What began as a controversial land use issue is on the way to becoming a reality, as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to approve the reallocation of $600,000 from the Affordable Housing Partnership Program for the Chesterbrook Residences Inc., an affordable assisted living complex in McLean.
When completed, the Chesterbrook will offer 97 units, with up to 44 of the units being designated as affordable and therefore "eligible for Section 8 vouchers for low-income elderly residents," said Michael Crescenzo, development consultant for the project. "There will be 11 additional units available renting below the market rate, and 42 will be market rate, but even those units will still be less than what an outside apartment would cost," he said. The complex will be located adjacent to Longfellow Middle school on Westmoreland Street near Kirby Road
Most of the units will be single bedrooms, while 12 units have two bedrooms, he said.
"The staff on hand will help people with the activities of daily life, depending on the need of each resident," he said. "The monthly cost of rent will also include medical care or attention that might be needed, along with three meals each day and a snack. There will be lots of social activity. For people who can't live on their own but aren't ready for a nursing home, this is a full package."
According to the Chesterbrook Residence project Web site, the land for the complex, a total of 5.46 acres in McLean, was donated by the National Capital Presbytery. Parishioners at the Lewinsville and Immanuel Presbyterian Churches and Temple Rodef Shalom have worked together to donate over $780,000 toward the cost construction.
"Our biggest hurdle we've cleared was in 2001, getting the Board of Supervisors to approve a special exception for the use of the land, which had been zoned for single-family homes," Crescenzo said.
In addition to the special exception code, the Chesterbrook faced a series of challenges from residents who weren't initially receptive to having an affordable housing complex in their neighborhood.
"This project was a very controversial land use issue," said Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois. "Certain neighbors didn't want it there. We did a lot of negotiating and came up with some very strict development conditions and limitations to make everyone happy. My office has been carefully monitoring the site plan process two or three times a week because we know that citizens are concerned," she said.
AS THE CONSTRUCTION begins, DuBois said she and her aides will continue to watch the progress carefully.
"This is something the county needs to have, but we need to make sure they live up to the conditions we've implemented," she said. "This project should go forward. It's time for it to move forward."
The money received from the Board of Supervisors on Monday will cover the cost incurred by the Chesterbrook between the time it opens for residents to apply for homes and when the residents actually move in, Crescenzo said.
"The $600,000 will cover a lot of our costs during the first 13 months," he said. "It's a very critical piece of funding."
From here, site plans need to be approved and building permits issued, but Crescenzo said he and others he has worked with on the project are optimistic that construction should be set to begin by September.
"It should take about 14 months to build the complex itself and between 12 and 15 months to lease it out, so we should have people moving in by December of 2006," he said.
For Jane Edmondson, this grant is one more accomplishment for a project she has spent the past five years striving toward.
"Some of the citizens in the area were quite vocal in their opposition to the Chesterbrook, which we felt was very unfortunate," said Edmondson, who is secretary of the Chesterbrook Residence Inc.'s planning board. "When we applied for the special exception, it took almost a year for it to be approved. Most people in the county government wanted this to happen, some of the supervisors wanted us to put in more units, but we were really surprised in the beginning at the vehemence of some folks against this," she said.
After being given a list of conditions, demands and compromises, however, the Chesterbrook's final appearance should make everyone happy, she said.
"A tremendous amount of money is going into the landscaping. I think we had even more development conditions than McLean Bible Church had when it was built out on Leesburg Pike," she said, referring to another major faith-backed construction project in McLean.
IN ADDITION TO a tree-lined front and driveway, the Chesterbrook will feature a brick facade that will go around the entire outside of the building, Edmondson said. "The building will contour with the land. How nice will it be for people who live there to be surrounded by a neighborhood where their friends and families live," she said.
For Gary Pender, this is a project he is "delighted" to see progressing.
"It's been a dream of ours for the last six years," said Pender, who is retiring from the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in December. "There's been a marvelous group of folks working so well together to see this become a reality."
It is a "continuing concern" at Lewinsville Presbyterian to "reach out to folks of low to moderate income" to help with housing and medical needs, he said. "The private sector isn't able to do as much, so the church and faith communities can provide an opportunity for this segment of the population, even if it is smaller than what the county needs overall," he said.
Even though he will be leaving his congregation prior to the completion of the Chesterbrook, Pender said the "rocky road" has been well worth the journey.
"The county is so strongly behind what we're doing," he said. "It's such a thrill to see this as an ongoing project of outreach and concern."