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2006: Year of History

Many county-initiated projects got underway in Burke in 2006.

Groundbreaking for the Burke Centre VRE station, a flashing sign at George Mason University and a book about local history were just a few of the topics on the Burke residents' minds in 2006.

Braddock Glen, an affordable assisted living community for moderate income seniors, opened in the spring of 2006. The residents who live there cannot have an income exceeding $37,500 per year, and the all-inclusive rent rate does not exceed $2,500 per month. The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority owns the community, which is managed by Sunrise Senior Living, the nation's largest provider of senior living services.

About 15 residents were living at Braddock Glen, 4027 Olley Lane, when it first opened. The large, one-story building has long hallways that circle throughout, passing through dining areas, a library, hair salon, sitting areas and bedrooms. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors provided $11,180,908 to cover the cost of the project, and they celebrated its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 13.

Annie Reindorf, executive director at Braddock Glen, said she hoped to have all 60 residents moved in by the end of the year. Forty-six residents had moved in by the start of 2007.

Braddock Glen offers basic assistance with bathing, meals, medication management and dressing to its residents. The challenge, said Reindorf, is that they don't offer higher levels of care such as medical and mental care needs. A separate area exists for residents who have memory problems so staff can make sure they do not wander or become too disoriented. Daily activities, services and programs are offered to residents.

The George Mason University basketball team excelled into the National College Athletic Association's Final Four basketball tournament last March. The Patriots went from the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight and finally to the Final Four, gaining fans and enthusiasm along the way. The City of Fairfax hung a congratulatory banner across Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard, and held a "Mason Madness" parade Friday, April 7. Hundreds of people gathered along the sides of University Drive, in the middle of a rain storm, to congratulate the local athletes on their accomplishment. The team's rise brought a lot of attention to the university, and President Alan Merten said it "put GMU on the map."

More than 30,500 students enrolled at GMU the following semester — the highest in the school's 34-year history. The school received more than 11,000 freshman applications for that semester, the fall of 2006, which was an 8 percent increase from the previous year. The number of out-of-state applications were up 15 percent from the previous year. The school attributed most of the newfound popularity to the basketball team's success.

A SERIES OF MEETINGS about the relationship between George Mason University and the surrounding communities were already scheduled when a large, bright sign with flashing lights showed up at one of the Fairfax campus’ entrances last fall.

The brightly-lit animated banners streaming across the sign, at the corner of Braddock and Sideburn roads, grabbed a lot of negative attention from surrounding residents. Complaint calls flooded the offices of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and Del. David Bulova (D-37).

“My major concern is something that big and flashy, it’s a safety issue,” said David Bulova. “It’s a busy intersection. It’s not a safe place to go and have a sign.”

Sharon Bulova, David Bulova, George Mason University officials and three community representatives attended a private meeting Thursday, Sept. 21, to discuss the issue. The university agreed to tone down the sign in a letter to Sharon Bulova’s office, Monday, Sept. 25, but the university has no plans to consider moving the $325,000 sign, said Dan Walsch, a GMU spokesman.

“We’d like to see the sign moved to a more appropriate location,” said David Bulova. “It doesn’t fit into the context of the community we’ve worked so hard to build.”

A GMU-Braddock district community forum is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 3. The series of meetings will discuss the relationship between the university and the surrounding communities, specifically focusing on the university's growth. County and state officials have not given up on the sign issue and it will likely remain a topic of discussion throughout the forum.

TOWN MEETINGS, a task force and hours of personal stories about life in the Braddock District finally came together as a book, Friday, June 2, at Lake Accotink Park. Sharon Bulova sponsored the project so she could help get the history of her district in print. Longtime residents in the area participated in oral history interviews, which were taped and later transformed into entries in the book.

“It literally arrived about an hour and a half before the ceremony,” said Sharon Bulova, who envisioned the project and followed through with its production.

Bulova's office conducted a series of three community meetings, beginning in the fall of 2004, meant to provide education about the community’s past and present idea for recording this history before it could be lost in time. Since many of the people who provided such vivid memories of Braddock’s past are elderly, time was of the essence, said Bulova. At the final of the three meetings, the A Look Back at Braddock Task Force was born. The task force volunteers collectively decided the best way to record this history would be in the form of a book: “Braddock’s True Gold: 20th Century Life in the Heart of Fairfax County.”

“We had no idea what would be involved in capturing oral histories and turning it into a book,” said Sharon Bulova.

The project's budget quickly went from $100 cash stuffed in an envelope, to $40,000, made possible by financial help from sponsors.

The project also included a student essay contest, the 2005 Braddock District Student History Competition. The first place winner, Robinson Secondary School freshman Bronwyn DeLoach, used her family history as a source of information, since she said they have ties to the neighborhood dating back generations.

“I had a connection so when I heard about the contest I really wanted to enter,” said Bronwyn. “My great-great-great-grandfather donated supplies and the land for the Wakefield Chapel.”

AFTER MONTHS of planning, the USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approved a plan to alter the Royal Lake Dam and auxiliary spillway so it curves away from a development of townhouses currently in its path. Based on the rehabilitation recommendations made by the NRCS at a June 20 community meeting in Fairfax, the final plan was approved by NRCS chief Arlen Lancaster in December.

“The current auxiliary spillway is a hazard to the townhouses downstream,” said Mat Lyons, state conservation engineer with NRCS.

NCRS is picking up 65 percent of the project's tab, which is estimated to total more than $3 million.

The spillway poses a threat to homes, businesses, roads and railroads in the event of heavy rainfall, about 24 inches in six hours, which is extremely severe and also unlikely. State Dam Safety Agency has issued the county a Conditional Use Certificate to rehabilitate the dam and spillway in order to protect the surrounding community from a potentially disastrous flood. The extreme amount of precipitation that would cause erosion along the spillway is rare, but precipitation levels are much higher on average than they were when the dam was constructed 30 years ago, said NRCS officials.

Articulated Concrete Blocks (ACB’s) are the best solution to the problem, said Lyons and Wade Biddix, assistant state conservationist for water resources at NRCS. The blocks will harden the spillway, thus reinforcing the permeable soils that would create erosion. To prevent a major visual change to the area, the blocks will be topped with soil for vegetation.

“You’ve got the vegetation and the grass [with the ACB’s] that everyone likes to see,” said Lyons.

Two other major parts of the rehabilitation project include constructing earthen training dikes along the spillway, since the evaluation found the existing dikes are too low to hold during design flow. The project will also realign the spillway, so its path moves toward a grassy area below the dam rather than toward the development of townhouses currently in its way. About 710 people live and work in the spillway's path, not including the 51,000 vehicles and 9,000 passengers that travel through each day, according to NRCS.

Law requires the sediment storage reservoir capacity to have at least 50 years of life, which means no federal funding would be available for dredging if the storage capacity is above 50 years. A 2006 survey revealed that 59.87 acre-feet of sediment is currently in the reservoir, with 198.13 acre-feet still available. NRCS calculated this would be enough storage for 72.5 more years, so federal support for dredging is not an option, said Biddix.

IN JULY, CONSTRUCTION on the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) parking garage at the Burke Centre station finally got underway. While the VRE garage is being constructed, additional parking is available at the Burke Centre Library construction site, at the corner of Freds Oak Road and the Fairfax County Parkway, including a free shuttle bus service to the VRE station.

“This is a very big day in Burke,” said Sharon Bulova, at the groundbreaking ceremony, Saturday, July 29 .

The garage, like the library, is designed for compatibility with Burke Centre’s theme of nature. The sleek garage will feature brick facades, decorative planters and a clock tower.

“We don’t just want a big block concrete garage here,” said Sam DiBartolo, a local resident who has followed the design process from the beginning. “It has to fit in with the other architecture in the area.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) said he helped obtain $23 million of the $28.8 million federally funded project through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program and congressional earmarks. Davis said the local, state and federal level commitments to mass transportation will help the atmosphere and traffic problems in the region.

“We’re never going to be able to do it [solve traffic problems] with enough pavement,” said Davis. “A very important part of our transportation future is going to be by rail.”

The project, part of the Board of Supervisors’ Four-Year Transportation Plan, will include a five-level parking structure with 1,550 total spaces: 1,300 in the garage and 250 outside it. It will also have bus shelters, pedestrian amenities and a Kiss & Ride drop-off area.

The Burke Centre Station is the third largest in terms of ridership for the entire VRE system. Heavy use is usually the most common at the ends of the line, said Dale Zehner, chief executive officer of the VRE. The top two stations currently are the ones at the ends of the line, but he expects that might change once the Burke garage is built.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that when this garage is built it [Burke VRE ridership] moves up to second, or even first,” said Zehner.

The Burke Centre Library is one of two new county library branches to be built with funding from a $52.5 million library bond passed by voters in 2004. The Burke Centre Library is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008.

“It’s very exciting,” said Sam Clay, director of the Fairfax County Public Library. “This is the third attempt to have this library built.”

The library is being constructed on land that was once a horse farm, near the intersection of the Fairfax County Parkway and Freds Oak Road. The community’s involvement, or at least its interest, was prevalent at the July 29 groundbreaking ceremony. Even the extreme heat didn’t deter more than 100 people from showing up.

“Nothing happens in the Braddock District without a lot of community involvement,” said Bulova.

AFTER MORE than 10 years of the status quo, the Burke Centre Conservancy decided to hire consultants to conduct a study of the community’s neighborhoods, or clusters. Out of Burke Centre’s five main neighborhoods— the Woods, Ponds, Landings, Oaks and Commons— there are 65 cluster communities. The residents of those clusters are responsible for infrastructure and other local issues or repairs, in addition to paying a quarterly general assessment fee that covers general improvement costs for the entire community.

The study, by Mason and Mason Capital Reserve Analysts, Inc., looked for areas in each of the five neighborhoods and their clusters that need work, such as gutter, asphalt and sidewalk improvements.

"They [analysts] look at it with an engineer's eyes," said Karen Frank, finance administrator at the Burke Centre Conservancy. "Then they assign a cost and determine how quickly it should be done."

Last year’s cluster assessments ranged from $3 to $44.82 per quarter, in addition to the quarterly $118 general assessment. The average increase is going to be about $13 per quarter, said Frank, but that takes into account the clusters with decreases, increases and no change at all.

AN INVASIVE aquatic plant has taken over a pond in Burke Centre, causing depleted oxygen levels that may put the pond’s fish in danger.

The plant, the water chestnut, is found in slow-moving, nutrient-filled waters and is not the water chestnut commonly used in Asian cooking. Patrick Gloyd, executive director at the Burke Centre Conservancy, said the plant has become a real problem in the Meadow Pond, in the Ponds Community of Burke Centre. Since the plant is so invasive, said Gloyd, getting rid of it will not be an easy task.

“It’s a real menace. We’re really struggling with it,” said Gloyd.

The Conservancy’s pond maintenance contractor, Aquatic Environment Consultants (AEC), began a series of herbicide treatments on the pond in the fall. The consultants have applied two treatments, and tests have revealed that oxygen levels in the pond are extremely low, said Gloyd. The fish are doing fine as of now, but that could change if the treatments don’t tackle the problem. The chemicals being applied are expected to beat the plant though, said Bill Kirkpatrick, president of AEC.

“It’s a systemic herbicide to get down to the root of the plant,” said Kirkpatrick. “You have to get it mature enough to treat the leaves, and then next spring try to do an early season treatment.”

Bathymetric studies done on all of Burke Centre’s ponds revealed that the plant was still invading the Meadow Pond. Burke Centre has a dredging project planned for the ponds in 2007, but the studies revealed that dredging should be postponed at Meadow Pond until the water chestnut problem is successfully tackled.

“We might have to take our chances,” said Gloyd.

THE THREE-PART SERIES of meetings recently hosted by Sharon Bulova provided at least one tangible outcome: a general consensus about the direction Braddock residents want the area to grow.

Many residents who participated in the dialogue series would rather have the growth stop all together and focus on revitalizing what already exists, but they generally recognized that the county cannot stop growth, it can only try to control it.

“I thought it was a very substantial conversation with the community,” said Bill Lecos, the president and CEO of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. “I think it demonstrates the extra high level of appreciation we have collectively to our community.”

WHEN THE Virginia Department of Transportation workers began a road-widening project at the intersection of Guinea and Braddock roads early this year, they discovered artifacts and human remains indicative of a 19th century cemetery. VDOT brought in archeologists to research and extract the findings from the ground.

"You could write a book about that whole experience," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).

In the end, the remains from at least 33 people were found, among many artifacts from the early- to mid-19th century. The only tombstone found clearly read the name “S.A. Williams,” and the year, “1851.”

Dennis Howard, an African-American man living in Springfield, knew about his family's lineage through oral tradition. He believes that some of his ancestors were among the human remains found in the old, unmarked cemetery.

Howard gathered with family and friends for an all-day celebration and reinterment ceremony of the Gibson-Parker family, his ancestors, Saturday, Sept. 30, at the First Baptist Church of Merrifield.

Howard and his relatives are sure their ancestors were among the 33 found. Through oral tradition, Howard knows his great-great-grandfather, Horice Gibson, was an emancipated slave living in an area known as the Ilda Community. Members of that community are believed to be among those in the cemetery. Rinehart said only six of the 33 remains found were of African-American descent.

Howard believes the nature of the cemetery, unmarked and virtually forgotten, is also indicative of the black slave community. He recently passed along everything he knows of his family’s oral tradition to “Braddock’s True Gold.” He also completed a book his late cousin had begun writing, called “Shades of Grey: A Beginning … The Origin and Development of a Black Family in Fairfax, Virginia,” which is a written account of the Gibson-Parker family’s oral histories.

AS FOR LOCAL SCHOOLS, Lake Braddock Secondary School is currently in its third year of its three-year renovation project. The high school portion of the school is near completion, with only the music and foreign language departments left for renovation. The middle school section of the school is in the process of its renovation, and Associate Principal Dave Thomas said the entire project has turned out to be better than they had hoped it would be. Construction is scheduled to wrap up by the summer.

Woodson High School’s renovation project bid came in $20 million over budget, so the contract was re-bid in September. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in June, even though the actual construction didn't begin until October. School board members assure the 2009 completion date will not be affected, even though the project began more than three months past schedule.