Letter: Opposing Special Permit

Letter: Opposing Special Permit

To the Editor:

Last week’s Great Falls’ Connection carried a story on a topic of interest to many: horseback riding in Great Falls and the role of Blacks Hill Stable, LLC, in providing a commercial riding venue ["Molster Family Stable Awaits Special Permit Decision"]. I am one of the over fifty immediate neighbors who oppose the grant of a special permit that would permit the Stable to move its operation from Turner Farm to deep within our residential neighborhood. As none of the many opponents of the special permit was interviewed for the original article, I wanted to make sure that you were aware of our side of the story, as well as point out a few corrections.

Most importantly, this is not about horses in Great Falls. I believe that each and every opponent of the proposed special permit strongly supports the Molsters’ ability to maintain their horses under existing zoning rules. This includes, of course, riding and maintaining horses for their own enjoyment, as well continuing the existing activity of offering riding lessons at Turner Farm.

Commercial operations, including riding stables, generally are not legal in areas zoned RE or R-1. This means that families who purchase homes in such areas can rely on a continuing residential neighborhood character and feel. A special permit allowing a commercial operation can be granted only if the proposed use (1) is harmonious with and will not adversely affect the use or development of neighboring properties;

(2) will not impair the value of neighboring properties; and (3) will not pose hazard to or conflict with existing and anticipated

neighborhood traffic. Those of us who would be in proximity to the relocated Stable operation generally do not believe that any of these standards are satisfied. I encourage your readers to ask themselves if they would believe the standards would be satisfied in the context of a proposal to open a commercial stable in the heart of their own neighborhoods.

As part of the Molsters’ special permit proposal they are suggesting a cut-through to connect the Stable to Falls Bridge Lane. The cut-through also would affect Sherlin Lane and Branton Lane, which connect to Falls Bridge, as well as traffic on Georgetown Pike nearing the congested intersection with Seneca and Route Seven. Much of the Stable’s traffic would be turning off of and onto the Pike and driving up and down Falls

Bridge in the busy after-school/rush hour period. Falls Bridge has no sidewalks, has complicated sight lines and has school bus stops at both ends. It is a street that is heavily utilized by runners, bikers and walkers, including the many young children who ride the buses.

There are a few points in last week’s story that I would like to

specifically address. First, the article and associated captioning

refer to pastures and riding rings that are "currently unavailable."

The pastures were cleared, the property was re-graded, the riding rings were built, and commercial operations were begun without undertaking the county review mandated by the special permit process. After years of neighbors’ complaints, the zoning violation was reported in 2012. Last week’s article reported that the Molsters "voluntarily stopped providing

lessons at their home in November 2012." In fact, the Sheriff’s Letter that they received required them to clear their violation.

In addition, the article refers to an online petition that opposes the Stable. I am not aware of any such petition. I am, however, aware of an online petition created in support of the Stable which has garnered a large number of signers (many of whom do not live in Fairfax County or, in some instances, the United States). It is phrased in terms of supporting the Stable as part of a general endorsement of equestrian activity and makes no mention of the quality-of-life, traffic and safety issues presented by operating a commercial riding stable in a

residential neighborhood.

Last week’s article quoted Sharon Molster for the proposition that horseback lessons are "far and few between without having to lease or own a horse." This is an assertion that opponents of the special permit very much wish to correct. A Google search indicates a number of stables within Fairfax County (more, of course, if you include nearby Loudoun), including several in Great Falls. If you make the calls, you

will quickly learn that few have wait-lists; most have lessons readily available. The impression that lessons are difficult to find is simply not accurate.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that the opponents of the special permit do not mind horses or the people who ride them. It's the operation of a commercial stable, with associated traffic running through an established quiet neighborhood, to which we object.

Theresa Gabaldon

Great Falls