In the first meeting of the new year, Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) once again reaffirmed his dedication to keeping the redevelopment of the Lorton prison site a public process.
About 25 residents attended a meeting at the South County Secondary School Tuesday, Jan. 3, to discuss the out-of-turn amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. The amendment establishes guidelines for the redevelopment of the 3,200-acre site of the former Lorton prison.
“This document is not an easy one to go through,” said Hyland. Drafted by the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning staff over the past year, the 35-page document outlines recommendations on how the site should be developed based on the results of the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force, which presented its ideas to the Board of Supervisors in December 2004.
Following a brief overview of the amendment by Charlene Fuhrman-Schulz, a member of the county’s planning staff, residents were given the opportunity to raise questions about the document, which included specific guidelines for adaptive reuse of some of the existing buildings from the prison along with ideas for mixed-use retail development in a town center format.
Hyland said his office has already received some feedback from residents regarding a fire station, originally planned for five acres on the south side of Furnace Road between Hooes and Lorton roads. Some residents were questioning the need for the fire station because of the Crosspointe Station, which will be completed later this year.
The need for a second fire station is still being considered, Hyland said, and the site may be changed depending on what neighbors of the station want.
“We are still in the draft stage for this amendment,” Hyland said. “This meeting tonight is an opportunity for the community to provide comments to our staff about changes they’d like to see to the Comprehensive Plan.”
DURING THE writing of the amendment, special attention was paid to the language used, Fuhrman-Schulz said. “We have been working with various Laurel Hill tasks forces since 1995,” she said. “We tried our best to make the language of the amendment reflect what the task forces recommended.”
As the chairman of the Laurel Hill Project Advisory Citizens Oversight Committee, Tim Sargeant thanked Hyland for the opportunity to discuss the amendment before the Board of Supervisors voted to take action and prior to the release of the Request for Proposals. That will be sent to developers within the next month to recruit ideas for the redevelopment of the property.
“We hope for a variety of uses that will take into consideration the future of the area,” Sargeant said. Ideally, proposals will take the entire Laurel Hill site into consideration, instead of piecemeal developments that lack the “synergy” needed to create “a sense of community,” he said.
Plans for the reuse of the Reformatory building, for example, were based on the community’s vision of a residential area, complete with loft apartment space for the artist who will be working at the Lorton Art Foundation’s studios, Sargeant said. Behind the Reformatory, a village center is planned, featuring office space, restaurants and a small shopping center.
Planning Commissioner Laurie Frost-Wilson (At-large) asked Sargeant how this village center would be different from other retail centers being built in the Lorton area.
“Is there a potential to include language that would ensure a more unique mix of small businesses,” she asked, concerned that another shopping center anchored by a grocery store would create a lack of retail options that may lead to empty stores after a few years. “If we’re considering magnate housing for lower-income workers, maybe we could apply the same concept to the business we attract to the village center.”
Hyland said it was “helpful” for the community to “express what it would hope to find in a retail area. If the community has an interest in having certain types of businesses here, we need to incorporate language into the amendment that would encourage that,” he said.
Lorton resident Tom Husband said restricting or requesting certain types of businesses may reduce the number of developers that would otherwise be interested in responding to the RFP.
“We don’t want to see us box ourselves into something we could regret later,” he said.
It is important for residents to remember that many of the guidelines incorporated in the amendment were established by the Memorandum of Agreement established by the Board of Supervisors and the federal government when the prison was transferred to the county in the late 1990s, Hyland said. The county’s Comprehensive Plan and the out-of-turn amendment to it will act as a guideline for the development of the property, but interpretation of that document will be influenced by the MOA as well.
“Between now and when the final draft comes out, I’m sure there will be changes made to the language,” Hyland said.