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Proposed townhouses on Spring Hill Road don’t fit neighborhood, McLean residents say

Spring Hill Road in McLean has no townhouses now, and at least some area residents are unconvinced that there should be any in the future.

During a workshop on Thursday (March 9), the Fairfax County Planning Commission preliminarily advanced a request for more density at the northwest corner of Spring Hill Road and the Dulles Airport Access Road, but said the concept plan must be revised before it’s fully considered.

The decision came after homeowners spoke in opposition to the Spring Hill Assemblage development proposed for the 4.97-acre site.

“There are a number of issues, and they need to be thoughtfully viewed,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said, pointing to compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods, site access and open space utilization as factors that need to be reviewed.

As part of the county’s Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process, property owner Spring Hill Road Investments LLC is asking the county to allow three to four dwelling units per acre at 1336, 1340, 1344 and 1348 Spring Hill Road. The parcels are currently zoned for just one unit per acre, with a future density of two to three units envisioned by the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

There’s “a disconnect” what the comprehensive plan allows and “the reality of how that redevelopment can occur,” according to Matt Roberts, a principal at Hirschler Law who’s representing the developer.

Past attempts to develop the site under the existing plan guidance haven’t worked out, because they “always come in more dense,” he told the planning commission.

“What we see with the SSPA process is an opportunity to address that issue. We can also do it in a way that respects the existing neighborhood and align ourselves with county housing and planning goals,” he said, noting that the proposed concept consolidates the lots and vehicular access points while offering “ample opportunities for on-site open space.”

However, McLean residents challenged the claim that increased density is necessary to make development “economically viable,” as stated in the statement of justification for the SSPA nomination.

Many of the benefits touted by the developer — including open space, trail connections and the new site entrance — could be achieved without altering the comprehensive plan, argued representatives of the McLean Hunt Estates Civic Association and the Lewinsville Coalition, which has homeowners on Lewinsville Road to the north of the property.

“The applicant mentions on-site amenities and recreational areas without defining what they might be,” Irwin Auerback with the Lewinsville Coalition said. “It is hard to imagine how there can be much usable open space on 4.97 acres at the requested density.”

The coalition believes “the amendment is unjustified and would be detrimental to the neighborhood” and fears that “making such a change would open the way for similar actions on other properties in the future,” he concluded.

The Spring Hill Assemblage concept plan calls for 19 townhouses — five more than the maximum currently recommended, county staff confirmed.

McLean Hunt Estates Civic Association representative Susan Bartram recalled previous failed applications to increase the property’s density from 2004 and 2020, calling this “yet another attempt to squeeze more onto this small assemblage than is compatible with nearby residential housing.”

“Both the opening and concluding paragraphs [of the statement of justification] state that the development of the property is more economically viable at a higher density,” she said. “That is simply not a valid justification for amending the comprehensive plan. Compatibility with the neighboring subdivisions is the relevant issue for the county, not maximizing profit margins.”

In response to the incompatibility concerns, Spring Hill Road Investments has introduced an alternate plan for single-family detached houses, though townhomes are its preferred approach.

“What we submitted was the one that we felt met many more perhaps goals of the comprehensive plan in terms of lot consolidation, open space and otherwise,” Roberts said.

The revised concept shows 19 units but reduces the size of the proposed amenity space and reconfigures a trail through the property. It was presented to the Lewinsville Coalition and the McLean Citizens Association before last week’s planning commission meeting, Roberts told FFXnow.

Roberts says the applicant has also committed to working with the community to add “guardrails” in the comprehensive plan amendment that would provide “guidance on how the future rezoning could ensure compatibility with its surroundings.”

Spring Hill Road Investments maintains, however, that an increase in allowed density is necessary to facilitate any kind of development on the site, Roberts said in a statement:

The County’s planning and economic policies recognize that more housing is needed countywide. The right incentives need to be in place to achieve the County’s redevelopment and housing goals.  The current Comprehensive Plan language envisions greater density here, but while that language has been in place since the 1980s, it has not facilitated any redevelopment at this site.  Our nomination promotes additional housing in the County without detracting from the existing neighborhood.

The planning commission backed county staff’s recommendation that the nomination be included in the third tier of the SSPA work program, meaning a review will be deferred until after other higher priority items.

Elsewhere in the Dranesville District, a proposal to replace an office building in Pimmit Hills with townhouses was put in the work program’s second tier, which is for “valuable” nominations that don’t quite qualify as top priorities. Developer Elm Street Communities is expected to file a formal development plan once the SSPA is officially accepted.

The commission also voted to designate development around the Innovation Center Metro station as a top-tier priority.

Ulfelder said he anticipates getting more community feedback on the Spring Hill proposal before the commission finalizes its proposed SSPA work program, a vote expected on March 29. After that, the package will go to the Board of Supervisors for its approval on April 11.