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Controversy Surrounds Sitework at
Historic Marmota Farm
(Great Falls, September 15, 2021) Chainsaws and earth moving machines began clearing the 22-acre site of the former Marmota Farm on Monday September 13th to prepare the parcel for 11 single family homes to be developed by Toll Brothers. The development of this site, which borders Georgetown Pike near the intersection with Innsbruck Avenue near the Grange, has been a source of debate among opponents of development and preservationists who consider the former farm as an important part of the historical, semi-rural heritage of Great Falls.
Plans to develop the site located at 9800 Georgetown Pike were approved by Fairfax County authorities in 2006 without any requirements for variances or special exceptions under the concept of a “By-right subdivision”. The term “by-right” in this case means that it is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government, or input from the nearby community. Fairfax County Zoning regulations provide that the subdivision of land is a “privilege” conferred upon a landowner on whom rests a duty of compliance with reasonable conditions laid down by the Board of Supervisors for design, dedication, improvement, and restrictive use of land so as to conform to the adopted comprehensive plan for the physical and economic development of the County. Because this is a “By-right” subdivision, it has also sparked questions, concerns, and frustration by some residents because there was no opportunity afforded to speak at a public hearing. However, in this instance, the planned subdivision does not require such a hearing, as exceptions to the Zoning Ordinance were not sought. Adding to this, settled Virginia case law provides that compliance with the valid rules and regulations adopted by a local government entitles the landowner to approval of the subdivision plat.
Grass roots efforts launched
Community opposition to the subdivision began in earnest in 2016 when a community group calling itself “Save Marmota Farm” held an organizational meeting at the Great Falls Library. This group and others pursued a petition drive and sought County funding to transform the site into public parkland. However, these efforts failed, as did other efforts by a well-known Great Falls architect and developer to acquire the site and build fewer homes that he believed would be more in keeping with the character of the surrounding community.
Heritage resources threatened
Because the site plan was approved in 2006, significant changes occurred in the rules governing stormwater management since that time. As a consequence, GFCA persuaded County officials to revisit the plan’s specifications and review them for compliance with current State stormwater regulations. That was accomplished in 2020 as were commitments to preserve trees and vegetation and the contributing parts of the historic roadbed along the frontage of Georgetown Pike. However, County tree and land development officials are reviewing reconsidered their conclusions about a large heritage Oak that stands near the edge of the Marmota property. this tree offered over the summer of 2021. GFCA is actively working with these officials with the cooperation of the Dranesville Supervisor to ensure that every effort is made to avoid the loss of this specimen to land clearing and site work involved in building a walking trail and underground public water line that will serve the development to include consultations with an independent tree expert arranged by GFCA.
National Landmark Designation
While GFCA continues to work to encourage cooperation with officials to preserve adjacent trees along the Federally designated historic Georgetown Pike, final determinations are still under review. Similarly, significant efforts have been applied to ensure that the interconnection with the subdivision entrance to the Pike will not alter its historic roadbed. Many residents of Great Falls, as well as many State and County Officials involved in the approvals and oversight of the Marmota development project are unaware that the landmark designation of the Georgetown Pike, the construction of which began in 1813, also includes what are referred to as contributing structures. It is the preservation of such elements as the Pike's entire original roadbed, including grading, elevation, and direction with adjacent drainage ditches and unpaved right-of-way used for foot and horseback traffic and known as "summer roads" that GFCA and local historian, Karen Washburn, have been defending to County officials.
The Way Forward
The development of this open space of the former Marmota Farm is lamentable and represents a loss to many residents who moved to Great Falls because of the community’s peaceful and bucolic character. But, as we have seen, over time, area growth and development coupled with the attractiveness and availability of the community’s open spaces have resulted in increases in population and density. Some would say that is the price of “progress”. Nevertheless, GFCA remains committed to the oversight of this project and will be attentive to the process from its planning stages through completion to ensure compliance with applicable subdivision requirements. Through oversight and engagement with County officials, GFCA will seek assurances that site work and development activity do not result in adverse impacts on the immediate community.
(Images contributed by GFCA Land Use & Zoning Committee)
Brightview Senior Living, operators of a premium senior assisted living and memory care community on Colvin Run Road in Great Falls, is proposing to develop another facility on the site of the Wolftrap Nursery at 9439 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182. Brightview currently operates 45 senior living centers in eight states with several in Virginia and has been investigating the Wolftrap site with Fairfax County authorities for three years. Plans to proceed with the project were placed on hold by the developer due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has been reactivated and the GFCA’s Land Use & Zoning Committee has engaged with the developer and the surrounding communities to explore the plans.
The Wolftrap Nursery site is an existing R-1 zone and is being proposed as a Planned Continuing Care Facility to accommodate 170 units that would house approximately 200 residents. To permit this project, the site will be required to be rezoned and an Amendment to the County’s Comprehensive Plan will be necessary. The proposed site is adjacent to two R-2 zones to the south and an R-1 to the East.
The Brightview plan has aroused the concerns of the same neighbors who raised objections to the County’s proposal to install a Telecommunications monopole on the site of the Wolftrap Fire Station, located just west of the proposed Brightview site.
At the request of the Brightview representatives, the Land Use & Zoning Committee set up an exploratory Zoom meeting for Brightview to demonstrate latest plan revisions to neighbors which include the purchase of several acres of vacant land surrounding the Wolftrap fire station, a redesign of the Brightview building, and realignment of its parking areas. The developer also proposed deed restrictions that would create a perpetual “green space” buffer in perpetuity and no further development of their parcel.
Most neighbors in attendance at the July 25 GFCA Zoom were vocally opposed to the plans. In that meeting, a GFCA Board member stated that the Comprehensive Plan states there should be no commercial development between the Dulles Toll Road and the Loudoun County line. But, among the many options in the Zoning Ordinance, it should be noted that the County qualifies this proposed use as “residential” and not “commercial”.
GFCA is following this process as it involves a proposed rezoning and a change to the Comprehensive Plan. GFCA will continue monitoring Brightview’s plans and work with members of the affected residential communities. Interested GFCA members may submit inquiries to email@example.com.
County Board Approves Turner Farmhouse Foundation
Following a July 14 Planning Commission decision, the Board of Supervisors conducted a Public Hearing on July 27 and approved a Special Exception for the Turner Farmhouse Foundation to operate a residential retreat program that will provide “Grief and Bereavement support due to the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver, family member (spouse or child) or significant person.”
Peer support services like the program that the Turner Farmhouse Foundation will operate will offer encouragement, hope, assistance, and understanding for people of all ages with this type of mental health concern.
The foundation can now proceed with development of the garage located at the rear of the Turner Farmhouse to accommodate sleeping quarters and meeting rooms for the retreat which will operate with no more than ten persons on weekends and some weekdays.
GFCA worked with the applicant, staff, and neighbors to draft Development Conditions that will accommodate the program requirements while assuring residents of our community of the benefits that the program would offer. Given the unique location and nature of this application, and the broad descriptions that were initially published by the applicant, there were many concerned residents who came forward during our community listening sessions. It was through a series of these sessions that GFCA achieved what was characterized in GFCA’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors testimony as a "balancing of the interests" of the applicant and the community--in particular, the concerns of those residents living in close proximity to the Turner Farm.
An important outgrowth of the negotiations that was codified in the Development Conditions approved by the Board of Supervisors was an agreement that public calendars will be published that list the Retreat Program events. The applicant has also volunteered to publish a separate calendar of events concerning the Turner Farmhouse Curatorship. For further information go to www.turnerfarmhouse.org.
On July 12, members of the Environment and Parks Committee (EP) met with county officials and the Analemma Society at Observatory Park on Turner Farm to discuss protecting the dark sky around the Observatory and obtaining an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) designation for the Park.
At GFCA’s suggestion, a dark sky zoning amendment is being developed by the Fairfax County zoning office that could include a one-half mile radius around Observatory Park and a nomination for an IDA Urban Night Sky Place is being prepared by the Fairfax Park Authority. These two initiatives, if supported, will create a dark sky reserve in our community for learning about astronomy and how our night skies are important.
Artificial light at night has revolutionized the way we live and work outdoors, but it has come at a price. When used indiscriminately, outdoor lighting can disrupt wildlife, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view of the universe.
Modern society requires outdoor lighting for a variety of needs, including safety and commerce. IDA recognizes this but advocates that any required lighting be used wisely. IDA suggests several ways to minimize the harmful effects of light pollution: exterior lighting should be used only when needed; it should only light the areas that require illumination and be no brighter than necessary; and be fully shielded to prevent glare.
To learn more about how light pollution wastes resources and how we can conserve energy and use night lights efficiently visit the Analemma Society website: https://www.facebook.com/Analemma-Society-123715211042795/ ((Photo depicts the Remotely Accessed Telescope Observatory (RATO) and Observatory with roll-top roof at Turner Farm Park) Photo credit: Winnie Frost)
weekends, if the available parking is full the
Park entrance will close. When the intersection at Georgetown Pike & Old
Dominion Dr. is blocked by Police, you may not enter until it reopens. There is NO ON-STREET PARKING where signage has been posted. Updates at Great Falls Park Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Great-Falls-Park-131222163619/
Important Membership Renewal Reminder
Please note that only the "Bundle Administrator" for your account may renew the membership for a family. If you encounter difficulties in renewing your GFCA membership, please contact membership@GFCA.org.
EP Committee Presentation featuring Tips on Lawn Care from Master Gardener Tony Makara
Town Hall re: Springvale Rd. Bridge Replacement -
Fairfax County Master Gardener
What is the GFCA?
The Great Falls Citizens Association is an
all-volunteer, non-profit, 501(c)4 organization that advocates solutions and
government actions that benefit Great Falls.
Since Great Falls is not an incorporated municipality like the Town of Vienna, or City of Falls Church, we lack a town/city government to represent our local interests. The GFCA acts in an unofficial capacity to represent the voices of the citizens of Great Falls on these matters, and works with county, state, and national government to get things done. On Great Falls issues, no other organization has GFCA’s influence with elected leaders at the County and State level, or is as respected by them.
Our charter calls for GFCA to "serve as a community organization to promote all aspects of community interest accruing to a common good and, in general, to preserve the historic, low density, semi-rural character of Great Falls and its natural resources."
The following was published in the April 1999 GFCA Newsletter: