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Change to Intersection Raises Concerns

Residents object to potential traffic signal at Hunter Mill and Crowell.

— The Hunter Mill District Land Use Committee heard a request from Oakcrest School Tuesday, Jan. 15, to amend the special exception that would allow them to alter the intersection at Hunter Mill Road and Crowell Road, an alteration that has raised objections from nearby residents.

Oakcrest is a private Catholic school for girls currently located in McLean. Four years ago, they began searching for a new location, one that would allow them to expand as needed. They found a site on the Reston-Vienna border, just north of the Dulles Toll Road on Hunter Mill Road.

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The three-way stop sign at Hunter Mill Road and Crowell Road could be replaced with a traffic signal, which has led to objections from local residents.

THEIR PROPOSAL was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in March 2010, but the approval was contingent on the school paying to turn the intersection of Crowell Road and Hunter Mill Road into a roundabout.

"The school has been prepared to implement the roundabout since the approval, going so far as to offer above market value for the properties needed for the right-of-way for the roundabout," said Greg Riegle, a land use attorney representing the school. "But it soon became apparent we wouldn’t be able to purchase the property, with some refusing to sell at any price, and some naming prices that just aren’t economically feasible. And quite frankly, we need all of the properties to make the roundabout."

Riegle said they would not have even proposed to change from the roundabout if not for three years unsuccessfully spent trying to get right-of-way.

"The strength of our application was to take a failing intersection and make it better," he said. "But now we’re stuck with an approval we can’t implement."

Chad Loudon, who owns the property at the northeast corner of the intersection, said getting the right-of-way parcel from his property was not even possible.

"The right-of-way needed on my property would have come up to my garage, leaving me with no front or side yard," he said. "We would have lost our trees and any protection from the street, and that’s if it was even legal from a zoning standpoint."

The school is now proposing to put a traffic light at the intersection, which was the change they brought to the committee’s Jan. 15 meeting.

Riegle said the traffic light would prove less burdensome and require less land than the roundabout, and they need the Board of Supervisors to approve the change to the previously approved special exception.

However, residents in the area say they are opposed to the idea of a traffic light, citing massive backups to the toll road already.

"My driveway is .7 miles from the three-way stop, and with exiting conditions, toll road traffic backs up past my mailbox," said Cindy Stanton. "I’m a supporter of the idea of a school on the property, I think it will be a benefit. But the three-way stop isn’t the problem, it’s the lights around the toll road on Hunter Mill. And I don’t think a new light will help."

Jeff Allinson, who also lives on Browns Mill Road, says there’s already an example of the damage a light can do.

"A good case study is the light they added at Beulah Road, and it was a painful experience," he said. "We’ve already seen traffic increase exponentially on our road as the tolls have gone up, and I think this light will turn it into gridlock."

Loudon said he was disappointed that, as a landowner, he hasn’t been informed as to the latest plans for the intersection.

"We’ve tried to engage with Oakcrest a few times, to see if we could work on the design, to work in good faith as neighbors," he said. "But we’ve been given no input, and we don’t even know the design for the new intersection with the light. At least we saw the design for the roundabout."

THE COMMITTEE did not come up with a recommendation at their Jan. 15 meeting, as there were not enough members of the eight-member committee to reach a quorum. They will discuss the item again at their Feb. 19 meeting, and expect to make a recommendation at that meeting.

The committee’s purpose is to review land use applications and make a recommendation before the application is heard by the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.