The expected influx of people from BRAC has generated some rapid growth along the Richmond Highway corridor, particularly in the form of new hotels and residential housing. It’s a good time, therefore, to talk about what kind of community we envision and whether or not we will make room for people of all income levels. Which leads me to ask: whatever happened to the North Hill project?
Years ago, Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, working with the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, proposed the construction of an “affordable housing” community on the 33 acre lot that borders Richmond Highway across from Lockheed Boulevard. That land had been purchased by the RHA in 1981 using CDBG funds for the explicit purpose of creating affordable housing. The first phase of the project, completed in the early 1990s, was the 15-acre manufactured home park called Woodley Hills Estates, otherwise known to some as the “trailer camp.” After much public discussion, Hyland proposed that 67 manufactured homes be placed on the property and the remaining 22 acres be converted to a usable, passive park. Once the announcement was made, the proverbial poop hit the fan. I clearly recall one opponent of the plan asking me “does Gerry really want to be a crime lord?” Then there were those who bemoaned that a number of existing trees would be cut down. Low income housing advocates wanted more than the 67 units. And Gerry even has had to deal with the opposition of the adjoining Supervisor Jeff McKay, who has said the project would be a “disaster.” But for a while, Gerry held his ground.
A considerable amount of taxpayer’s money was spent on consulting studies, public meetings, tree surveys, etc. but then, just over a year ago, Supervisor Hyland out of nowhere toss out the idea of constructing instead a mixed-income project with a lot more density. Advocates of the original North Hill project, who had no warning, were taken by surprise. They felt that Gerry was abandoning them. Then, to complicate matters further, an “unsolicited proposal” to develop the property came into the county proposing the construction of 204 families, with only nine percent of them serving low income residents. And here we are, several years later and low income housing advocates are still wondering what’s going on with this project. Indeed, a recent resolution proposed by the neighboring Woodley Hills Estates Civic Association passed the Mount Vernon Council Planning and Zoning committee asking that the original plan “proceed without delay.”
When I was a commissioner on the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, I was a strong advocate for “scattered site housing.” As a child, my family lived in subsidized housing but we lived in a middle class neighborhood, not in a concentrated “project.” So, we were able to interact with kids from a different social strata and I believe it served me well, making me aspire to live in one of their houses one day. So, I’ve always thought it was better to mix populations if possible.
But North Hill is a different animal. First, the government promised local residents that this land would be used for affordable housing. Second, we are not talking about another “trailer park.” I’ve seen samples of the cottages, yes, cottages that would be placed on the property and they are beautiful. Third, and this is important, most of the cottages would be owned, not rented. The residents of North Hill would therefore have a stake in the community, would be paying property taxes, etc. Meanwhile, as I said, times are a-changing on Richmond Highway. With the construction of new hotels and “luxury apartments,” there’s a new energy along the corridor and it just makes sense to have some housing that could be used by the workers at Starbucks, Target, the new Costco and other new businesses that are undoubtedly on their way.
Now, there may be some things going on behind the scenes that I am not aware of. But we’ve been talking and talking about this for at least five years. It’s time to stop the filibustering and time to fulfill the commitment that was made a long time ago to the people of Woodley Hills Estates and to housing advocates like Keary Kincannon, Shannon Steene and Pam Michell who have been fighting for years for the construction of a measly 67 affordable homes in Mount Vernon.
Let’s find the money and set the ground-breaking date as soon as possible.