It is a fitting place for a garden park: nearly 14 acres of woodlands, azaleas, rhododendrons, walkways, a pond and a large open lawn inside the Capital Beltway.
John and Margaret White bought the property near Falls Church in 1939, built a house, raised five children and planted the idyllic shade garden. After John White died, Margaret White could have cashed in by selling the property to a developer who might have built yet another Fairfax subdivision. But six years ago, she sold it to the county Park Authority for $600,000 and the promise that the land would be preserved as a park upon her death.
"It was an extraordinarily generous gesture," Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) said of the property at 3301 Hawthorne Lane. "When we discovered that Mrs. White was interested in never having it developed, we really jumped on the opportunity."
Now, as Margaret White nears age 100, Park Authority planners are trying to decide how to design what will formally be known as the John C. and Margaret K. White Horticultural Park. A third public planning workshop on the park is scheduled for July 21.
There is no doubt the park will move forward. The biggest unresolved issue is how people will get to it. The question of access has split the immediate neighborhood and drawn Gross into the conflict, proving again that land use issues are never easy in built-out Fairfax.
On one side are residents of the Knollwood subdivision, who belong to the Holmes Run Valley Citizens' Association. Three of the five streets under consideration for a park entrance are in Knollwood, and all three would require widening the road and clearing trees. The homeowners on those streets say the quiet character of their neighborhood would be changed forever and property values would drop. They say the park entrance should go at the end of Goldsboro Road.
Goldsboro is in the Sleepy Hollow Park neighborhood. Homeowners there are asking the Park Authority to remove Goldsboro from consideration as an entrance, although the street is wider and, unlike some of the others, already has curbs and sidewalks. They say there are more children in Sleepy Hollow Park than in Knollwood whose safety would be threatened by the increase in traffic when they are playing outside.
Gross, whose district includes White Park, is siding for now with Sleepy Hollow Park residents, citing a 1988 Board of Supervisors vote banning future development on Goldsboro Road. The Park Authority is neutral on the issue, saying all streets are under consideration for entrances. But the political reality is that it is difficult for a county agency to buck an elected official.
"We certainly respect the supervisor's position on this matter, but we are still considering all options," said Judy Pedersen, spokeswoman for the Park Authority. The authority's board is hoping to consider the park plan, including the entrance, before the end of the year.
If the board chooses one of the Knollwood entrances, changes would have to be made at the end of either Princess Anne Lane, Rolfs Road or Horseman Lane. None of those streets is wide enough to handle the additional traffic generated by the park. To expand one of them, trees would have to be removed.
Denise L. Landon, who lives on Rolfs Road, said about 50 of her neighbors have organized to protest putting the park entrance at the end of one of the three narrow, shady streets. The residents have met with Gross and picketed at a recent Park Authority open house at the White Park site.
The Knollwood residents support the park, Landon said, but "are concerned about the unfairness of the process thus far in determining how the entranceway to the park is going to be handled."
The group said an entrance on the east side of the White property, at the end of Goldsboro Road, would make more sense because Goldsboro is a wider street that would not need major alterations to become the park's feeder road. The county could therefore save on construction costs, they pointed out.
R. Neal Straker, who also owns a house on Rolfs Road, said of Goldsboro: "The street infrastructure is already in place to accommodate the traffic. The street was apparently designed to enter into the property."
But developing Goldsboro Road would require that the Board of Supervisors hold a public hearing to consider lifting the 1988 board order that gives the supervisors control of a section of the road where it ends. The order, aimed at preventing future development of Goldsboro, was advocated by Thomas M. Davis III (R), who then was the Mason District supervisor and now is the 11th District congressman, in cooperation with Goldsboro Road residents. The residents had asked for total control of the road, but the supervisors inserted language allowing them to change their mind in the future following a public hearing.
Removing the 17-year-old order would not be fair, say Goldsboro residents, who are asking the Park Authority to remove their street as a possible main entrance.
Carol J. Freeland, who lives on Goldsboro, said children in Sleepy Hollow Park use the cul-de-sac as an improvised basketball court and to ride their bicycles. Moreover, Sleepy Hollow Elementary School is on the opposite side of Sleepy Hollow Road from Goldsboro, and children use the road to walk to school.
But Gross said there has to be a compelling reason to break a promise made by the board to Goldsboro Road residents. Trying to reverse the supervisors' order at this point "would be prejudging and presupposing that [Goldsboro] would be the entrance," Gross said, and would be capricious. "I think you have to be very careful about reneging on promises that were made to the community years ago. I think there would be tremendous opposition to doing that," she said.
Even if the Park Authority recommended Goldsboro as the entrance to the park, she said, the distance from the entrance to the main gardens on the property is a potential problem for people with disabilities that could be challenged under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Still, Knollwood residents such as Straker say Gross is not representing her constituents equally by publicly criticizing the possibility of an entrance on Goldsboro Road while the Park Authority is still considering it.
"We are asking that each of the proposed entryways be treated equally and fairly," Straker said.
The public planning workshop is at 7 p.m. July 21 at J.E.B. Stuart High School, 3301 Peace Valley Lane in the Falls Church area. The meeting will include an overall presentation about the park by county staff members, followed by small group discussions. Comments can be accepted that night or mailed to Sandy Stallman, planner, Planning and Development Division, Fairfax County Park Authority, 12055 Government Center Pkwy., Suite 421, Fairfax, Va. 22035. E-mail comments should be sent to Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov.