High-Density Project Lacks Fairfax Support

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2005

A proposal for 2,000 homes off the Dulles Toll Road in Vienna has no support from Fairfax County leaders because of strident opposition from homeowners in the area, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said yesterday.

Speaking to local business leaders, Connolly (D) said Fairfax supervisors will almost certainly reject any changes in the county's land-use plan that would allow dense development on 215 acres near Hunter Mill Road. The winding, tree-shaded byway is flanked by single-family houses, many on large lots.

"My reading of the situation is there's no appetite for radical change and there never was," he said, answering a question on the fate of a study underway in the area. "My guess is we're probably going to do nothing. The community doesn't want to be engaged in that discussion."

Connolly's comments at a wide-ranging breakfast address to the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce ended, at least for now, a contentious chapter in the debate over how much dense development Fairfax should allow along an anticipated rail line to Dulles International Airport. What was envisioned last June as a public planning process quickly disintegrated into an exercise in mistrust between developers K. Hovnanian and WCI/Renaissance and well-organized civic groups alarmed by their proposal.

"Both sides went crazy," said Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville), whose district includes the property under study. "This took on a life of its own it was never meant to."

Elizabeth Baker, a land-use planner representing the developers, called the vast Parkview project "one vision of what could occur" on the property. "We were optimistic that people could bring a fresh perspective" to planning in the area, Baker said.

The developers envisioned a mix of condominium towers, townhouses and commercial strips they said would meet a demand for housing along the Dulles Toll Road, one of the region's fastest-growing job markets. Current zoning on the land allows 107 houses on two-acre lots; Parkview would increase that density dramatically.

But first the county's main planning blueprint for the area would need to change to allow more development along Hunter Mill Road; supervisors appointed a citizens panel to study that possibility.

The process quickly broke down, as neighbors suspected that dense development was a done deal. They complained that the land under study is almost two miles from a Metro station planned at Wiehle Avenue -- too far to encourage the public transit use that usually justifies high density. They feared their neighborhood would be engulfed by traffic. One of the county's last patches of woods and meadows would be destroyed, a buffer between the more urban landscapes of Reston and Tysons Corner, they said.

A new civic group organized to fight the developers' proposal. Members mounted rush-hour roadside protests, waving signs that said, "Density: Few Profit. All Pay." Some public meetings drew hundreds of people.

"It was a bad proposal," said Steve Whittaker, a leader of the Hunter Mill Action Coalition, a group of residents fighting Parkview. "It was unnecessary. It was unwanted."

With huge profits at stake, the developers launched a public relations campaign. They advertised Parkview in local newspapers, infuriating neighbors and local supervisors, who issued a news release condemning the ad as premature.

Yesterday Connolly called the ad "an incredibly stupid thing" that led neighbors to conclude "the system was cooked." Baker said the ad was misconstrued and was intended only to "solicit interest in the type of development" her clients proposed.

Then the architect for Parkview, Christian Lessard, organized a group of developers and builders to advocate for high-density development in the region. His family members appeared at meetings and criticized opponents. Neighbors accused Lessard of misleading the public by not disclosing his connection to the project.

"From the very first day there has been a tremendous amount of dissension and bad feeling," said David Edwards, a retired planner and Washington Gas executive who serves on the task force.

The 20-member task force has deadlocked twice on how to proceed. Last night, panel members decided to extend their deliberations until January.

Whittaker and other civic leaders said they are grateful their concerns were heard. Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), whose district includes the property, said she is disappointed that passions on both sides ran so high.

"I expected a dialogue" between the developers and the community, Hudgins said. "That never happened."

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