Things Could Change Around Here

Things Could Change Around Here

Richmond Highway, BRAC dominate Mount Vernon’s plan review.

Usually, the Federal Government doesn’t have such a direct impact on how Fairfax County does business. Usually though, the feds don’t just up and move 18,000 jobs into a relatively compact part of the county.

This year is a little different and after the decision of the Base Realignment and Closure commission (called BRAC) those jobs are coming to Fort Belvoir over the next few years, said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).

In one respect, the decision came at the right time. The southern half of Fairfax County, including the area around Fort Belvoir, is up for its periodic review of the Comprehensive Plan. This gives the county a chance to adjust it’s land use patterns to accommodate not only housing for the new workers coming to the base, but also office space for the defense contractors expected to follow the military’s shift.

This year, Hyland said, if people had a plan change for land around Fort Belvoir they were given a bit of extra time.

“Because of BRAC, we have created an opening,” he said.

According to state law, localities must review their Comprehensive Plan every five years. Fairfax County does this through the APR process, which began in 2003 when the northern half of the county was up for review. This year, the southern half, including the Braddock, Mason, Lee, Springfield and Mount Vernon districts, is under review.

Fairfax County’s process is essentially open. Any person can nominate any piece of land to be designated for any use, whether they own the property or not. These proposals, called nominations, are first sifted through by county staff, and then reviewed by a citizen task force. The task force may accept, reject or propose an alternative to each of the nominations.

Its non-binding recommendation then goes to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and vote. Any nominations not approved by the Planning Commission stop there, while those approved go on to the Board of Supervisors for another Public Hearing and the final decision.

THE MOUNT VERNON Task Force has 36 nominations to consider, tied with the Mason district for the most nominations this year. Of those nominations, 25 have to do with areas along the Richmond Highway. Hyland was pleased at the interest in Richmond Highway, which has long been an area in need of revitalization.

Many of the nominations are also following a general trend across the county with developers seeking to build high-density, mixed-use projects. While they can take many different shapes, mixed-use developments are usually a few hundred condo-style units or an office building with some retail stores, such as a bank, restaurant or dry cleaner, in the ground floor of the building.

One area that has attracted particular attention this year is Smitty’s Lumber Yard and the nearby mobile home communities. Three different nominations have come in for the area from three different sources (05-IV-9MV, 05-IV-28MV and 05-IV-29MV). One (9MV) seeks to increase the amount of office space available, while the other two propose mixed-use developments. Although the land varies slightly between the nominations, there is likely to be some difficulty in integrating the various proposals. “It’s a large site, and people have different ideas for it,” Hyland said.

Another proposal likely to cause some interest is the Rainwater Concrete Company and privately owned debris landfill at Richmond Highway and Gunston Cove Road. The area is currently planned for residential development of one house per two acres. The proposal (05-IV-2LP), gives two different options. The owner, Ray Rainwater, proposes closing the landfill and developing most of the site with a density of 1-2 houses per acre and including a private recreation facility. Alternatively, Rainwater would donate the landfill to Fairfax County, and be permitted to develop the remaining 50 acres at a density of 5-8 houses per acre, typically a townhouse density.

One potential sticking point is that either proposal would require a change to the Approved Sewer Service Area to allow sewer service to the site. Sewer service is often used as a back-door control on residential growth. It is almost impossible to build, for example, townhouses with septic systems since the individual lots do not have enough room for a septic field. Hyland noted that extending sewer service to the east side of Richmond Highway has been an issue in the past. “It will be interesting to see the reaction of people on either side of it,” he said.