The future location of a 94-bed assisted living home, where Thelma’s Ice Cream once stood. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

The State of NoVa first reported in May that Shelter Development of Baltimore wanted to build a 94-bed, 57,000-square foot assisted living facility near the intersection with Walker Road. But in addition to the former Thelma’s spot, Shelter needed to get approval to build on the residential lot behind it. When many nearby residents found out about it, including married couple Joseph Sartiano and Kimberley Thachuk, the project was already far down the road.

Sartiano launched “No to Brightview” and rounded up community support, even though the Great Falls Citizens Association had already studied the project and endorsed it. Sartiano noted that many Great Falls residents aren’t members of the association and hadn’t been notified of the new project, which will be 40-feet high in places.

The planning commission on May 12 approved the project, on 1.44 acres of Thelma’s commercial land and 2.12 acres of residential land. But Sartiano and other continued the fight. In this video, he describes why he opposes the assisted living home, and the saga continues after the jump.


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Shelter, and Dranesville Supervisor John Foust, recognized the neighborhood unrest, including petitions with more than 250 residents opposing Brightview. In Great Falls, 250 people is a lot. So even though the project had been approved, Shelter agreed to go back to the drawing board.

But at a community meeting last week, when Shelter unveiled the changes, they were minor. The building was 5,000 square feet smaller, down to 52,000 square feet, but the number of beds was the same, and the desire to expand into the residential lot was unchanged.

Sartiano spoke at the meeting, saying the facility violated the county's own comprehensive plan for the district as well as various codes and ordinances, and that letting a developer build solely on the commercial lot, whatever they could fit, would be preferable. Most others at the meeting also spoke out against it, and the operator of another assisted living facility in Herndon said he was told by the planning commission that the very same lot was too small for such a facility.

That set the stage for Tuesday’s meeting by the full county board. Foust said the project had been well vetted in many forums, according to The Post’s Freddy Kunkle, including informal meetings with the developer and two town hall meetings he hosted in June and last Thursday, and that the developer had been extremely sensitive to neighbors’ concerns.

Dianne Van Volkenburg of the citizens association said Shelter had been a good citizen in trying to inform neighbors of its plans and modify them to reduce objections. A lawyer for Shelter said Brightview was a housing use, not a commercial use.

Thachuk called the project “a monstrosity.” Sartiano said the county had sold out to the highest bidder. The board approved the project unanimously.

“This was a done deal the second it came to the Great Falls Citizens Association and John Foust,” Sartiano said Wednesday. “We had no chance.” He said he was considering appealing the decision to the Fairfax County courts.