No Change on Hunter Mill

No Change on Hunter Mill

Task Force formally endorses no change in density, advocates recognition of history along Hunter Mill.

After months of study, John Ulfelder, chair of the Hunter Mill Task Force, got the chance to say: “We are moving into the section called task force recommendations.”

The 20-member group was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to study a roughly 300-acre area surrounding the intersection of Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads.

The group has been meeting since June to make recommendations about the future of the largely undeveloped piece of land. The area is the edge of low-density green buffer surrounding Reston, designed to keep the higher densities of Reston from creeping to other parts of the county.

During Fairfax County’s state-mandated review of its Comprehensive Plan, developers WCI/Renaissance and K. Hovnanian proposed a large, mixed-use development with an overall density of eight houses per acre, 16 times the currently allowed density of one house per two acres. This was the latest in a string of proposals to increase the density on the land, stretching back for about 20 years. Each time, the proposal has been rejected.

This time, the Board of Supervisors convened the Special Study Task force to develop recommendations. The task force was not limited in what it could discuss, but the topic frequently came back to the developer’s proposal.

During a two-part community visioning exercise, about 500 area residents came to speak against any change to the plan. Some spoke in favor of increasing the density, but many who did have a tie to the development team.

THE TASK FORCE largely listened to the residents. During their Jan. 4 meeting at Lake Anne Elementary School in Reston, the group went through a draft set of recommendations parsing each paragraph.

What had been a contentious issue during the discussion, that of increasing the allowable density, was soundly rejected. The task force approved a recommendation that there be no increase in the density.

This point was reinforced as it also rejected a call to add an option for higher density, up to one house per acre. “We’ve already discussed this as a task force that we weren’t going to have any change to the Comprehensive Plan,” said Sheryl Markham, a task force member. “Therefore, [higher density] has no validity.”

“We’ve spent all evening saying, ‘No change,’” said Jody Bennett, a task force member.

The group, however, did recommend some changes. It suggest adding text to the plan which recognizes that Hunter Mill Road has historic value. It also suggested that areas with orange soil, which may indicate the presence of naturally occurring asbestos, be added to the county’s zoning map in an effort to notify homeowners of its presence.

The group also suggested that realigning the interchange of the Dulles Toll Road and Hunter Mill Road again become a priority for VDOT, and suggested using alternative alignments which had already been developed.

Each of the suggestions was voted on in turn and all passed by comfortable margins – typically only three or four dissenters out of the 16 present. The group will meet once more to look at the entire product, after incorporating all of the changes made during the meeting.

The report will then be submitted to the Board of Supervisors which will have to decide if it wishes to adopt any of the suggested changes. Any proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan would need to have a formal public hearing before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

What is likely to be the final meeting of the Hunter Mill Task Force is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m. at South Lakes High School.