On July 26, over the opposition of many in the community including GFCA, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Brooks Farm cluster rezoning and cluster development.
Citing GFCA member opposition and community environmental and density goals that were not met by the proposal, Bill Canis, GFCA President, provided testimony at the BOS meeting, which you can read here. Several other residents spoke or wrote against the proposal. At the meeting, a few speakers supported the proposal, including a consultant to the developer.
After the speakers concluded, Dranesville Supervisor John Foust introduced a motion to approve the project, which was then passed unanimously by the BOS with no debate.
After the vote, Canis said: “We are disappointed by the Board’s decision. We are not opposed to appropriate development that preserves the environment and our community’s semi-rural character. However, there are meaningful issues about this project that could have been improved, especially in the areas of storm water management for major storms, tree canopy protection, road access, and project density.
GFCA and community volunteers spent thousands of hours over the past two years on the evaluation of this development. Discussions with both county staff and the developer led to meaningful changes from the original design, and 12 iterations of the proposal. There were concessions by the developer, including reducing the number of homes from 20 to 19, and improved storm water management features. GFCA and community representatives placed significant pressure upon the County to raise the bar on managing development runoff, and to stay true to County rules and regulations designed to protect the community against environmental and other negative impacts. GFCA found areas where the county missed pertinent aspects that were not addressed until residents brought them to the county’s attention. In the end, GFCA believes the final approved proposal is better than the original, though still deficient in the key respects mentioned above.
Brooks Farm is a lesson for our community. Great Falls still has other developable properties. The pace of development is picking up – it has been many years since GFCA has had as many active land-use projects under study as we do today. Our wells, septic fields, woods, meadows and two-lane roads give us a special country-like ambiance that has, in the past, been protected by low-density development. GFCA will continue to resist efforts by developers and the County to change the character of semi-rural Great Falls to that of more suburban areas.
Most developers seek to build at the highest density possible, through cluster and other approaches. Too often we have seen that such projects, fully endorsed by the county, result in neighbors facing long-term costs and challenges of dealing with storm water and other issues not appropriately addressed by the development. Once new projects are built and sold, the developer is gone leaving the community impact permanently in place. The current system makes it hard for residents to influence the outcome and ensure a fair and balanced consideration of community concerns.
However, Brooks Farm shows the value of community perseverance in development projects because our two+ years of work produced a much-improved final plan. The experience also highlighted the difficulties and pitfalls of going toe-to-toe with developers’ highly paid attorneys and consultants, compounded by the limitations of county staff resources. GFCA believes it is essential that our community understand the importance of community/resident involvement in development, assisted where necessary by attorneys and consultants working on the community’s behalf. GFCA will redouble our efforts to work together with all parties to thoroughly evaluate future development projects in Great Falls for which community input is permitted or needed, and press developers and County officials alike to appropriately address and remedy valid community concerns.