Appeal from the East
On October 23, 2018, the Planning Commission received a request from the applicant to INDEFINITELY DEFER the Comprehensive Plan amendment for 8800 Richmond Highway scheduled for public hearing the following night.
Another articulate voice describing the issue:
The story line in your article on proposed townhouses at 8800 Richmond Highway – that of small civic associations fighting the big county – is not the one I see unfolding on this issue. Mt. Vernon residents are NOT united on wanting this flood plain developed as luxury townhouses. Many residents were unaware of these plans until they were revealed at the public hearing in July. Since then, the number of letters to the planning commission against the townhouse development has outnumbered the letters in favor and several neighborhoods and church environmental groups are considering proposals against the townhouses.
I see the story line as residents proposing two different visions of development for this area of Richmond Highway around the EMBARK development. These visions are being acted out on a small scale but decision by the planning commission and board of supervisors will affect the whole county.
If the county planning commission allows an unprecedented waiver to this developer to build 43 townhouses in a flood plain, it will be cited by every developer who wants to build in any Fairfax County floodplain. This development does not meet the county tests of being an “exceptional use” and of offering a “net environmental improvement,” so why should others?
One vision for the area is to follow the plan set by EMBARK, which won an award for its proposals to daylight streams that have been routed underground and surround them with environmental corridors for residents to enjoy. In the newly approved (March) Comprehensive Plan Amendment for this area, this parcel is designated as open space. It is entirely within the flood plain of Dogue Creek. Nearby residents recall the creek flooding over the entire property. The plan notes that, despite the best efforts of the staff, the EMBARK area will be 38 acres short of park area and green space when it is populated.
An alternate vision for the property would favor the restoration of Dogue Creek to its original creek bed and floodplain and allow public access along its banks. The creek bed was distorted by past owners who erected a concrete dam (later built upon by beavers) that formed a pond and other efforts that diverted the creek into a C shape that is now eroding the roadbed of Richmond Highway. In conjunction with EMBARK, VDOT is widening Richmond Highway and building a bridge over Dogue Creek. VDOT will have a public hearing on its environmental assessment of this bridge plan in late fall.
Surely no townhouse development plan that would built within 50 feet of the current creek should be contemplated before this assessments and a thorough study and presentation on how to restore the creek to county standards including flood prevention downstream.
The owners, who admittedly have not been good stewards of the land, need not be suddenly rewarded by reaping a hefty sale price due to rezoning before a through presentation of options for the creek. They admit in your article they have had previous offers on the land, but none as good as this one, which is contingent on rezoning.
Organizations that oppose rezoning for townhouses include the Friends of Little Hunting Creek, Friends of Accotink Creek, The Audubon Naturalist, Society, and the Smarter Growth Coalition, which was heavily involved in EMBARK planning, with other to come.
Fifteen locals opposed to the development, some with signs, attended a site visit of the planning commission in August.
Forty-three luxury townhouses would probably make that area of Route 1 look more upscale, but is that really what the residents want? As Route 1 is widened and EMARK advances, there will be plenty of development and gentrification around the stops on new bus rapid transit system (one of which is planned for the Dogue Creek Bridge).
Now that we are on the cusp of big development, let’s not sacrifice the health of our creeks and open spaces to profits for individual landowners.
The county staff did not present a resolution at the first hearing because it felt the proposal to build townhouses was so outrageous that it did not merit discussion. The planning staff is still firmly against the allowing this type of development in floodplains and will make its presentation at the next public hearing.
Dogue Creek is a historic creek, once owned by George Washington and used for his grist mill and which enters the Potomac at Mt Vernon Estate. Since the EMBARK theme of the Woodlawn community business center that will about the property in question is History and Environment, it makes sense to protect and provide access to this historic creek.
Mary Paden September 24, 2018
Dear Friends of Little Hunting Creek--
A 43 townhome development is proposed for 8800 Richmond Highway, an 8 acre property just north of the crossing of Route 1 over Dogue Creek and just west of the Sacramento Shopping Center. It's been a junkyard and until recently cleaned up, it was a real eyesore. This property is almost entirely in the floodplain, the Resource Protection Area, and the Environmental Quality Corridor, all of which the county has strong policies and laws protecting from development. The county staff strongly opposes this development. It would set a terrible precedent for developments in riparian areas alongside Dogue Creek, Little Hunting Creek, and all over the County.
On July 19, 2018, the Planning Commission held a public hearing on a Plan Amendment to allow residences to be built on this property--the first step in getting approval for the development. Their discussion was quite thoughtful, and some Commissioners were skeptical about the proposal. They deferred their decision until Sept 13.
A handful of persons testified in opposition, but more testified in favor of the development. Many neighbors who understandably want to see the property improved are sending in letters supporting development. At this point, the Planning Commission is hearing from supporters. They need to hear from people who don't want to see this damaging and precedent-setting development approved. Dogue Creek needs friends! Please consider sending your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org before Sept. 13, and reference Plan Amendment 2018-IV-MV2.
Pole Road Park, a 48 acre wetland park directly behind 8800, which potentially could provide public access for canoeists and kayakers to beautiful wetlands north of Richmond Highway and (once the new Richmond Highway bridge is built over Dogue Creek) to Dogue Creek south of the bridge, down to the Grist Mill and beyond. 8800 Richmond Highway could provide a wonderful recreational opportunity, if 43 townhomes aren't built on it.
President, Friends of Little Hunting Creek