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Community in Transition

South County area tries to balance growth and preservation of past.

Spread out along the southwestern portion of Fairfax County, Clifton, Lorton and Fairfax Station blend old, rural neighborhoods with the promise of new development. Residents face an exciting, yet daunting challenge — how to maintain the traditions of its rural roots as it evolves into 21st century community.

The Challenge of Adapting

Converting a prison into a recreational area is proving to be no simple task. A chunk of the former Lorton Prison site was designated a historic district, where the existing structures are to be reused but must be preserved if at all feasible. The county sent out a request for proposals to develop the “adaptive reuse” portion of the property and received responses from only two developers. Both were rejected. Proposals for the development of a sportsplex and an equestrian center were rejected by the Fairfax County Park Authority as economically unfeasible.

However, the county and citizen groups involved in the planning are taking it all as a learning experience. The county will now solicit a master developer — a firm that will help lay out a step-by-step plan for realizing its vision for redevelopment. The request for proposals from master developers will be posted by September 2007, and a master plan is expected within six to eight months after the firm is hired.

Much of the Lorton landfill is slated to be buried and made into parkland, and the Laurel Hill Golf Course just opened. Also planned for the site is a Cold War Museum, a senior living facility and …

The Lorton Arts Center

The final plan for the center, dubbed The Workhouse for the former correctional facility in which it is housed, calls for artist studios, an art gallery and exhibition space, a prison museum, theater and performing arts studios, a multipurpose events center, a visitor and community heritage center, an artist colony, an indoor/outdoor performance center and administrative offices, as well as two upscale restaurants. Most of these will be created by renovating existing buildings.

The county’s Department of Management and Budget, the Economic Development Authority and Wachovia Bank collaborated with the Lorton Arts Foundation to create a plan for the county to back the foundation in applying for bond financing. The arts complex will ultimately support itself through a variety of programs.

Fairfax County recently won an award from the National Association of Counties for the project’s vision and for its financing plan. In July 2007, world-famous dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov agreed to sit on an advisory panel to the foundation’s board, as did concert pianist Pedja Muzigevic. Baryshnikov will also perform in the center’s unfinished theater for a fund-raiser at the Lorton Arts Center Sept. 28 and 29, 2007

In the spring, the foundation began providing a few education programs and exhibits at the center. With renovations now underway, those classes are being temporarily moved to the nearby Shoppes of Lorton Valley. The programs, which will begin again in early August, include six-week courses and weekend workshops.

South County Middle School When?

Even after the recent struggle over the South County Secondary School boundary, the school is still facing overcrowding problems. The county has plans to confront the issue by building a South County Middle School nearby to take two grades off the secondary school’s hands, but not for another 10 or 11 years. The Fairfax County School Board’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) has the middle school slated to begin construction in 2018.

Meanwhile, residents have been raising money themselves to fund the school.

At a meeting last summer, Del. Dave Albo (R-42) suggested to U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) that the federal government could sell a piece of its land to a private developer eager to move to, for example, the Engineering Proving Ground (EPG), where thousands of jobs will be transferred in the next five years. The money could then be used to help fund the school.

Davis has been looking at the EPG, as well as sites around Lorton area.

If residents and officials manage to get the school built ahead of schedule, it will not be the only school in its area born early. The secondary school was also built ahead of schedule, and $5 million that was added to the School Board's CIP will allow the new Laurel Hill Elementary School to open a year early in 2009.

Preparing for BRAC

The federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 2005 has caused great distress among the residents and elected representatives of southern Fairfax County by ordering the jobs of 22,500 Army and Department of Defense (DOD) personnel to be relocated to the area, in addition to the 22,000 such jobs already being filled at Fort Belvoir, by September 2011.

In July 2007, the Army released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), examining the possible means for and effects of moving so many jobs into the area. Little was altered from the draft statement released in March. The “preferred alternative” for distributing the jobs still places the majority of them on Fort Belvoir's main campus and the rest on the Army's 805-acre Engineer Proving Ground (EPG) in Springfield, located between Rolling Road and Interstate 95, south of the Franconia Springfield Parkway.

The 70-acre General Services Administration (GSA) site just south of Springfield Mall is not mentioned in this alternative, although negotiations are under way at the federal level to bring the GSA into the plan, in order to alleviate the strain that would otherwise be put on roads around the Proving Ground. The GSA site also has the potential to be made easily Metro-accessible. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is currently drafting a letter regarding the omission of the GSA from the statement, as well as other grievances.

All parties agree that an array of costly improvements will have to be made to local roads, although the question of who will pay for what is still being debated. Most local politicians still insist that the Army will pay for most, if not all, of the upgrades. One of the biggest improvements that will be necessary is the long-awaited construction of about two miles of the Fairfax County Parkway that will run through the Proving Ground, which currently splits the Parkway in two.

The state has already set aside about $87 million for the Parkway's completion. The Army has determined that the additional traffic caused by BRAC will necessitate a previously unplanned $50 million interchange on the new stretch of the Parkway and has certified that the state is eligible to receive those funds. Local and state politicians, however, would prefer to turn over the state's Parkway funding and let the Army handle the construction.

The discussion has been tabled, though, until the Proving Ground has passed standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the moment, the EPA has certified all but two small spots of the proving ground, totaling about an acre, which the Army is currently working to clean up.

Longtime Supervisor Steps Down

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is about to lose its elder. In December, Springfield District Supervisor Elaine McConnell will retire from public service. After 24 years, she has sat on the board longer than any of her fellow supervisors.

McConnell has lived in Springfield since 1961. She was running a series of preschools she had started herself, called the Accotink Academy, when former Supervisor Jack Herrity approached her and asked her to run for the board.

She made transportation one of her highest priorities, and she always prided herself on putting her constituents before politics. A lifelong Republican, she upset her fellow party members on the board in the early 2000s by supporting a bill that would have raised the sales tax by one penny to fund transportation. She also was particularly fond and supportive of the Fairfax County Police Department.

She has said that in retirement, she plans to finish writing a book she started years ago.

After the Flood

Plans to repair flood damage to the Acacia Lodge and Buckley Bridge, both situated along Pope's Head Creek in Clifton, are under way, although the bridge will be completed well before the lodge. Both were damaged when the creek overflowed after 12 inches of rain fell over the course of four days in June 2006.

A grant from FEMA will cover most of the repairs to the bridge, which was rendered unusable by rushing water, which damaged one of its abutments. The town posted a bid for contractors for the bridge repairs July 6, 2007 and expects to execute a contract by Aug. 6. The projected completion date is Oct. 1, and the town has a strong interest in finishing the repairs in October because without the bridge, which is the only means of access to Buckley Park, Clifton will be unable to stage its annual Haunted Trail event in the park.

Repairing the lodge, which is the meeting place for Masonic District No. 4, will be a bigger job. Its foundation and interior were damaged by rushing water that flooded the building by a depth of three feet. The plan is to move the building onto the neighboring property while the foundation is rebuilt. Water will be able to flow through the new foundation, which will raise the building about three feet. The floor will also be replaced and new wall coverings installed in the first story, and a new front porch will be added.

This much has been approved by the town's Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission, and the Town Council will take a vote on it in early August. A second phase of refurbishment and improvement, which would include building another story on the building's rear in addition, has not yet been approved due to concerns about setbacks.

Lodge members plan to seek a contractor in the fall, after they have raised enough money to cover the cost of construction.

Election Season

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, members of the Virginia General Assembly and Fairfax County School Board members are all up for election this November, as are four other county officials, although several of candidates are running unopposed. In the Springfield District, Pat Herrity (R) and Mike McClanahan (D) are vying for the seat of Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R), who is stepping down. Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) is being challenged by independent candidate Bruce H. Ryan. Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) is being challenged by two candidates, Gary H. Baise (R) and Glenda Gail Parker (I).

In the House of Delegates 40th District, Del. Tim Hugo (R) is being challenged by Rex Simmons (D). Running unopposed are Del. David W. Marsden (D-41) and Del. Dave Albo (R-42).

In the State Senate 39th District, Sen. James K. “Jay” O'Brien (R) is being challenged by George Barker (D). Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller (D-36) is running unopposed.

On the Fairfax County School Board, Christopher E. Volkstorf, James “Jim” Raney, Martina A. “Tina” Hone, Paul A. Constantino, Ralph M. Cooper Jr. and Christian N. Braunlich are challenging two incumbents, Stephen “Steve” Hunt and Ilryong Moon for three at-large seats. In the Springfield District, Elizabeth T. “Liz” Bradsher and Ramona W. Morrow are vying for the seat of Catherine “Cathy” Belter, who is stepping down. Running unopposed is Daniel G. “Dan” Storck in the Mount Vernon District.

Patrick A. McDade (R) and Raymond F. Morrogh (D) are facing off for the seat of Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan. David H. Miller (D) and Joseph P. Oddo (I) are challenging Clerk of Court John T. Frey. Daphne D. Sahlin and Johna Good Gagnon are challenging incumbents Sally B. Ormsby and John W. Peterson for three seats on the state Soil and Water Conservation Board.