A preliminary design for the Lorton Community Center. Click to enlarge. (Fairfax County image)
Residents of Lorton — many from neighborhoods surrounding the Lorton Library at 9520 Richmond Highway — packed the local Moose Lodge last Thursday evening for an at-times contentious community meeting led by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck about the new Lorton Community Center, scheduled to open in 2022.
The community center — currently in its design, zoning and permitting stage — is intended to co-locate multiple services in one location and provide a place for residents of all ages and abilities to meet, learn and play, according to Fairfax County materials. Specifically, the facility will house the Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC), the Lorton Senior Center for Active Adults, a gymnasium, exercise and fitness rooms, art and multipurpose rooms, a game room and a kitchen in a new building that’s adjacent to — but will share a common entryway with — an enlarged Lorton Library. Designed to meet ADA requirements, the community center is expected to provide fitness classes, indoor basketball, after-school programs, senior activities, STEAM/technology/computer classes, seasonal camps, therapeutic recreation and other classes.
Based on initial design concepts presented by architectural firm Grimm + Parker, the 33,000 square foot, environmentally friendly Lorton Community Center will front directly on Route 1 to avoid infringing on surrounding neighborhoods, although the building’s main entrance will be in the rear, adjacent to a “right-sized” (greatly expanded) parking lot, according to architect David Whale, a principal at Grimm + Parker. Behind the lot will be a relocated playground, existing walking/jogging/biking trails, and open space for outdoor recreation, carved out of the existing Lorton Park.
It’s precisely this open space that’s a point of concern for residents who say the county’s plans will reduce the parkland to the size of the existing parking lot at Lorton Library. County drawings show the park’s current “usable grass area” of 1.68 acres being reshaped and reduced to 1.42 acres due to the parking lot expansion, though the space will incorporate some new land freed up by the removal of the old LCAC building and trailer housing the food pantry. Homeowners point out, however, they also will lose some parkland and a trail on the south side of the library.
Click to enlarge. (Fairfax County image)
While several trees near the existing parking lot and future community center will need to be removed, the park’s landmark white oak tree will be preserved, as will most trees located along the edges of the park, providing screening against neighboring housing developments.
Clad in bright green t-shirts and “Save Lorton Park” stickers, neighborhood activists accused the county of failing to hold public meetings early in the process, shutting them out of decision-making, and trying to squeeze a sizable community center into a small area in a way they believe will worsen traffic congestion and take away valued green space.
Chris Ambrose, president of Shepherd Hills Home Owners Association (HOA) — one of two HOA representatives to the Lorton Community Center Steering Committee — said they were excluded from the committee until late last year.
“As far as getting the community input, it was shut out — I mean shut out of the process until November,” said Ambrose.
He also questioned why public hearings weren’t held before the county’s $18.5 million bond was put together and eventually approved by referendum in November 2016, and what will replace the sense of community that Lorton Park has afforded local residents over the years. Besides serving as a play area for kids, the park routinely hosts events like the yearly Hope & Health Festival, which LCAC held there this past weekend.
Storck responded that the two HOA representatives were invited to the steering committee’s second meeting in October, although it wasn’t until the third meeting in November when they officially became members. The 10-person committee — which also includes several individual residents of neighboring communities, the executive director of LCAC and the president of the Lorton Senior Center among others— had evaluated three other potential sites for the community center but ultimately selected the Lorton Library site by consensus. Other county-owned sites in the committee’s original consideration set were the Noman Cole property across the street, the park/tennis court on Pohick Road (eliminated from contention) and the Lorton Road/railway track site.
Storck tried to reassure residents that the community center is still in its early design concept stages and that there will be ample opportunity for the community to weigh in on both the services provided by the center and how the open space is used. Public hearings will be held during the upcoming public facilities review process according to county officials.
“What I’m here to tell you is that [Lorton Park] is not going away,” said Storck. “It’s important that we have a true community park and facility.”
Storck also noted that site designers and traffic engineers will be considering traffic and parking-related issues, and that the entire process will require the Virginia Department of Transportation’s sign-off. In 15 to 20 years, said Storck, the Richmond Highway service road in front of the library will be eliminated as part of the road widening planned under the Embark Richmond Highway initiative.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck speaks during last week’s community meeting. (Erika Christ image)
Not all residents attending the community meeting were opposed to the facility’s placement at the Lorton Library site, including a woman who introduced herself as Kathy Turner.
“In 1985, I was president of Hagle Circle,” said Turner. “I was promised this community center and a library right there. I want it,” she said to scattered applause.
County officials said the design, zoning and permitting process for the Lorton Community Center will continue through Spring 2019, with construction slated to begin in early 2020. New county positions will be created by the center’s opening, and they eventually will be posted here.
Until the next community meeting or public hearing — date yet to be determined — the general public is encouraged to share input and comments by sending an email to Ipek.Aktuglu@fairfaxcounty.gov.