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.