The Falls Church Planning Commission was within its power to grant final approval for the subdivision of 1.8 acres known as the Fellows Tract at 604 S. Oak Street adjacent the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School into seven lots for residential development Monday night, but instead stopped short. Instead, it granted only a preliminary approval pending further conversation with neighbors to the site about a myriad of issues ranging from traffic, parking, storm water run off, sidewalk widths and more.
The proposal to sub-divide the land into seven separate residential components would represent one of the biggest such moves in the City of Falls Church’s history, but that is not the main reason the plot is a matter of such concern to many in the City.
Although the issue did not come up as such in the Planning Commission meeting, on another floor of City Hall it did come up in the work session of the Falls Church City Council Monday night when City Manager Wyatt Shields was asked the status of the City’s efforts to acquire the Fellows property, possibly for the expansion of Thomas Jefferson Elementary across the street. At the risk of revealing some propriety closed-door information, Shields told the Council that the Fellows Living Trust, which controls the property on which the elderly Ms. Fellows has continued to reside since her youth, the trust “remains adamant that Ms. Fellows does not want to sell to the City.” Shields said the City has been aware of this position for many years, even though the City Council designated $4 million in its Capital Improvement Fund for potential acquisition of the property for school expansion. With the fate of the Mt. Daniel Elementary School expansion in Fairfax County now in serious doubt in the county, the City Council was hoping a Plan B could be to expand the City’s educational plant adjacent the Jefferson Elementary, although as Shields confirmed tonight, the City has known for a long time of Ms. Fellows’ adamant opposition of selling her land to the City.
Nonetheless, the Planning Commission’s tentative OK of the subdivision of the Fellows land into seven parcels hardly seemed like simply buying time. A number of neighbors to the site showed up at the commission’s meeting tonight to air concerns for a number of the matters that the commission then said should be discussed further. The commissioners acknowledged that “by right” the trust had the legal option to subdivide its land for residential development and nothing could prevent it if it so desired.
Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry lamented this fact, however. “They can do this by right,” she said. “But it pains me greatly. This is one of the biggest subdivisions we will have ever done.” She’d noted there are 180 trees on the heavily-wooded property that are at risk, and that as a part of the Virginia Forest portion of the City, it is home to three deer, at least one fox and other wildlife. Thirteen of the trees, she said, are of particular concern to the City’s arborist because of their special value, although the existing house on the property is not listed on the City’s historical register.
The subdivision plan “is not a use I would like, but there is little we can do,” chimed in Russ Wodiska, who was the acting chair for the meeting. The Planning Commission gave the preliminary approval by a 5-0 vote.