Open Mic Night at Madison

Open Mic Night at Madison

Residents speak, and shout, about their desire to maintain the current plan.

More than 350 people, most of them angry, came to Madison High School to vent on Monday night. Much like the Oct. 1 visioning workshop, the vast majority of them were opposed to any change to the Comprehensive Plan for the Hunter Mill Road Special Study Area.

Emotions ran high throughout the meeting. After months of listening to discussion about the area, residents were excited to be able to speak in an open forum. So many residents wanted to have their say that at some points during the meeting, consultant W. Steve Lee was unable to move forward with his presentation.

But early on in the night, he was able to say just what the vast majority wanted to hear.

"Clearly the people in this corridor do not want the Comprehensive Plan to change," said Lee, a comment which generated thunderous applause from the audience.

During the county's state-mandated review of its Comprehensive plan, a series of proposal were filed suggesting changes to the area around the intersection of Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads. The area is currently planned for residential use at a density of one house per two acres, that would allow about 150 houses to be built.

It is part of what was planned as a "green buffer" around Reston to stop the higher density areas of Reston and Tysons Corner from creeping toward each other.

One of these proposals, made by developers WCI/Renaissance and K. Hovnanian, suggested increasing the density on a 226-acre area to allow about 1,800 housing units plus some retail. This proposal would mean a density of up to eight houses per acre.

Over the past 20-25 years, numerous proposals have been made to increase the density in the area. They have consistently been rejected.

The Board of Supervisors, in a move spearheaded by supervisors Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville), voted to create a task force to study the area. The task force was charged with studying a larger area (about 314 acres) than had been proposed by the developers and which included some already developed land.

That 20-member task force began meeting in June (two members have resigned, and one has been added). It is charged with coming up with a recommendation for the study area, which could be essentially anything. The developer's proposal is not formally on the table.

Although the task force may choose to recommend that level of density, it may also choose to recommend no change, a level somewhere in between, or even higher density than the developer had envisioned.

Since the process began, members of the community have complained that they have been shut out. During one meeting, citizens were permitted to ask questions for about a half hour. They have been able to submit written comments.

The main opportunity for community input was to be the two-part community visioning exercise. The first part, on Oct. 1, was a four-hour meeting with about 270 people broken up into small groups.

The overwhelming majority of attendees advocated no change to the comprehensive plan.

Many live in or near the study area and cite the impact that increased density would have on the road network, and schools. Others feared that any incursion into the "green buffer" would simply be the first domino. "It starts with one place and its just going to go all down Hunter Mill Road and its just going to be chok-a-blok and it makes me sad," said Judith Beattie, who operates the Hunter Mill Country Day School.

The Oct. 17 meeting, also at Madison, drew even more people, saying much the same things in terms of the plan. Both Hudgins and DuBois were at the Board of Supervisors meeting, which did not adjourn until 10:37 p.m., over an hour after the end of the task force meeting. Hudgins attended the Oct. 1 meeting.

At this meeting, however, residents also expressed concerns about the draft report, prepared by Lee, concerning citizen comments during the Oct. 1 meeting.

Lee's report, they said, was not clear enough about the number of people who said they did not want change. "What I see coming out of white paper and black ink is a complete lack of passion," said Kevin Carl, a Vienna area resident. "How is the passion of this large group going to be represented to the Board of Supervisors?"

"Make sure this report is unambiguous," said Bill Rachal.

Lee said he will try to do just that. "I will continue to try to communicate what I hear and what people are asking the Task Force to do," he said.

Lee acknowledged that he had not made the point that the residents do not want change clear enough. He said that the final draft will make it clear. "It will be communicated in the first paragrah in bold," he said.

Le also noted the other themes he had identified from the Oct. 1 meeting such as managing growth, maintianing the community, and improving various facets of the public infrastructure. "Are there other things that may be important to people," he said. He plans to include these themes in his report.

AS HAPPENED DURING the Oct. 1 meeting, dissenting viewpoints were not generally welcome. Some individuals spoke in favor of allowing the development. They note a shortage of housing in the county, and say that this development could help by adding to the housing stock. Mary Kleinhans, a recruiter, said that people are turning down jobs in the area because they can not afford to live here.

She urged those in attendance to consider the larger area. "It's a bigger community than just two or three streets," she said. Her comments were greeted with boos and hisses. "For a group that wants to be listened to, you also need to listen to other people," she admonished the crowd.

The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for Nov. 9, 7 p.m. Lake Anne Elementary, 11510 North Shore Drive, Reston.