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Consensus, Conservation At Last

An agreement is reached on development along Scotts Run Road in McLean.

Over the course of the last seven years, the development of the residential tract of land off of Scotts Run Road in McLean has been planned and dropped more times than anyone cares to remember. But at long last, an agreement has finally been reached between the landowner, the McLean Land Conservancy and Fairfax County.

The 27-acre parcel of land that lies between Scotts Run Road and the Capital Beltway in McLean is owned by Lakshmi Desai, better known as “Lucky” to friends and acquaintances. The tract of land is a consolidation of parcels — some of which is 100-year-old flood plain, and some of which is Resource Protected Area, or RPA. In addition, there are parts of the land that are considered both RPA and flood plain. Subsequently, it is an area that has proven to be tricky to develop as approximately 15 acres of the land is protected, floodplain, or both.

Seven years ago, Pulte Homes submitted an application to build on the property, but their application was met with hostility as a result of the company’s failure to meet with surrounding neighbors to discuss the impact of the development. The application was subsequently dropped. Later, the Williamson Group, Inc. submitted an application to the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to develop homes at the site. This application also met with controversy as the Williamson Group plan consisted of gerrymandered lots claiming that the Beltway represented road frontage for some of the homes. And like Pulte Homes, the Williamson Group did not cooperate with the affected neighbors. The application was eventually rejected by the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

HOWEVER, since the rejection of the Williamson Group application, the situation improved and headway was made.

“We were trying to fully protect that natural stream valley, and fortunately, we found a sympathetic ear in Lucky,” said Adrienne Whyte, president of the McLean Land Conservancy.

Formed in 2000, the McLean Land Conservancy’s mission is “to promote and foster the preservation, protection, conservation and balanced use of the community’s unique natural, cultural, recreational and historical resources,” and lists its primary objective as “preserving open green space in the McLean area.” The McLean Land Conservancy also found a sympathetic ear in Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois. Given the layout of the Scotts Run tract, any residential development at all requires that Scotts Run Road be moved east of its current position. According to Adrienne Whyte, DuBois told developers that she would not support the required road relocation until the developers reached an amenable agreement with the McLean Land Conservancy.

AFTER MONTHS of debate and negotiation, a conservation easement and residential development plan was reached. A 17-acre conservation easement will be spread out among the backyard properties of the 18 luxury homes slated for development.

“So every backyard in these homes has part of the conservation easement in it,” said Whyte. “It makes it a little more difficult to monitor, but we were able to wrap the conservation easement so that it provides a buffer for these homes.”

The homes are being built by Alex Rouhani of AR Design Group, Inc. One of them is already complete, and the 10,000-square-foot residence is on the market for $3.5 million. Lucky Desai’s engineer Matt Marshall, vice president of Land Design Consultants, helped to figure out the best way to lay out the 18 homes among the conservation easement while still protecting the floodplain.

“It was extremely challenging,” said Marshall. “But it’s very exciting and I’ll be interested to see what it all looks like when it’s finished.”

McLean Land Conservancy Board member Beth Chung lives one neighborhood over from the Scotts Run development and said she and her neighbors are thrilled with the final outcome.

“The vast majority of my neighbors were concerned about the preservation of the stream,” said Chung.

The McLean Land Conservancy also received a great deal of help from assistant Fairfax County attorneys Ruth Soulier and Pamela Pelto.

“The County Attorney’s Office was instrumental in helping us,” said Whyte.

THE McLEAN LAND Conservancy did have to overcome one final obstacle when the Fairfax County Park Authority objected to the fact that the proposed development conflicted with trail plans for the Scotts Run area, as outlined in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. However, thanks to the involvement of the County Attorney’s Office, the Park Authority and the McLean Land Conservancy finally came to a consensus on the installation of a six-foot wide asphalt trail.

“The Park Authority made an exception to the rule,” said Whyte. “The public access easement is not as wide as normal, but we do have some help in our ability to protect those trees around there … we have a marvelous conservation easement.”