Oakton residents object to proposed assisted-living facility

Orr-BSL Hunter Mill LLC has proposed to build this Benchmark assisted-living facility at 2347 Hunter Mill Road in Oakton.

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.”

(6) comments


"We here in oakton ands vienna are good little socialist democrats and love open borders and HRC...but put a beautiful senior center in our midst and we turn into a GOP NIMBY...why we dont want less then 1 emergency vehicle trip a day per year near us...we dont want old folks near us...NIMBY NIMBY. Let's build and build and do nothing for the roads!" Good little Democrats...HYPOCRITES!


Exactly what I was thinking.

Lady on a Dark Horse

I applaud Commissioner Hart's thoughtful comments. This site is too small for the development program - that's why they're asking to vacate the conservation easement for placement of a reserve septic drainfield. In 1987 and again in 2000, the County refused to place septic in this area for environmental reasons: this is the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay Protection Area. The Conservation easement is more than 'green space' - the County previously requested it for environmental protection of Angelico. There are hundreds of homes in this area that have no other source of potable drinking water - they depend on their wells. Angelico and Difficult Run are already impaired by sediment- an intense Commercial use isn't appropriate in this environmentally sensitive location. If you read the Staff Report, there are several opinions that question this site's suitability due to very high ground water at the rear of the site. Zoning matters. We wanted to live in a rural area and checked out the regulations before we bought. The Comprehensive Plan states that commercial development belongs in Oakton Town Center - and that's exactly where Sunrise at Hunter Mill is - across the street from the library, next to local shopping and restaurants, a public bus line. That's really a win for Sunrise residents, their families and the employees. The Comprehensive Plan also talks about preserving rural character. Hunter Mill Road outside of Oakton Center is a Virginia Byway with so many historic sites. The neighborhoods were rural by design of the original subdividers. They loved the land, the stream valleys and were avid equestrians. The resultant lots have all sizes of homes, from small bungalows to large,gracious residences. None are as long as a football field - and the proposed building is just shy of that! This proposed medical faciilty is equal to eighteen average sized area homes in this area! It just doesn't fit with the neighborhood character. My husband and I are in the process of looking at retirement communities. We certainly don't want to live on a cramped site in an isolating location . At this point, we'll move to a smaller home and age-in-place, or move to a more stimulating CCRC that's 'CARF Accredited'. I'm not a NIMBY. I'm environmentally sensible, I care about zoning and my neighborhood, and I do care about the elderly. I am one.


Over 500 signed the petition against the facility. The recent public hearing allowed the public to speak - all speakers were against the development, except a few- aprox 8. who spoke in favor were actually paid employees of ORR Partners and were asked to show up and speak in support - a deceitful and corrupt way to promote development. I would never put any loved one in a facility developed by Orr Partners or managed by Benchmark Senior Living.


Why Wrong site!!! To large of a facility without vacating a conservation easement! The developer wants to expunge the conservation easement to fit the facility on this lot! Conservation easement was deeded in 2004- the easement was established to preserve open space; provide pollution reduction; facilitate the movement of wildlife via an integrated network of ecologically valuable land and surface waters for present and future residents of Fairfax county. Without this expungement the facility cannot be built. A medical facility defined per the FFX ordinance must be in a commercial zoned area - unless a special exception is approved - vote NO Approval. EMS Trips increased 216 emergency vehicle trips/yr will compound traffic issues and impact noise/light pollution affecting horses, wildlife, birds, pollinators and area resident's heal and safety. No public transportation for staff or residents 5+ miles away from public transportation. More traffic on already overburdened Hunter Mill. Eight times the average size of the 11 immediately surrounding residential structures - Building size proposed is HUGE - the length of the building is the size of 1 football field. A 70,017 gross square foot, institutional - scaled building is NOT in Harmony with our rural residential estate neighborhood. TOO DENSE - Cellar will have living quarters In order to meet the Floor to Ratio requirements of .15 the developer has managed to classify their main (taxable) entrance level as a "cellar" allowing 1/3 of their entire gross floor area to be subtracted from total density calculations. If the "cellar" floor was included in the living ratio then this would be TOO DENSE for the RE-Zoning and would not qualify! Septic System - This would be the 1st medical facility in FFX county on SEPTIC. There is not enough soil to handle the projected waste water - 5 of the 9 test borings hit bedrock at 1 foot, and 2 feet depth. The required depth is 3.5 feet. this system should not have passed! A dialysis machine would be needed for each resident to filter all the medications from urine-so does not seep into the ground and affect area well water. The CDCs will seep into wells. Because there are no studies yet available - be conservative and don’t allow this to be built with septic- require public sewer. Alternative on-site sewage system Will NOT filter all pharmaceutical / industrial waste by-products - 86 elderly with estimated 313,900 medicines consumed a year will have significant affect on downstream homes. Homes depend on their Private Wells for SAFE drinking water. We don't want another FLINT Michigan disaster! Horses Hunters Valley remains one of the few remaining affordable, close - in locations for Pony, 4-H and Scouting Clubs to access safe trails and outdoor training facilities. Hunters Valley equestrians trainers and neighborhood boarding stables, will be negatively be impacted. Horses are unpredictable-siren effects on horses cause extreme unpredictability and may even cause the horse and rider death. Hunter Mill Corridor - is a Virginia Byway Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This historic road should have reasonable protection for its aesthetic and cultural value. Developer Already has facility on Public Sewer 3.25 miles away steps away from Wiehle metro. Recent rules are these types of facilities belong in a commercial zoned area- respect the spirit of the new rule. This is a landmark decision!

Hunter Mill neighbor

The two posters so far were obviously not at the 5+ hour meeting. Everything that was presented by the opponents is not reported. The concerns fall is many categories and are valid; from a medical facility being allowed on septic (none in Fairfax County), to vacating a conservation easement that is at the headwaters of the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay , to all the added traffic on Hunter Mill since there is no public transportation and all workers, visitors, deliveries, maintenance, etc. will be in added vehicles, to the potential polluting of wells since the facility will be on public water but all surrounding homes on are private well, to the actual welfare of the future residents since they are isolated in an area with no public transportation and nothing close enough to walk to even if there were sidewalks, which there aren't. If this were a case of NIMBY then it wouldn't have taken three meeting of the Sully Land Use Committee, two meetings of the Fairfax Health Commission and an unprecedented five meetings of the Hunter Mill Land Use Committee to feel they had enough information to vote. It is easy to point fingers when you only have one source. I urge readers to realize that five hours of testimony cannot be boiled down into a column of print.

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