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Old Firehouse Moving?

McLean Teen Center may be forced to move if Old Firehouse property is sold to developer.

Lilla Richards is, and always has been, concerned about today's youth. She knows that being a teenager today is a far cry from what it was when she was growing up.

"When I was that age, we didn't have to deal with drugs, alcohol or sex," said Richards, a long time McLean resident, and former Dranesville district supervisor.

That is why Richards worked so hard to help establish a McLean Teen Center during her 1988-1991 tenure as Dranesville supervisor –– she wanted to create a safe after-school environment for local youth. The Teen Center, which is run by the McLean Community Center, is located in the Old Firehouse in downtown McLean, and is still in operation today.

However, construction company Clarke Ventures has been holding discussions with the McLean Community Center about the possibility of purchasing the Teen Center property for development, and Richards and others who were involved its creation have become concerned about the center's future.

"Developers have been trying to get their hands on that land and turn it into retail space for years," said McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board member Susan Turner.

According to current Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois, Clarke Ventures has been meeting with the McLean Community Center Board of Directors, but "no proposal has been submitted."

"I think that is one thing that is being misunderstood –– that there has been some sort of proposal –– but nothing has been submitted," said DuBois.

ONE FACTOR that may come into play is the McLean Planning Committee's goal to create a pedestrian friendly "Main Street Concept" for the downtown business district. This concept has been a long-time goal of the McLean Planning Committee, and was worked into the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan in 1988. DuBois said that she believes the Teen Center will have to be moved if the Main Street concept is to be realized.

"If it is done the way that it is in the plan, then it is my understanding that part of the building goes," said DuBois.

Scott Monett, President of the McLean Chamber of Commerce, is under the same impression as DuBois.

"It's my understanding that it's in the plan for it to go, but there's not a final resolution," said Monett. "Not everybody has agreed to that."

However, according to a Feb. 4, 1998 copy of the "McLean CBC Special Study" which lists the McLean Planning Committee and Fairfax County staff's proposed revisions to the Area II Comprehensive Plan for the McLean community business center, the Main Street concept is not designed to conflict with the Old Firehouse property. In Item 2, on page 27, it states that "the closure of the southern portion of Redmond Drive to vehicular traffic is recommended, provided that a landscaped pedestrian plaza is installed and connected to other pedestrian ways –– all development should respect the historic integrity of the existing 'Old Firehouse.'"

Lilla Richards also said the belief that the Main Street concept requires part of the Old Firehouse to be removed is incorrect.

"The McLean Planning Committee adopted this plan when I was supervisor, and nowhere in there does it say that the road goes through the Firehouse," said Richards.

Richards has looked at several editions of the McLean Planning Committee maps, and has found that in every one, "the Teen Center stays where it is."

Opinions on the future of the Teen Center are varied.

"There are three sides to this as I understand it," said Monett.

There are those who would like to keep the Teen Center where it is, those who would like to knock it down for retail development and those that would like to see a compromise.

"The third side is kind of a hybrid," said Monett. "The idea would be to preserve something of it and architecturally integrate the facade into the Main Street concept. Of course that would be a real challenge for an architect, but it would honor the people that worked to put it there."

DUBOIS SAID IF the Old Firehouse must be torn down, the Teen Center could potentially be moved to the McLean Community Center.

"There are new people on the McLean Community Center board, and they have a new executive director, so I have no idea what the current thinking is, but I think there are some people who would definitely like to build something near the library and the community center and make it sort of like a campus thing," said DuBois.

Lilla Richards said she thinks moving the Teen Center to the McLean Community Center Ingleside Avenue location would be a mistake.

"The Teen Center was originally located at the Community Center and it never succeeded in that location," said Richards. "Teens want to be where the action is. They want to be near the McDonalds, the drugstores and the coffee."

Richards added that the lack of pedestrian access to the Community Center also posed a problem.

"It is unsafe to cross [Route] 123 at Ingleside," she said. "We had kids from West McLean trying to get across there with their bikes."

However, Richards said that when it comes down to it, there is one group that truly deserves to have the final say.

"I happen to think that kids have rights, and I want them to ask the kids where they would like to have the Teen Center," said Richards. "I don't think anybody has asked them yet."