A Fairfax County proposal to turn a recently acquired historic house in Tysons Corner into an upscale rental property for corporate meetings and social events has run into roadblocks from nearby residents who say they don't want the traffic and other hassles that they believe would come to their neighborhood.
Homeowners in the Westwood Village community, which is being built adjacent to the Ash Grove historic house in Tysons Corner, say they were unaware when they purchased their homes that the county was mulling renovating the house, putting in an asphalt parking lot and renting it out for various events.
Turning the house into a rental site would "destroy the neighborhood," said James Hume, a computer consultant who is leading the fight to stop the project, which he warns could turn the community into "party central" for wedding guests and other visitors.
But the county's Park Authority says that it has made no final decision on use of the Ash Grove site. An authority spokeswoman said that the developers of Westwood Village, a community of 154 condominiums and 112 town houses, and homeowners moving into the half-completed community, should have known that the house was being considered for use as a corporate and social rental site.
"Information on the Ash Grove Historic Site has been available for anyone" since the park authority first began formulating plans for the area in January 1999, said Park Authority spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald. She said the county has distributed notices in the community about its plans, which have also been available at www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/gmpash.htm, part of the county's Web site.
Ash Grove sits on a 12.3-acre site that the county acquired when a real estate developer purchased 40 acres in the area from the Sherman family, longtime owners of land in the Tysons Corner area. The developer turned over the 12.3-acre parcel with the house and two outbuildings to the county in 1997 and 1998.
Located behind the Sheraton Premiere Hotel tower at Leesburg Pike and the Dulles Toll Road, the property was owned by the Fairfax family before it was acquired by the Sherman family in the 1800s, according to county records.
The three-story clapboard house, extensively remodeled over the years, is thought to have been constructed in 1790 by Thomas, the ninth Lord Fairfax, over a hunting lodge built by a previous Lord Fairfax.
Westwood Village homeowners say they first heard of the proposal to turn the house into a rental property when they saw a notice posted near the community clubhouse for a Park Authority public hearing Nov. 15. At that meeting, about 15 homeowners told the authority board that they objected to the proposal.
Homeowners say they fear that functions at the site, which could last until midnight, would generate noise, traffic and litter in their community. They fear that attendees at various events would exacerbate the already tight parking situation in the community and that drunken party guests could disrupt the neighborhood late at night.
Scot Brown, a homeowner who moved into Westwood Village in May, said he is concerned that the proposed use of Ash Grove as a rental facility would overwhelm the small neighborhood, tucked in a wooded area behind the Sheraton Hotel and surrounded on three sides by office buildings.
"The site doesn't take into consideration residential concerns," Brown said.
However, Fitzgerald said that alcohol use would be permitted on the site only in a "clearly defined area . . . you cannot just walk about the site with alcohol. That's not allowed."
As for litter, she said that users would be required to clean up the site after use and that a resident caretaker also would be responsible for keeping up the house.
The Park Authority has scheduled a meeting with Westwood Village homeowners for 1 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Ash Grove house. Residents also will get extended time--until Dec. 29--to comment on the proposal. A final decision on the site has not been scheduled, Fitzgerald said.
If the plan is approved, Ash Grove would become part of the county's "historic properties" service, which rents out nine county-owned facilities--including Wakefield Chapel in Annandale and Clark House in Falls Church--for corporate meetings, weddings and other social events. Rental revenue is used to maintain the facilities.
Fitzgerald said that the county envisions Ash Grove as much like Clark House, a 1902 Victorian farmhouse in the midst of a Falls Church neighborhood. In the last fiscal year, 19 private and corporate groups rented Clark House, and 48 civic associations used the property rent-free. In all, about 2,000 people attended Clark House events, the county said, and the Park Authority received no complaints from the neighborhood.
"This [Ash Grove] is a park that is part of a neighborhood," she said. "This is not an unusual situation. Parks are part of the neighborhood in which they sit, and we always try to be good neighbors."