A proposal to build a new public arts center across from the McLean Community Center has received mixed reviews, with strong support coming from the cultural community and loud opposition coming from some neighbors.
At the heart of the dispute is the sentiment that the arts center would be yet another "institutional" use in the Beverly Manor residential area, which is adjacent to McLean's central business district. A group home for the mentally retarded recently opened three blocks away from the arts center site, and the Dolley Madison library is located across the street, next to the community center.
The new arts center is needed to house the 23-year-old Emerson Gallery, whose current home 10 blocks away will be condemned this spring, marking the seventh time the gallery has moved, according to a written summary of the proposed McLean Project for the Arts. The two-story "residential appearing" structure planned for 1233 Ingleside Ave. would also house a public gallery for art groups or individual artist's use, three classrooms and an office, according to the proposal.
Among the opponents of the Ingleside Avenue site is Fairfax County Supervisor Nancy Falck, who believes the Beverly Manor area has been asked to accommodate more than its share of community-wide facilities. "It's not a case of 'Don't put something in our back yard,' " Falck said. "It's a case of 'You've already put a lot of things in our back yard, so isn't it time to put something somewhere else?' "
The application for a special exception, allowing the center on a residential lot, will ultimately be decided by Falck and her colleagues on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. That decision is not expected until early next year, however, after a recommendation is made by the county Planning Commission.
"It's not that we're opposed to apple pie, the arts and motherhood," said Denzil Jenkins, president of the Beverly Manor Civic Association, which officially opposes having the arts center in the neighborhood. "It's just that this is nibbling away at our residential character."
Jenkins, who was "embarrassed to admit" that fewer than a dozen residents of the 100-home subdivision actually showed up for a vote on whether to support the arts center proposal, agreed that the proposed placement of the arts center across from the community center "actually makes some sense."
Katie House, a resident of Beverly Manor, supports having the new arts center nearby. She said her child has participated in Emerson Gallery programs because there is no regular art program in the Fairfax County schools. House concluded that being able to walk to all the community programs would "certainly add to the property value."
Meanwhile, supporters of the arts center proposal have asked for a deferral of their request before the Planning Commission, which was scheduled to be heard Dec. 11. Nancy Weyl, chairman of the McLean Project for the Arts that is pushing the Ingleside Avenue site, said she believes the proposal may be better received in January after the group has had time to address neighbors' concerns.
"We don't want to get confrontational about this," Weyl said. "We understand the response of the residents. But we still feel this is a good location. We're determined to make peace and have it work out."
Weyl argued that the need is justified because there is no other public arts facility in the county and that there is only one traveling arts teacher in the public schools.
Lilla Richards, a member of the planning and zoning committee of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA), said, "Personally, I think what is being planned does not seem to have an adverse impact on the immediate neighborhood. It's a very low-key activity and the traffic would be very minor."
Richards added, "It's designed to look like a house and it's across the street from the community center. Frankly, I think it could be worse if it was a family moving in with a bunch of noisy teen-aged kids."
Richards concluded that "some of the neighbors are opposing it on principle." But she added, "By no means is this settled."
The MCA's planning and zoning committee will hold a hearing Dec. 3 for representatives from both sides of the issue. The committee will then make a recommendation to the MCA board of directors. That recommendation will then be forwarded to the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which will give its opinion to the county Board of Supervisors.