After months of discussion and several contentious meetings, concerned citizens, members of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Environment Parks and Recreation committee and Fairfax County staff and officials have reached an accord on the renovation design plans for McLean’s Dolley Madison Library.
Fairfax County staff presented the public with the county’s proposed renovation plans for McLean’s community library in January. Despite the county’s assertion that the renovated structure would be an environmentally friendly “green” building, an ensuing analysis of the project by the McLean Citizens Association Environment Parks and Recreation committee ended with its members concluding that the project fell short — in both the preservation of valuable trees and green space, and in the improvement of the site’s existing storm water runoff problems, which have already caused extensive erosion to the nearby Dead Run stream valley in McLean Central Park.
“The current practices are just not aggressive enough to ebb the deterioration of our streams and get them back on track for remediation,” said Charles Willmott, co-chair of the Environment Parks and Recreation committee, after a recent community meeting on the community library project.
While many citizens are enthusiastically in favor of the much needed library renovations — which will include more public access, computers with reliable and updated infrastructure, wireless network access, updated furniture, increased seating, a larger children’s area, a larger community room, a security gate, an additional conference room, a “Quiet Study Room,” a “Group Study Room,” upgraded handicap accessible restroom facilities and more adequate workspace for library staff and volunteers — many others expressed unhappiness with the fact that the county had not sought citizen input prior to coming up with a total design proposal for the library renovation.
Whit Field, a local resident who has lived a few blocks from Dolley Madison Library for the last 25 years and walks the area around the library, the McLean Community Center and McLean Central Park daily, said not once did he see “a public notice advising that such a major incursion into the park was planned.”
“Like everyone I’ve talked to in the community lately, I very much want the library project to go forward,” said Field. “However, we are greatly concerned about the complete lack of community input and participation in the process. When we expressed that concern to the county planners recently, we were told that community involvement in such projects was not appropriate until the 2232 [public] hearing. That is after all the planning has taken place, and the design — like in this case — cast in ‘concrete.’”
Field added that it was only after he and several other citizen volunteers on the Middle Potomac Watershed Steering committee noticed trees near the library and the Dead Run stream buffer “marked for what appeared to be removal,” that they realized what kind of impact the library renovation might have on the surrounding green space.
“Upon inquiry, we were informed the library expansion was going to remove 114 mature trees, mostly from county parkland,” said Field. “It was only then that the extent of the impact to the park and the stream valley was made known to several involved citizens in the community, and the McLean Citizens Association Environment Parks and Recreation committee started to become involved.”
FIELD, Willmott and several other concerned citizens voiced their complaints and concerns to county staff at various community meetings over the last few months. Although the staff members working on the project were initially reluctant to change the design plan they had already crafted and approved according to County Code, the intervention of Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois helped to navigate the frustrating discussion to an agreeable compromise between all parties involved.
On Thursday, Aug. 9, a team composed of staff from the Fairfax County Department of Public Works, the Fairfax County Park Authority, DuBois’ office and local citizens met to discuss several alternative library site plans. According to staff from DuBois’ office, the group convened with three goals in mind: to reduce tree loss, especially in the sensitive area nearest the stream, to improve the storm water retention on site, and to incorporate use of porous pavement where possible.
“I pushed the county staff to go above and beyond their usual practices to work cooperatively with citizens, to include more innovative storm water techniques, and to minimize the tree loss,” said DuBois in a press release on the matter. “At one point, I threatened to break out the old grade school ruler — I’m told the planning staff has a ruler with my name on it in case I need to use it in the future. We declared a victory on the plan but there’s a lot of work to do to see if these recommendations will work for the site.”
In the newly agreed upon plan, the grove of trees closest to Dead Run stream that were slated for removal will be preserved. This will be achieved by relocating parking for the supervisor’s office from behind the library to an existing parking area off of Oak Ridge Drive, which will be expanded to serve both the office and the park users. Also included in the new plan are several storm water management techniques that will reduce the runoff that flows into Dead Run stream. While the original plan did call for the use of multiple rain gardens that would retain storm water on the site, the new plan will also make use of porous pavement and/or pavers in the parking areas, as well as additional vegetative filter boxes that will handle runoff from the building and the pavement.
Willmott said he is “thrilled” with the progress that was made at last Thursday’s meeting.
“The new plan as now conceived will preserve highly valued parkland, save many mature trees that were slated for removal, and dramatically improve the storm water runoff from the library site into Dead Run — a ‘win-win-win’ for the environment, the McLean community, and the county,” said Willmott. “Supervisor DuBois' leadership and support of the MCA's suggested site plan changes has made a huge difference in motivating the county to act quickly after months of resistance. While we are still formulating a final plan that is acceptable to all parties, I believe that we are all now moving in the same positive direction."
DuBois said she is also seeking implementation of a stream restoration project in conjunction with the planned library renovation.
“I have asked the McLean Community Center to consider contributing to the stream restoration effort by funding the remaining 1,200 feet or so of stream that would improve Dead Run all the way to Churchill Road,” said DuBois. “The MCC is also looking at storm water improvements on their site and coordinating this work with the library and stream projects. The library, supervisor’s office, community center and the park are working together to improve the site as a whole.”