Twenty one hours and 37 minutes after he started his day on Thursday, Jan. 21, Great Falls Citizens Association president Eric Knudsen told the county’s Planning Commission the importance of Great Falls to the entire county and to the Chesapeake Watershed.
“This is why we are so concerned about this application, this is why we need to draw the line,” said Knudsen at at 1:37 a.m. “As a community, we are trying to protect the community, we want to protect the water. It is our asset.”
More than 1,400 people in Great Falls signed a petition opposing Basheer-Edgemoor Brooks application to rezone 51.97 acres of farmland off Springvale Road and around Walker Lake to allow building 20 homes.
Many testified before the county’s Planning Commission in a four hour hearing that started Thursday, Jan. 21 and lasted past 2 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 22.
“We are the voice for Great Falls. We find that consensus and take it to the county to make sure our voice is heard,” said Knudsen. “You’ve heard multiple times tonight how the community feels.”
THE PLANNING COMMISSION listened to more than four hours of testimony from commission staff and from citizens, mostly in opposition but some in support of the plan to rezone 51.97 acres of property off Springvale Road.
“It is very clear this is a special piece of property to people in the community,” said Gregory Riegle, representing the potential developers. “We went to great pains to ensure that we have complete answers to questions.”
Basheer/Edgemoore-Brooks spent more than a year revising its application in attempt to meet concern of residents, especially regarding density, septic, stormwater, environmental, well, water, preservation of trees, and other features of the property around Walker Lake.
The proposal to rezone the property to permit Basheer/Edgemoore-Brooks to develop 20 single family homes in a cluster subdivision, meaning houses would be on smaller lots with open space around.
The developers convinced some, including neighbors Elyse and Bob Turkeltaub.
“Initially we did not favor it, but over time, as we met with them, we think it is is a good and reasonable idea,” Bob Turkeltaub said.
BUT MANY IN GREAT FALLS are still not convinced.
Supervisor John Foust held a meeting Jan. 19 on the final application plan. More than 100 people attended, and nearly all the attendees opposed the plan.
“Opposition to this development is huge,” said Knudsen.
Robert Weaver lives on Springvale Drive, shares a property line with the owners, and moved to Great Falls in 1996.
“I will tell you this quick story. We fell in love with Great Falls and had our wedding in the backyard,” he said. “The morning of the wedding, the horses decided they wanted to come to the wedding and they trampled through.”
“After that episode marriage has been easy,” he said.
Weaver voiced concern about the aquifer and contamination in the well water, an issue for all surrounding the properties because there is no sewer service in Great Falls.
The Forest Lake Homeowners’ Association opposes the development because of community opposition, rezoning concerns, traffic issues and increased density.
James Trent said it is “premature to develop RA parcels such as Brooks Farm without recognizing the significant impact of unchecked RE development.”
ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP and protection are key words where consensus must be reached, no matter what the Planning Commission decides to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.
“We like the fact that we are in the woods, we would like to preserve as many of the bigger trees as possible. I think people that buy high-end homes would protect their environment, they will be our new neighbors,” said Elyse Turkeltaub.
Members of the Planning Commission said that the 36-pages of proffers in the application should include arduous guidelines for attending to the environment long-term.
“If those HOAs don’t have good guidelines and understanding of the responsibility to do this, it will go away,” said Knudsen. “We need to do more.”
Great Falls was part of a downzoning more than 30 years ago designed to protect drinking water and the Potomac River, with much of the area zoned for one house for five acres.
The Planning Commission has scheduled its next decision-only hearing on the property for this Thursday, Feb. 4.
“I hope you will consider working some more on storm water system, particularly in terms of phosphorous management,” said Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence.
“The staff report is thorough and the proffers reflect a lot of negotiation,” said Dranesville Planning commissioner John Ulfelder. “I want to thank the folks from the community.”