The proposed Lorton Community Center project will go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission during its May 22 meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

In order to move forward, the project needs to undergo the 2232 review process required for all proposed public facilities to determine if the project’s location, character, and size are in accordance with the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

The proposed Lorton Community Center would occupy 30,000 square feet on a roughly seven-acre site on Richmond Highway that is currently home to the Lorton Community Library, facilities for the nonprofit Lorton Community Action Center, and six acres of green space known to nearby residents as Lorton Park.

The size of the proposed facility means that a public hearing is required for the 2232 process, according to the Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, which is overseeing the project.

The planning commission public hearing on May 22 will also determine whether the project should receive a special exception amendment that would allow a nonprofit organization to be included in the community center, which is a public building.

In a report released on May 8, planning commission staff concluded that the community center facility is in accord with the adopted comprehensive plan and recommended that the commission approve the 2232 application as well as the special exception amendment request.

Staff also recommended that, if it approves the project, the Board of Supervisors impose conditions on the approval that say the special exception cannot be transferred to other land and a public benefit association may occupy up to 4,000 square feet within the Lorton Library and Community Center.

Fairfax County first acquired the intended Lorton Community Center site in 1981 with the goal of dedicating the land to a park, library, and general public or community use, but the Board of Supervisors approved a lease for the Lorton Community Action Center to use a 2,000 square-foot facility known as the Murphy House in 1983.

The Lorton Community Action Center provides food, emergency rent and utility assistance, and other services aimed at combating poverty and homelessness.

After a facility assessment report conducted in 2003 found that the Murphy House is in need of extensive renovations, Neighborhood and Community Services suggested that LCAC combine with a new community center to “provide a synergy of uses,” according to a 2232 statement of justification first submitted to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning on Oct. 3 and last revised on Feb. 28.

Fairfax County voters approved $37 million in bonds for a new Lorton Community Center and a replacement Sully Senior Center by passing a human services and community development bond referendum in November 2016.

Neighborhood and Community Services has determined that a community center is needed in Lorton to fill social, recreational, and other programmatic needs for the southern part of Fairfax County, but the choice of the Lorton Community Library site as the location for the new facility has drawn opposition from community members.

According to the 2232 statement of justification, the property that hosts the Lorton Community Library and Lorton Park would be the least disruptive available site, because it is owned by the county, has already been developed, was designated as the original master plan, and would allow community members access to different functions in the same location.

“The co-location of the community center, the Lorton Library, the Lorton Senior Center, and the Lorton Community Action Center is a win-win for the community,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “…They allow for collaboration and enhanced abilities to service those most in need in the community, many of whom are within walking distance, and cost savings.”

However, nearby residents have objected to the reduction of green space that they say would occur if the project is constructed as currently designed.

A petition distributed prior to a community meeting on the project held on May 3, 2018 garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

A coalition of residents called Save Lorton Park hopes to generate support for its cause ahead of the planning commission meeting on May 22, arguing that alternative sites by the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant or near railroad tracks off of Lorton Road would be better suited for a community center.

Save Lorton Park supporter Lea Watson, a former board member for both the Shepherd Hills Homeowners Association and LCAC, says replacing one park with development, even for a public facility, would set a precedent with consequences for all of Fairfax County, pointing to Oakton residents seeking to preserve Blake Lane Park as another example.

Fairfax County Public Schools has proposed transforming the 10-acre Blake Lane Park into the site for a new elementary school that officials say is necessary to address capacity issues in the Oakton High School pyramid.

“[Lorton Park is] a sanctuary and we need to have that in the community,” Watson said. “…It’s an essential part of life, so that’s why we’re fighting so hard to maintain and keep this. The proposal that they have, we’re saying [that] if you insist on keeping it in that area, you need to condense the footprint.”

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