Letter to the Editor: Development Fight Lost Early On

Letter to the Editor: Development Fight Lost Early On

I could be wrong but I believe I detected an implied note of concern in the headline (“Evolving Land Use: Previous Classification”) for your report on the Jan. 24 vote by our Board of Supervisors to approve a zoning change for a proposed Gulick development in a forest next to Lexington Estates here in Great Falls. Ironically, you reported in a previous edition that, at the same meeting, Board of Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova proposed a Community Council on Land Use Engagement to better inform and engage the public on the board’s decision-making process.

I was unable to attend the meeting due to the birth in Richmond that night of our first grandchild Nora Elizabeth. I had planned to speak out against the Gulick development but under the circumstances I was more than happy to miss the opportunity

One suggestion I have for the council being formed is that the county not just send notices of proposed actions to houses that are adjacent to the property in question. In our case, the Gulick development affects more than just those living next door. Also, a yellow board leaning against a tree in a dead-end cul-de-sac announcing hearings doesn’t quite do it. In our case Gulick reached out to our HOA and the GFCA but attendance at their meetings was relatively sparse.

Another suggestion I have is that the county give citizens more than an appearance of a fighting chance to stop a development when they believe it is wrong. A majority of the Lexington Estates residents who responded to an HOA survey were opposed to the Gulick development due to environmental concerns and concerns over disruption. The survey results were reported to the Planning Commission. Before throwing everyone under the bus I have to acknowledge that Supervisor John Foust, our Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder and Eric Knudsen and the rest of the Great Falls Citizens Association were very active and generous in their time and efforts to amend the Gulick plan. However, all of them commended the developer for “going well beyond what was required” for stormwater management and tree preservation. That says a lot about the state of regulations and it’s like thanking Ghengis Khan for only burning down half your city. Despite its commendation of Gulick, the GFCA has formed a stormwater management committee and is asking that the state and county look towards formulating more stringent requirements and protections in the future.

The development plan went from very bad to less bad through more than six iterations in a process that took more than a year and a half. Each time the developer assured us that their plan was the ultimate answer. But, while this was ongoing, everyone involved quietly assured me that the development would be approved no matter what we said. A county staffer informed me that the board approved the rezoning on Jan. 24 because it did not “hear anything new.” There is clearly a mindset in favor of development. As a “child of the ‘60s” I believe this is the opposite of what should be happening.

Finally, it would be a fairer process if the impact of construction on surrounding residents was given greater priority. Once the issues of storm water management and tree preservation were addressed according to existing laws and regulations the runway was cleared. Never mind that logically speaking cutting down more than a thousand trees and bulldozing the ground where they stood does not seem like good stormwater management.

A provision in the Hickory Community Planning Sector Land Use Recommendations states that the proposed cluster development may be appropriate if individual lots, buildings, streets, utilities and parking areas are designed and situated to minimize the disruption of the site’s natural drainage and topography and to promote the preservation of important view sheds, historic resources, steep slopes, stream valleys and desirable vegetation. R-1 Districts are not appropriate unless significant benefits can be achieved in the preservation of the natural environment, scenic view shed(s) or historic resources by permitting such modifications.

Currently, there is what is effectively a model home being constructed close to the entrance of the development. It is huge. Nine more would be built over a period that could run to more than two years. Already our oldest son was almost run off the road by a truck hauling a construction vehicle to the model home. My wife and I were given the same treatment by a cement truck racing to the building site. This was while an elderly couple walking on the side of the road looked on in alarm. It does not take much to imagine the construction traffic associated with many tons of bricks, lumber, downed trees, fill dirt, concrete, asphalt, construction equipment and workmen for nine very large homes. It is to be funneled through a half-mile stretch of subdivision where children and their parents like to get out for a breath of fresh air. The same county staffer asked me how the many tons of the necessary supplies and equipment could get to the construction sites without trucks. That pretty much says it all.

As reported by The Connection, I live next to the forest in question. I don’t believe that any members of the Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission would allow this to happen to themselves or their neighbors. The GFCA fought the Brooks Farm development for more than two and a half years. It should be noted that despite many persuasive arguments against it the GFCA ultimately failed to stop it.

We moved here from Salt Lake City in 1987. The Salt Lake Valley is bordered by mountains east and west. The valley on the west is mostly flat and treeless. Those neighborhoods with trees are generally the most desirable and expensive. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to estimate that more trees have been cut down in Fairfax County in the past three decades than now exist in the Salt Lake Valley.

Arthur Kingdom III

Great Falls