Ken Couch came mostly to watch. The business that his family had operated for decades, Appalachian Outfitters, had been sold and had gone out of business under the new owner. Now, Chevy Chase Bank is buying the property on the corner of Hunter Mill and Chain Bridge roads with the intention of building a new branch. "Nobody wants to see it go, but sometimes things come to an end," said Couch, whose father owns the land.
Chevy Chase representatives brought their site plan to the Fairfax County Planning Commission on March 3. The design calls for a 3,250-square-foot bank with two drive-through lanes. Chevy Chase proposes to place a small "pocket park" on the corner, add a right-turn lane from Chain Bridge onto Hunter Mill, install a pedestrian island and crosswalks with countdowns at the intersection.
IN ADDITION, part of the abandoned Appalachian Outfitters store is the Oakton Schoolhouse. The historic structure dates to the 1890s, and the Appalachian Outfitters building was later constructed around it. Bob Adams, president of Friends of the Oakton Schoolhouse, has a plan to move the building to the site of the planned Oakton Community Park, less than a mile north along Hunter Mill Road. [See sidebar.]
Because banks are federally chartered institutions, the property must also undergo a "106" review, named for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This review is currently ongoing. A recently completed study found that the building is structurally sound enough to be moved.
Adams’ group supports the plan and moving the schoolhouse to the new location. His group has raised more than $500,000 in pledges to move the schoolhouse and develop the park. "These pledges evaporate if this application dies," Adams said. Chevy Chase Bank has committed to giving $100,000 to a fund for future upkeep of the schoolhouse, if it is moved.
Adams said he fears that the building will be dismantled and destroyed if it is not moved. "There is absolutely no law, no protection from just bulldozing it," Adams said.
Couch said that his father, the owner of the property, has absolutely no intention of destroying the building.
Jody Bennett of the Hunter Mill Defense League fears that moving the school might have an impact on the Hunter Mill Corridor. Her group is working to have the road and surrounding land listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has documented many historic structures along the corridor.
The school and the Oakton United Methodist Church on the diagonally opposite corner provide anchors for historic structures on the southern end of the corridor. "We do not know the impact that is going to happen if we lose some of the contributing structures along Hunter Mill Road," Bennett said.
BETTE GREENSPAN lives near the intersection and is concerned about the Chevy Chase plan, which calls for access onto Hunter Mill Road. The bank has a drive-through that will force patrons to exit onto Hunter Mill, not far from the intersection.
Many motorists already make U-turns to access other shopping centers, and the traffic backup on Hunter Mill Road, which would make a left turn out of the bank property onto Hunter Mill Road, would be difficult during the morning and evening rush hour. "I can only imagine the number of rear-end and side-impact collisions," Greenspan said. "There should be absolutely no attempt to put a drive-through that will enter or exit on Hunter Mill Road."
Bob Flinn, attorney for Chevy Chase, pointed to the turning lane and traffic island, which he says should help to calm traffic.
Bill Sherman of the Department of Planning and Zoning said that the sight distances on the property have been studied and determined to be safe.
Planning Commissioner Ken Lawrence (Providence) pointed out that the plan could be the only way to save the schoolhouse. He brought up the example of the Jeremiah Moore House, a historic structure in Vienna, which was dismantled and is sitting in storage, waiting for a place to be put. "A bird in the hand is what we have here tonight," he said, as he recommended approving the plan at the March 3 Planning Commission hearing. It was approved unanimously among those present. Commissioners Janet Hall (Mason) and Walter Alcorn (At large) were absent.
The plan must now be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The Public Hearing has not been officially scheduled.