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North Hill Controversy Still Heading South

There is a question as to what the motion actually proposed.

Using a Solomon approach to solving the North Hill controversy proved only to add fuel to the fires that could eventually consume the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations. Although the art of compromise is often viewed as the mainstay of politics and governance that was not evident at the most recent meeting of MVCCA when it came to the issue of North Hill.

Several members of the Council, who were denied the opportunity to express their views on whether North Hill should remain as open space or be divided between affordable housing and open space, are now alleging ulterior motives on the part of presiding co-chair Daniel Rinzel. Although they had indicated a desire to speak, they were not recognized prior to the meeting's mandatory adjournment hour of 10 p.m.

"It was the most disgusting, irritating, frustrating Council meeting I have ever attended. There were Council members there that wanted to speak and were displaying their signs to speak when Rinzel said ‘I am going to cut off debate,’" said David Dale, president, Spring Bank Community Association. He was one of those stymied by Rinzel's action.

"These new co-chairs have said repeatedly how they want everything to go by the rules, then this is what happens," he said. The controversy erupted over a motion by Council member Sheldon Hoenig to support the by-right development of 11 acres of North Hill, located just off Route 1 and Dart Drive, for manufactured housing.

Rinzel cut off debate and called for a vote. The motion passed 18 to 10 with three abstentions. But, due to wording of the motion there remains a question as to what it actually accomplished, according to Dale and others.

Although the North Hill site was originally purchased for affordable housing by Fairfax County more than 20 years ago, those who wish to see it remain open space argue that times and circumstances have changed. Those on the opposite side of the dialogue see those changes calling for more low cost housing now then when the site was originally acquired.

OVERALL, there is a wide array of elements affecting the North Hill discussions that have been put forth. Here are some of them:

* Preservation of North Hill as open space will benefit the community at large and strengthen revitalization of the Route 1 corridor. Turning it into a housing development will only benefit a few.

* The marine clay of North Hill is not conducive to development without the expenditure of substantial funds to replace the clay with more buildable soil.

* There are other sites far more suitable for housing without the natural and ecological drawbacks of North Hill.

* Fairfax County has set a goal of 10 percent open space/parkland. Without North Hill preserved as open space that goal cannot be reached.

* The lack of any major employment centers near North Hill would demand that any future residents commute to other areas for employment.

<sum> * There is a growing need for affordable housing throughout Fairfax County, particularly along the Route 1 corridor.

<sum> * By allotting only a portion of the North Hill site to low income housing the land will remain available for passive recreational uses to the entire population.

* The County's original intent for the site remains viable.

Statistically the Mount Vernon Planning District presently contains one of the largest percentages of low priced housing in Fairfax County. With approximately eight percent of the County's population it has just over 24 percent of housing in the lowest priced categories.

North Hill's future remains very much in limbo, both within MVCCA and County government. Both sides of this continuing controversy remain resolute in their assessment of the site's future.