Planners Prep for BRAC

Planners Prep for BRAC

Preliminary timeline set up for review of possible land use changes.

A citizen’s task force could begin meeting next May to study what changes Fairfax County will need to make to accommodate an influx workers coming to Fort Belvoir and the Engineering Proving Grounds.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a reorganization which will move 22,000 workers to the Southern Part of Fairfax County by 2011.

Current plans call for 18,000 of these workers to be placed in the Engineering Proving Grounds, an area west of I-95 and south of the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station. The remainder of the workers would work at Fort Belvoir.

Both areas are federally owned land, and the county has little input about where the new office buildings will be. Along with the military will come civilian contractors working with the government. Current estimates are that more than 60,000 civilian workers could be shifting their focus toward the base, said Lindsay Mason of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning during a Planning Commission committee meeting.

While some of those workers will likely have offices on the military installation, the rest will need office space in Fairfax County. Department of Defense guidelines call for contractors to be within three miles of the base, Mason said.

So, in order to prepare for the need for more office space, the Department of Planning and Zoning will soon begin studying the land in the area. County planners hope to determine what is already built, and what could be built within the guidelines set out by the Comprehensive Plan. “How many jobs could we physically accommodate now under the existing plan?” asked Marianne Gardner of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Planners drew a preliminary line at roughly three miles outside the perimeter of the bases. They highlighted a dozen of the existing commercial areas to be the focus of the study. Planners are loathe to consider permitting office construction in areas with stable residential neighborhoods, Gardner said.

Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn (At-large) questioned the study areas which were proposed. Since the lion’s share of the jobs will be placed on the Engineering Proving Grounds, he reasoned that the lion’s share of the new office space should be near it.

Without making the distinction, residents could be unnecessarily upset if they see their neighborhood in a study area. Alcorn and other commissioners suggested refinements to the study area. “I’d hate to generate expectations,” Alcorn said.

GARDNER SAID that the county is seeking a $1.2 million federal grant to help with the planning process. Most of the money, she said, would go toward hiring four temporary staff members to work on the project.

If the funding does not come through either the process would take longer, or staff would need to be shifted from other projects, Gardner said.

Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill), a longtime federal government employee, said that the grant request was too low. “You should have put another zero on it,” he said. “[$1.2 million] buys two toilets in the Department of Defense.”

According to a preliminary timeline, planners would release a report about current development potential by the end of January. Once the development potential has been determined, it would be easier to asses how much more office space may be needed.

In March 2007, the county is set to begin accepting proposals for changes to the Comprehensive Plan to add necessary space. Planning Department staff will also have an opportunity to make suggestions.

The preliminary timeline calls for a citizen task force to begin studying the proposals in May. No decision has been made about the composition of the task force, although Gardner said that she would prefer a single task force to do a comprehensive look at the area. The issue straddles multiple supervisory districts, and it is possible that the task force would include members from the Mount Vernon, Lee and Springfield districts.

After the task force studies the plans, they would go before both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for public hearings and decisions. The timeline estimates that the Board of Supervisors, which makes the final decision, would hear the cases in January or February of 2008.

Commissioner Jim Hart (At-large) noted that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings will straddle next year’s elections. A situation could occur in which lame duck members of the Planning Commission are voting on a project and might not share the philosophy of the board members who represent the same district. Hart suggested that the entire public hearing process be shifted to be either before or after the election. “We’re setting up some tension, here,” he said.