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Neighbors Stand Against Bus Lot at Tank Farm

Though city officials say latest plan is best option, Comstock HOA cites safety, environmental concerns in opposition to proposal.

Fairfax City officials believe they've found the only suitable spot to park the 50 school buses they've tried to relocate for the better part of the past decade.

But council members are facing the same conflicts — safety and environmental concerns from neighbors — that have eliminated half a dozen sites in the five-year search to move the buses from the site of the former Eleven Oaks school.

Fairfax City purchased the Eleven Oaks property, on School Street, from Fairfax County in 2007, intending to move those buses out of the neighborhood and build additional residences in their place.

The city hired Grubb & Ellis Company, a real estate advisory firm, to help identify and narrow down possible locations for the buses. The company logged hundreds of miles touring Fairfax, Merrifield and the surrounding areas, and reviewed countless properties online. They came up with a list of just over a dozen potential sites, but they were eliminated one by one thanks to neighbor opposition and cost.

to see a full list of properties studied for bus lot relocation.

Council members now face a similar fight over the proposed Motiva bus lot.

This summer, the city initiated the purchase of two acres on the Motiva Tank Farm site to build a bus lot. Council members voted unanimously on July 24 to set aside $3,855,000 to purchase the property and construct the lot, which will go on the grassy buffer land between Lifetime Fitness and the Pickett Road entrance to the Motiva property.

This new lot will bring relief to residents living around the current bus lot, officials say.

"The buses are right there, up against homes. Now those people are seeing brake lights in the morning," Councilman Dan Drummond said.

But the Comstock Homeowner's Association, along with Pickett's Reserve Homeowners Association, Mantua Citizens Association and Pine Ridge Civic Association, have spoken out against the plan, citing noise, traffic and environmental concerns as reasons to find yet another place for the buses. 

Council members met with several Comstock HOA members in February to introduce their thoughts on building a bus lot on the tank farm property. In the last month, Comstock residents have made their reservations known with a 22-page petition and other letters urging the city to reconsider. City Hall stocks several folders packed with documents and correspondence dedicated only to moving the bus lot to Motiva. One big folder is filled with Comstock responses.

City staff and council members agree the site is not ideal: The Pickett Road tank farm has a , as well as . In 1990, an underground leak caused about 250,000 gallons of diesel oil, gasoline and other chemicals to contaminate the surrounding neighborhoods, according to news reports. The cleanup cost hundreds of millions of dollars and troubled residents for years.

Comstock residents say the bus lot will only worsen the . They also believe building a bus lot on top of the tank farm's buffer zone is a disaster waiting to happen. 

"What if construction causes migration of contaminates downgradient as has been warned? ...What happens under the proposed contract with FCPS if buses must be displaced to repair test wells? What if there's another spill affecting the land?" read the group's August petition.

The proposed bus lot site will sit on top of land dedicated to controlling seepage into the groundwater. Motiva warned Fairfax City on April 2 that if a bus lot is built on that buffer zone it could interfere with Motiva's subsurface interception trench. It would name the city as partly responsible for any environmental issues, it said.

Since then, Fairfax and Motiva have worked out these issues with some clarification from the Environmental Protection Agency. Motiva will still be able to use its buffer zone as intended and Fairfax City won't be responsible for any spill contamination, city staff said.

Comstock residents are also concerned the bus lot could make the tank farm even more of an eyesore.

"The property has served as green space for benefit of neighboring residents and commercial communities for many years," read April 2 correspondence from Motiva to Fairfax City.

Council members argue the site, planned to start 500 feet from the nearest residence, won't be any worse than the existing tank farm. 

"We believe strongly that the impact on the community is going to be minimal. The existing use of the tank farm has a greater impact than this bus lot," Mayor Scott Silverthorne said.

The bus lot will be located closer to Pickett Road than neighboring residences. Additional screening should make the view less of a nuisance, according to staff. 

But Comstock residents aren't convinced. Now they're working on putting a version of their petition online for signatures. And they're deciding what to do about the Sept. 11 council meeting when council members are slated to discuss the Motiva bus lot site. It's scheduled at the same time as the annual Comstock HOA meeting.

What do you think? Build the lot? Extend the search? Comment your thoughts below.

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E. O. Pederson August 27, 2012 at 03:13 PM
NIMBY at its worst. Really, a bus parking lot is worse than the tank farm already there? With a limited list of choices, the Council is to be commended of selecting one where the additional traffic and other problems will have minimal impact on residential neighbors.
Jane Campbell August 27, 2012 at 05:19 PM
NIMBY at its worst, or prudence to prevent the City from a possible legal & environmental quagmire? Fifty school buses morning and night on Pickett Road, and turning from and onto Main Street, will worsen the already-jammed traffic. (No engineered traffic study has been made.) And will the City, by purchasing and building on the site, become bound to the EPA's consent order? (No documentation otherwise.) And isn't the site still contaminated? (No word as to whether samples of the soil have been tested.) Another spill at the tank farm could have catastrophic results -- not just for nearby neighbors but for the whole City.
WT Woodson August 27, 2012 at 10:37 PM
No, a bus depot is worse compared with the open green space and trees that will be destroyed and replaced with asphalt. The green buffer is there for a reason; otherwise it would have been developed long ago. The test wells are also there for a reason, and digging will be required if a eak is detected. Motiva also strongly opposes this deal. Fairfax City threatened Motiva with taking the land by eminent domain if Motiva did not agree to sell. Neighborhood opposition will not stop this project. When FCPS tried to build the depot a half mile away at Woodson HS, neighborhood opposition was strong and well organized. Yet FCPS's Dean Tisdadt and school board member Tessie Wilson told the community that did not matter: FCPS is only required to foolow the law as written, and the school board is independent from the Board of Supervisors. What stopped the Woodson project is that Supervisor John Cook asked VDOT to do a traffic study. Implementing VDOT's recommendations is what made the project cost prohibitive, and without the improvements to the intersection, the Fairfax County Planning Board was not likely to recommend approval. FCPS and Fairfax City together withdrew the proposal. Which is how we are where we are today. Unfortunately, the tank farm is within Fairfax City, so the county people may not be able to help this time.
WT Woodson August 27, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Interesting that two parcels are not listed on the properties considered for the bus depot: the GMU property along Braddock Road west of Route 123, accessible from the new University Drive extension to be built next year, and the horse farm currently for sale at the intersection of the Fairfax County Parkway and Braddock Road, across from the Mott Center.
Elsa August 28, 2012 at 02:49 AM
1 - ALMOST $4 MILLION FOR A BUS LOT??? Unbelievable!! 2 - What happened to the preservation of green space initiative that was voted for by citizens?? That field is the only open space of its kind in the city. Dog walkers, frisbee throwers, wildlife, all kinds enjoy it. 3 - An astonishing lack of imagination. Why not park the buses at a school where they belong??
WT Woodson August 28, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Whitney - Thank you for an excellent and well-researched article, along with the list of other sites considered. You understand and presented the issues better than anyone else in the media biz. It refreshing to see more than a rehash of press releases and public affairs responses.
WT Woodson August 28, 2012 at 05:44 AM
While unbelieveably expensive, the project Includes engine heaters, a place for the drivers to use a bathroom and stay out of the cold, parking for their cars, and more. Wherever FCPS and Fairfax City finally decide to build, it's good that they are planning and designing the facility to meet the needs. The loss of green space is key to the community, and very important in our urban design. It's a shame that those seeking to build the parking lot are willing to sacrifice the park-like setting. Can't park that many buses at the schools - the community also demands using the schools for evening and weekend activities, as does FCPS, and need the parking. One alternative that has worked in some neighborhoods is to rent parking from neighborhood pools, which tend to be closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day and desperately need money to balance their budgets.
Amy August 28, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I fully support the City Council's efforts to relocate the bus parking from Eleven Oaks, which was always a temporary lot. Homes built on Eleven Oaks will bring tax revenue and add housing in Fairfax City. The current temporary bus parking area on Eleven Oaks is zoned for residential use, while the Motiva site is zoned for industrial or commercial activity.
Jason Nadeev Kazi August 29, 2012 at 04:13 AM
You answered your question, that parcel is GMU property.
Elsa September 26, 2012 at 03:53 PM
WT Woodson, the lot at Fairfax HS is ENORMOUS & could easily accommodate half the buses. The others could be parked at other schools. It would cost far less than $4 MILLION & would not DESTROY a rare & precious natural area with ACRES OF CONCRETE. This is just appalling & the City Gov't needs their collective heads examined.

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