Mason Neck Neighbors Fear GMU's Center for Peace Will Threaten Theirs

GMU plans to remodel the Lynch house to
GMU plans to remodel the Lynch house to "green" standards and develop 40 acres into the Point of View retreat center, where treaties between nations can be brokered. (Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007

On a recent day in a remote part of Mason Neck, George Mason University officials gathered on a small outcropping above a glittering bay on the Potomac River, a plot with an unsurpassed view they hope will draw leaders from warring nations as far away as Israel and Sudan.

Last month, George Mason officials began a $25 million fundraising campaign to build the Point of View retreat center on donated land. The retreat would be in the spirit of Wye River, Md., where a peace deal was brokered between the Israelis and Palestinians in 1998.

They hope students and professors from the university's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in Fairfax City will one day gather at the retreat to observe, think and study. They envision leaders from war-torn nations sitting down in small conference rooms overlooking the property's serene wetlands and working out their problems, just 22 miles south of the nation's capital.

"Point of View will be a place where people with deep differences can address their conflicts, resolve them and heal," said Sara Cobb, the institute's director. "That's the broad vision."

In recent weeks, the planned center for peace has sparked controversy among neighbors in some of the 750 houses on Mason Neck, a 9,000-acre peninsula in southeastern Fairfax County known for its parkland, wildlife refuge and bald eagle nests.

Mason Neck residents are a hardy lot who have existed without county sewer and water lines for decades and have long fought development, determined to keep "the Neck," as they call it, the way it is.

"It's the jewel of Fairfax County," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), whose district includes the area. "It's sort of a like an oasis; you go back in a time machine to the way Fairfax County was 80 years ago."

Edwin Lynch, an early supporter of the university's conflict resolution program, donated his family home and the 120 acres of surrounding waterfront property to GMU in two phases in 2000 and 2001.

Residents are concerned about the retreat's impact on security and traffic and worry that its construction would harm such sensitive river tributaries as Kane's Creek. They are most alarmed, however, about news that GMU's charitable foundation has a permit to allow a private sewage treatment facility there that could process 250,000 gallons a day.

Since the 1960s, Mason Neck residents have blocked proposals to bring public sewer service into the area, fearing that it would lead to hundreds of new houses and large development. What's protected the Neck so far, they think, is that each house needs a well and septic system. Just a decade ago, some of the more rustic dwellings still had outhouses, residents say. "No sewer" has long been the rallying cry.

"We're very concerned," said Bruce Scott, president of the Mason Neck Citizens Association. "We are seeking a firm commitment from the university that they don't intend to build such a huge sewage treatment before we can support this endeavor."

Other neighbors have been less politic, saying that GMU had played down the size of the planned complex and is not being responsive.

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