Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Reject Proposal

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Reject Proposal

In my testimony at the July 19 public hearing, I discussed all the ways that the proposed development at 8800 Richmond Highway fails to meet the Comprehensive Plan’s environmental guidance. It doesn’t come close, and the Plan Amendment should be turned down for those reasons. Amending the Comp Plan to allow residences at 8800 Richmond Highway would set a terrible precedent that would pave the way for development in sensitive riparian areas along Dogue Creek, Little Hunting Creek, and all over the county. If this Plan Amendment is passed, you might as well rip up the Comp Plan’s environmental policies and several county ordinances intended to protect streams and riparian areas.

I’d also like to point out what potentially great opportunities this site offers if it is not developed with townhomes.

Directly behind 8800 Richmond Highway, to the north and west, are 48 acres owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority. This large expanse of beautiful marsh and wetlands is called Pole Road Park, and it is almost completely inaccessible. You might never know it was there, unless you went looking for it. It is landlocked by developments on Jeff Todd Way and Sacramento Drive, and, although it is bounded by Pole Road, it is impossible to get to the park from there, because the parkland is far below the level of the roadway and bridge, and there are no trails. It can be seen and accessed from the IMP property (8850 Richmond Highway), which of course is private property. One has to bushwhack through multiflora rose etc. to get onto, or walk through, the parkland from there.

Directly north of Pole Road Park is Jackson M. Abbot Wetland Refuge (another 150 acres, part of Fort Belvoir), and beyond that, the 1,425 acres of Huntley Meadows Park. We have a watery wilderness of close to 2,000 acres, right in the middle of Fairfax County! All of this contiguous land and wetland along Dogue Creek provides wonderful, connected habitat for birds and wildlife.

Connectivity for wildlife along Dogue Creek is currently choked off by the undersized culvert at the Richmond Highway crossing, and by the former junkyard at 8800. Allowing 43 townhomes to be built in this floodplain would permanently reduce the value of this area as a wildlife corridor, and would make Pole Road Park even more inaccessible to the public.

The true value of the property at 8800 Richmond Highway is as public access to Dogue Creek and its wetlands north and south of the highway, areas that are virtually inaccessible now. Pole Road Park really should be a water trail and birding site, and 8800 would be the perfect public access point.

Just imagine—the commercially zoned parcel at 8800 Richmond Highway could be developed as a canoe livery/parking area/concession stand or restaurant. People could launch there to canoe or kayak north to explore Pole Road Park. Once the new high Richmond Highway bridge over Dogue Creek is installed, people could canoe or kayak south to the Grist Mill (perhaps beyond). After their return, canoeists and kayakers could repair to the restaurant at 8800 for a beer or a meal while looking out over the woods and wetlands behind the property. It would be a little like having a smaller version of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in our own backyards—except, it would be enhanced by access to historical sites, such as the Grist Mill.

In my opinion, this use of the land would do far more to revitalize the Corridor than yet another townhome development. (Why would this townhome development revitalize the Corridor, if others nearby, along Jeff Todd Way, Pole Road, and Sacramento Drive, haven’t?) It would be far better to “develop” this uniquely situated property in a way that preserves and improves recreational access to the exceptional natural and historical features of the Corridor, which are currently degraded and ignored. Paddling through history, and the beautiful Dogue Creek wetlands, could be a powerful attraction for both tourists and residents.

Betsy Martin

President, Friends of Little Hunting Creek