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Time to Move on North Hill

Whatever happened to North Hill.

The expected influx of people from BRAC has generated some rapid growth along the Richmond Highway corridor, particularly in the form of new hotels and residential housing. It’s a good time, therefore, to talk about what kind of community we envision and whether or not we will make room for people of all income levels. Which leads me to ask: whatever happened to the North Hill project?

Years ago, Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, working with the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, proposed the construction of an “affordable housing” community on the 33 acre lot that borders Richmond Highway across from Lockheed Boulevard. That land had been purchased by the RHA in 1981 using CDBG funds for the explicit purpose of creating affordable housing. The first phase of the project, completed in the early 1990s, was the 15-acre manufactured home park called Woodley Hills Estates, otherwise known to some as the “trailer camp.” After much public discussion, Hyland proposed that 67 manufactured homes be placed on the property and the remaining 22 acres be converted to a usable, passive park. Once the announcement was made, the proverbial poop hit the fan.  I clearly recall one opponent of the plan asking me “does Gerry really want to be a crime lord?” Then there were those who bemoaned that a number of existing trees would be cut down.  Low income housing advocates wanted more than the 67 units. And Gerry even has had to deal with the opposition of the adjoining Supervisor Jeff McKay, who has said the project would be a “disaster.” But for a while, Gerry held his ground. 

A considerable amount of taxpayer’s money was spent on consulting studies, public meetings, tree surveys, etc. but then, just over a year ago, Supervisor Hyland out of nowhere toss out the idea of constructing instead a mixed-income project with a lot more density. Advocates of the original North Hill project, who had no warning, were taken by surprise. They felt that Gerry was abandoning them. Then, to complicate matters further, an “unsolicited proposal” to develop the property came into the county proposing the construction of 204 families, with only nine percent of them serving low income residents. And here we are, several years later and low income housing advocates are still wondering what’s going on with this project.  Indeed, a recent resolution proposed by the neighboring Woodley Hills Estates Civic Association passed the Mount Vernon Council Planning and Zoning committee asking that the original plan “proceed without delay.” 

When I was a commissioner on the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, I was a strong advocate for “scattered site housing.” As a child, my family lived in subsidized housing but we lived in a middle class neighborhood, not in a concentrated “project.” So, we were able to interact with kids from a different social strata and I believe it served me well, making me aspire to live in one of their houses one day. So, I’ve always thought it was better to mix populations if possible. 

But North Hill is a different animal. First, the government promised local residents that this land would be used for affordable housing. Second, we are not talking about another “trailer park.”  I’ve seen samples of the cottages, yes, cottages that would be placed on the property and they are beautiful.  Third, and this is important, most of the cottages would be owned, not rented.  The residents of North Hill would therefore have a stake in the community, would be paying property taxes, etc. Meanwhile, as I said, times are a-changing on Richmond Highway. With the construction of new hotels and “luxury apartments,” there’s a new energy along the corridor and it just makes sense to have some housing that could be used by the workers at Starbucks, Target, the new Costco and other new businesses that are undoubtedly on their way.     

Now, there may be some things going on behind the scenes that I am not aware of. But we’ve been talking and talking about this for at least five years.  It’s time to stop the filibustering and time to fulfill the commitment that was made a long time ago to the people of Woodley Hills Estates and to housing advocates like Keary Kincannon, Shannon Steene and Pam Michell who have been fighting for years for the construction of a measly 67 affordable homes in Mount Vernon.    

Let’s find the money and set the ground-breaking date as soon as possible.   

Scott Surovell July 17, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Ron: This isn't really a state government issue, but I've been paying some attention to it because it is in my district. There are also some other factors which are significant considerations here. 1 - This is the only manufactured home park in my district that is ZONED for this out the five that presently exist (Penn Daw, Woodley, Audubon, Harmony Place, and Greenleaf). I'm willing to bet that in 20 years, this is the only pocket on manufactured homes on U.S. 1 due to property values. 2 - These homes offer the opportunity for affordable home *ownership* for a segment of folks who would be prevented from building equity in their homes and would be renters for ever. 3 - It's my understanding that thanks to the Public-Private Partnership law passed by the Commonwealth, the County is required to consider the proposal and solicit alternatives or else the entire project might be exposed to litigation. I think we'll be waiting a little bit longer, but I think progress is being made.
Lat July 18, 2012 at 12:53 AM
More affordable housing? I thought we want to change the image of route 1. This area is known as the poor part of Fairfax County. I dont think the perception that people have about the area will improve unless we bring more upscale housing options.
JoeB90 July 18, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Ron...How do the workers get to Tysons corner, Reston Town Center, etc.? I don't remember passing by the low income housing areas in those areas. Will the owners get zero down loans or will they need to put down the traditional 20%? What happens when the affordable housing is sold by the original owner? Is it sold at market value or will there be a cap on how much profit they can make? What other affordable housing is being built in the area?
Scott Surovell July 18, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Lat: The money to purchase the land was given to Fairfax County via a HUD affordable housing grant. On this land, the choice at this point is (a) some affordable housing that is resident owned or (b) a lot of affordable housing (e.g. the public-private partnership) that is investor owned. I have long said that the best thing we can do to transform U.S. 1 is to extend the Yellow Line through Hybla Valley, Woodlawn and Fort Belvoir to Lorton. If we do that, the rest will fall into place.
Ron Fitzsimmons July 18, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Thanks, as always, for your comments, Scott!
Ron Fitzsimmons July 18, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Lat: Re the "image" of Route One, exactly what do you envision will happen on that property? The property right now is totally unusable. Instead, what you'll see are 67 nice, new cottages on tree lined streets. You will not see another trailer camp. Then, there will be nice, usable park where right now the woods are used for less than desirable purposes. There isn't going to be a big sign out there saying "Poor People Live Here."
Ron Fitzsimmons July 18, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Too many questions, Joe! But, re my comment above, maybe you dont see the low income housing in Reston, etc. because they are not built these days like the old "projects." I think that is much of the problem here, people think they're gonna build a slum. And, as far as I know, there is no other affordable housing projects being planned on Route One. It's been hard enough to get this one approved in 6 years, who the heck in their right mind would suggest another project?
Jody July 18, 2012 at 05:22 PM
JoeB90 has some great questions. If the price to purchase one of these cottages is so low that people earning not much more than minimum wage can afford one, then there will be a huge demand (bidding war?) for each one. Will only people currently in a specific income range be eligible to purchase? What income group are we trying to help here? I hope all these important details have been worked out, if so-- let's build them!
Ron Fitzsimmons July 18, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Only people in certain income categories will be able to live there. The Dept of Housing continues to work out those numbers but they do have a commitment to allow "affordable housing." This also, however, could include housing for folks like teachers if they qualify.
Maggie Halll July 18, 2012 at 06:47 PM
NO way Jose. ILLEGALS SHOULD BE DEPORTED NOT giving free houses.
Maggie Halll July 18, 2012 at 06:54 PM
NOT IN ROUTE 1. . My 76 year old mother is afraid to take out the trash at night, she afraid to walk to her car. Even to sit in her house with the front door open to enjoy the sunlight coming in. WE CANT LET THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE IN ROUTE 1. She lives in To the left of her there a 2 bedroom mobile with 10+ Hispanics living there. And to the right of her there an 2 bedroom mobile where 8+ Hispanics living there. They want help from the government for what? ALL THEY DO IS DRINK beer (mexican beer) . They have a BRAND NEW CAR and their kids eat free lunch at school I bet they will end up drooping out. MY BEST FRIEND IS A 59 YEAR OLD AMERICAN CIZITEN who has no health issuance and doesn’t quarterfily my mom lives in Harmony Place Trailer Park. Everytime I go there I fell my life. We used to have good neighbors we used to have fun with but now we cant.
Keith Whited July 18, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Will they be able to require that the occupants are able to spell and complete coherent sentences . . . ? Oh - just slap me silly for that comment . . . ! ;-P
Lat July 18, 2012 at 08:36 PM
My point is that Route 1 image is known for having low income housing. I know they need to live somewhere but unfortunately this bring people that bring problems. When I say I live in Route 1 people look at me like "wow...that area is not good...that area is not safe". This could affect the value of the homes around these low income housing. Also, this is why investors dont want to spend their money in the area. I cant see any revitalization in the area.
earl flanagan July 19, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Free houses? The North Hill houses will be Workforce Housing and owner occupied. The owners will need salaries between $30K and $60K. They will not be subsidized public housing. They will be the only detached single family homes available in Fairfax County costing less than $100K. As Martha Stewart says, This is a good thing.
Ron Fitzsimmons July 19, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Thanks, Maggie, for your incredibly racist comments. I figured someone of your ilk would finally come out of the woodwork. But I have to admit that you are very entertaining. I did find it funny that when you were talking about their lack of education, you predicted that they would be "drooping out."
Ron Fitzsimmons July 19, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I suspect, Keith, that some of the teachers who wind up living there might be able to spell.
Ron Fitzsimmons July 19, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Yes, Lat, the "image" is that we're full of low income housing but those are not the facts, not that anyone wants to deal with facts anymore. Indeed, when I was with Sup Hyland we did a report and it showed that we had the third highest concentration of low income housing in all of Fairfax county. And the police tell me that the Woodley Hill Estates trailer camp does not generate any more crime per capita than anywhere else in Mount Vernon. What ticks me off are the assumptions about folks who do not make as much money as others. Check out some of my previous articles where I talk about people on welfare...
William David July 21, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Facts, facts, facts. Yes, let's talk about the facts and other information that was not presented. First, there is nothing in the CDBG Grant language that says this land MUST be used for low-income housing, rather it must be used to the BENEFIT of low-income, of which housing MAY be one of many possibilities including 100% parkland. Second, Mr. Fitzsimmons never mentions the original Phase II and why it was never built - cost overruns on Phase I due to marine clay abatement were $80-$100K per pad (not sure of the exact figure) but it was clearly enough to - fortunately - halt the construction of additional pads farther up the hill. In order for this new Phase II design to proceed, once again the marine clay problem must be mitigated and the current plan has the establishment of not one but two drill-shaft, below-ground concrete (and possibly) steel walls to keep the hill from collapsing on the houses. So the marine clay abatement would be moved from trailer pads to the hill. Once this wall is drilled into the hill at great taxpayer and environmental expense, the land below will be worth a whole lot more and anything could be built (within zoning).
William David July 21, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Another fact, the community has already voiced their opinion as to the sensible disposition of this land with a Comprehensive Plan specification of 100% parkland for that property. The MVCCA has passed numerous resolutions over 25 years opposing any development on NH with the lone exception in 2007 when the voting members, imo, were presented with incomplete and misleading information (just like Mr. Fitzsimmons' article). Some people still believe, and speak, to the non-truth that housing "must" be built. Furthermore, the statistic that the MV Magisterial District is THIRD in low-income housing is, again, misleading. Examine the Route 1 corridor, +/- 1/2 mile on either side which encompasses BOTH Lee and MV, and you will find, BY FAR, the largest concentration of low-income housing anywhere in Fairfax County. No wonder the Lee District Supervisor is against NH development. If Mr. Fitzsimmons believes in "scattered site housing" then he should be advocating for this type of development in other areas, not here. He is correct that concentrating the poor only leads to societal problems and a dead-end they can never lift themselves out of. Generation after generation cannot move up, so let's not continue to concentrate the poor at the corner of Lockheed and Rt 1.
William David July 21, 2012 at 12:37 PM
And let's be truthful - these structures are not "cottages." They do not have proper foundations and are, in fact, rolled in on trailers and placed on blocks. You don't see all that because they build skirts around the base. And the energy efficiency of these trailers still only need to meet minimum HUD standards which means the occupants will be spending more to heat and cool. Despite some improvements, the trailers are still an environmental loser, period. All in all, I've been studying the North Hill problem for years, and with all due respect for our Supervisor who has done many wonderful things, this is the worst decision he has ever made, bar none. The only sensible and logical disposition for the remaining acreage from all standpoints - economic, social, environmental, and a balanced future for Route 1 - is that it legally be turned over to the Fairfax County Park Authority in its entirety for parkland to save the only remaining greenspace along Richmond Highway.
Jody July 24, 2012 at 07:22 PM
A vocal few from your adjoining neighborhood may have voiced their opinion against it, but that wasn't an overall consensus. I'm sure that these modular cottages will have proper foundations and adequate energy efficiency. Fairfax County has rules for everything under the sun. Low cost housing will benefit people with low incomes more than another park, especially when Huntley Meadows is right down the street and the hilly land in question could probably only be used for passive recreation.
William David July 25, 2012 at 01:18 AM
@Jody, the consensus of the community is reflected in the Comp Plan, and that change for 100% park was adopted years ago by the Board of Supervisors. The BOS does not adopt these changes willy-nilly. Much thought goes into it, including public hearings and passage through the Planning Commission. The CP for NH has not changed since that adoption and remains in effect. The trailers will not have foundations, they are not required per HUD guidelines. Fairfax County has nothing to do with the standards for the housing or how they are installed; again, that is HUD, a national agency. I do not know what guidelines the RHA must follow if Fairfax County would want to upgrade them, in fact they may not be allowed as the occupants must be able to afford them. Finally, only 67 individuals or families may benefit as that is how many units are currently prescribed. A neighborhood park dedicated to serve the immediate area would qualify within the guidelines, as the current plan does in fact include parkland, and hundreds of families would benefit. The current park development plan does call for passive recreation but that is certainly a good thing given the age and specimen trees cataloged on the site. Again, 100% parkland is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the facts.
William David July 25, 2012 at 01:19 AM
@Jody, the consensus of the community is reflected in the Comp Plan, and that change for 100% park was adopted years ago by the Board of Supervisors. The BOS does not adopt these changes willy-nilly. Much thought goes into it, including public hearings and passage through the Planning Commission. The CP for NH has not changed since that adoption and remains in effect. The trailers will not have foundations, they are not required per HUD guidelines. Fairfax County has nothing to do with the standards for the housing or how they are installed; again, that is HUD, a national agency. I do not know what guidelines the RHA must follow if Fairfax County would want to upgrade them, in fact they may not be allowed as the occupants must be able to afford them. Finally, only 67 individuals or families may benefit as that is how many units are currently prescribed. A neighborhood park dedicated to serve the immediate area would qualify within the guidelines, as the current plan does in fact include parkland, and hundreds of families would benefit. The current park development plan does call for passive recreation but that is certainly a good thing given the age and specimen trees cataloged on the site. Again, 100% parkland is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the facts.
Ron Fitzsimmons July 25, 2012 at 04:30 PM
William, I still think "trailers" is not the right way to describe these homes. Of course, anyone who opposes providing affordable housing will call them trailers, but when I was with Hyland that is not what I saw when we were looking at models. And I recall that RHA was giving folks only three option in terms of what specific housing thy would accept and they all were very beautiful "cottages" that happened to be mobiile. Another thing is that Hyland and RHA has made a commitment to build these units AND make these woods usable via a park. Is there not something to say about gov't keeping its word to people? Finally, as far as there being "only" 67 units, that is a lot of homes for folks who cant afford to live in Wessnynton, Mason Hill, and Waynewood. And they could be teachers, firemen and young people in general who right now couldn't even think about housing in MV. whorarnathey soeolks esere
Jody July 30, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Is there an estimate of total cost to develop the land, utilities, roads and build/place the cottages? What if for the same amount of money you could buy down the cost of existing housing to help ten times more needy people purchase a modest home? I'm just wondering about the common sense, cost effectiveness of it all. Not that we can or should go back on his project, looks like it's a done deal, but I hope the county doesn't spend any more of our money on deals like this. Ron, we have a boat load of affordable housing now!

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