Sign of the Times

Sign of the Times

Developer's APR nomination could change the look of one Springfield neighborhood.

Seven houses line Casperson Road in Springfield. The small, traditional neighborhood, just off Beulah Street, consists mostly of one story homes, on lots ranging from half an acre to two acres in size. At the end of the street, where a “dead end” sign used to stand, a townhouse community has become a sign of things to come.

The owners of the seven Casperson Road properties and three adjoining lots on Beulah Street are part of an Area Plans Review nomination to consolidate the neighborhood, increasing the density from one to two dwelling units per acre to three to four dwelling units per acre, with a possibility of as many as five to eight units per acre if plots of land are consolidated. If town homes are built, that could mean as many as five to eight dwelling units per acre could replace the single family homes.

WITH THREE school-aged children, Thomas Smith purchased his lot, a little over .75 of an acre, for its proximity to Metro, shopping and his children’s school, and just about a mile from Fort Belvoir.

“We bought this land to build our home on,” said Smith, who recently retired from the U.S. Army.

Smith was standing in front of his two-story house, which is still under construction. “This is the third house I’ve built and it’s the largest,” he said. “When you’ve got kids, you want to make sure you have the room.”

If the nomination, submitted by attorney Lynne Strobel for JCE Inc., is approved, Smith’s house will still stand the way he is building it. However, half of his property will be taken by JCE for whatever development they plan.

“My house is consistent with what they intend to build here,” Smith said, adding that he is in favor of the nomination.

Much like the rest of Fairfax County, Smith said he expects the value of his property to increase in value, especially if higher density housing is introduced to the quiet neighborhood.

“Some of my neighbors have been paying taxes on their homes for a long time, and since the taxes keep going up, that’s a negative,” he said.

Before building his new home, Smith said he first had to tear down the house that was on the lot. He looked at the property as an investment, one he knows will increase in value. Some of his neighbors are taking advantage of the potential for cashing in and selling their homes.

“The consensus is that selling makes good sense right now,” Smith said. “Most people recognize they’re selling their house for the value of the land.”

If the nomination is approved, Smith is sure there will be “100 percent turnover” in his neighborhood.

“I think most people who live here believed their houses were more of an investment than the place they’d retire in,” he said.

JUST DOWN the street, Maury Church has lived in his home, a white ranch-style house with a bright blue door on two acres of land, since 1988. A yellow “for sale” sign sits on his front yard.

“I think it’s inevitable,” he said of his neighborhood’s redevelopment. “They need more housing here, especially with all the jobs moving into [Fort] Belvoir.”

Church believes the impact of the 20,000 military and civilian employees that will be relocated to Fort Belvoir as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s orders from last summer play a big role in the neighborhood consolidation application.

“From a transportation point of view, I think it makes sense,” he said of bringing more housing into the area. “The county just put in a trail that leads from the street to the Metro station. It makes sense to put more houses here.”

Church moved to Springfield in the 1970s, before either Springfield Mall or the Springfield-Franconia Metro station were built. The area was mostly woods, with a few houses scattered here and there.

“I’m comfortable with the idea of selling the house now,” Church said. “I’ve dealt with developers who wanted to buy the place before, and I didn’t like the way they approached it. I think this is a good situation now.”

Casperson Road is surrounded on two sides by townhouse communities, which, Church said, have changed the feel of the area.

“This isn’t a neighborhood anymore,” he said. “This was a dead-end street when I moved here. The whole area is different than when I moved in, but that’s how Fairfax County is now. I’m not sure what the developer is going to do with the neighborhood … that’s between the developer and the county.”

Still, Church is prepared to leave his house and move to a different place in Springfield.

“I don’t need all this space anymore,” he said. “Plus, I’m tired of raking leaves.”

ACROSS THE STREET from Church, in a tall, red-brick two story house, Kenton Pham was replacing a light bulb on the front of the place he’s called home for more than a decade.

“I’ve lived here for 13 years and I plan to stay,” Pham said, “at least until my children get out of college.”

He, like Church, has seen big changes in their neighborhood over the years, the most recent being some redevelopment near a 7-Eleven on Beulah Street, just down the road.

“The value of my home has increased significantly in the past few years and, in my opinion, I pay too much in taxes,” he said.

Pham said he’s in favor of the nomination and wouldn’t mind seeing some new homes in the neighborhood, so long as the developer brings in more single family homes.

“We have so many town homes here, we don’t need anymore,” he said. Pham's house, on half an acre of land, sits right next to the Amberleigh town home community, and since it was built, he’s had more traffic to deal with every morning.

“Sunday is the only day it’s quiet here,” he said. “When I moved here 13 years ago, this was a quiet street.”

Putting a few more single family homes on each acre would make more sense than building another townhouse community, Pham said. “I think it would be much more crowded. In general terms, it’s better to put more single family homes in this area,” he said.

THE 10 ACRES included in the nomination will serve as a transitional space, bridging the high density residential and commercial area to the north with a more rural, lower density area to the south, said Strobel, a lawyer with Walsh Colucci that submitted the nomination on behalf of JCE, Inc.

“We’re currently thinking a combination of townhouses, single family attached and detached, transitioning from the higher density near Metro to lower density near the more rural area," she said of plans for the neighborhood.

Strobel said it is important to remember the nomination is still in the planning stage and any changes to the community are not going to happen overnight.

“If the nomination is approved, we still have to go through the rezoning process and the process of subdividing lots,” she said.

HOMEOWNERS ARE NOT being forced out of their homes, Strobel said. “It’s going to be their choice, if they want to stay or move out. If an owner wants to join in the assemblage of properties, they’d have the opportunity to join, or they can sell their property. It’s up to them.”

Given the higher density along Beulah Street, near the Kingstowne Shopping Center and by the Metro station, “this is a standard nomination,” Strobel said. “It fits into the context of the surrounding area. The nomination makes a lot of sense when you look at the development in the same area.”

That argument may not hold much weight with the Lee District Land Use Advisory Council.

Claiming that higher density development is needed in that part of Springfield is "one of those arguments that make sense on first glance," said Paul Gagnon, chair of the council. "They need a better argument. We have enough density in that area right now, they have to provide something more to the community to it better."

Adding provisions to help reduce traffic problems that come with increased density or making monetary contributions to other projects may help, Gagnon said.

"The APR committee meetings sometimes look like a circus," he said. "Sometimes it seems like people are playing 'Let's Make a Deal.'"

The Casperson Road nomination is scheduled to go before the Lee District APR Task Force in April, Strobel said.