Those arriving in the Mount Vernon district of southeastern Fairfax County will find a landscape in flux. Most of that change is occurring along what is referred to by long-time residents as "The Highway."
Formally it is designated as both Richmond Highway and/or Route 1. Covering an 11-mile stretch from Woodbridge to the Capital Beltway it is the main artery of the area. It also separates the Mount Vernon and Lee magisterial districts, the former being the east side and the latter the west side.
For the past 15 years the Highway has been undergoing a revitalization that has intensified within the past four years. It is transforming what had become a physical, economic and social blight into a vibrant economic core that will serve as the area's center of commerce.
In addition to the business growth, there has also been a renewal of tourism, which is expected to skyrocket with the opening of the planned National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir within this decade. That will be complimented by the new Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps at Quantico Marine Base, scheduled to be operational within the year.
Adding to the area's growth is the recently announced addition of more than 18,000 personnel to Fort Belvoir as a result of decisions by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. This added personnel will, however, put a strain on area roads and concerns have been raised about traffic volume on Route 1.
The impact on the housing market is unclear due to the fact that many personnel being transferred to Fort Belvoir already live within the metropolitan area. How many will decide to relocate closer to the base remains to be seen.
THERE ARE A VARIETY of projects on the drawing boards or already underway contributing to this revitalization.
* Kings Crossing at the intersection of Route 1 and South Kings Highway. Scheduled for the property now occupied by Michaels/Chuck-E-Cheese developers are proposing a large housing complex intertwined with commercial and retail space. It has yet to be submitted to the County Planning Commission for evaluation.
* Mount Vernon Plaza is the rejuvenation of a dual shopping plaza. After a near total demolition new retail and commercial enterprises are rising from the rubble.
* Two new healthplex facilities are scheduled for the near future. One, located at Lorton Station, is under development by a group of local physicians. The other, an adjunct to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, is planned for the southern Lorton area. The doctors' facility will be a full service center. Inova Health System's addition is still in the development stage, according to IHS.
* A new $85 million education/visitors center is underway at Mount Vernon Estate. It will offer state-of-the-art interactive elements to the Estate's more than one million annual visitors. Fully funded by private donations and admission fees, as is the entire Mount Vernon Estate and environs, this facility will transform a visit to George Washington's home into a living history experience.
* As a result of the planned U.S. Army National Museum, a hotel boom was recently announced for the area adjacent to Fort Belvoir. Both Marriott and Hilton are planning facilities, with the possibility of a third chain entering the picture in the upcoming months.
* On Fort Belvoir itself, the first of the new Residential Community Initiative housing complexes was recently opened. Upon completion this concept, which virtually creates individualized communities within the base, will transform military housing into a model suburbia with individual town centers, recreation areas and homes. This program also calls for the restoration of the base's historic housing, which epitomizes some of the best examples of colonial design.
* The planned U.S. Army Museum is scheduled to be built adjacent to the post's main gate across from the Route 1 athletic fields. Upon completion it is estimated to draw more than a million visitors per year, creating an economic bonanza for the Mount Vernon district. The one drawback is the lack of adequate mass transit or highway infrastructure to carry such a large volume of additional traffic. Efforts are underway by both local political leaders and congressional representatives to bring additional mass transit capabilities to the Route 1 corridor.
* A recent addition to the transporation capabilities was the initiation of the Richmond Highway Express service operated under the aegis of the Fairfax Connector. Known as REX, it expedites service between the lower end of Mount Vernon district to Huntington and King Street Metro stations.
* Within the next couple of years it is anticipated that the former Lorton Prison site will be totally transformed into a new community known as Laurel Hill. It will incorporate not only a large residential complex, but also an art center for both artists and the performing arts. The site was officially turned over to the county as part of a land swap to preserve additional open space in the southeastern quadrant. Other attractions, such as a "Cold War Museum," are under consideration for the site.
* Three years ago the South County Government Center was opened on Route 1 at the intersection with Mohawk Lane. It offers a full array of services to residents of that quadrant of the county. It is also the site for a variety of community meetings, health care services, elder care, employment services and a computer center offering a total e-government service.
* After doubts that it would be able to continue serving the community, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital has been declared a viable element of Inova Health System's network. It has seen significant upgrades in equipment and is scheduled for physical plant improvements as well. As one of the leading facilities in the world for joint replacement and physical therapy, IMVH serves a widening community and is anticipated to play an even greater health role in the future as the area population balloons.
* Complimenting IMVH and the anticipated healthplex additions is the recently upgraded status of Fort Belvoir's DeWitt Hospital. As a result of the BRAC recommendations, DeWitt is expected to take on increased responsibilities. A complimentary arrangement with Inova Health Systems is also a possibility to increase health care alternatives for both civilian and military personnel.
WITH ITS DIVERSE CITIZENRY, southeastern Fairfax County has a host of social service organizations — religious- and sectarian-based, private- and government-run. They offer aid in housing, clothing, food and medical plus a wide variety of other life support necessities. Each counts on the services and support of volunteers and community leaders.
Community activists can find myriad outlets for their talents in civic and neighborhood organizations. These are geared to both generalized public service and specialized areas of concern such as the environment, traffic, health, planning and zoning, and housing issues.
In order to offer a complete overview of the changes taking place within Mount Vernon district, physically, managerially, and governmentally, and to encourage citizens to express their opinions concerning the operations and services of government, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland holds a town meeting each January at Mount Vernon High School. It brings together all elements of county government to answer citizen questions and address issues.
Preceding the town meeting there is an exhibit in the high school cafeteria that features both government and non-government displays staffed by individuals versed on a myriad of subjects, from public safety to environmental concerns. It offers a centralized opportunity to be an informed citizen and resident.