Fairfax County’s Board of Zoning Appeals has delayed making a decision on appeals of a zoning determination for a controversial teen rehab facility proposed in McLean.
Newport Academy, a therapy program for teens with mental health issues, wanted to open two treatment facilities — one along Davidson Road and another at 1318 Kurtz Road.
Newport Academy has hinged its claim on the two locations being by-right uses — a use that won’t require approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson issued a letter in May saying that Newport Academy’s three adjacent properties at 1620, 1622 and 1624 Davidson Road would be a congregate living facility.
The Board of Zoning Appeals’ public hearing today (Wednesday) focused on three appeals from McLean residents regarding Johnson’s determination that the proposed Kurtz Road facility in the Salona Village neighborhood is a group residential facility — a win for Newport Academy.
The three appeals argue that the Kurtz Road facility should be designated as a congregate or medical use facility.
At the start of the public hearing today, county staff gave an overview of the appeals saying that the appellants have concerns about noise, falling property values, safety risks and increased traffic.
“Trying to skirt the zoning laws”
Roughly 50 people attended the public hearing today.
Attendees who testified in support of the appeal — against Newport Academy’s Kurtz Road facility — mentioned safety risks, traffic concerns on the narrow Kurtz Road,
Some of the Salona Village residents took issue with how close the facility would be to Franklin Sherman Elementary School (6633 Brawner Street).
Opponents to Newport Academy also voiced concerns about crime possibly increasing from the patients leaving the facility without permission and also how the facility would affect the local community.
One local said he and other neighbors met with the Carlyle Group, the investors behind Newport Academy, and suggested that Newport Academy use a house with more acreage and in an area with fewer traffic issues.
“Kurtz Road is full of walkers and bicyclists and people pushing strollers,” one female resident said. “I think the traffic from Newport would create a very dangerous situation.” Emergency vehicles, visitors, doctors and employees would add more vehicles to the road throughout the day, the woman said.
“Newport Academy is trying to skirt the zoning laws,” one Salon Village resident said — echoing a sentiment shared by several attendees.
“A Safe Haven”
Michael Allen, the lawyer representing Newport Academy, said that the girls, ages 12-17, at the facility would be “highly supervised.”
Allen told the board that Newport Academy screens its applicants, who mostly have anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
“Newport takes the appropriate safeguards at admission,” Allen said. Once admitted, Newport Academy does random room searches, random drug and alcohol tests and has tutoring and counseling, Allen said.
Board Member V. Max Beard asked why Newport Academy chose the McLean location and “Why create this kind of turmoil for yourself?” Allen responded that Fairfax County is a “county of opportunity” and a closer option for families in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Ultimately, Allen said that people who have disabilities and mental health should live alongside everyone else. “I suspect the neighbors testifying today will watch Newport like a hawk,” he said.
People who spoke in support of Newport Academy — including several licenses counselors — called the proposed facility a “safe haven” and “surrogate village.” Supports said that patients will be monitored 24/7 and supervised within the fenced in property.
Some parents praised Newport Academy for helping their kids. “We want them to be our neighbors,” one person said.
Newport Academy’s Plans for Kurtz Road
After facing a backlash from neighbors and local officials, Newport Academy’s intentions for the McLean properties have been unclear.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust previously told Tysons Reporter in the fall that Newport Academy plans to sell the properties and wanted the determination reversed for the Davidson Road properties so that the zoning determination wouldn’t negatively impact future plans.
One of the three Davidson Road properties is currently for sale.
Allen told Tysons Reporter that Newport Academy is not pursuing the Davidson Road properties anymore, but does intend to open at Kurtz Road if the Board of Zoning Appeals upholds Johnson’s determination.
Staff said today that Newport Academy has received a mental health treatment license from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health.
Allen added that Newport Academy officials are feeling confident about their case.
Zoning staff recommended that the board uphold Johnson’s determination.
After more than four hours of discussion of testimonies, the board decided it would be best to defer the decision to a later date.
The appellants requested that the board delay its consideration by a few weeks to respond to arguments and material received “last minute” from Newport Academy. Allen, representing Newport Academy, also requested time to submit a post-hearing brief.
Board Member James Hart said he’s concerned about paperwork piling up, leading to further delays to give the board time to consider the arguments, which could then lead to more paperwork.
The board will consider the appeals again on March 11.