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A Condo for a Cellblock

Planning Commission hears latest draft of Laurel Hill out-of-turn plan amendment.

It may be just a matter of time before a penitentiary becomes a place of learning, or a workhouse becomes a place for police officers to live.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission heard three residents near the former Lorton Prison talk about an out-of-turn plan amendment Wednesday, March 29, putting the outline for the redevelopment of the 3,200 acre parcel of land one step closer to being approved.

Based on a proposal from the Laurel Hill Project Advisory Citizens Oversight Committee, the amendment to the county's Comprehensive Plan would call for between 50 and 125 loft-style residential units to be constructed at the former reformatory, said Charlene Fuhrman Schultz, a member of the Planning Commission staff. The apartments would be designed to incorporated into the current facility and would serve as magnate housing for police officers, fire fighters or educators.

The reformatory is also the site of the future Lorton Arts Foundation Workhouse, which is planned to be an arts complex with studio space, a theater and restaurants.

On the other side of the property, along Silverbrook Road and adjacent to the Spring Hill Senior Housing development, suggestions of educational opportunities, research facilities or office spaces have been made for the former penitentiary building, Schultz said.

In between, the plan amendment calls for a Village Center, which could incorporate "up to 50,000 square feet of retail space" for restaurants or small offices, she told the Planning Commission.

"This amendment is consistent with the task force recommendations," Schultz said. "However, if the plan is not found to be viable in the current development market place based on responses to the recently-released request for proposals approved by the Board of Supervisors, the plan may be reconsidered," she said.

The majority of the 3,200 acres of land is to be dedicated for park land and open space, she said.

TESTIFYING ON behalf of the Citizens Oversight Committee, Tim Sargent told the Planning Commission the plan amendment was another step in a "process which has been a partnership between the county government and its citizens."

Sargent has served as chairman of the committee since its inception in 2005.

Two residents expressed concern about some language in the amendment.

Neal McBride, a Lorton resident who served on two of the first Laurel Hill Task Force committees, said he wasn't sure why the amendment still called for a fire and rescue station on the property.

"On behalf of the residents at Furnace and Hooes Roads, we have a bit of confusion about the staff's insistence of securing acreage for a new fire and rescue station," McBride said.

On page 20 of the plan amendment draft, it is noted that five acres should be set aside for a fire and rescue station "if a site ... has not been located off-site to serve this area." McBride said that the Crosspointe station, located at the intersection of Ox and Hampton roads, would properly serve the area and eliminate the need for an additional station.

"I have a letter here from the residents of Cavanaugh Crossing which states that they understood the Crosspointe station would take care of all their problems," said Commission vice chairman John Byers. "I have a letter from the chief of the Crosspointe station that says that until the station is fully operational, he won't know how big an area that station will serve."

Murphy agreed that it would be better to leave the language in the amendment until the Crosspointe station opened and was in service for 12 to 18 months. The station is expected to open later this year.

"I would be hard pressed to take anything out of the plan dealing with public safety, considering how quickly that area is growing," said Commissioner Peter Murphy Jr. (Springfield).

Developer Bill Lynch, who described himself as an "adjacent property owner" of some land in the Gunston Commerce Center near Furnace Road, said he was concerned about the traffic that may result from the construction of athletic fields along Lorton Road.

"We've been told that the construction of ball fields may require the input of millions of yards of fill material," Lynch said.

One dump truck load of fill only contains up to 10 yards of material, he said. To even out a playing field could take millions of yards of fill, and in turn, millions of trips by heavy trucks along a road that's already been repaired several times.

"We have a nice business park there that brings in some white collar jobs," Lynch said. "The volume of truck traffic just when we start the process of closing the landfill is a problem for us."

He said he would hope the commission could look into using filler materials already available on site for the fields, reducing the amount of heavy truck traffic and protecting the integrity of the road.

Stating that there were only a small number of "grammatical or editorial errors" in the proposed plan amendment that was presented on Wednesday night, Byers said he would prefer to wait until members of the Mount Vernon Council heard Sargent's latest presentation on the amendment before approving it. A vote was deferred until Thursday, April 20.