Cathy Saunders' Planning Commission Testimony re: Chesterbrook Residences


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    Testimony Before the Fairfax County Planning Commission

    Re: SE-2003-DR-022 (Chesterbrook Residences, Inc.)

    February 5, 2004

    Catherine Saunders

    Good evening.  My name is Catherine Saunders, and I live at 2119 Great Falls St., across Haycock/Longfellow Park from the site of the proposed Chesterbrook Affordable Assisted Living Residence.  I am a member, and member of the governing board, of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, one of the congregations sponsoring the project, and also a member of the Friends of Burke’s Spring Branch, a watershed organization concerned with the health of the stream that flows through the site.  However, I am speaking tonight as an individual.  While I share the concerns of many of my neighbors with the potential effects of development on this site, I believe that development of some kind will occur there, and that the proposed Assisted Living Residence is preferable, both in terms of social benefit and in terms of ecological and other neighborhood impacts, to the likely alternatives.  Therefore, I urge you to approve the special exception application. 

    The need for affordable assisted living in Fairfax County is clear.  Housing of any kind in our area is becoming increasingly expensive, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for our elderly to age in place.  At the same time, the elderly population is growing.  This project will make a small but very real contribution toward solving these problems. 

    Like many of my neighbors, I am concerned about traffic conditions on our block.  There is no question that problems with traffic flow and pedestrian safety, especially in the area of Longfellow School, need to be addressed, and that Longfellow parents need to be discouraged from using neighborhood streets, public and private, as sites for quick u-turns.  The proposed incorporation of the Chesterbrook Residence driveway into the route used by cars dropping off Longfellow students may help alleviate some of these problems.  At the very least, the existence of the Chesterbrook Residence is unlikely to significantly exacerbate traffic problems, since the number of cars entering and leaving the site will be modest, and the committee planning the project has promised to schedule shift changes so they do not coincide with school opening and closing times.  Clearly, additional solutions to this problem – including ways to make walking or taking the school bus more attractive options for Longfellow families – need to be found.  Doing so, however, is not the responsibility of the Chesterbrook Residence committee, since traffic  problems existed well before an assisted living residence was proposed for the site, and will continue to exist even if the parcel is left undeveloped. 

    I am also concerned with the potential environmental impact of the project.  Burke’s Spring Branch is a severely stressed habitat; a monitoring site at the bridge behind Longfellow School, just downstream of the Chesterbrook site, scored at the high end of the “unacceptable” range on the Virginia Save Our Streams multimetric index in our most recent, Nov. 2003, monitoring.  The stream suffers from erosion throughout much of its length, and the Brooks Square stormwater easement, located a few hundred feet further downstream, is clearly receiving a much larger volume of water than it was designed to handle.  Despite what I am sure were good intentions on the part of the congregation, the engineers involved in the project, and the County, recent construction at the Temple Rodef Shalom has exacerbated these problems. 

    All of these facts suggest that any further development in the watershed needs to be approached with extreme caution.  There is no question that the best thing for the health of the stream would be to leave the 5-acre Chesterbrook Residences site in its current wooded state.  However, that is unlikely to happen; if the Presbytery does not use the land for the proposed Assisted Living Residence, it will almost certainly sell it, and the most likely buyer is a developer of single-family homes. Since such construction, unlike a medical facility, would not require a 100-foot buffer between it and the homes on Kirby Ct., a considerable area of woodland that is preserved under the current plan would be lost.  In addition, the committee proposing the assisted living residence has made a commitment to overretain stormwater by 10%, and has expressed a willingness to incorporate additional mitigation measures, including low-impact development techniques, in the final development plan if such approaches are found to be economically and practically feasible.  A by-right developer would have no incentive to make such commitments, and would not have, as Chesterbrook Residences, Inc. does, volunteers who are willing to invest time in exploring mitigation options, and the possibilities for funding them.  The committee has also expressed an interest in preserving and enhancing the habitat value of the site, possibly with the cooperation of local schools.  That, too, is a possibility that a by-right developer would have no particular incentive to pursue.  In short, while I remain concerned about the environmental  effects of any construction on this site, I believe that the Chesterbrook Residences proposal represents a better possibility for preserving some of its habitat and stormwater buffering ability than does the likely alternative. 

    Finally, I would like to say a word about the size of the facility.  I am not an economist, and I have not personally examined the proposed funding structure for the facility.  I have, however, known several of the committee members who have worked on this issue for many years, and have had a chance to observe their careful, thoughtful, and successful stewardship of financial matters vital to the health of our mutual church.  They tell me that there are economies of scale involved in the present proposal, and that any reduction in the proposed number of residents would seriously undermine the ability of the facility to offer a substantial number of affordable assisted living beds, while having very little effect on the physical size of the facility, the number of staff required, or any other factor that would decrease its neighborhood or environmental impact.  I trust their judgment.  I also know that the Presbytery takes issues of financial stewardship seriously, and, if it finds that the investment of land in this project is not producing a reasonable return in terms of affordable assisted living beds, it will not hesitate to cancel the project, and sell the land.  Besides, we need every affordable assisted living bed we can get.  Therefore, I urge you to approve the presently proposed size of the project. 

    Thank you for your attention. 

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