2005: Beginnings and Endings

2005: Beginnings and Endings


Friday, May 13, 2005, could well turn out to be one of the most pivotal days in the recent history of Mount Vernon District and the southeastern portion of Lee District. That was the day the U.S. Department of Defense released the Base Realignment and Closure Report known as BRAC.

It announced that Fort Belvoir, the largest employer in southeastern Fairfax County, would be gaining an additional 21,000 personnel. Implications of that revelation will not only reach into 2006 but into the next decade.

While many areas of the nation were struggling to keep a military/defense presence in their jurisdictions, including abutting Alexandria City, Mount Vernon and Lee districts were wrestling with how to accommodate their newfound mixed blessing. It will have a major impact on every element of daily life.

That increase will bring Fort Belvoir's daily population to 50,000 plus. This will put new demands on transportation, schools, housing, office and commercial development, emergency/medical services and possibly the sociological/political makeup of Mount Vernon District itself.

"This is both an extraordinary opportunity and a major challenge," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland at the time. Of the 21,000 new employees coming to Fort Belvoir only 3,677 are military. The rest are all civilian and contract personnel who will be traveling to and from the post on a daily basis and impacting land use overall.

Not only other area residents, who have nothing to do with the military realignment, will be affected but also the entire socio-economic structure and infrastructure of the Mount Vernon and that portion of Lee district will be impacted. Predictions are that traffic congestion will gridlock, commercial and residential real estate values will rise dramatically, school populations could explode, and demands on public safety and medical facilities will be pushed to the limits.

Both Hyland and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman had been calling for increased highway and transportation commitments from both the federal government and the Virginia Department of Transportation since the 9/11 attacks, when Fort Belvoir closed off Woodlawn Road as a natural connector between Beulah Street and Richmond Highway.

After four years, 2005 finally saw an agreement on a replacement artery for Woodlawn Road. All parties agreed that Old Mill Road would not only become the new link between Beulah/Telegraph Road and Route 1 but also it would be a four-lane connector. An environmental assessment report is due in early 2006, according to Jack Van Dop, project manager, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, FHWA.

U. S. Reps. James P. Moran (D-8) and Thomas M. Davis, III (R-11) were successful throughout the 2005 congressional session to gain approval for multiple millions of dollars to implement improvements to the roadway network and Richmond Highway Corridor transit projects which should begin in 2006 to ease some of the congestion problems.

However, one transportation problem, plaguing the two magisterial districts for years, hit another road block in 2005. The final southeastern leg of the Fairfax County Parkway was scheduled to get underway through a transfer of a portion of the U. S. Army Engineering Proving Grounds to VDOT.

That was delayed when Fort Belvoir was told by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the land had to be sanitized to the degree of drinking water. It was estimated that could take up to 900 days.

This brought forth an angry response from Hyland and Kauffman, expressed in a letter signed by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly to VDOT, requesting that an alternate route be found avoiding the EPG altogether. This issue remains unresolved as 2006 gets underway.

On the plus side of the anticipated Belvoir Boom is a quickening in the revitalization of the Route 1 corridor. After jockeying for position over the past couple of years, it was finally pretty well determined in 2005 that the new U.S.Army Museum will be located immediately to the north of Fort Belvoir's main Pence Gate.

Upon completion, this historical complex is expected to draw a million plus visitors per year. And, this has sparked a hotel boom on Route 1 in the vicinity of Woodlawn Plantation/Old Mill Road/Route 235, Mount Vernon Highway.

Both Marriott and Hilton hotels have projects on the table. Marriott announced plans for a Residence Inn facility adjacent to Woodlawn Plantation while Hilton is looking at possibly two facilities on the east side of Route 1 across from the IMP building.

But, the building boom is not limited to the area of Fort Belvoir it extends from the base to the Beltway. In December 2005 the Area Plan Review Nominations Task Force was initiated by Hyland to consider 39 requests for zoning changes, most of which comprise parcel packages to increase commercial/retail and residential development along the Route 1 corridor.

However, according to a report released by the Technical Assistance Panel of the Urban Land Institute sponsored by the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, "the time is right to start looking at more upscale retail" for the corridor. But, "everything has to translate into real world marketability," panel chair Judith Meany, principal, Lozier Partners, warned those assembled at the South County Government Center in early December 2005.

That panel concluded that future office development along the corridor will occur in three distinct stages:

1. Professional office development geared to smaller occupant enterprises such as medical practices and small service firms.

2. High rise office complexes that will be occupied by larger enterprises such as law firms that tend to occupy an entire floor.

3. Tenants coming to the area to participate in BRAC activities and initiatives.

One of the prime areas for development along the corridor, which has been stalled in a debate between residents of a community association, Hyland, and the developers, is Kings Crossing adjacent to the intersection of Route 1 and North Kings Highway. As 2005 came to a close there appeared to be positive movement between the Spring Bank Community Association and JPI Development.

The primary disagreement has been the ratio of residential/commercial-retail to be allocated to the 11 plus acre site now home to Chuck-E-Cheese and National Wholesale Liquidators. The Association and Hyland have been pushing for a 50/50 split while JPI has sought a 80/20 ration with the emphasis on residential.

During the Association's final 2005 meeting Aaron C. Liebert, vice president and area managing partner, JPI promised the group that a scale model of the proposed develop would be available at an early 2006 meeting. JPI has also increased open space throughout the development, increased their commercial/retail space allotment and included a large park area at the rear of the property.

JPI is also negotiating to acquire the Penn Daw mobile home park on Shields Avenue which will add to the traffic flow patterns within the developed site. Additionally, JPI is in negotiations with Costco to locate a store at the intersection of Shields Avenue and Route 1 which would significantly increase the retail usage.

Richmond Highway corridor also gained two additional projects in 2005 that will increase the revitalization effort. Both will be located on plots of land now owned by Archon Corporation, Dallas, TX, also owners of the Kings Crossing site.

Chili's Restaurant and a Commerce Bank branch are scheduled to occupy sites now occupied by closed motels sometime in 2006. Chili's will be situation on the corner of Dawn Drive and Route 1. Commerce Bank will be located immediately south of Chili's.

2005 saw the calming of a major controversy that plagued Mount Vernon District for more than 18 months. With the assurance by Inova Hospital System that Inova Mount Vernon Hospital would not only remain operative but also continue to operate as a full service facility, fears seemed to dissipate.

However, the Southeast Health Planning Task Force originally organized by IHS to serve as a monitoring group for changes anticipated at IMVH, and expected to dissolve upon completion of its perceived task, proved the wisdom of its continued existence at its final meeting of 2005 on September 27.

Meeting in Hyland's office, Task Force members joined him in pressing IHS representatives present to clarify specifics on the hospital's future. They asked for dates on when proposed construction at the hospital might begin and when IHS planned to move forward on its Lorton Healthplex. Neither question received a definite answer.

Dr. Khosrow Matini, a member of the Task Force since its inception and an outspoken critic of IHS, stated, in a memo to Task Force chair Anne Andrews prior to the meeting, "I believe there is no plan for the expansion of Mount Vernon Hospital." That theory will receive further examination at the group's first 2006 meeting scheduled for January 6.

As for implementation of a Lorton area healthplex, IHS was beaten to the punch in 2005 by a group headed by Albert Herrera, MD, in conjunction with Stephanie Carter, MD, and Christopher Lucius, a management professional. The group plans to open the first of two such facilities in early 2006.

Known as the Lorton Station Medical Center, the first 45,000 square feet facility, located on Lorton Station Boulevard immediately adjacent to the VRE station, is just eight miles from IMVH. The second facility of 24,000 square feet was announced in the fall of 2005. The Lorton Marketplace facility will be at the intersection of Lorton Market Street and Groom Cottage Drive, just off I-95's Lorton Road exit. Both will be "all inclusive medical centers."

Unfortunately, 2005 also saw the departure of the true guiding light at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital when Administrator and IHS Vice President Susan Herbert decided to retire. Through all the upheaval associated with the potential closing of IMVH, Herbert remained cool, focused and unflappable. Often to the frustration of both warring camps.

When she departed after eight years at the helm of IMVH she left it well on the road to recovery and looking at a potentially positive future. However, she warned, "The hospital is still in a recovery phase. It's always been about volume. But, the right volume. You don't get smug here. We serve both the most and least affluent everyday."

During her tenure the hospital made great strides in a myriad areas. It also became a nationally renowned joint replacement center. "Mount Vernon hospital is kind of sitting in the sunshine right now. But, we can't loose the momentum. We have a lean staff with a real willingness to do the job right." 2006 will bear witness to a continuation or demise of that assessment.

Another shining light for the Mount Vernon community also moved on in 2005. Col. T.W. Williams, Garrison Commander, Fort Belvoir, turned over command on July 11 to Col. Brian W. Lauritzen, three years to the day after he arrived in the turmoil that gripped the nation after 9/11.

Col. Williams brought with him an intimate knowledge of that fateful day in 2001. His office at The Pentagon was in the direct path of American Flight 77 when it torn into America's military nerve center. He escaped only by fate when he accompanied some guests to their car. Two others in his office died that morning.

Throughout his tenure, Williams worked with leaders and citizens throughout Mount Vernon and Lee district communities to build a relationship that served both their interests and the interest of an altered nation. The wake of 9/11 enveloped nearly every aspect of his command.

As he summed it up in his last interview, "We planted the seeds that will grow for the future in all areas. That includes on the base and in the surrounding communities."

One of those seeds was initiating a new residential concept for military personnel living on base. Known as the Residential Community Initiative it transformed family living status of military personnel from a sterile atmosphere to one of community clusters that are the envy on many non-military residents.

On the opening of the first community, known as Harryford Village, last summer, William summed up his feeling with, "This marks one of the proudest days of my command here. This is a great day to be an American." Probably the best description of Williams was offered by Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. "He's a wonderful blending of warrior and diplomat," he said.

A 10 year dream of the Reverend Keary Kincannon became a reality during 2005. Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church moved into its own building at 8220 Russell Road.

One on Mount Vernon District's most charitable institutions for the homeless and needy, which started in the truck of Kincannon's station wagon, has morphed into a 10,000 square feet reality attesting to the dedication, fortitude, generosity, faith and tenacity of a host of people from all walks of life. This past Christmas they celebrated their first service in that edifice.

"In 25 years of working in this area of the ministry, I have learned that those ministries that refuse to let the dream die are the ones that continue to press on," Kincannon said at the dedication ceremony this past summer.

For many members of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's Search and Rescue Teams 2005 unfortunately began and ended with disaster relief. Just prior to the entrance of 2005 members of that elite squad were dispatched to south Asia following the devastating events of the December 26, 2004 tsunami.

In mid 2005 they again were called upon to aid the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana and Mississippi. On those teams were firefighters and EMS personnel from stations in Mount Vernon and Lee districts, as well as from fire departments throughout Northern Virginia.

In the closing weeks of 2005, the last of those teams returned to the welcoming arms of their loved ones and the gratitude of their various fire departments. Fifty two members strong, some had spent up to a month on hurricane duty in the two Gulf Coast states.

Other highlights of 2005 included:

. The official christening of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's new high speed, high performance fire boat, as "The Gunstan Hall."

. The quick thinking of Heidi and Rachel Jenkins, two young daughters of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Captain Larry Jenkins that saved the life of a neighbor from drowning in the Potomac River.

. The real life experience of Mount Vernon District resident Vernon Abbott who was one of the real raiders depicted in the 2005 movie "The Great Raid" which freed American and British military from the Japanese POW camp Cabanatuan on Luzon in the Philippine Islands during World War II.

. The 50th Anniversary of the Lee District Civic Organizations celebrated in December at the Springfield Hilton Hotel.

. The 20th anniversary of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market.

And, finally, as with every other year for the past four and for the next five, there are the myriad stories relative to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project and its twin devil, the Springfield Interchange Project. Two of the most expensive in the history of American highway projects.

As for the bridge there has been significant progress toward completion of the outer loop span. But, at the expense of extensive traffic delays due to asphalt paving in uncooperative weather, closing of ramps, creation of a new exit on Route 1, and a myriad other so-called "necessities" by the contractors and VDOT.

One of the most controversial elements of the entire project occurred last summer with the announcement that a new "flyover" type interchange had been adopted for the Lee District intersection of Telegraph Road and Huntington Avenue. Approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this is now up for reevaluation.

2006 should prove to be a crucial year for southeastern Fairfax County based on the impact of the BRAC report and the host of changes underway or planned for the Route 1 corridor. And this is only one facet of the area's socio-economic kaleidoscope.