Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland made it quite clear last Thursday night at the opening of his information meeting on North Hill that the use of 11 acres of that site for affordable/workforce housing was "not an open issue."
Walking down the center aisle of the packed Community Room in the Mount Vernon Government Center he proclaimed, "Whether you like it or not the decision has been made. It's a done deal."
However, several irate citizens during the question and answer session of the two hour plus meeting challenged that assertion, accusing Hyland of arrogance and acting like a demagogue, making reference to the fact that he faces no viable opposition in his bid for reelection this Fall. Robin Goodman screamed at Hyland accusing him of "not listening to his constituents" who elected him.
As Hyland noted in his opening remarks, "In 20 years of representing Mount Vernon District residents there has never been any other subject that has divided people more than North Hill. There are people in this room tonight who feel that it should remain all wooded and open space. Others feel the County should follow through on total development," he said.
"I participated 20 years ago, before I was elected Supervisor, to have all of North Hill developed for housing. Fairfax County also made that commitment when they spent over $5 million to buy the site for the purpose of housing," Hyland said.
"However, the only part to get developed was Phase I. After that everything came to a halt because they ran into incredible problems with marine clay," he said.
That stumbling block still exists. And, in fact, is viewed by many opponents to placing additional housing on North Hill, as being a larger problem for the newly planned 11 acre development area than was experienced in Phase I. A proposal to override that problem was part of last Thursday's meeting.
Hyland admitted that the North Hill controversy reached a boiling point when he overrode the recommendations of the citizen task force, he had appointed, to maintain North Hill as open space for passive recreation uses. "That was the first time in 20 years I didn't agree with a task force I had appointed," Hyland said.
"Gerry made himself the decider not the citizens he appointed. It seems we've had enough problems with another self appointed decider," Goodman said.
THE PRESENT PROPOSAL is to develop 11 acres for affordable/workforce housing. The remaining 24 acres would be transferred to the Fairfax County Park Authority to be developed as a park, with the emphasis on passive recreation.
"This is not a question of open space versus housing. Both will be developed and I support that. People who want it all one way or the other are both unhappy with me. I guess that the nature of the business," Hyland said shrugging off criticism, which only seemed to further inflame many of those supporting open space preservation.
He was quick to point out however that this would not be the only meeting on the subject. "There will be as many meetings as you feel are needed. There will definitely be others to keep you informed on the progress of planning and developing the site," he said.
"At the next Board of Supervisors meeting we hope to approve the money necessary to hire a consultant to come up with recommendations on how this 11 acres should be developed. The whole purpose of this meeting is to start talking about how the site is to be developed," Hyland told the overflow crowd.
That Board of Supervisors voted 9 to 1 on Monday, Aug. 6 to award a contract to an engineering firm to study the 11-acre development project. However, that one hold out vote was Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. A portion of his district is directly across Richmond Highway from the North Hill site.
Kauffman has been opposed to placing additional housing on the site viewing it as "a social experiment that has gone bad in the past." His opposing vote on Monday was also significant in that it is rare that Hyland and Kauffman find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.
Hyland constantly refers to he and Kauffman being joined at the hip. However, Kauffman is not seeking re-election this fall, closing out 12 years as a District Supervisor. His Chief of Staff, Jeffrey C. McKay, is running to become Lee District's new Supervisor.
McKay is also opposed to placing new housing units on the North Hill site. "Neither Dana nor I support the concentration of affordable housing, creating exclusive affordable neighborhoods. A better solution is to provide affordable units in new construction projects that have a mix of incomes," McKay said.
"Kings Crossing is a great opportunity to provide these affordable units mixed in with other incomes, accessible retail space and community amenities in appreciating buildings. Putting manufactured housing on the last remaining greenspace on the highway adds injury to insult," McKay said.
"Saving the trees on this site should be a high County priority towards our goal of 45 percent tree canopy, an action of the BOS. Affordable housing should be mainstreamed and not set up in pockets along the highway which create additional resource problems for the County," he said
"One of those problems is the impact on Hybla Valley Elementary School which is already overcrowded. That is an example of why, even if the engineering study comes back with no significant problems, we will continue to oppose this development for a variety of social and environmental reasons," McKay said.
JOINING HYLAND in presenting plans for both the housing element and the parkland were representatives of Fairfax County Housing and Community Development (HCD) and the Park Authority. "We have been working on this for the last 12 to 18 months," said Rex Peters, HCD.
He also acknowledged that the marine clay was a problem that needed to be dealt with if housing was to be placed on the site. Thus far HCD has taken more than 40 core borings to analyze the extent of the marine clay. Peters put a price tag of $2 million, or approximately $31,000 for each of the planned 65 home sites, to mitigate that soil condition.
The problem with marine clay is that it never stabilizes, particular when subject to wet conditions. Structures on marine clay are subject to potential shifting throughout their existence, according to geological analysis.
When asked who would have occupancy preference for the new North Hill housing, Hyland said, "We always give preference to people who live and work in Fairfax County. However, we do not have the authority to place illegal aliens into those homes."
Cynthia Ianni, HCD, outlined the planning process that will be taking place over the next several months and the coordination with the Park Authority concerning their planning/development procedures. "We (HCD) and the Park Authority are working together on this entire project," Ianni assured the audience.
"Our planning process for park development normally takes about a year. However, this may be a little different because we will be part of this overall development plan," said Sandy Stallman of the Park Authority.
During the question and answer period, constituents raised concerns about how the marine clay embankment would be secured and what that would cost; how residents of the existing Penn Daw Mobile Home Park could make application to become residents of the new site; and whether double wide manufactured housing is actually the best design for the site, both environmentally and structurally.
It was suggested that several multi-story buildings would be better than single-story manufactured housing. The former would require less land and, therefore, preserve more trees and open space. "If we can sustain a slope of marine clay, we can certainly afford to preserve the trees," one speaker noted. Cost of sustaining that slope was estimated at $570,000 for a stepwall.
"You have set up this confrontation between two factions of your constituents," said Spring Bank Community Association Vice President Martin Tillett to Hyland. But, coming to Hyland's defense was the Rev. Keary Kincannon, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church.
"We need lots, lots, lots more affordable housing in this area. I didn't get what I want, for the entire site to be housing, but I support Gerry's compromise of part housing and part parkland," Kincannon said.
Hyland and the County representatives promised that this meeting was only the beginning. There will be others throughout the planning/development process. The next will be held in September. No date has been set at this time.