Tough Crowd in Lee District

Tough Crowd in Lee District

Citizen task force rejects most proposals to change Comprehensive Plan.

Rick Neel had much better luck the week before. When his proposal to change the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan at the northern end of Richmond Highway came before a group of citizens in Mount Vernon, it was welcomed.

But this time, the head of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation had suggested a change to the Comprehensive Plan for the Woodlawn Manor Apartments on Richmond Highway at Frye Road. This proposal, along with most of the proposals in the Lee District, was rejected by both county planners and the community.

Neel's proposal would increase the permitted residential density and allow for a mixed-use development, as well. The current plan does not provide sufficient economic incentive for changing the area. "Our intent with the nomination is to encourage redevelopment of two aging garden apartment complexes," Neel said. "It's not in the best interests of the county to allow these to deteriorate."

Neel’s proposal came as part of Fairfax County’s review of its Comprehensive Plan. According to state law, every locality must review its plan every five years. Fairfax’s does this through the Area Plans Review process. Beginning last year, residents, developers and property owners in the Springfield, Mount Vernon, Mason, Lee and Braddock magisterial districts could submit proposals, known as nominations, to change the plan. There are no restrictions on what can be suggested.

The county’s Department of Planning and Zoning and a citizen task force then analyze the proposals. Often, proposals that are opposed by either county staff or the community are withdrawn. Others go on to the Planning Commission for a public hearing. Proposals rejected by the Planning Commission stop there. Proposals accepted by the commission go to the Board of Supervisors for an additional public hearing and final decision.

NEEL'S PROPOSAL, however, met with resistance from county planners, a citizen task force and at least one member of the Planning Commission.

Planners suggested that if approved, the houses could generate more children than the already overcrowded schools in the area could accommodate. They further said it could destabilize the low-density character of the area, and recommended denying the proposal.

A citizen task force agreed with county planners.

Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) said he was troubled that the proposal for redevelopment does not include any provisions for maintaining affordable housing.

Apartment complexes like this, de la Fe said, can often have low rents and can act as market-driven affordable housing.

Neel assured de la Fe verbally that their would be a commitment to workforce housing, and would include necessary affordable housing.

"It would have been nice if the nomination had said that," de la Fe replied.

Neel was not alone in rejection. Of the 30 proposals to come before the Lee District only six were recommended for approval. Of the six, three were editorial changes that would not have much impact on the land use.

Most of the rejected proposals called for increasing the allowable density on pieces of land across the district, particularly along Richmond Highway, Beulah Street and I-95.

The three nominations the task force supported would each encourage the development of two currently vacant parcels of land (one off I-95 and the other off Franconia Road), and the redevelopment of the 1950's-era Hunter Motel on Loisdale Road.

County planners had recommended rejecting the proposal for the Hunter Motel. The current plan calls for development in the area to support industrial uses, but the change which would add a new hotel, and potential a bank and restaurant would not do that.

However, area residents were in favor of the change, noting it could bring services, such as a bank, to the area. "We really welcome this," said Cynthia Smith of the Newington Civic Association.

As is standard in Area Plans Review cases, the Planning Commission deferred its decision to allow for additional time to study the nominations and to hear from the community.

The commission will conduct a “mark-up” session where it will discuss and decide on this, and all of the other nominations in all of the districts on Wednesday, July 26.