Builders for the proposed Hickory Vale development in Great Falls, whose plans for a 48-acre cluster subdivision along busy Georgetown Pike met strong opposition from area residents, said they expect to get approval soon from county officials.
"There seems to be a meeting of the minds," said John G. Colby, site planner and consultant to the developer, Copper Land Co.
Colby said he spent an extra $20,000 for revisions before Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) and members of the Great Falls Citizens Association would look favorably at his plan. He said he eliminated six one-acre homes from his original 48-home proposal to meet concerns raised by Falck and the residents.
The developer's special exception request to build the cluster subdivision, which would now consist of 42 single-family homes that would sell for about $300,000, is scheduled for final action by the Board of Supervisors Nov. 18.
Copper Land's problems with Hickory Vale started Oct. 23 when the county Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of its application to build a cluster development along Georgetown Pike, a major artery in Great Falls. The land, which now holds a barn and two houses, is located west of the area's major commercial center and south of two other residential neighborhoods, Hickory Creek and Oliver Estates.
The planning commission criticized the developers for failing to consider the citizens' objections. Citizens said the proposed site plan had too many houses for the amount of property and did not provide enough landscaping along Georgetown Pike. Residents also opposed a county planning staff suggestion to extend Lunenberg Road from Hickory Creek through Hickory Vale to Georgetown Pike.
"They were jamming all of their houses up against Georgetown Pike," said Estelle R. Holley, citizens association president. "And we were quite disturbed by the Lunenberg Road cut-through and saw no reason to put it right through an already settled subdivision [Hickory Creek]."
Falck said most of the project's problems were solved at a meeting last week with Copper Land officials. She agreed that the road extension plan was unnecessary and said she would object to that proposal at Monday's board meeting.
"The major difficulty here was that the proposers never came to talk to either me or my planning commissioner," Falck said in a telephone interview. "There's nothing in the law that says they have to talk to me . . . but I could have told them weeks ago what was wrong with the proposal. I work my land cases very, very carefully and it's difficult to work when an applicant won't talk to you."
Colby, who said Hickory Vale was his first cluster subdivision design, blamed the problems on a communication breakdown with residents and county officials. "We just weren't tuned in, regrettably, to the perceptions of Falck and the community in terms of their involvement," he said.
Colby faulted residents in the affluent Northern Virginia suburb for being too quick to reject cluster development proposals, which allows homes to be built on smaller lots than conventional subdivisions to achieve more open space.
"The Great Falls Citizens Association is a militant antidevelopment type of group that wants to see Great Falls kept as horse country. That's fine, except development is going to occur whether we want it or not," Colby said. "There's always this knee-jerk reaction to fight development per se, without looking at it. A cluster type of development is a far more creative and efficient use of land instead of building houses willy-nilly all over the landscape."
But Holley said her association only wanted to maintain Great Falls' open, countrylike atmosphere. "It's not true Great Falls wants to keep everybody out. We want to maintain the rural character of the area and, believe me, it's not easy," said Holley. "There's land to be developed here and people want to come in and develop it."