A proposed Oakton assisted-living facility that’s been generating anticipatory controversy for months underwent its first Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing July 18, and it turns out neighbors’ concerns have not been assuaged.
Orr-BSL Hunter Mill LLC is applying to the county government for a special exception to build an assisted-living facility on 6.68 acres at 2347 Hunter Mill Road, located just north of Church of the Good Shepherd.
The facility, which would be operated by Benchmark, would accommodate up to 86 residents in 70 rooms. The building would be up to 35 feet tall and have a maximum gross floor area of 43,680 square feet, excluding “cellar” space.
After a hearing that lasted more than five hours, the Planning Commission deferred its decision on the case to Sept. 12.
Patrick Foster, representing the Wickens Hunt Homeowners Association, showed the Commission a video presentation with swooping aerial views of the site and surrounding lands.
Foster’s presentation urged the Commission not to recommend approval of the project, saying it did not meet county comprehensive-plan requirements that multi-family developments should have public sewer service and be located near community-serving retail.
“Granting the applicant’s exception would be an unprecedented move that is likely to have massive unintended consequences for our rural land,” his presentation read.
Sheila Dunheimer, who lives about a half-mile north from the site, also opposed the facility.
“The tranquility of Hunters Valley would be destroyed by this inappropriately placed commercial development that would attract 216 emergency-vehicle trips per year, introducing noise and light pollution, causing horrible congestion, adding to our existing transportation issues,” she said, also pointing to concerns about the safe use of local trails.
But the applicant’s attorney, Lynne Strobel, said offering such a facility ensures seniors are cared for and can maintain their quality of life. Seniors want to remain near familiar people, places and activities, she said, adding that about 15,000 people within a 5-mile radius of the site may wish to have the option of living at the facility.
“The population in the nation and in Fairfax County is aging and aging rapidly,” Strobel said. “It’s going to affect all of us, whether ourselves personally, our parents, our friends, our relatives.”
Strobel said the building’s height would be consistent with surrounding residential uses, and the facility would be set back 240 feet from Hunter Mill Road, or more than five times the required distance.
The applicant has offered multiple concessions to reduce the facility’s impact on neighbors, she said, including prohibiting trash collection before 7 a.m.; not allowing deliveries before 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends; placing a sound-attenuation barrier around the site’s generator; automatically timing parking-lot lights to turn off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.; and using a private ambulance that will not use sirens.
The property now is developed with one brick-and-vinyl, single-family detached home, and the parcel’s eastern portion is located in a Resource Protection Area.
The proposed assisted-living facility would be executed in the Arts & Crafts architectural style, with stone veneer and fiber-cement cladding panels.
About 75 percent of the site would be open space, and the applicant has proposed building a 2,500-square-foot “memory garden” behind the facility. Trees would be preserved along the site’s northern and eastern property lines and the developer would install supplemental vegetation.
The site’s active drainfield and one of its reserve drainfields would be located on the western side of the property near Hunter Mill Road; the other reserve drainfield would be placed on the site’s eastern half. Wildflower meadows would cover the drainfields.
The facility would be served by public water and, to neighbors’ consternation, would be the first such operation in the county to use a private septic system.
The Oakton site’s septic system would undergo quarterly inspections and reports, instead of annually; would have three monitoring wells; and its system controls would be monitored remotely. The system would incorporate odor-control devices and the facility would reduce its septic usage by having commercial laundry done off-site, she said.
While Strobel assured the Planning Commission that the septic field would address contaminants, such as prescription-drug residue, better than a public sewer system would, Commission member James Hart (At-Large) was skeptical.
“It’s plausible that with 86 residents and all their prescriptions and all the scrubbing and cleaning and bleaching in the bathrooms and whatever, that some pretty toxic stuff will come out,” Hart said. “It’s not going to be as pure as a mountain stream, no matter what the level of treatment in the septic tank is.”