|This wooded area in Annandale, seen from Libeau Lane, could be the site of a new townhouse development.|
The Christopher Companies, a real estate developer based in Oakton, has proposed building 66 townhouses on a 9.5-acre, heavily wooded, triangular area between Gallows Road, Libeau Lane, and the Raintree townhouse community.
At the request of Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, the Board of Supervisors authorized the Fairfax County Planning Commission to consider an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan that would change the concept for land use on the property to allow for higher density. It would increase the allowable use from two housing units per acre to as many as eight. A rezoning proposal has also been submitted.
There are 11 single-family homes in the affected area. The Christopher Companies have approached the homeowners about selling. All have agreed, except for the owner of the house at 3412 Gallows Road.
The sales would be contingent on approval of the Comprehensive Plan amendment and rezoning applications by the Board of Supervisors, said E. John Regan Jr., executive vice president of The Christopher Companies.
There will be another presentation on the proposed plan amendment at the Mason District Land Use Committee meeting April 25, 7 p.m., at the Mason Government Center. The proposal will also be on the agenda of the MDLUC’s May 23 meeting.
A report by the Department of Planning and Zoning staff is expected to be released May 18. The Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the plan amendment June 15, and the Board of Supervisors is expected to have a hearing on July 25.
A resident of Wendy Ridge Lane said he was worried that more development would lead to worse traffic congestion. Trying to make a left turn onto Gallows Road from Aston Street in the morning is already “a nightmare,” he said. People often have to wait for five or 10 minutes.
A resident with a daughter in a trailer at Woodburn Elementary School said the townhouses would attract families with young children, which would make the school even more overcrowded.
Someone else raised concerns about overflow parking, noting that Raintree residents already park on neighborhood streets. A woman who lives on Trammel Road warned that a new development could result in cut-through traffic through neighborhood streets.
A Raintree resident said he bought his home because of the wooded area nearby and urged the county to protect the woods. Another Raintree resident suggested using the land for a park and recreation rather than more townhouses. Someone else worried about what would happen to the deer and other animals who live in the woods.
“Just because an area is available for development doesn’t mean it’s right or reasonable to develop it,” a resident said. “Every piece of land shouldn’t be developed.”
A resident of Holmes Run Acres called the proposal “a poor precedent for density in this area.” Leave the density at R-2 or go up to R-3, she suggested. When many trees were cut down to expand the beltway and add express lanes, her neighborhood experienced more noise, dirt, and water runoff, and there now are long traffic backups on Gallows Road during the morning rush.
Losing one of the last remaining patches of woods diminishes the quality of life, she said. “This will be the nail in the coffin” that will threaten the stability and safety of the neighborhood.
Gross warned the audience that under a state law enacted last year, county staff can’t discuss proffers. The county can talk about the impacts of a project, but not how to solve any potential problems – such as traffic congestion or school overcrowding. “Even suggestions of proffers at a meeting like this subjects the county to legal liability,” she said.
Several people asked whether the townhouse project is a done deal and how the county will decide whether it should go forward.
Mike Van Atta of the Planning and Zoning Department said the staff will consider such issues as land use compatibility and how the proposal relates to adjacent neighborhoods, among other issues. Other county agencies will submit comments on how the development will affect traffic, access, school capacity, storm water, and the tree cover. More detailed analyses would occur during the rezoning process.
There’s a possibility that the staff could say the density should be less than what is proposed, which would allow single-family homes but not townhouses, Van Atta said. There have been instances in the past where the staff has recommended denial, and the proposal for a plan amendment was withdrawn, he noted.
“This is not a fait accompli,” Gross said. The Board of Supervisors authorized a study of the proposal; it didn’t direct the staff or Planning Commission to approve it.
The current landowners could cut down all the trees if they want to, as the area was developed before existing regulations – on things like storm water and tree preservation – were approved. Some of the houses were built in the 1940s and some have septic tanks.
Owners have the right to sell their properties, Gross said. “At what point do we say the doors are closed and no one else is allowed in? That is the challenge.”