Evans Farm developers have received final approval from Fairfax County supervisors to turn the longtime McLean landmark into a 144-home community. The board's unanimous vote early yesterday culminated a 5 1/2-hour public hearing during which many county residents pleaded for some way to stop the project.
Even though he voted with his nine colleagues to approve the project by the West Group development company, Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) said he would have loved to see landowner Ralph Evans keep his property as the restaurant and park it has been for decades.
But in the end, Mendelsohn said, the developer's plan for upscale homes and town houses on the 24-acre site near Tysons Corner will be a valuable addition to the McLean area he represents.
"Change is painful, and I share the anguish we all feel at the passing of an era," Mendelsohn said. "There is no question that we would all love to save Evans Farm and keep it the way it is. However, that is not an option."
The vote caps nearly a year of bitter wrangling between the developer and residents of McLean, many of whom had hoped to preserve the site on Chain Bridge Road, which has been an island of rural serenity for generations of families who went to feed the ducks and pet the other animals.
About 75 speakers lined up Monday night before the vote. More than two dozen said they supported the development plan as an attractive use of the property.
Emotional testimony came from members of the Coalition to Save Evans Farm and other opponents, many of whom seemed to recognize the futility of their efforts from the beginning.
"Please, please don't vote until you've walked there," Caroline Triplett begged the board. "I was a baby there. I got married there. Please come look at it. We are fighting for our home."
Jody Marshall, another opponent, said: "It's not a question of being against development. It's a question of being against too much development. Help preserve what quality of life we have left."
Evans Farm--with its picturesque pond, replica of an old mill and a restaurant resembling an 18th century farmhouse--has been a McLean favorite for decades. Although neighbors viewed the farm as a community recreation spot, it had always been private property and was acquired by the Evans family in 1938.
Saying he could no longer afford to run the place, Ralph Evans signed a contract last year to sell it to the West Group for a price estimated at $20 million.
Before the board's vote, Evans, 65, expressed bitterness at those opposing the development, saying they had made his life miserable.
"I wouldn't want my worst enemy to endure what we have at the hands of these people," he said.
After the vote, his bitterness turned to relief. "I'm very pleased," he said. "This is going to be one of the great developments on the East Coast."
Opposition to the project included several rush-hour protests in front of the West Group's Tysons headquarters in an attempt to have the development scaled back and an unsuccessful effort by activists to get a special tax district created in McLean to raise money to buy the site.
Last month, activists were dealt their worst blow when the county Planning Commission overwhelmingly recommended approval of the rezoning, saying the proposed residential development was consistent with the long-standing plan for that part of McLean. The 12-member panel voted 10 to 1, with one member absent.
In addition to building town houses, condominiums and detached houses, the West Group has promised to keep some open space and to try to save the most popular features, such as some old trees, the pond and the mill.