The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, following a six-hour public hearing, voted 6-4 May 2 to deny a special-exception request by Sunrise Development Inc. to build an assisted-living facility in McLean.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) moved to turn down Sunrise’s request, saying the 73-room, 90-bed, 60,000-square-foot facility at 1988 Kirby Road would be too intense a use for the surrounding residential neighborhoods, would exacerbate traffic problems and add to an already overwhelming number of institutional uses in the otherwise low-density residential area.
“Tonight we are deciding a land-use case, not whether we should have more senior housing in our county,” Foust said, adding that Dranesville was second only to Mason District in the number of available assisted-living facility beds.
Sunrise’s facility would have been located on a 3.7-acre site near Kirby Road and Westmoreland street, now home to the 4,105-square-foot Surge Community Church. County zoning rules require at least 5 acres for medical-care facilities in residential areas, hence the need for a special-exception permit.
Sunrise officials had argued that supervisors previously approved 10 similar waivers, although Foust countered that seven of those served as transitional uses between commercial and residential zones.
Foust was critical of the application’s listed floor-area ratio (FAR) of 0.13, which counted only one floor of the facility while designating two others as “cellar space.” Including all three floors would have bumped up the FAR to 0.37, planning staffers said at Planning Commission hearing in March.
The application for months has drawn opposition from many surrounding residents and led the McLean Citizens Association to pass two resolutions recommending against the facility.
Sunrise officials repeatedly modified the proposal to increase vegetative screening and relocate the entrance from Kirby Road to Westmoreland Street. The site would have retained 68 percent open space, much of which consisted of a large tree buffer separating the facility from adjacent single-family homes.
The supervisors’ vote was heavily split, with even the board’s two Republicans coming down on different sides of the issue.
Supervisors Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield), Penelope Gross (D-Mason) and Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) voted against Foust’s motion, citing the county’s pressing need for housing for disabled senior residents and Sunrise’s efforts to make the facility blend in with the community.
The county actively has been seeking community housing for older adults, Herrity said.
“An assisted-living facility is a home and should be integrated into our communities,” he said. “We should not be marginalizing our disabled elderly by relegating them to the outskirts of our county or chasing them into other counties.”
Similar facilities in Mason District had proved successful in residential areas with nearby institutional uses, Gross said.
“A neighborhood is more than just the home that we live in,” she said.
Sunrise’s application should not take the full burden of all the surrounding institutional uses, Hudgins said.
“The opportunity for an exception is valid here,” she said. “The concern that I would have is that if we are going to deny this, I would look at the next application that I have and say, what validity do I have to say ‘Approve it’?”
Other supervisors agreed with Foust that the Sunrise facility’s scale and intensity of use would be too high. Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) said seniors in the county have been evincing more interest in mixed-use housing options.
Sunrise proposed the bare-minimum 55 parking spaces for the site, 33 of them in an underground garage, Smyth said. The facility might not have enough parking if the underground spaces were made secure, she said.
The facility likely would have generated more than 200 vehicular trips per day, far more than the 130 that would occur if 10 single-family homes were built on the site instead, said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock).
Proponents of the project had been making “false and wrong” accusations that voting against the project signaled an unwillingness on the part of county officials to allow senior housing, he said.
“The decision not to build here . . . will not have any affect on the county’s ability to provide the number of senior housing units that we need,” Cook said.
Sunrise officials later issued a statement lamenting the board’s decision.
“This is a sad day for Fairfax County families, who are increasingly in need of senior-care options in the neighborhood they have loved and lived [in] for so many years,” said Edward Burnett, chief financial officer for Sunrise Senior Living.
“Throughout the past three years, we have worked tirelessly to listen to area residents, adapting our design and application based on their feedback, and demonstrating how we will continue to be a good neighbor,” Burnett’s statement continued. “Sunrise remains committed to helping to ensure Fairfax County residents will have more high-quality assisted living choices for their families in the future. We sincerely appreciate the Board of Supervisors for their thoughtful consideration and the time they dedicated to reviewing our application.”