Alison Dyer was just doing what she was told. "As a community, we were advised that the Comprehensive Plan was our plan, and if we didn't like it, we should get involved and change it," she said.
Dyer's idea for a change was to submit a nomination during the Area Plans Review, Fairfax County's process for amending its Comprehensive Plan.
The process began last year for the northern half of the county, including the Providence District. Initially, 18 nominations were filed in the district, excluding the Tysons Corner area which will be the subject of a special study.
Only seven of the Providence nominations remain, and they were heard by the Planning Commission on April 21. These nominations will be decided on by the Planning Commission on Wednesday, May 18. Nominations which do not pass the Planning Commission do not go any further. Those that do pass will go on to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which has scheduled a hearing for Monday, July 11.
Dyer's proposed nomination was one of three in Providence that have generated some controversy. Her proposal would affect the Wedderburn property. The area, sometimes known as Midgetville, is located at the intersection of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and Cedar Lane.
Dyer proposed changing the existing Comprehensive Plan to reduce the allowable density from 2-3 houses per acre to 1-2.
The owners of the property are simultaneously engaged in the process of rezoning the property to allow for higher density. "We feel that the reaction of our surrounding neighbors is due to a reaction to the rezoning process," said Jane Leppin, one of the property owners.
A host of surrounding neighbors wearing pink stickers came to speak against the proposal on April 21. "We live there. We want to continue living there. We don't want that dense infill," said Deborah Reyher.
Residents also point to a stream that flows through the property. The stream had initially been classified a perennial stream by Fairfax County. Development is not permitted within 100 feet of either side of a perennial stream.
The stream was later classified at intermittent, which does not have the same restrictions. While the initial classification involved rating the stream on a variety of characteristics, the declassification was not as thorough, the neighbors say. However, the declassification did abide by the county's process at the time. "The manner in which the stream was declassified was shocking," said Erin Kuhn, a nearby resident.
The stream becomes "officially" perennial once it leaves the property before becoming intermittent again once it enters the Town of Vienna.
Part of the proposed change would recognize the stream, something that at least one planning commissioner opposed. The stream classification process is part of an ordinance designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay, noted Commissioner Walter Alcorn (At-large), and should not be mixed with the Comprehensive Plan. "I frankly am a little bit nervous about putting language in the plan," he said.
POPLAR TERRACE is a subdivision just south of I-66 off of Blake Lane. The neighborhood consists of about 70 houses, but Centex homes has proposed redeveloping the area with 1,346 townhouse and condo units and about 24,000 square feet of retail space. It is very near another controversial development, Fairlee/Metrowest, and close to the Vienna/Fairfax GMU Metrostation.
How close it is, exactly, makes a big difference, say some area residents. "The area falls … entirely outside the quarter-mile radius," said Matthew Troy. Areas within a quarter-mile of a Metro station platform are generally permitted to have higher densities.
Other area residents cited concerns about the local infrastructure. "Our roads, schools and parks are already overburdened," said Mark Tipton.
The developer would purchase all of the houses from their current owners, many of whom have stated plans to leave the area. "The residents who joined in this … are not the ones who will be affected," said Douglas Stewart.
The developers, and most of the neighbors in the development who support the change, say that it is still close to the transit station. They say it is smart growth to put this density in relative proximity to the Metrostation, and will allow its residents to use Metro. "Folks are more than happy to walk that half mile," said Mary Flynn, attorney for Centex.
"You can expect high ridership levels," said Fran Hooper, one of the residents of Poplar Terrace who supports the proposal. "We need more walkable, dense communities."
"Fairlee's approval was a step in the right direction," said Timothy Bradshaw, another neighbor in support of the proposal. "I think it's a wise use of land."
Planning Commissioner James Hart (At-large) indicated that he would not participate in the Poplar Terrace decision, but did not give details of why.
ANOTHER AREA near the Vienna-Fairfax Metrostation was also under review. On Swanee Lane, just off Nutley Street, there are seven single-family houses which lead into a higher density area being developed by the Christopher Companies.
The owners of all seven of those lots have applied to have the density increased on their properties in order to allow for a redevelopment. The area is currently planned for 1-2 houses per acre and the nominators are requesting 4-5 houses per acre. "Let the Christopher Companies … finish the development that was approved," said James Clark. Clark is one of the seven neighbors, and he spoke on their behalf. Clark also pointed to the area's proximity to Metro as a reason that additional density should be permitted.
County planning and zoning staff has recommended allowing an increase in density, but only to 2.5 units per acre.
Homeowners representing the nearby Briarwood neighborhood showed maps of their neighborhood. The area has been developed of several decades and has a mix of different densities. "Swanee is not unique in Briarwood," said Nickolas Vlannes.