Richard H. (Doc) Schmidt will not be celebrating when the West Falls Church Metro station opens Saturday. Nor will most of his neighbors.
Schmidt, a 79-year-old Veterans Administration retiree, moved into his immaculate brick two-story home on Haycock Road in 1950. For 36 years, Schmidt and his wife Katherine have cherished the relative calm characterizes their neighborhood of tree-lined streets.
That calm is about to be shattered. With Metro's Orange Line subway stop just a few hundred feet from their home, the Schmidts are bracing for almost certain changes in their way of life.
"If I were younger, I would go somewhere else and escape all this mess," Schmidt said as he wistfully recited a list of those who saw the station as a threat and opted for more rural locales.
But, he said, "a move would be a difficult thing for us. We don't have the flexibility we had years ago. We can't really go someplace else at this point and start all over again."
By contrast, the Metro cannot open soon enough for Anna Link.
"I'm very excited about it," said Link, who lives on Highland Avenue, one block from the station. "It's going to open up the whole area to me. I'll be able to go downtown to the museums. Where Metro goes, I'll be able to go without using my car."
The Metro presents an added bonus for Link. A teacher at Mount Daniel Elementary School in Falls Church, she plans to use the subway to take her students on class trips into the District.
Viewed by some as a symbol of progress and by others as a nuisance, the West Falls Church subway station is tucked between the lanes of I-66 in northeastern Fairfax County. It sits just two blocks from the western boundary of the city of Falls Church. Tysons Corner, Fairfax's booming office and retail center, is only three miles to the north and west of the station.
The neighborhoods near the subway stop stand out for their simplicity. The homes are of modest size and architecture and the lawns uniformly well kept.
Many of the people who moved there were lured by the area's tranquil setting, where woods shield them from superhighways and motorists who defy speed limits elsewhere take just a little more care driving past their homes.
Many of the residents are retirees. When talk turns to the Metro, they wonder if the noise from the cars will drown out the sounds of the birds.
Their concerns, however, go far deeper. They fear that the coming traffic will consume them, turning their quiet streets into busy thoroughfares.
They wonder what will happen when the Metro parking lot fills up, sending motorists scurrying for parking places on the streets, in their driveways or, worse yet, on their lawns.
Some changes were predictable. An increase in traffic, noise and congestion are inevitable results of the presence of a subway station. Those problems in themselves were enough to alarm those living in the station's vicinity.
Talk of widening Haycock Road sealed their enmity for the entire operation. A distance of only several yards separates many of those homes from Haycock Road and the vehicles that traverse it, and taking the road closer yet to their front doors is not a welcome development.
From his living room window, Victor B. Spector can see the old, stately trees that will be uprooted from his lawn if Fairfax County and Virginia state highway officials carry out their plan to widen Haycock Road from two lanes to four along the three-quarters-of-a-mile stretch from Broad Street (Rte. 7) to Great Falls Street.
Officials argue that a larger road is essential to accommodate the traffic generated by Metro. They also contend that the new roadway will make it easier for Haycock Road residents to get in and out of their driveways.
Some do not buy that argument. "I need this like a hole in the head," said Spector, 78, a retired architect, who anticipates the opening of the new subway stop with about as much delight as he would a rush-hour drive on nearby I-66. The coming of the Metro station, he added, "is wrecking our life."
"We feel that the new four-lane road is being shoved down our throats," said Randy Williams, president of the Haycock Road and Great Falls Street Citizens Association. Williams complains that Fairfax Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, who represents the neighborhood, pledged to consider residents' views but didn't.
"We had no input whatsoever," he said. "It was a case of, 'This is what you're going to get and this is why, even if you don't like it.' "
Falck says her message was misinterpreted. "What I promised them was that we wouldn't do any more road improvements than were necessary," she said.
"From all the projections I've seen, they all call for the four-lane road" for safety reasons, Falck said.
In Falls Church, Mayor Carol W. DeLong said the residents generally favor the subway stop but are skeptical about its long-term effects.
"I think the people in Falls Church are very much looking forward to the service," DeLong said. "But they are concerned about the impact of the traffic and the impact on parking."
The anxious mood of the subway's neighbors in Fairfax belies Falck's assessment that, of all the new Metro station plans, this is the only one that is "noncontroversial and totally supported by residents and county staff . . . . People are looking forward to the opening of that station."
In some respects, Falck's appraisal will elicit no argument from the community. Of the three new subway stops in Fairfax, the one at West Falls Church will, if the county does not change its mind, produce the least amount of development in the area surrounding it.
And most of the new construction will be residential. According to county planning officials, the plan calls for the development of 1,120 town houses, apartments and single-family homes. Approximately 220,000 square feet has been zoned for office-commercial development.
However, one critical issue still to be resolved could open the area for much more commercial development.
The unsettled question has to do with the City of Falls Church's attempt to annex 31 acres, including the George Mason Junior-Senior High School property, from Fairfax County.
The land sits outside the western boundary of Falls Church and is just several hundred yards from the Metro station.
Some have said that the city, which owns the school building, is trying to acquire the land under it because of its potential value as a site for commercial development. Falls Church officials have estimated the value of the property to be $40 million, more than double the city's approximately $17 million budget for this year.
Acquisition of the property could represent a financial bonanza for the city, assuming it moves the school and zones the land for commercial development.
Falls Church officials are adamant in wanting control of the property, but they are reluctant to discuss their plans for it.
"Even if we get the school within our jurisdiction, we don't know if we'd develop [the property] or not," DeLong said. She said Falls Church officials desire the property "so we can control the level of pressure put on that site for development."
The county's interest in the deal is Falls Church's water system, which Fairfax would want in return for the land. County officials have complained that Falls Church, which provides water for a portion of the county's residents, overcharges for that service.
Negotiations between city and county officials on the possible annexation are scheduled to get under way in earnest this month.
Falck said she is concerned about what Falls Church has in mind for the site, explaining that she fears the city "would do far more than what could be accommodated" in the way of development there.
She said she believes the two governments "can work this thing out without selling a neighborhood down the river."
The neighbors, even those who favor the subway, are concerned about its impact. They don't want to see the station become a catalyst for massive development.
"Our neighborhood has made enough sacrifices for this," Link said, "and we feel it's time to stop."
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