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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mason land use committee votes against homeless shelter relocation



Lincolnia residents who oppose a temporary homeless shelter in their neighborhood stage a protest in front of the Lincolnia Senior Center June 24. [Mark Fraser]
Lincolnia residents who have been fighting a Fairfax County plan to move the Bailey’s Crossroads homeless shelter to a field behind the Lincolnia Senior Center achieved an interim victory June 28, as the Mason District Land Use Committee voted 5-3 against the proposal.

That doesn’t mean the project won’t happen. The MDLUC decision is merely a non-binding recommendation calling for the Mason District representative on the Planning Commission, Julie Strandlie, to reject the county’s 2232 application for the shelter relocation on the grounds that it does not conform to the Comprehensive Plan for the Lincolnia Planning District.  

The MDLUC’s role is solely to determine whether a development proposal is “in substantial accord with the area’s Comprehensive Plan,” said committee chair Daniel Aminoff – not to consider whether the shelter should be relocated or whether a different site would be better.

Fairfax County’s proposal to relocate the shelter from Moncure Avenue in Bailey’s Crossroads to the backyard of the Lincolnia Senior Center is being done to facilitate a redevelopment project calling for AvalonBay to build apartments on the Moncure site. The shelter relocation is part of the Southeast Quadrant land swap approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Loss of green space

MDLUC member Stephen Smith, who voted against the proposal, expressed concerns about traffic at the Little River Turnpike/Beauregard Street intersection, density in the area, and the loss of green space.

“We’re gobbling up open space in this county. It’s ridiculous,” Smith said. “Where do you want kids to play?” The temporary shelter would take up 60 percent of a field that is used for recreation by patrons of the Lincolnia Senior Center and local residents, he said, leaving an open space that is just “three townhouses wide by one townhouse deep.”

“I strenuously think this is not the site for it,” Smith said. “Mason District is not Tysons Corner. We should not be looking to infill every single square foot.”

Committee member Barry Wilson, who also voted against the shelter relocation, said he was troubled by the speed at which the county is trying to get the application approved. “This thing has gone at the speed of heat,” he said. “What is driving such urgency?”

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the shelter relocation proposal on July 20. A staff report by the Department of Planning and Zoning recommends approval.

Crime issues

The MDLUC invited officials from the Fairfax County Police Department to clarify whether a homeless shelter would lead to higher crime in the Lincolnia area. 

In the first quarter of the year, there were 21 “group A offenses” at the Bailey’s shelter, according to the FCPD. That includes 11 assaults, one forgery incident, two crimes involving damage of personal property, five drug offenses, and two larcenies.

It isn’t clear, however, whether those crimes were committed by shelter residents, whether homeless people were victims, or how that compares to the area where the shelter would be relocated.

Homeless people are more vulnerable to crime, although they are less likely to call the police, said Capt. Christian Quinn, commander of the Mason Police District. Seniors are also vulnerable to crimes, such as fraud, he said.

If the shelter is relocated to Lincolnia, Quinn said his officers would be particularly attentive to alcohol-related issues, as there have been lots of drunk-in-public incidents around the general area of the Bailey’s shelter.

“I don’t think a homeless shelter creates crime,” he said, although it does attract people who have been banned from the shelter for substance abuse or other problems and who know people staying there. “Are people being assaulted in the community? That’s not what we’re seeing,” he said. Criminal activity around the shelter has typically involved people at the shelter assaulting others at the shelter.

Another issue the MDLUC sought to clarify was a contention from community members that the senior center would be on 24-hour lockdown.

“There are no plans to lock down the facility,” said Elisa Lueck, regional manager at the county’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. Staff would have to swipe cards to get into the building and would collaborate with shelter staff to ensure security.

In a departure from previous county policy, residents of the temporary shelter will be allowed to stay in the facility in the middle of the day, said Tom Barnett of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. Rather than requiring them to leave so they can access county services, look for work, or go to medical appointments, the county will bring to the facility such services as life skills training, case management, mental health services, and housing counseling.

Strandlie responded to a claim from shelter opponents that the American Planning Association recommends as a “best practice” that a homeless shelter should be at least 2,500 feet from residences.That statement comes from an APA study that discusses an ordinance in Green Bay, Wis., she said; it is not a best practice recommendation. 

Chris Caperton, chief of the facilities planning branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning, told the MDLUC the proposed shelter meets the criteria in the comprehensive plan and urged the committee to support it.

David Stinson, the project manager, noted the one-story, 5,922-square foot modular shelter would be surrounded by a chain-link fence and there would be transitional screening between the shelter and the Charleston Square neighborhood.

When he said the “there will be impacts on the community but they will not be adverse,” the audience responded with laughter.

The wrong location

About 20 community members spoke at the meeting, and most of them urged the MDLUC to oppose the temporary shelter.

Stonegate at Landmark resident Debbie Fraser, a founder of the “Stop the Shelter” campaign, said the 2232 application is flawed because it does not conform to the Lincolnia Comprehensive Plan, which calls for stable neighborhoods to be protected and says any new development should not have an adverse impact on the surrounding community.

Debbie Smith, chair of the Mason District Council, called it “wasteful and disruptive” to move the shelter to a temporary site rather than waiting until a permanent location is secured.

Another speaker complained that the shelter might end up being in Lincolnia on a permanent basis and asked how the other 21 other sites the county was considering were ruled out.

It is not the intent to make this site permanent; “we’re moving forward to find a permanent location,” said Tracy Strunk of the Office of Community Revitalization. The county wont reveal the other sites it considered.

Among other comments from community members:
  • The shelter will attract panhandlers, drugs, and encampments. “A lot of people are homeless for a reason,” mostly due to substance abuse, and should not be placed near seniors, “our most vulnerable people.”
  • The Lincolnia Senior Center is on the border with Alexandria, and Alexandria residents were not informed about this project.
  • It’s wrong to call the opponents of the shelter relocation anti-homeless. Residents understand and support the need to help the homeless while they still oppose the shelter relocation.
  • The shelter will lead to more traffic congestion and safety concerns at “the worst intersection in Northern Virginia.”
  • This process is supposed to be transparent, but residents weren’t notified.
  • “Homelessness is not a crime.” It could happen to anyone, said a resident of Stonegate at Landmark. The shelter could lead to declining property values, but that does not matter. What does matter is that Lincolnia is not a good location for the homeless. 
  • “The shelter does more than just shelter the homeless. It serves the community,” including food distribution to needy people who live nearby, said Mary di Spirito, who has volunteered with the homeless for years.
  •  “The county is treating this as a real estate transaction, when it’s all about people,” said Mark Fraser. “The county is ignoring the risks.”
  • Don’t treat homeless people like “animals,” said a woman who’s been homeless and now works as a peer support counselor at a shelter. “There is a future,” she said. “Who knows who’s a paycheck away from being homeless?” The county should provide a government center with services, not just a shelter.
  • Instead of calling shelter residents “the homeless,” people should think about them as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, said a man who works with FACETS. “Please stop treating them as less than people.”
  • “No one is saying we shouldn’t help the homeless,” said another community member. “It’s about location.”
  •  The green space attached to the senior center serves the surrounding community, not just the seniors. The county should not take it away.
  • Children who walk to schoolbus stops in Lincolnia need to be protected.
  • Seniors “are like children all over again.” They are vulnerable to crime. A shelter in their backyard is “not a safe environment for them.”

28 comments:

  1. these people are 100% anti homeless and racist

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    1. "The shelter will lead to more traffic congestion and safety concerns at “the worst intersection in Northern Virginia.” "

      Because of all those cars those homeless people are driving, amirite?

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    2. Where was race ever mentioned in any of this this?

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    3. Some of the homeless do have cars.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. Love a troll.

      Nobody disputes the need for a homeless shelter. We just disagree about where is an appropriate location for a single adult shelter. Based on public meetings, overwhelmingly residents believe that the backyard of a senior center/residence is not an appropriate location. For the same reasons next to a children's daycare is not an appropriate location (also considered but rejected by the County).

      Further, I assume you mean white people are racist. Two/thirds of the people at the Save the Senior Center/Greenspace demonstration were non-white. As are many of those who have spoken against the shelter relocation at the various public meetings.

      In Wikepedia, Lincolnia is cited as the most diverse area in FFX County. Meanwhile half of the county's homeless are white, higher than the percent of residents who are white in Lincolnia, so we would actually be increasing the white population if we had the rest of the county's homeless living here. But if it makes you feel any better I am against any single adult homeless shelter being located literally in the backyard of any senior citizens' residence.

      I mean we couldn't possibly be against this proposal for the obvious reason that it is ridiculous on its face and doesn't get any better upon further investigation. (In fact, maybe the people who want to put the shelter in the seniors' backyard are racist, preferring the white homeless over the non-white residents? Hmmm...)

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    6. You do not need to justify yourself to this ignorant comment. Everyone knows why there should not be a shelter there and 11:58 just wants to turn it around to something else. Ignorance is choice.

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    7. Thanks, I realize Anon 11:58 is a troll. But why not use the opportunity to school him and others. To wit--Couldn't copy figure but from FFX County website. Figure 1.4 shows the racial and ethnic diversity of residents in the Lincolnia CDP and Fairfax County. Residents who identify with “White Alone” comprise approximately 63 percent of residents in Fairfax County and about 48 percent of residents in the Lincolnia CDP. Residents who identify with “Black
      or African American Alone” comprise about 20 percent of the population in the Lincolnia CDP, more than the countywide proportion of approximately 9 percent. Residents who identify with “Some
      Other Race Alone” comprise nearly 14 percent of the population in Lincolnia, while countywide this is approximately 5 percent. The percentages shown in the bar chart indicate where there are the greatest differences in racial and ethnic composition between the Lincolnia CDP and Fairfax County.

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  2. “This thing has gone at the speed of heat,” he said. “What is driving such urgency?”

    First a DMV, then this shelter, next a sewage plant probably. Why is this neighborhood suddenly being targeted?

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    1. Next we will have a wall surrounding the entire Mason District so that the rest of the County can dump their crap in the Mason Dump.

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    2. Punishment from Penny that Mollie lives in the Lincolnia area. You get what you voted for.

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    3. Penny lives in Lincolnia.

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  3. Just so everyone is clear - if this falls through, then one of the biggest revitalization projects for Baileys Crossroads also goes down with it. And NO improvements are made - Zero.

    And the same people opposing this project are also the biggest whiners about there not being any revitalization in Baileys Crossroads. The cognitive dissonance is truly stunning.

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    1. Exactly what benefit does the community get out of an apartment building? Oh yeah, more parking intrusion, congestion and the onus of relocating the homeless members of our community who are being evicted as a result of this "revitalization".

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    2. I'm still personally a bit conflicted about the avalon bay development. I see that area as very much needing revitalization, but to me the county paid too high a price for the land swap and the development is not consistent with the comprehensive plan, which calls for mixed use development - not old school monolithic use apartments. Add to that the fact that we are relocating a homeless shelter, and I seriously wonder whether we are giving up too much in our desire for redevelopment.

      12:57, you say that's "stunning cognitive dissonance", but to me, I think there is some reasonable rationale behind those who are skeptical of these efforts. Maybe it is worth the price to kick start development? Like I said, I'm personally not quite settled on it yet - but I do know that I think I disagree with the notion that it is "cognitive dissonance" for people to disagree with the process and the way this is heading.

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    3. Anon 12:57, do you really believe that this is the only opportunity to develop that area? If so, perhaps the Board of Supervisors should have got their ducks in a row (I.e., found an appropriate permanent location for the homeless shelter) before pursuing such a deal.

      They're not making more land inside the Beltway, so the land will eventually be developed, but we want smart development. In less than two months they decided to get rid of the only greenspace within a mile of the senior center and surrounding neighborhoods to locate a "temporary" homeless shelter in the backyard of a senior center. That sounds rash, not well thought out and unsound.

      In a heartbeat, the BoS I immediately threw out plans for a mixed-use development for a 375-unit apartment building without any consideration for the consequences of such a decision.

      We don't want to have another Mark Center debacle on our hands. I personally would rather live with the blight a couple of more years than have to live with extremely poorly thought out "improvements" for the next 50.

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  4. Mr. Smith is a real asset to this Com. He was very alert to the comments and everything that was being affected by this. Keep up the good work Steve Smith !

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  5. "The Lincolnia Senior Center is on the border with Alexandria, and Alexandria residents were not informed about this project."

    I am a resident of the City of Alexandria. Please do not speak for us. I do not see any negative impacts to the City from this relocation, and am glad that Fairfax is willing to share the burden (long borne by Alexandria and DC) of housing the homeless.

    In addition I would like to see the Rte 7 corridor redeveloped, and new residential density placed close to the new Rte 7 transit line, so that it can be a success. The current state of Baileys Crossroads is not good for Alexandria, IMO.

    Signed
    ACyclistInThePortCity

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    1. To be clear that speaker stated that nearby Alexandria residents were not informed, not that all Alexandrians disagreed with it. Also be careful what you wish for... an inferior temporary shelter facility with armed security at that location will have the shelter residents running for Alexandria in a hearbeat.

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    2. I think the opinions of Alexandria residents, both those who live nearby, and those who live near Baileys, and those who live elsewhere in the City, are for the Govt of Alexandria to consult, not for Mason District committee's to consider. I also doubt that this shelter were prove undesirable to shelter residents, and I doubt very much that is why it is being opposed.

      ACyclistInThePortCity

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    3. No negative impacts? You must have read the staff report. The City of Alexandria's great contribution was that putting the homeless shelter next to the senior center would be "ideal" because they could share facilities and thus the site was "viable." It would be funny except that the City really said that.

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    4. Response to Anonymous6/29/16, 12:57 PM:

      What we will end up with is no revitilization and the Dump will just get dumpier.

      The selection for the homeless shelter should have been more carefully vetted, its just like the DMV.

      Yea there are whiners who will find anything to whine about and they do, but the BoS and the County failed the district big time. They failed their tax payers, constituents and the most vulnerable: seniors and the homeless.

      Time to move away from this place, its way too dysfunctional and like the Congress it is stuck in a time warp of getting nothing done.

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    5. To Anon at 5:28pm Alexandria residents use the shopping center, roads and parks in the area of the proposed temporary shelter in Lincolnia. All of these will be impacted, so their concerns are important in the deliberation.

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    6. What's really going on? It is simple, blatant, political corruption. Just look at the money the county is giving away to the developers at Bailey's. If we keep letting them get away with it, it will only get worse. The Board of Supervisors acts as though the homeowner/occupiers are irrelevant to their decision making in eastern Fairfax county. Mason District's Supervisor won't even protect her own neighborhood. Why is that?

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  6. Mason District has far more appropriate locations for a shelter than next to fragile seniors.

    For Penny and staff to say they've been looking for years for another location is disingenous...there have been many, but their real estate agent is asleep at the switch. Time to retire Jones Lang LaSalle. They are on County pay even if they don't find a place. Use a local real estate agent who gets a commission. Bet they will find a location very quickly.

    Better yet, use some County land for free rent...like the Archives on Commercial Dr.

    The proposed apartment building, a $125M human services building and a new road to nowhere at the SEQ are NOT what the people want. It is what is being shoved down our throats by Penny.

    Find a new location for the shelter and implement the 2007 Comp Plan that calls for a mixed use development...the kind AvalonBay builds so beautifully.

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    1. The human resources center needs to be shelved, we don't need some soviet style social service building alias the Penny Palace. Build a mixed use center. We want Mosaic not Moscow.

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  7. Does the MDLUC have any power here? Does the BOS listen to the planning commission? I think the answer to both is no.

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  8. The reason we are even talking about this issue is because if enough well-informed residents speak out at the July 20, 8pm Planning Commission meeting in FFX, they do have the power to correct the BoS's incompetent and disingenuous relocation proposal. (The former bc you do not put a shelter for single adult and predominantly male homeless next to a vulnerable population like seniors, for the same reasons you don't put it next to a community daycare and the latter because the county says it is a "temporary" location when they are not legally bound to relocating again in five or fifty years.)

    If you are familiar with the proposed relocation site, you know it is already overbuilt and no other outdoor recreational space exists for the seniors or surrounding community. To effectively take away this entire greenspace as is proposed, flies in the face of the comp. plan. But only if residents show up to have their voices heard, will we have a chance of defeating this idiotic proposal. Because the BoS were just recently re-elected, they realize they have years to recover from this betrayal of their naive constituents. Speak up now or it will only get worse.

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