The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors moved 9-1 Wednesday to amend the Comprehensive Plan, paving the way for a final decision on the development of student, senior, and affordable housing units near George Mason University (GMU). Known as One University, the proposed development would comprise 10 acres located at the intersection of Route 123 and University Drive. It would include 100 affordable senior housing units, 140 affordable multi-family housing units, and 340 student housing units with approximately 800 beds. It is supported by many who see it as a much-needed step towards improving the diversity of housing options in Fairfax County. However, it has also received significant pushback from residents in the surrounding communities who believe it will exacerbate problems with already strained local infrastructure.
Supervisor John Cook (Braddock) introduced the agenda point and urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the proposal. Cook referenced recent increases to the county’s budget for affordable housing, and said it was time for the county to start putting their money where their mouth is. “We just passed a plan for affordable housing, and then we put some money in our budget for affordable housing, and then we put in our budget guidance to put a lot more money into affordable housing. You can’t live on a piece of paper…These things only matter if we actually build this stuff.”
Responding to critics who believe that the development will cause major traffic disruptions, Cook acknowledged the traffic problems in the area, but said, “we have had extensive, extensive studies done on transportation impact…It’s less than a 5% impact on additional car traffic.”
Finally, Cook pointed to GMU’s growth, and argued that rejecting One University would not make the need for this housing go away. “George Mason is going to grow regardless of what we do here. The 800 student beds proposed by this proposal are going to be located somewhere. If they are not at this spot they will be spread throughout the community….and how do you think those 800 students, if they’re not living across the street from George Mason…are going to get to class? They’re going to drive. They’re going to drive through these streets, and so while there is some transportation impact from building this facility, there’s an even greater transportation impact from not building it because these students are going to be here regardless of what we do today.”
A divisive issue
After Cook spoke, Linda Smyth (Providence), voiced her opposition to the proposal. While Smyth acknowledged that finding suitable land for high-density development was difficult, she also said the building’s density and aesthetics were too far out of character with the surrounding communities. “It looks like a barracks, it’s dense. It is going to be a barrier with the adjacent neighborhood…My concern here is that when we throw density at the affordable housing problem, we’re also creating a possibly divisive issue with existing neighborhoods, and we don’t want that.” In a follow up discussion with TysonsToday, Smyth stressed the unusual nature of the proposal, most notably its high density, saying, “We’ve never put that kind of density right up against a single-family neighborhood.”
After Smyth, Chairman Sharon Bulova voiced her overall support for the project, but also noted her concerns. “The density concerns me, some of what I saw as far as conceptual layouts I did not think was really very compatible or very attractive…So I’m going to support it with a message…this needs work.”
After speaking, Bulova called for a vote on the proposal, which passed 9-1 with Smyth as the lone dissenting vote.
One local resident, Neil Gallagher of the Royal Legacy neighborhood, expressed dismay over the decision to move forward on the project saying, “Our communities are extremely disappointed but have not given up.” Unfortunately for many local residents who are in opposition to the development, they have no electoral recourse as they reside in Fairfax City and thus have no say over Fairfax County elections.
With the proposal passed, the application will now move through the zoning process of both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. If the zoning application is approved, the project will become a reality. The first hearing on zoning is scheduled for July 10th.