When Bernard Mullady and his wife Elizabeth built their home on eight acres in the woods in the Annandale/North Springfield area in the early 1940s, Braddock Road was a narrow, rural street. The road near their home at the corner of Woodland Avenue did not have enough traffic to merit paving, according to Mullady.
A retired government worker, union activist, news reporter and former Springfield postmaster, Mullady has been active in civic groups since he moved to Fairfax 44 years ago. Today Mullady is trying to get Fairfax County to increase the density on his homesite from two units per acre to five per acre so he can build housing for the elderly.
In the process, Mullady has generated a thunderstorm of opposition from residents of North Springfield and Annandale. Young and old residents alike oppose his plan -- some have big mortgages on new, expensive homes, and others have lived in their homes for more than 20 years and have paid off their mortgages. Some are living on fixed retirement incomes. But the new and longtime residents of the Braddock Road area share a common goal: They want to maintain the residential character of the area.
Standing-room-only crowds showed up this week for a Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing to oppose Mullady's application even though his property is across the street from an existing nursing home. His proposal also has gained support from many of the civic associations in which he has participated and from countywide organizations focusing on issues affecting the elderly.
Mullady's proposal was the first of many requests for housing for the elderly that are now before the planning commission as part of this year's review of the land-use plan. The furor generated by it is expected to be repeated again and again during hearings in the next 10 days as members of the planning commission face the fact that Fairfax lacks a land-use planning category for elderly housing.
Commission members are being asked to make decisions that must be based on land-use density rather than eventual development of the property in accordance with the plan amendment process.
In dozens of public meetings during recent weeks in all parts of Fairfax, housing for the elderly has been opposed. Almost always those who oppose a specific plan say they are not opposed to elderly facilities, "just not in my neighborhood."
Annandale District Supervisor Audrey Moore, in a rare appearance before the planning commission, said Fairfax "is going to have to develop criteria for the location of housing for the elderly.
"We're going to have to figure out how to pay for it and how to put it up" without federal aid, Moore said. "I think the real challenge to the county is to provide senior citizen housing for low- and moderate-income people."
Moore told a reporter there is "no question there is a market for elderly housing." There is money to be made from it, especially when the rents or entrance fees are high, she said. That means business investors are looking to build housing for the affluent elderly rather than those with moderate or fixed incomes.
Other county officials agree. The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority now is getting requests for industrial development bonds to help developers build housing for senior citizens.
Planning commission Chairman George Lilly said he is not sure the plan amendment process is the proper forum for solving the housing problem for the elderly, which is escalating rapidly.
"The county has to develop some way of not intruding into single-family neighborhoods with these developments. I don't know how we are going to deal with this issue in the long run," Lilly said.
Many people see these developments for the elderly as "projects that may hurt their property values," said one real estate agent. "That is not necessarily true."
"It used to be that schools, nursing homes or parks were part of a community, part of a neighborhood, but that's not true anymore," Lilly said.
One county staff member suggested that perhaps the county should have pulled all the applications for elderly housing among the 300 proposed changes submitted for special study.
But that didn't happen, and the elderly applications are being dealt with on the basis of increased residential density. That density increase is important to those wanting to develop elderly housing because Fairfax allows a developer to multiply the density on a site by four to compute the number of units allowed if elderly housing is built.
Commission member Rosemarie Annunziata said she thinks the elderly housing issue is a rezoning issue. "Essentially, I don't feel the plan amendment process is the place to address this. It is a special exception issue," she said.
In special exception cases, planning commission members are "normally provided with a great deal of data," she said. She said she would not be making any decisions on applications on elderly housing on the basis of possible use for such purposes. She said she will address only the density question.
Mullady asked her to give him the density "to make it possible for us to come before the planning commission and the board of supervisors for a rezoning and special exception."
"All I am saying is that the density you are asking for has to stand on its own," Annunziata said.
Val S. McWhorter, chairman of the citizens task force which studied Mullady's proposal, said local residents attending a community meeting voted 183-7 against the plan. "To describe the audience reaction as hostile to the proposed change would be an understatement. The proposed higher density use was objected to as conflicting with the established single-family character of the community," McWhorter said.
Tim Webb, who lives in a three-year-old house next door to Mullady, said his neighbors are opposed "to anything but single family. We bought here because it was a stable single-family area."
Harry Lowe, a resident of Springfield for 30 years, spoke in support of the proposal as a representative of the Springfield Citizens Association. "We have no ax to grind. We are concerned about the elderly. This county does not provide for the elderly," Lowe said.