BRIAN TROMPETER Staff Writer, Sun Gazette May 21, 2020
Preserving Great Falls’ quality of life – largely by preventing over development, tamping down traffic and preserving the environment – is the top priority of the village’s residents, according to the Great Falls Citizens Association’s (GFCA) recent community survey.
The resulting 23-page document, titled “Looking Forward to 2025,” was produced entirely by the association’s leaders, and is loaded with data and graphics. “It continues our marching orders to serve the community,” said GFCA president Bill Canis.
The group most recently undertook such a survey in 2007, and board members thought it was time to take the public’s pulse again. GFCA initially targeted the online survey at the group’s 985 members, then fanned it out to the larger community. A total of 327 residents from 5,391 households responded, with 60 percent of results coming from GFCA members.
The survey showed that 79 percent of respondents placed highest priority on managing growth in Great Falls by limiting density and infill development.
Great Falls residents cannot do much on that front in cases of by-right development, but can influence proceedings if the matters involve rezoning or special exceptions, according to the report.
For example, GFCA managed to get a reduction in the number of houses, and implementation of numerous environmental protections, in the Rivermont development, the report noted. In addition to continuing to monitor development applications and advocating on residents’ behalf, GFCA leaders will examine potential benefits and drawbacks of designating Great Falls as a special planning district.
Seventy-three percent of survey respondents favored reducing cut-through and commuter traffic. “Traffic congestion is a big thorn in the side of everyone who lives here,” said GFCA board member Pamela Grosvenor, who helped write the survey report.
GFCA leaders expect some traffic benefits following the widening of Route 7 between Reston and Tysons, but also hope that a partial interchange can be built at that road’s intersection with Baron Cameron Avenue/Springvale Road. GFCA also favors efforts to widen the American Legion Bridge and supports the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans to improve Interstate 495 and redesign that highway’s interchange at Georgetown Pike.
Sixty-six percent of survey takers sought implementation of development conditions to preserve trees and landscaping requirements in perpetuity. GFCA, in a joint effort with Fairfax ReLeaf, each year distributes 500 free saplings to residents. The association also recently worked with the Fairfax County Park Authority to plant five white oaks near the playground at Grange Park.
Reducing traffic speeds and improving roadway safety would benefit motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, according to 64 percent of survey respondents. GFCA made some progress on that front in 2013 when it conceived of the Walker Road “diet” project, which narrowed that road from vehicle traffic lanes to three in the village’s center and built bumpouts, which were landscaped by the Great Falls Garden Club. The association also is advocating for crosswalks to link Great Falls Library with adjacent commercial areas. People currently making that crossing must be agile and fleet of foot, given the volume and speed of traffic on Georgetown Pike.
Sixty-three percent of survey respondents favored ensuring a reliable energy infrastructure.
A key objective on that front would be undergrounding utility lines to protect them from wind, ice and tree damage, thus preventing power outages. Power failures especially are disruptive in Great Falls, because the community’s many wells and septic systems need electricity to function, Canis added.
That process sometimes can be derailed, however, if just one homeowner refuses to grant an easement for Dominion Energy to perform that work, GFCA leaders said.
Survey takers also expressed interest in monitoring and setting limits for stormwater runoff. Stream erosion has been increasing because of global climate change and many local roads, often poorly lighted, are subject to flooding that endangers motorists, Canis said.
The survey also found residents wanted wells and septic systems protected from harmful waste and leaks from underground storage tanks. This concern is more acute in Great Falls than in much of the rest of Fairfax County, where residents have access to public water and sewer systems, GFCA leaders said.
Survey respondents also wanted community leaders to ensure property maintenance; create an interconnected trail system; provide sidewalks in commercial areas; control the local deer population and manage other forms of wildlife; and support businesses with lighting and signs, but in a way that limits light pollution and visual clutter.
During the current pandemic, the group has held virtual board and committee meetings via Zoom, and may continue holding virtual meetings even after the emergency ends.
“I think they’re an effective way to get people involved,” Grosvenor said. “It’s so easy.”