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Time to Move on North Hill

Whatever happened to North Hill.

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.   

Jody July 24, 2012 at 07:22 PM
A vocal few from your adjoining neighborhood may have voiced their opinion against it, but that wasn't an overall consensus. I'm sure that these modular cottages will have proper foundations and adequate energy efficiency. Fairfax County has rules for everything under the sun. Low cost housing will benefit people with low incomes more than another park, especially when Huntley Meadows is right down the street and the hilly land in question could probably only be used for passive recreation.
William David July 25, 2012 at 01:18 AM
@Jody, the consensus of the community is reflected in the Comp Plan, and that change for 100% park was adopted years ago by the Board of Supervisors. The BOS does not adopt these changes willy-nilly. Much thought goes into it, including public hearings and passage through the Planning Commission. The CP for NH has not changed since that adoption and remains in effect. The trailers will not have foundations, they are not required per HUD guidelines. Fairfax County has nothing to do with the standards for the housing or how they are installed; again, that is HUD, a national agency. I do not know what guidelines the RHA must follow if Fairfax County would want to upgrade them, in fact they may not be allowed as the occupants must be able to afford them. Finally, only 67 individuals or families may benefit as that is how many units are currently prescribed. A neighborhood park dedicated to serve the immediate area would qualify within the guidelines, as the current plan does in fact include parkland, and hundreds of families would benefit. The current park development plan does call for passive recreation but that is certainly a good thing given the age and specimen trees cataloged on the site. Again, 100% parkland is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the facts.
William David July 25, 2012 at 01:19 AM
@Jody, the consensus of the community is reflected in the Comp Plan, and that change for 100% park was adopted years ago by the Board of Supervisors. The BOS does not adopt these changes willy-nilly. Much thought goes into it, including public hearings and passage through the Planning Commission. The CP for NH has not changed since that adoption and remains in effect. The trailers will not have foundations, they are not required per HUD guidelines. Fairfax County has nothing to do with the standards for the housing or how they are installed; again, that is HUD, a national agency. I do not know what guidelines the RHA must follow if Fairfax County would want to upgrade them, in fact they may not be allowed as the occupants must be able to afford them. Finally, only 67 individuals or families may benefit as that is how many units are currently prescribed. A neighborhood park dedicated to serve the immediate area would qualify within the guidelines, as the current plan does in fact include parkland, and hundreds of families would benefit. The current park development plan does call for passive recreation but that is certainly a good thing given the age and specimen trees cataloged on the site. Again, 100% parkland is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the facts.
Ron Fitzsimmons July 25, 2012 at 04:30 PM
William, I still think "trailers" is not the right way to describe these homes. Of course, anyone who opposes providing affordable housing will call them trailers, but when I was with Hyland that is not what I saw when we were looking at models. And I recall that RHA was giving folks only three option in terms of what specific housing thy would accept and they all were very beautiful "cottages" that happened to be mobiile. Another thing is that Hyland and RHA has made a commitment to build these units AND make these woods usable via a park. Is there not something to say about gov't keeping its word to people? Finally, as far as there being "only" 67 units, that is a lot of homes for folks who cant afford to live in Wessnynton, Mason Hill, and Waynewood. And they could be teachers, firemen and young people in general who right now couldn't even think about housing in MV. whorarnathey soeolks esere
Jody July 30, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Is there an estimate of total cost to develop the land, utilities, roads and build/place the cottages? What if for the same amount of money you could buy down the cost of existing housing to help ten times more needy people purchase a modest home? I'm just wondering about the common sense, cost effectiveness of it all. Not that we can or should go back on his project, looks like it's a done deal, but I hope the county doesn't spend any more of our money on deals like this. Ron, we have a boat load of affordable housing now!

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