Community leaders in Fairfax County’s Gum Springs neighborhood say county officials appear once again to be neglecting the concerns of the historic African American enclave by green-lighting Inova Mount Vernon Hospital’s expansion plans without taking adequate steps to manage the expected traffic.
“The hospital, Inova, has taken this whole thing and tried to ram it down the throats of everybody,” Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association, said Thursday, a day after the hospital’s expansion plans were cleared by the Planning Commission with certain conditions.
Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, whose 26-acre campus now has a building with 237 beds, a helipad and an assisted living complex, has been there since the early 1970s and has expanded several times. The hospital is now asking to build a three- and four-story tower with patients rooms, a six-story parking garage, an expanded emergency room and two ambulatory care centers. The hospital, which embarked on a $14 million expansion and renovation project in 2008, would nearly double in size and increase its capacity by about 22 percent, to 289 beds.
Cox said Gum Springs residents worry that plans to expand Sherwood Hall Lane to four lanes between Route 1 and Parker Drive will shunt most of the increased traffic toward Gum Springs, whose residents include many blacks, immigrants and people with low incomes, while sparing whiter and wealthier neighborhoods to the east. Gum Springs residents are bracing for an increased in traffic that will flow from Costco’s redevelopment of a nearby multiplex theatre, she said.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission gave its blessing to Inova’s expansion plans with several conditions proposed by county planners to alleviate neighborhood disruptions or pay for adjustments to the transportation network, Cox said. These include requirements that Inova carry out the expansion in three phases, take precautions to preserve nearby trees, invest in strategies to reduce employee traffic and contribute money for county parks and transportation.
But Cox said the proposed conditions are not enough. By her calculations, the amount of money the hospital has been asked to come up with to offset needed infrastructure changes has dropped from an original estimate of more than $2.6 million to about $1.7 million. She sid her organization plans to mount a petition drive this weekend ahead of a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors this Tuesday on the hospital’s request for a special zoning exception.
“Before Gum Springs started screaming bloody murder, Inova could have put all their construction in under one phase, because Inova didn’t agree to a phased development,” Cox said.
A call to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital for comment Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Gum Springs has long felt neglected. The area, which took its name from a colonial-era watering hole and its towering gum tree, became home to African Americans who settled around a farm purchased by West Ford, a freed slave from the former estate of George Washington. In the 1970s, many of its residents still lived in tar-paper shacks and received fewer services than other areas of Fairfax County, until the Civil Rights era awakened a new sense of activism in the community and calls for change.
Other neighborhoods are also wary. Chris Granger, president of the Sherwood Estates Citizens Association, said his neighborhood understands the hospital’s need to expand but also believes the county will create a traffic nightmare unless it requires more from Inova — including carefully phasing in expansion and perhaps imposing limits on its scope.
“The hospital should be restricted in what it can do,” said Granger, who has lived on Sherwood Hall Lane since the days when it was a two-lane country road in the 1960s. “It just cannot demolish the surrounding neighborhoods.”