North Hill Debate Remains Open

North Hill Debate Remains Open

Affordable housing and vanishing open space: a fork in the road for task force.

Following a parliamentary scuffle, Mount Vernon District Area Plan Review Task Force decided to stick with their original vote of 19-6-1 to recommend that the North Hill site be maintained as a public park, as recommended under the current plan. A motion to reconsider that vote was defeated 17-10-2.

However, the battle between open space and affordable housing forces is far from over concerning future use of the 33 acre site at Lockheed Boulevard and Dart Drive along Richmond Highway. If all goes as suggested by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland it will be back on the table following an anticipated deferral by the County Planning Commission.

Prior to the Task Force's Tuesday night meeting at the Mount Vernon Government Center on Parker's Lane, Hyland thanked them for their efforts in reviewing the 37 proposals nominated for change and commended them for their "incredible work" and "doing the right thing for the people of Mount Vernon District."

Then he turned his attention to one of the most long-standing and controversial proposals on the list, the North Hill out-of-plan review. Current plan language recommends a mix of development and treed park land.

Those advocating for affordable housing see the site as a potential for low cost mobile homes. Open space advocates see it as "the last potential open space" along Richmond Highway from the Capital Beltway to Fort Belvoir.

The latter group has argued throughout the Task Force deliberations that this site is serving as a recreation/open space area for many low income residents in the immediate vicinity. They also have argued that this is "not the right spot" for affordable housing, that there are better locations in the area.

At the present time there is an approximate 12 acre mobile home park at the site. Known as Woodley Hills Estates it contains 100 plus units.

There is also the concern that the site contains marine clay. Such soil tends to remain unstable due to retaining moisture. In order to stabilize the land for additional mobile home pads construction

would have to be far more extensive than is normally the case. Pads in Woodley Hills Estates cost approximately $90,000 each, according to Task Force deliberations.

"I've heard some very pertinent questions asked around this table pertaining to North Hill. But, I do not have a feeling of comfort

about these deliberations," Hyland told the group.

"The bottom line is that when this nomination comes to the Planning Commission it should be deferred so that all the questions and recommendations can be pulled together. I think we need to do this to make an informed decision on this subject," he said.

"My intent will be to ask the Task Force to reconvene after the action by the Planning Commission to reconsider this matter. But I want you to vote tonight and express your feelings," he said. That was short circuited by the defeat of the motion to reconsider.

HYLAND ALSO ACKNOWLEDGED that he had received a petition on North Hill with 870 signatures calling for the site to be used as affordable housing. "Seventy eight percent of those signatures are from the Mount Vernon District. The rest are from somewhere else," Hyland said.

That petition was circulated by Ventures In Community, a multidenominational group of churches active in providing social services to low income and homeless citizens within Southeast

Fairfax County. Entitled "Housing on North Hill," it asks the Task Force and Hyland "to support a change to the County's Comprehensive Plan that will permit construction of the maximum feasible housing units on North Hill property for middle and low income households."

The petition makes the following points:

North Hill was bought in 1981 by Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority using federal money that was designated specifically for affordable housing.

Ownership by RHA makes the land cost zero

Housing will be affordable for a range of income levels, "to include essential workers as well as middle income workers in health care, teaching, police, and fire industries, and the general service industry."

It is intended that the plan for a housing development of North Hill will also include "the development of an attractive park for people living on Route 1 and for the preservation of mature trees."

he petition has triggered a letters-to-the-editor battle between

the Reverend Keary Kincannon, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, and co-chair of VIC, and Martin Tillett, member of the Task Force and officer of the Spring Bank Community Association.

In his letter, published in the March 16 edition of the Gazette, Kincannon accused both the Task Force and the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations of preferring "trees over low-income families." He also accused the two groups of being "unwilling to move toward any solution" of the affordable housing dilemma.

This brought forth a cutting response from Tillett who characterized Kincannon's letter as a "diatribe against two Mount Vernon Citizens Groups over their decision to preserve the last parcel of forested open space on Richmond Highway between Alexandria and Fort Belvoir."

Kincannon fired back Tuesday night stating, "He (Tillett) spoke like I had not earned a place at the table to get involved in the community process. I guess he doesn't know that in the hat I wear as Co-chair of Ventures in Community, we have a 30 year history of being involved in the community. Not to mention I have been a member of this community since 1966 and a graduate of Fort Hunt High School."

Shannon Steene, executive director, Good Shepherd Housing, had the following response to Tillett's letter, according to Kincannon:

"In short, VIC has earned a spot at the table over more than 30 years of varied and diverse service. From caring for the disadvantaged to promoting culture in the community. Participating in the North Hill debate is just a natural extension of this active, involved presence in the Richmond Highway community."

In a March 27 letter to the editor which the Gazette received too late for the print deadline, Kincannon states, "If Mr. Tillett or other members of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations and the Area Plan Review Task Force think I have maligned their integrity I want to state that was not the intention of my comments. The issue is not about their personal integrity or mine. The issue is about keeping promises that affect the low-come members of our community.

"I agree with Mr. Tillett and all those who are calling for a housing summit. The problem is immense and will not be solved by any decision concerning North Hill or any other single site."

If Hyland's proposal to the Planning Commission to delay any decision on North Hill comes about the Task Force and other parties will have a chance to look not only at this site but also the big picture. As Hyland told the Task Force, "I think we need to do this to make an informed decision."