Hybla Valley Vet to shutter due to Richmond Highway BRT ROW acquisition
The Hybla Valley Veterinary Hospital, a longtime family-owned business along the Richmond Highway corridor, has notified customers it will be permanently closing at the end of June. The reason, according to the owners, is because “Fairfax County is taking the property via eminent domain.”
As part of the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, several locations along the corridor have been identified as potential aboveground or underground stormwater management areas. According to project roll maps and an interactive map on the BRT website, the Hybla Valley Vet property and a couple of nearby commercial properties are shown as right of way (ROW) acquisitions for future conversion into wet ponds.
Deb Schrenzel, owner of the veterinary hospital that was started by her father back in 1948, said she’s known for nearly five years that the property was targeted for a drainage pond. An early attempt to convince the county to move the location of the pond didn’t pan out.
“We’ve always held out hope that things might change, but they haven’t,” said Schrenzel in an email to On the MoVe.
She said the county made an offer to purchase the whole property at the end of 2022; however, she did not indicate if the offer was accepted. No one has officially ordered the veterinary practice to vacate the premises yet; nonetheless, the Schrenzels plan to end business operations at the end of June and are in the process of making sure that existing customers get their pets’ medical records.
Many patrons of the veterinary clinic — some of whom have taken their pets there for decades — expressed disbelief and dismay about the business’s closure.
Local resident Elizabeth Lingafelt said she grew up in a family that took its pets there and that she continued to do so after starting her own family — about 40 years of continuous service.
“I know progress is unavoidable, but decades-old, family-run businesses are becoming harder and harder to find now,” said Lingafelt. “We trusted over 25 cats and dogs to the Schrenzels over the years. They were there throughout the entire lifetimes of our most beloved companions, and I think there is something to be said for that. They weren't just another vet.”
Under Fairfax County’s whole parcel acquisition process for BRT, business owners are made an offer by the county following an appraisal of the property; once negotiations are held, the parties either settle, or — if an amicable agreement can’t be reached — the county pursues eminent domain. In the event of eminent domain, which is considered a last resort, a court determines the compensation amount for the property owner.
According to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck’s office, the ROW acquisition team at Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) said they were in “active negotiations” with Hybla Valley Vet’s owners to acquire the necessary land rights for the BRT project. Offers of relocation assistance were reportedly made to the business owners. No one at FCDOT has yet notified Storck’s office about the need to pursue condemnation — or the carrying out of eminent domain — said his communications director Camela Speer.
Storck said he’s continuing to work with FCDOT and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) — which is overseeing the ROW process between Jeff Todd Way and Sherwood Hall Lane as part of the Richmond Highway widening project — to ensure all impacted businesses have support for relocation along the corridor. Affected commercial property owners can contact the Supervisor’s office for referral to the appropriate county office for relocation assistance.
“VDOT and FCDOT have done a good job of supporting and offering assistance, but in the end, it is up to the individual business owners as to whether they stay, relocate or close,” said Storck.
The local chamber of commerce also is trying to be a helpful resource to businesses affected by ROW acquisitions. Neither VDOT nor FCDOT provided the Mount Vernon Springfield Chamber of Commerce (MVSCC) with a list of impacted businesses, according to chamber president Holly Dougherty; however, she managed to identify affected members of her organization by sorting through the project maps.
“While we wish that there weren't so many businesses affected by both the BRT and the road widening projects, the road needs to be modernized and brought into the 21st century,” said Dougherty. “We want to keep the affected businesses in the community and will do all we can to facilitate that.”
At a public information meeting on ROW back in October 2021, FCDOT said they had managed to reduce the total number of parcels impacted by ROW acquisition from 225 to 209 based on design refinements. Of those 209 parcels, 50 were designated as whole parcel acquisitions, including 33 commercial properties, 16 residential properties and one religious institution. On the MoVe has reached out to FCDOT to request updated numbers and a full list of commercial properties targeted for whole parcel acquisition.
In an April 2023 update on the Richmond Highway widening project, VDOT said most of their whole parcel acquisitions between Jeff Todd Way and Sherwood Hall Lane had been completed, and partial acquisitions were scheduled to begin this summer. Some of the previously vacated structures are being demolished this year.
At one time, the building housing Hybla Valley Vet, located at 7627 Richmond Highway, was part of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation’s Façade Improvement Program, which provided businesses along the highway with a 50-50 grant match of up to $25,000 for improving the appearance of the property. The veterinary hospital was one of the earliest participants in the program, receiving its $25,000 check back in May 2006.
Despite the evolution of the Richmond Highway corridor’s revitalization plans, which now seem to point to the elimination of the Hybla Valley Vet building, Schrenzel — known as Dr. Deb — has some warm parting words for local residents and customers.
“Our family has enjoyed serving the community for the past 75 years,” she said. “We’ll miss it.”