Frustration over lack of public input fueled last week's meeting on Dec. 6 between Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and residents who live near the Reston South Park and Ride lot. Hudgins and the Fairfax County staff met with the residents to discuss a proposal to build affordable and workforce units, and a multi-level garage at the site via a public-private partnership.
The overwhelming majority of the public voiced disapproval of the proposal for the lot, located at the corner of Lawyers Road and Reston Parkway, at Wednesday night's meeting at Fox Mill Elementary. One of the main points of contention was the lack of information available to the residents of the area.
"When are we going to have an official say, and who is going to represent us in this process," asked Mike McDermott.
Cathy Muse, the director of the Fairfax County Department of Purchasing and Supply Management, explained that county staff was not allowed to discuss the details of the proposal until the Board of Supervisors votes the contract through to the zoning process. "Negotiation is a closed practice until the contract is awarded in Virginia, by practice and statute," said Muse.
Hudgins added that the proposal has its level of confidentiality, and the details of how many units would be built, and what percentage of those units would be sold or rented at affordable or workforce rates, could not be disclosed yet. However, she said the proposal is just a proposal, and is nowhere near approval for actual building.
"What it has to go through is a zoning process," said Hudgins. "There is no approval until it goes through that process." Hudgins added that the zoning process is an open process, and that awarding the contract is contingent upon it.
The proposal, submitted on behalf of Edgemoor Real Estate Services, Clark Construction and Davis Carter Scott asks that those companies partner with Fairfax County to design, develop, construct, and finance a workforce housing, transit-oriented, development. Muse said the county staff determined the proposal to be a viable one under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, and that now it is considering who the selected developer could be. She added that staff had not yet determined what recommendation it will make to the Board of Supervisors — whether the proposal should be voted through to the zoning process or not.
HUDGINS OPENED the meeting saying that the Board of Supervisors has made it a priority to create more affordable housing in Fairfax County. A way of alleviating the lack of such housing is to use public land in Public-Private Partnerships.
John Payne, a member of county's Department of Housing and Community Development, said developers could produce more affordable housing if they built on free land. He cited figures released by George Mason University that show land values and cost of living increased dramatically in Northern Virginia between 1999 and 2004. The home prices grew by 84 percent, while healthcare costs increased by 19 percent. "Home ownership practically [became] impossible for moderate income families," he said. "Significant numbers of residents are having to commute from farther and farther away," creating unprecedented traffic congestion. Payne added that due to the rising costs of living, the issue of affordable housing is quickly becoming a middle class issue.
The only resident at the meeting who did not speak against the proposal identified herself as a housing advocate. She said that the majority of the people at the meeting are in favor of more affordable housing, as long as it is somewhere away from their homes.
RESIDENTS OF THE AREA, however, did not see the proposal as a housing issue. While some of them commented that affordable housing in the area would bring their home values down, others argued their contention is added density, not affordable housing.
"I don't care if we build million dollar condos, we don't need more people here," said Dave Kidd, a local youth baseball and basketball coach. He said that fields and gyms are already hard to come by, and that more people would mean even less space for the youth using those resources.
Sue Bowman reiterated that Hudgins and the county staff had made excellent points on affordable housing, but that the issue is about density. She said the proposal is completely out of context in that neighborhood, and that the Board of Supervisors should move to protect established neighborhoods. Bowman said she was mostly frustrated with the way the proposal was handled in terms of public input. "The bid was closed on Oct. 2, so why can't the public evaluate it," she asked.
McDermott echoed the frustration with the process, and said the residents had started losing trust that Hudgins would represent their interests when the matter is brought before the Board of Supervisors. Some of the residents asked Hudgins when her seat would be up for election, knowing that the Board of Supervisors elections were coming up at the end of 2007. McDermott said the proposal was first brought to Hudgins's attention in November 2005, and that the local residents first heard about it in a letter dated in July. He added that the proposal would bring a lot of additional traffic to an area already heavily impacted, especially during rush hour.