Del. Albo on Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Plan

Dear Constituent,

A copy of the petition you signed asking your government officials to preserve the baseball diamond at the former Lorton Prison was sent to me.  I always answer all constituent e-mail, calls, letters and even petitions!  So I thought I would give you some information about the ball field.

First and foremost, as a State Delegate, I have no power over land use issues.  The Virginia Code specifically states that all land use decisions are to be made by the local governments.  This is a great law because you do not want a Delegate from Roanoke Virginia having a say in what land in Fairfax County should look like.

I do, however, live in the South County.  Consequently, as a citizen, like you, I am very concerned about this Lorton Prison / Laurel Hill redevelopment and the loss of a precious sports field. So I have personally attended numerous meetings on this topic and have expressly voiced my concern over the proposed development of hundreds of town houses and apartments, which will have the ancillary effect of wiping out your ball field and crowding our schools.

HISTORY OF LORTON PRISON

As you may know, Lorton Prison started off as a workhouse for petty criminals when the prevailing public safety theory was that criminals can be rehabilitated through work and fresh air.  But over the years, this theory was discredited, and Lorton Prison soon became home to the worst criminals of D.C.  Rather than the fantasy of “reform”, the prison’s main purpose was to take rapists, drug dealers and murderers, off the streets of D.C. and house them in Lorton Prison.

Thanks to the work of citizens in our neighborhood and Congressman Tom Davis, Lorton Prison closed its doors and in 2002, and Congress transferred possession of the land to Fairfax County. That transfer included land for (a) low density new homes, (b) a massive preservation of open space in both Mason Neck and Lorton, (c) a new high school, middle school, and elementary school, and (d) space for recreation.  In addition, certain areas of the prison were deemed historic and a plan for preservation was required.

“ADAPTIVE RE-USE / PRESERVATION”

Everyone, including me, viewed the prison buildings off of Rt. 123 as “historic.” That section was built between 1910s and 1920s, and is a great example of the “reform era” in public safety policy. (In my opinion, the layout of the buildings resembles Thomas Jefferson’s “lawn” at UVA.)  If you have not been to visit this facility, you need to go!  It is fantastic.  Artist studios, two art galleries and performance spaces have been constructed.

On the other hand, there has been a great deal of controversy about the section of Lorton Prison off of Silverbrook Rd., where your ball field is located. This facility was where the maximum security cells were located.  There are some older structures, but in my opinion, many of the structures created in the 60’s and 70’s for the sole purpose of housing rapists, drug dealers and murderers have no “historical value”. Furthermore, these buildings are very expensive to preserve.  Many have asbestos in them and the piping under the buildings is rotted out.  In fact, when the prison was open, these faulty pipes were blamed for numerous raw prison sewage spills into the streams that lead to the Occoquan River.  Consequently, four years ago I announced that the whole facility should be leveled because I did not want to spend any taxpayer funds to preserve these buildings.

Obviously, my recommendations were not accepted, and the County instead appointed a firm (the Alexander Company) with experience in preservation (a.k.a. “adaptive re-use ) to look at the facilities and devise a financially viable plan that would preserve the existing prison buildings, but give a developer enough profit to do so without using taxpayer funds.

This report came out this fall, and is the subject of your petition.  Go to www.davealbo.com and click on the link “Lorton Prison Maximum Security Preservation” to find different reports and plans. In short, it basically states that preservation of these buildings is very expensive.  It also notes that the most profitable type of re-use is residential.  Thus, in order to preserve all of the prison buildings, the plan must include a large amount of residential development (e.g. apartments and townhouses).  And to make space for a large town house development, the plan proposes to wipe out your ball field.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

I must say that the entire plan by the Alexander Company is not bad.  It does provide for a great retail/community center (e.g. Reston Town Center) and would provide our area with a great place to shop, eat and be entertained.  I would love to see something like this come to fruition, but the current price is too high. Not only would the residential development wipe out your field, it would bring in more school children, and we are already hard pressed to find space for them. After all the work area parents have done to build a middle school, it would be a real tragedy to see it immediately packed with new residents from the prison redevelopment.  After four years of working to build a middle school, we would be back where we started with overcrowded schools and school boundary disputes, possibly resulting in the redistricting of our school children out of the neighborhood schools.

In my 15+ years of public service, I have found that the way to get things done is to find a compromise between sides. I recently proposed reducing the number of buildings to be preserved to only the oldest and most historically significant.  This would reduce the total cost of the preservation and, consequently, less residential units would have to be built.  In addition, this would reduce the impact of the project on our schools and preserve your baseball diamond.

The bottom line is I am an ardent opponent of this current plan.  I will not support such a massive influx of new residential units under the guise of “historical preservation” of prison buildings.  This is not “historical preservation” —  It is “hysterical preservation.”

I will support, however, a compromise that preserves the oldest most historically significant buildings and reduces the number of residential units and consequently preserves your ball field. And as a citizen of South County, I will do what I can to accomplish this goal.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

6367 Rolling Mill Pl.

Suite 102

Springfield, VA  22152

Phone 703-451-3555

E-mail: Dave@DaveAlbo.com

Kind Regards,

David B. Albo

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