Debate over One University development goes until 2:35AM at Planning Commission meeting

Michael Dranove Politics, Tysons Update

Wednesday’s Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting was a bruiser. The night started off around 7:40pm with a one hour debate on noise regulations near Dulles Airport, and ended at 2:35am after lengthy discussion on 4 other major agenda points, including some 20 speakers who voiced their passionate opinions on a controversial development near George Mason University (GMU).

Undoubtedly, the night’s spiciest topic was the question of the controversial proposed development known as One University. Positioned along University Drive and Route 123 the development would include 580 affordable multi-family and student housing units. A previous Farifax County meeting that addressed the proposal drew a slew of critcism, along with a few proponents. Wednesday proved to be a similar story.

Around 7:40, taking one look at the size of the crowd, Fairfax County Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy (Springfield) started off the meeting by addressing the obvious, “In case you haven’t guessed already, it’s going to be a busy night.” Unfortunately for those involved with the One University debate hoping to make a quick in and out at the meeting, the Commission placed the item last on the agenda, and it would not be until over 4 hours into the meeting, after midnight and a double overtime loss for the Washington Capitals, that the Commission reached the One University agenda point.

“It’s going to be a busy night”

After a decidedly pro-development introduction to the agenda item by Commission member Ellen Hurley (Braddock), along with a few comments signaling opposition to the development from Commission member Mary Cortina (At-Large), local resident Neil Gallagher stepped up to the podium. In what seemed to be a planned move by commenters to place Gallagher at the head of a series of One University critics, Gallagher set the tone for the public comment session saying, “We are not against low-income housing…it has been said that we just don’t want this in our neighborhood, this is categorically untrue, and borders on insulting. Listen to our concerns, they are about the size, the scope, the resulting impact of this project…over 1,031 cars and well over a thousand residents…this project is completely out of character with the surrounding communities…it’s a question for you: are you going to listen to the people who make up these communities?”

Following Gallagher was local resident Rob Prunty, a traffic engineer who provided a shockingly detailed self-made research project on the impact the project would have on local traffic conditions. Prunty pointed to the strain the project would put on the already crowded intersection of 123 and University Drive. He also pointed to local pedestrian infrastructure, saying it cannot support an increase to the number of pedestrians trying to access the GMU campus from the development.

Hitting on this point dramatically was the next speaker, local resident Tim O’Rourke who provided yet another impressively detailed presentation on the impact the project would have on local traffic conditions. Finishing with a dramatic flourish, a somewhat exasperated O’Rourke commented, “we’ve now got cars…going down University Drive making a U-Turn so that they can get into the que to the school. I don’t know what it’s going to take, someone’s going to hit a child, someone’s going to have an accident with a student, it’s going to be a bad day for everybody, it’ll be a bad day for the driver, it’ll be a bad day for the kid, and I think it’ll be a bad day for you guys if you approve this plan.”

Although the morning’s comments were mainly in opposition to the plan, opponents were not the only ones in attendance. The project is one of a very few that the County has on the table to seriously engage with its mounting affordability crisis, and the project would provide around 240 units to residents making 60% or less of area median income. In addition to affordable housing, the project would include 100 units for seniors, another at-risk group that the County has determined need additional housing options.

Speaking in favor of the project was Lori Greenlief, who presented letters from the Fairfax County Community Action Advisory Board. Addressing the question of traffic, Greenlief said, “Traffic is always mentioned, we choose to live in Northern Virginia and traffic is a way of life. People opposed to One University chose to buy near George Mason.” Greenlief highlighted the seriousness of the affordability crisis in Fairfax, saying, “Housing costs are out of reach for many working households. 45% of jobs in Fairfax County pay less than 50k a year…where do we expect our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other people who serve us will live [sic]?”

Greenlief’s comments echo those of Shari Zamarra, who spoke on behalf of the Faith Communities in Action Network at an April 9th meeting on the Fairfax County Comprehensive plan saying, “Where do we expect people to live…I know it isn’t easy, but somebody needs to look at the big picture and the common good about what kind of county we want to live in.”

After hearing more proponents and critics, a notably exhausted Commission adjourned at 2:35 AM, with a plan to defer action on the proposal until its meeting on May 8th.