Residents of McLean are divided over what should be the boundaries of the community's central business district. In a highly spirited debate, they are also questioning whether the highly touted and popular Someplace Special, better known as the Giant Gourmet, is a community asset or a trigger for expanding the business district to include residential neighborhoods near the popular grocery store.
A coalition of property owners is asking Fairfax County to change their residentially zoned land to commercial. But an equal number of residents of the same community have signed petitions asking the county to reject that idea and maintain the Bryn Mawr subdivision areas adjacent to the business district as single-family residential neighborhoods.
"The only thing bad about living near that grocery store is the fact that it takes American Express," said one resident who frequently stops by the store for dinner.
Both sides of the controversy took their case to the McLean Planning Committee this week. That group is made up of business leaders and professionals working in the McLean central business district, along with representatives of residential areas adjacent to what is a fairly well-defined business district.
Twenty residents of the Tennyson Drive, Whittier Avenue and Laughlin Avenue areas between Old Dominion Drive, Chain Bridge Road and Westmoreland Avenue want their residential status of their home sites altered. Residents complain that a new county fire station that is being moved from a main thoroughfare to a residential street will change the character of their neighborhood.
Speaking for those wanting the change, Robert Nelson of Tennyson Drive said residential property values in his area are running as much as $50,000 below values of average homes in McLean. "Nine of the 25 houses in his area have a value below $130,000," Nelson said. He said that falls below the median price of McLean property.
"Some residents have already received offers higher than the residential values," Nelson said. He said speculators who foresee a potential commercial value of at least $20 a square foot will pay $10 a square foot today for the 13 acres he wants changed. He said that that price would produce far greater returns for owners than residential prices.
The Bryn Mawr Civic Association has voted to oppose the change.
Speaking on behalf of the task force opposing the proposed change, Eugene Durman said, "This is not a unanimous recommendation from residents of the area." He said he has 19 names on petitions in oposition to the change and doubts that the reasons being touted to support the change would meet county criteria to merit such a change.
Durman said those supporting and opposing the change from residential to commerical "were not pleased with the system used to relocate the fire station, but it is not as if the fire station is being moved in from Loudoun County." It is being moved two blocks from an old facility on busy Chain Bridge Road to a residential street. The county made the decision to move the station with little input from the neighborhood.
Durman said residents of Bryn Mawr repeatedly have beat back other efforts to expand the business district, and he pointed to recent construction of new single-family detached homes in the area.
"This is not a neighborhood in deterioration," Durman said. The proposed change would be "destroying a neighborhood that does not want to die. It is one of the few areas in McLean where a young family can start out," because of the price of the homes, he explained. "It is one of the few affordable places in McLean where children can walk to one of the best high schools in Fairfax," Durman said, referring to McLean High School.
Elice Altroggan, a longtime resident of Bryn Mawr who has been active in land planning activities for many years, told the group: "I don't want to move. From McLean's point of view, this proposal is just not good planning. McLean still has a lot of land that has not been redeveloped. If you suddenly throw another 13 acres in the central business district, people won't be interested in redevelopment."
But Jackie Thomas, who also has participated in land use debates, is a property owner pushing for the land use change. "I have lived there for nine years. The property around me continues to deteriorate," she said.
Nelson said failure to accept the change would be, "in effect, holding property hostage for the protection of others." He predicted "hodge-podge development" if the plans are not approved.