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Skepticism Greets Springfield Apartment Plan

A proposed development in the wooded areas flanking the Fairfax Government Center complex would house middle-income workers.
A proposed development in the wooded areas flanking the Fairfax Government Center complex would house middle-income workers. (By Tracy A Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

More than 80 Springfield District residents grilled housing officials for 90 minutes last week about plans for a mixed-income apartment development on the grounds of the county Government Center.

They weren't exactly thrilled with the answers they got.

At issue is the county's plan to use a portion of the government center area for "workforce housing" -- apartments for schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers and other middle-income professionals who cannot afford to live in Fairfax, where the average monthly rent is $1,157 and the median sale price of a single-family home is $425,000.

The county has solicited proposals from six developers for the project, which would feature rents within the financial reach of people making from 50 to 100 percent of the area's median household income, just under $84,000, according to census figures. Preference would be given to county employees, officials said.

Final decisions are still a long way off. Once a developer is selected, the proposal must go to the county Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. If approved, construction probably would not begin before early 2009, with the work taking anywhere from 12 to 16 months.

But residents of communities near the Government Center said they became concerned when they learned that the county's official request for proposals from developers called for some of the apartments to be "residential studios," a new term for "single-room occupancies," or SROs. Advocates for the homeless say such housing is essential to lift people out of emergency shelters and get them into the mainstream.

Paula Sampson, director of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development, said SROs for the homeless were never part of the plan.

"It's not a shelter. We want to make sure everybody understands that," Sampson said.

Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), who convened the July 17 meeting at the Government Center, vowed that the project would accommodate no homeless. "This supervisor will not support housing for the homeless there," said McConnell, who is not seeking reelection this fall.

Pat Herrity, the Republican candidate seeking to succeed McConnell, echoed her promise. He accused the county of trying to sneak homeless people into the project without the community's input.

"Without a doubt," he said.

Residents also raised questions about a provision for a "multi-purpose facility" that would be used for community meetings "but also be able to accommodate the emergency housing of individuals." County officials said the intent was not to shelter the homeless but to provide for those displaced by natural disasters or other civil emergencies.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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