Hindsight is 20/20

Hindsight is 20/20

Residents of Great Falls discuss how they want the community to look in 14 years.

Hong Lee moved to Great Falls 14 years ago for a reason — he fell in love with its rural feel.

"If you want to live in a place with no trees, then why come to Great Falls?" said Lee.

Beverly Kimble has also lived in Great Falls for 14 years. Like Lee, she also loves the community's abundant greenery and winding roads. In fact, Kimble loves Great Falls so much that she hopes she never has to leave.

"I love living here," said Kimble. "But I know that I can't maintain the property I have here today in 10 years — it's too much land and too much house."

Unfortunately for Kimble, this most likely means that she will eventually be forced to sell her property, leave Great Falls and move into some place more manageable. It is a prospect that breaks her heart, and sadly, it is one faced by many older residents of Great Falls.

The future of Great Falls was a much debated topic at last week's Sept. 12 Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) meeting at the Grange Hall. It was the association's first meeting since the spring, and much of it focused on the Great Falls 2020 Vision Project, a task assigned to the Great Falls community by Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois.

"The question that we have for you is what do you want Great Falls to look like in the year 2020," said Kathleen Murphy, co-chair of the Great Falls Citizens Association Long Range Planning committee. "Joan DuBois asked us specifically to prepare this long term vision so the county can have an idea of what we want."

Murphy added that the Great Falls Citizens Association's goal is to collect as much input and feedback, from as many different residents as possible.

"We want to demonstrate to her that we have a broad consensus of citizens that stand behind the vision we come up with," said Thompson.

AS PART OF THE MEETING, representatives from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club gave presentations on factors that Great Falls residents should keep in mind as they map out a future vision for their community. Stewart Schwartz, executive director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, gave a slide show presentation depicting ways in which communities can concentrate higher density development around commercial centers, thus preserving more of the surrounding open space and greenery.

"We need to take a systematic approach to how we envision our region and how we envision our communities," said Schwartz. "The reason why we have so much traffic is because things are so disconnected in our lives... separation of use leads to more driving."

Using Tysons Corner as an example, Schwartz illustrated how residents are forced to drive from one location to another just to leave their offices for lunch, or to go on various shopping excursions. He noted that if Tysons, "the place we all love to hate," were more pedestrian friendly, there would not be as much traffic because people could simply walk to all of their destinations. Schwartz also recommended that residents use maps to carefully plot out where they would like things to be, keeping in mind the importance of mixed use areas with good walkability.

"You've got to do good mapping if you're going to do good visioning," said Schwartz. "It's all about place-making, whether it's your town center or your whole vision of Great Falls."

Schwartz called attention to the region's changing demographics, noting that only 23 percent of the population is comprised of married couples raising families. The rest is made up of empty nesters and single-person households, the latter of which Schwartz said will grow the most in the coming years.

Roger Diedrich, chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, urged residents to always keep the natural resources of Great Falls in mind when planning for the future.

"Great Falls has a lot of natural values that need to be protected," said Diedrich. "There's a lot of encroachment on the area and I think the object is to keep it from coming to close to you."

WHILE ALMOST EVERYONE could agree that protecting the natural resources of Great Falls is a major priority, there was some debate as to exactly what kind of development residents would be willing to allow. Some said that they wish Great Falls had more of a neighborhood feel — that the long distance between houses and lack of trails and sidewalks makes it difficult to become acquainted with neighbors. However, others said this rural setup is precisely what sets Great Falls apart from other communities in Fairfax County.

"I like this community and I want to keep it the way it is," said Bob Hickers, who has lived in Great Falls for 30 years. "If you are too old to maintain your property and stay here, then you should go live in Reston Town Center — which is what several friends of mine have done."

Hong Lee agrees that the winding country roads with no sidewalks are what make Great Falls special.

"I like the streets the way they are," said Lee.

Many residents are also concerned about the possible advent of a sewer line to handle the failing septic system problems of the Great Falls Village Center. The introduction of sewer would allow more commercial development than is currently permitted in the Village Center.

"I don't want Great Falls to become anything other than what it is — I want it to be Great Falls," said Jack Bowles, who has lived there for three years. "There are alternatives to sewer for the commercial center."

Bowles has already struggled with the issue of sewer in Great Falls, as a line was brought to his neighborhood against many residents' wishes. Bowles and several of his neighbors formed Citizens Against the Pipeline, but lost the battle to prevent Fairfax County from installing it.

John Ulfelder, chair of the Great Falls Citizens Association Land Use and Zoning committee, urged residents to remember that growth is coming to Fairfax County no matter what, making it all the more important to plan for the future. Ulfelder said residents must sometimes make concessions in order to hold on to the things they treasure about their community.

"I think as we go forward it's important to be able to say that as Fairfax County grows and sees more people and needs more housing, there is also a need in a county like this, for a place like Great Falls," said Ulfelder. "In a diverse community like this, there's an important place for that kind of opportunity and alternative."

Barbara Frank, a 17-year resident of Great Falls, agrees that it would be advantageous for residents to illustrate why the rural, low-density character of the community has a place in Fairfax County.

"I love living here, but I also love sharing it with others," said Frank. "I think we will make more headway in our decision to preserve Great Falls if we learn to share it."