A local environmental nonprofit is concerned that a recent sale of a 7-acre forested property near Accotink Creek could lead to its development.
A public auction was held last week for seven lots near Woodburn Road and Accotink Creek in Annandale, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) and the Fairfax County Parks Authority confirmed to FFXnow.
However, despite both organizations participating in the auction, neither were the winning bidder.
The property was owned by a small family foundation for years before “falling into tax delinquency,” which forced them to sell, according to NVCT. The property was initially set to be auctioned off in October, but it was canceled in hopes that another solution could be found. Ultimately, none was.
NVCT Executive Director Alan Rowsome says the foundation served as “good stewards” of the property and often worked with local organizations to preserve the forest, while also allowing appropriate public recreation.
The land is full of intact forest that buffers Accotink Creek and home to a segment of the county-managed Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail. The property is also in a floodplain and a county-designated resource protection area (RPA).
RPAs are environmentally important lands that “protect water quality, filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, reduce the volume of stormwater runoff, prevent erosion, and perform other important biological and ecological functions,” according to the county website.
Rowsome calls the property a “rarity” in the D.C. region for the density of the forest, its natural resources, and its importance to the ecosystem. NVCT was hoping to purchase it to keep it intact and work with the park authority on other preservation efforts.
The park authority was interested in the land for “natural habitat, possible cultural resources, possible trail connections,” FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen said in an email.
But neither were able to purchase the lots, leaving the future of this section of Annandale forest in doubt.
“We do not know who purchased the properties,” Pedersen wrote. “We do not know if the purchaser(s) intend on developing the properties.”
The buyer’s identity won’t be known publicly for several weeks, stirring anxiety about its intentions.
Since the land is designated an RPA, any development or “land disturbing activity” generally requires county approval. Removal of native vegetation is also not allowed, and the use of pesticides and fertilizer are “strongly discouraged.”
But Rowsome remains worried, since the bidder spent a lot of money on the property. He estimates it was three to four times the amount that NVCT and the Parks Authority were able to bid.
“These properties are not developable…but somebody still bid a very high amount on each lot anyway,” Rowsome says. “So, a developer still bought them, despite the county’s affirmation of them not being buildable and [could] try to work different angles to release some of those restrictions.”
Rowsome allows that the buyer “could be a do-gooder citizen” whose intentions are aligned with NVCT and the park authority and “thought they were being helpful.”
Since it could be weeks or even months before the fate of the property becomes clear, Rowsome says he’ll be patient and remain optimistic that rare county natural resources can be protected.
“The story of this property is not over yet. We’re still going to work diligently and with the assumption that [the property] will eventually be protected in some way or another,” he said. “And we will work in good faith with anybody who is willing to do that.”
A sewer infrastructure project in the Vienna Metro station area is in the works, anticipating future needs in northern Fairfax County.
The Accotink Gravity Sewer Improvements Project will upgrade existing facilities that are projected to be insufficient, county staff say.
“In order to prepare the sewer system for the future needs, we really need to go forward with this project,” said Department of Public Works and Environmental Services project manager Thomas Grala during a virtual meeting for the public about the project on Tuesday (May 24).
According to a presentation, the county’s current total sewer capacity is approximately 90 million gallons per day, but by 2045, the area will need to accommodate a projected 120 million gallons per day, a 33% increase.
The Accotink Gravity project’s design phase could begin this summer and finish in the spring of 2023. The design phase will finalize the exact route of the sewer. Construction could begin in the fall of 2023 and end two years later.
Additional public meetings, including those with smaller groups such as homeowners’ associations and businesses, are expected in the future.
The existing Accotink gravity sewer starts by James Madison High School, passes through Nottoway Park, continues to Nutley Street, goes underneath I-66, and passes south under routes 29 and 50.
“It’s been working fine and many people walk along these routes…as pathways,” said Andrew Casolini, a project manager with Whitman, Requardt & Associates, a firm headquartered in Baltimore that the county selected to partner with on the work.
He noted during the public meeting that the system was initially installed in 1963 and upgraded in 1978.
The new project is estimated to cost approximately $37 million and would be covered by existing user fees and availability charges.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to raise sewer fees by about $38 on average starting July 1, and those annual rates are slated to continue increasing.
Meanwhile, the board is also considering switching an existing “growth-pays-for growth” policy, where developers’ costs would be shared by residents and other property owners.
Grala said the project is one of a series of upcoming efforts, such as a $110 million project in Tysons to create a new 5.5-mile-long pipeline for future growth that could be completed by the summer of 2026.
Photo via Fairfax County