Landmark Communities will be demolishing the old Knolls of Newgate apartments (now called Sunset Knolls) in Centreville and replacing them with luxury townhouses. Planned are 176 townhouses and 15 ADUs (affordable dwelling units), for 191 units total.
THE KNOLLS is along Machen Road and St. Germain Drive, and the new development's access will be directly across the street from the Centreville Regional Library. Each townhouse will be about 2,000 square feet and have its own car space and garage. Homes are expected to sell in the low $600,000s, but they could go higher, depending on their options.
The Knolls apartments have been rental properties since 1967 and, for many years, things were fine. "But over the past 10-15 years, it's fallen into disrepair," said John Thillman, representing the developer. "There's a lot of crime in the units, and it's gotten so bad that the police occupy one of the units daily."
However, the Knolls have also provided roofs over the heads of many struggling, low-income residents who'll be displaced by the new townhouses. So in June, when Thillman presented the new plans to the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, many of the members were less than pleased.
"It really disturbs me that we're losing all that affordable housing," said WFCCA's Carol Hawn. "And 15 ADUs aren't a lot. We can all sit back in our half-million-dollar houses and say, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I.' We may be affluent, but we're not that far away from something like this."
She said the Knolls has been "a great source of affordable housing" — a place where people who have jobs, for example, stocking grocery-store shelves, making tacos and waiting on tables were able to make their homes.
But Thillman said the property-owner's debt "isn't taken care of by the rents that he gets. He's making an investment decision, not a social decision."
THE KNOLLS consists of 160-170 apartments, and Thillman said its tenants have all been on month-to-month leases for the past 18-24 months and "there's constant turnover, so it's not the same people."
"What happens to these people when their leases are up and it's time to leave?" asked At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart. When they're all evicted, he asked, "Does it put a strain on the shelters, food banks, WFCM [Western Fairfax Christian Ministries] and organizations like that? These people are going to have to live somewhere and accommodations have to be made."
Unfortunately, said WFCM Executive Director Dorothy Fonow, property development is seen as a way of making money, without any thought going into the unpleasant matter of the working poor who are turned out onto the streets to make way for nicer-looking, more expensive homes for people with deep pockets.
"It's a big issue for all of us," she said. "It's really hard for people even making a moderately low income to survive here. And wiping out the Knolls doesn't help; it's a shame."