contribute to the transformation of Laurel Hill into a world class asset. In this capacity, Laurel Hill will serve as an enduring cultural, educational and recreation landmark that enriches the lives of all Fairfax County residents as well as those beyond the county's borders."

To aid in this endeavor, the county has retained the expertise of EDAW, Inc., a land use planning consultant. The master planning process began in 2002. It is expected to be completed sometime this summer.

There are two adaptive reuse sites within the overall area which the county acquired approximately two years ago through a land swap and federal turnover. One is known as the Central Maximum Facility. The other is the Occoquan Facility.

Central Maximum is located adjacent to Silverbrook Road in the northern portion of Laurel Hill. It contains 80 structures. Sixty seven have been identified as "contributing to the Lorton Historic District."

Sargeant explained, "The vast majority of the total acreage of Laurel Hill is to be used for park and recreation purposes." However, it is the potential reuse of the building on the Central Maximum area that poses the greatest challenge, according to the Task Force.

"One of the challenges we face on this site is the infrastructure. It is estimated at $167 million," Sargeant explained. "This is a proposed Historic District. This site is eligible for the National Historic Registry. To demolish any building in such an area is extremely difficult and requires approval."

Paul Moyer, managing principal, EDAW Alexandria office, said, "We've been asked to look at the conceptual plans for this site." He noted that at Glen Echo in Maryland, another historic renovation site where they have worked, the cost to bring it back was $185 per square foot."

ONE MEMBER of the audience asked, "If it becomes financially prohibitive for adaptive reuse, what would be the possibility of preserving the buildings as they are and allowing the land to remain as open space?"

Sargeant pointed out, "Even if the buildings are not restored so they can be used there will still be the cost of maintaining them." He also noted, that there would be a certain amount of asbestos removal needed even if the building were not reused. The county budget for asbestos removal for the entire site is $2 million, Sargeant revealed.

Information gathered by the Task Force has been given to the Urban Land Institute in seeking suggestions on potential reuse. Their overall recommendations included more retail/commercial use, according to Sargeant.

"However, we want to be very sensitive to surrounding retail and not do any harm to existing businesses," Sargeant said. "What's important for the Task Force is to find a master reuser. You have to assume your county government will pay for this until a partner can be found."

Presently the site has prison structures, the Laurel Hill House, home of Revolutionary War patriot, William Lindsay, and a Nike Missile command structure. The latter has been proposed as the site of a "Cold War Museum" by Francis Gary Powers Jr.

Already approved for the site is the Lorton Arts Center. Projects underway include the Laurel Hill residential community, South County High School, Sprig Hill Active Adult Community, and a golf course.

IN DECIDING WHAT uses might be appropriate, the Task Force has established the following selection principles:

*Contributes to Laurel Hill as a world class asset

*Is financially self-sufficient

*Adheres to the County comprehensive plan

*Addresses historic and environmental guidelines

*Compatible with uses in and around the site

*Addresses on-site and off-site transportation impact

Located on the Central Maximum Facility's 79 acres are 67 structures with 390,250 square feet. The Occoquan facility is 55 acres with 43 structures totally 251,205 square feet.

Sargeant said, "The memorandum of agreement specifically emphasized the preservation of historic structures. And it requires justification for any demolition of such structures."

One of the points mentioned during the information session was that the "EDAW team estimate of $175 per square foot for rehabilitation" was $75 per square foot higher than that anticipated by the Lorton Arts Center.

Sargeant explained that the Arts Center did not have to upgrade to the same scale as the structures planned for the Adaptive Reuse area. He also quoted developer Brian Foulger, restorer of the Silver Theater in Montgomery County, Md., "In historic rehabilitation, you always find surprises.

"The Task Force will continue to explore ways of increasing the project's value to ensure long-term financial sustainability," Sargeant told the audience," said Sargeant.