When Charlie Wilmott and several other concerned citizens met last week with Fairfax County staff members working on the Dolley Madison Library renovation project, they were expecting to sit down, hash out some ideas and solutions, and carry out a productive session. Unfortunately, it turned into another heated debate between local residents and county staff.
“It had been our expectation that there would be plenty of decision-makers there, and that they would have evaluated our proposals in depth, and we could really roll up our sleeves and come up with some solutions,” said Wilmott, who co-chairs the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Environment, Parks and Recreation committee with Frank Crandall. “But instead, all we got were further explanations and defenses from county staff on why they had gone with their particular design. So we sort of felt like we were there under false pretenses and the results of our meetings were fairly unsatisfactory to both parties.”
The July 27 meeting was the follow-up to what had also been a strained meeting between community members and Fairfax County staff on July 10.
The expansion and renovation of McLean’s community library was originally scheduled to begin this summer, however, citizen opposition to certain design elements of the new building and a delayed public hearing on relocating the office of the Dranesville district supervisor to the library have delayed the project by eight months. The Supervisor’s office is currently located in the McLean District police station on Balls Hill Rd., but is slated to be moved because the police need more space in the building. The new and improved library 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,” upgrade handicap accessible restroom facilities and more adequate workspace for library staff and volunteers.
MEMBERS of the McLean Citizens Association were presented with design plans for the new library in January, and after extensive analysis, members of the MCA Environment, Parks and Recreation committee concluded that the county’s proposal fell short in terms of preserving green space and improving the storm water drainage problems that have already caused extensive erosion to the nearby Dead Run stream valley.
“The current practices are just not aggressive enough to ebb the deterioration of our streams and get them back on track for remediation,” said Wilmott.
Wilmott and other citizens expressed these concerns at the July 10 community meeting on the Dolley Madison Library project, and after much debate, Fairfax County staff members agreed to schedule a follow-up meeting with Wilmott and several others to discuss some proposed solutions. He and other members of the MCA Environment, Parks and Recreation committee believe that removal of the separate access road to the supervisor’s office and relocation of the storm water retention facility will prevent the county from having to remove numerous trees on the property. In addition, the citizens would also like to see the county install a pervious pavement parking lot, so as to avoid excessive storm water runoff.
County staff has argued that the current design is a “green” building, and that they are required by county code to install a formulaic number of parking spaces and an appropriate access road for fire and rescue purposes. They have also expressed concern about any further delays on the project.
“The longer we take to act and start construction, the more value that is being lost on the funds we have,” said Katayoon Shaya, project manager in the Building and Design branch of the Fairfax County Planning and Design division. “The longer we take to do this, the more expensive it’s becoming and the less value we are getting for our money.”
However, Wilmott said the last thing anyone wants is to delay the project any further.
“We are hoping we can move on and have a successful 2232 [public hearing] in October,” said Wilmott. “It’s really important that we stick to that calendar.”
Wilmott noted that the project delay should not be pinned solely on the citizens, and said that while the MCA Environment, Parks and Recreation committee members required some time to look at the design plan after they were first presented with it in January, the county staff members has “been really slow to respond” to the concerns and feedback given to them by the committee.
DESPITE the tense nature of last week’s meeting, there is some hope on the horizon. According to Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois, there will be another meeting between citizens and county staff in early August.
“We are definitely considering options, and in fact, the [Fairfax County] Park Authority is working on a solution that will save trees and make citizens much more in tune with the project,” said DuBois.
In addition, DuBois said the McLean Community Center, which neighbors the library, has agreed to look into improving its own storm water drainage issues, as well as ways in which it can improve the Dead Run stream valley degradation.
“We don’t have a firm commitment, but I’ve been told that they’re looking at it,” said DuBois.
Wilmott remains optimistic about the final outcome of the project.
“We’re very hopeful that this will result in a new, more serious evaluation of these ideas,” he said. “There must be 16,000 ways in which to solve this little Rubic’s Cube, but until they sit down and address it with the same goals that we have, we’re not going to find them.”