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Focus on Future of Sully Historic Site

Sully Historic Site was built in 1794 by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia's first representative to Congress. This 128-acre property is now owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

But although much of it looks the same as it did in its heyday, its surroundings along Route 28 in Chantilly have changed dramatically. So the Park Authority is beginning to revise its Master Plan for the site — considering how best to preserve what's there, while attracting both new and repeat visitors.

"There are several influences around Sully that'll impact the way people come to the site and the way it's used," said Kirk Holley, the Park Authority's manager of Park Planning. "We're here to discuss what vision you might anticipate [for Sully] in the future."

He was addressing those attending a planning workshop last Tuesday, May 11, at Franklin Middle School. Area residents got to share their ideas, and among those hearing them were Park Authority Deputy Director Tim White and Park Authority representatives Hal Strickland (Sully District) and Georgette Kohler (at-large), as well as site manager Carol McDonnell.

"With the Udvar-Hazy Center [Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex] open [nearby], there's an opportunity to bring significantly more visitors there," said Holley. "So what should we do to accomplish this vision, five or 10 years out?"

"Our staff is very open to public input," said Strickland. "Sully's been very successful; we offer information and education about what happened there. But conditions, demographics and buildings change, and we need to reinforce and make sure we're on the right course with the citizens."

Changes already on the table and likely to impact Sully are a development, transportation improvements and a new airport runway.

* "To the north of Sully, developer The Peterson Cos. has gathered an assemblage of land and wants to put in a mixed-use development," said Holley. "It needs a Comprehensive Plan amendment and a rezoning."

He said Peterson suggested some changes to protect Sully. The major one would allow the developer to place some age-restricted units next to Sully, at a height greater than what's now allowed.

* As for transportation, the new Air and Space Museum Parkway affected Sully's access off Route 28. The median there is now closed, and motorists may only make right turns into and out of Sully from the eastbound lanes.

"VDOT PLANNED a non-signalized interchange there and a new access to Sully elsewhere," said Holley. "But it's not resolved. A portion of the entrance road is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, and it's still under negotiation. We want to come from the north to access Sully, so the whole entrance into it would change."

If that happens, the parking lot, visitor entrance and front door to Sully mansion would be on the wrong side of the site. So, said Holley, "There's a great potential for us to redo and reinterpret what happens on the site."

* A new runway is planned for Dulles International Airport, and with it will come more noise above Sully. "We have a concern and don't know how it will play out," said Holley. "And there may be watershed-drainage issues, too.

Since Sully's remained the same for the past 25-30 years, he said, the question now is "How can we improve it and take advantage of an increase in visitorship, maybe by tenfold? How can we improve and better screen the entrance? And how can this behave as [both] a regional park and a community park?

Angie Allen, project manager in the Park Authority's Park Planning branch, said Master Planning takes about a year and public involvement plays an important part. "The project team will develop a draft plan," she said. "There'll be a public hearing and comment period. Then we'll revise the draft accordingly and take it to the Park Authority Board."

She noted that Sully is within the Cub Run Watershed and the house is on the site's highest point, and Liz Crowell with the Park Authority's Cultural Resource section spoke about the cultural resources on site. She said thousands of artifacts discovered at Sully have provided a better understanding of how its former occupants lived.

Then site manager McDonnell told of Sully's history and daily operations. The house is furnished with Federal-period antiques, and outbuildings include a kitchen, smokehouse and stone dairy. Archaeology at Sully revealed the locations of the former barn area, ice house, dairy extension, slave dwellings, Native American sites, the Manassas Gap Railroad and a road bed.

In 1975, Sully opened to the public, six days a week, and it's a popular destination for school groups. "We get 3,500 to 4,000 students a year — mostly second- to fifth-graders," said McDonnell. "Overall, there are 25,000 to 30,000 visitors a year." Crowds also flock to Sully's annual quilt and antique-auto shows, plus living-history events with people dressed in period costumes.

SULLY HISTORIC SITE'S mission is to preserve, maintain and interpret the historic structures, collections and lands which make up Sully — a late 18th century plantation house and grounds — to educate the public and to promote stewardship of the site.

When Holley asked what could be done to encourage tourism there, one woman noted that many visitors attending the Air and Space Museum would like to see Sully, too, "but can't figure out how to get to it."

A man then asked if there's money to do improvements, and Strickland said the county's general-obligation bond, for parks, for November is $50 million. "We believe we need $111 million to do what we need to do [countywide]," he said. "I would support Sully as being a high priority, and Supervisor [Michael] Frey [R-Sully] is a history buff, so he supports it, too. But it's also important to get citizen support, as well, so I can take that to the Park Authority [Board]."

During the discussion of Sully's mission, meeting attendees said it must have a visitors center. And Strickland suggested possibly acquiring additional acreage "to give people more of an experience of a farm." One man said that, perhaps, a tenant farmer could grow crops there, someday. "Sully goes all the way back to 1787, when our country began," he said. "And people could see what life was like, back then."

Next, said Holley, "We'll do some more site analysis and interpretation and propose improvements on site and a conceptual plan that would improve the experience. We'll come back with some ideas, talk about them, create a plan and take it back to the Park Authority for approval."