Community reacts to county’s latest design plans for colocated Penn Daw facility
The gymnasium at Bucknell Elementary School was packed July 27 for Fairfax County’s presentation of a revised concept design for the colocated fire station, affordable housing and emergency shelter/supportive housing in Penn Daw. The community meeting was held in follow up to a June 8 meeting at which the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and its contracted architect, BKV Group, presented three potential designs for the facility.
Based on community feedback to the original designs, BKV Group came up with one consolidated concept that incorporated suggested changes to the facility’s proposed outdoor spaces, parking and traffic management, building design, sustainability and site design. Some of the most significant updates included positioning the affordable housing section of the building — which is located between the shelter and fire station — closer to Beacon Hill Road to allow for more resident gathering space in the rear of the building; moving most parking underneath the building; and adding photovoltaic shingles to the roof for net zero emissions.
Fairfax County project manager Claudia Shalhoub said the design team was on the verge of entering the schematic design phase and would hold another community meeting after that wraps up — around the November time frame.
While some locals used the Q&A session to raise questions about issues like drainage, parking lot lighting and traffic, others broached a topic that had come up at earlier meetings — the perceived safety risks of moving a homeless shelter population from its current location at the Eleanor Kennedy Shelter near Fort Belvoir to a more residential area. One community member told On the MoVe he wasn’t opposed to helping shelter residents per se, but due to the panhandling problem along parts of Richmond Highway, he was concerned about bringing that type of activity to the neighborhood.
Some panhandling and loitering activity already does take place along Beacon Hill Road, according to Rev. Andy Jagow, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church and Preschool, which is located less than half a mile from the future shelter. The church occasionally has had strangers wander onto its property or knock on the door seeking assistance, said Jagow, though there haven’t been any resulting safety problems. Loitering is strongly discouraged during preschool hours, and staff are asked to contact the police if they ever feel unsafe, he said.
Officially, Bethany Lutheran’s position on the proposed location of the shelter is neutral. The church both understands the importance of listening to community concerns and recognizes its mission to love its neighbors and be a resource to them, said Jagow. Back in September 2021, he sent a lengthy letter to church members about the matter, thoughtfully considering all sides of the issue and encouraging them to become informed about the project and provide feedback to the county. From a personal standpoint, Jagow said it might be helpful to have the shelter’s resources nearby where he can direct people for help.
Over the past two years, Ventures in Community, an organization of faith communities and nonprofit organizations that serve underserved people in southeast Fairfax County, has been supportive of the Kennedy Shelter’s new location, presenting letters to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck from nine local faith communities. About a dozen members of Kennedy Shelter Allies, a broader group supporting the shelter, attended the July 27 meeting and offered written comments.
Other community members, however, were equally vocal with their concerns about certain shelter residents and how to keep local children safe. One of those to speak up was Christopher Morgan, one of Storck’s opponents in the upcoming general election, who has made his opposition to the shelter's location a central campaign issue.
Storck’s director of communications Camela Speer described the meeting as “engaging,” noting that the Supervisor’s office had expanded its mailing list this time around to include community members within a mile — instead of one-half mile — of the project site. Meeting information also was sent to the project email distribution list and was posted at the project site and on numerous websites and social media sites, she said.
More information about the Penn Daw Fire Station, Emergency and Supportive Housing project, including the latest meeting presentation, FAQs and how to sign up for project updates, is available on the project website.
With additional reporting by Mary Paden, who represents the South County Task Force on the Penn Daw Fire Station and Supportive Housing Advisory Committee.