In Mason District, Veteran Incumbent Penny Gross Faces GOP Challenger

On both sides of the party line, the goal for the Mason District of Fairfax County is the same: Revitalization. But sitting four-term Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross and her challenger, Republican David Feld, a career public servant and political newcomer, see the path toward a renewed Mason District differently.

For Gross, revitalization is continuing in her work that, during the past 16 years, has seen projects like $100 million mid-rise office building in Skyline, a multi-million dollar addition to the Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads senior living facility, and the Shoppers Food Warehouse and Home Depot setting up shop in Seven Corners Shopping Center.

It’s a process which, Gross says, takes some time in order to make sure that citizen concerns are adequately addressed.

“Folks don’t like things to happen real fast,” Gross said. “They want to be comfortable with the changes that are being made, and want to be part of those changes.”

The process also involves preparing plans for revitalization to take advantage of possibilities for growth.

“We’ve done the plans already, and as soon as businesses are ready to revamp, we are poised to do some significant revitalization,” Gross said. She added that there are many development plans set for the next supervisor term, including a renovation of the Westlawn Shopping Center at Route 50 and Annandale Road, the final shopping center in the district to be renovated. With plans established for prime renovation areas such as Bailey’s Crossroads and Annandale, Gross says property owners and business owners are waiting for existing leases to expire and taking the time for “thoughtful, methodical” consideration of how to best renovate.

Feld, however, believes that revitalization could be a faster process, and that the area should develop like its neighbors such as Falls Church, Alexandria, and now Merrifield.

“There is nothing like that going on here in Mason District, other than a modified, amended comprehensive plan for Annandale and Bailey’s Crossroads,” Feld said. “When you talk to folks about it, they say ‘well, that’s 30 or 40 years away.’ Well, that’s not good enough for me. I believe a lot of folks in Mason District feel the same way.”

Among Feld’s plans for redeveloping the Mason District are generating interest in converting the space in Bailey’s Crossroads that once housed a Borders bookstore into a private arts and cultural center, and allocating unused space in the old Annandale Elementary School for a community center. He hopes to enlist the support of community members in revitalization efforts “to add the extra value that would take minimum to great.”

“There is a need for focus on the Mason District that has been ignored for many years, where resources are going to the development of other areas of Fairfax County and not into Mason District,” Feld said. “It needs to look like it belongs in the third-most affluent county in the country.”

Gross, a 41-year resident of the Mason District, began her career as a public servant working on Capitol Hill for 20 years, moving to the local level – where, she maintains, “is where the action is” – by securing the vote in 1995 for her four-year first term as Mason District supervisor. She was elected to three additional terms, and in her time in the position has served since 2009 as the vice chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in addition to serving as the chair and vice chair of several of the board’s committees and also serving on state and national boards such as the Board of Directors of the Virginia Association of Counties and the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council.

In addition to her roles in government positions, she has also been involved in such civic organizations as the Lincolnia Park Civic Association and the Friends of Mason District Park.

Her track record is replete with commendations from community and government organizations, including an Elizabeth and David Scull Metropolitan Public Service Award, the highest award the Council of Governments bestows, in 2003, and the Robert L. Bruggeman and Mary C. Michaud Lifetime Achievement Award from Central Fairfax Services in 2009.

Feld is a 35-year resident of the Mason District, and has held several civic leadership roles through his involvement with such groups as the Lincoln at the Crossroads Alliance, the Mason District Council and the Bailey’s Crossroads Revitalization Corporation. During his 43-year career in public service, he held leadership positions with the United State Department of Agriculture, and for his efforts to develop a debt restructuring program to protect family farms from bankruptcy while saving government money, was awarded a Distinguished Service Award by the USDA Secretary of Agriculture. He was also awarded a National Performance Review Vice Presidential Hammer Award “for making government work better and cost less.”

With Gross campaigning on her years of service to the Mason District, and Feld contesting that citizens could benefit from change and his public service background, both candidates believe that in order to accomplish the greater task of revitalizing the Mason District, a strong leader must oversee the process. The voters will be able to select that leader in the Nov. 8 election.