Newport Academy Eyes Great Falls for Treatment Facility as Residents Vow to Fight

While one battle continues in the courtroom, a new front has opened up in the McLean area’s protracted war against Newport Academy, a for-profit rehabilitation program for teenagers and their families.

Newport Academy recently leased two properties on Plantation Drive in Great Falls that it plans to turn into residential facilities for teens with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues, according to a letter from the company’s legal representatives to Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson.

Sent on Oct. 8, the letter asks Fairfax County to affirm that the proposed use would constitute a group residential facility and, therefore, would be a by-right use, meaning it would not need to go through the county’s zoning approval process.

“The physical characteristics of the Property are ideal for such a group home,” the letter says, highlighting the property’s distance from adjacent sites, one of which has no residents. “The Property also boasts beautiful outdoor space, including both a covered and uncovered deck, and significant grounds.”

In the letter, McGuireWoods attorney Sean Murphy and Relman Colfax partner Michael Allen state that the property in question – a 10,390 square-foot home located at 11740 Plantation Drive – “contains ample space for parking,” including a garage and circular driveway, and “presents no problems for parking or local traffic.”

The law firm also sent a separate request for a use determination on the property at 11901 Plantation Drive, which would be used for the same purpose.

Newport Academy’s potential new neighbors disagree with its characterization of the two properties.

The residents who own the six other properties on Plantation Drive, which is just north of Route 7, wrote their own letter to Johnson on Nov. 3 asking the county’s zoning administration division to deny Newport Academy’s requests.

The residents argue that Newport Academy’s proposal would violate the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance because its patients could count as transient occupants instead of residents, and because it would exceed the eight-person limit for group homes if the two leased properties are combined into a single facility.

The residents also say Plantation Drive is an “inappropriate” location for Newport Academy’s proposed facility, which would have adverse impacts on traffic and pedestrian safety.

“The proposed use presents substantial and untenable risks of harm from significant additional traffic, including large trucks, on the single lane driveway,” the residents stated. “This driveway is used by pedestrians, including children walking to and from their bus stop. There have been numerous incidents involving vehicles on the driveway in recent years.”

Newport Academy previously attracted residents’ ire when it sought to open two rehabilitation facilities along Davidson Road and on Kurtz Road in McLean.

Johnson determined in May 2019 that, since it would consist of three adjacent properties, the proposed Davidson Road facility would constitute a congregate living facility, which is not a by-right use.

Johnson found that the Kurtz Road site, on the other hand, would qualify as a group residential facility. The county board of zoning appeals ultimately upheld her decision on Mar. 11, leading residents from the surrounding neighborhood to file a lawsuit that is still waiting to be heard in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

“Due to the ongoing legal process regarding our home on Kurtz Road, we cannot comment on the matter,” Newport Healthcare Senior Director of Communications Kristen Hayes said when asked about the lawsuit.

Newport Academy has been operating a residential treatment program for adolescent girls at 1318 Kurtz Road in McLean since Mar. 22.

Plantation Drive resident Norman Chirite believes similarities to the situation with Davidson Road suggest that he and his neighbors have sufficient grounds to oppose Newport Academy’s request.

He will present their case to the Great Falls Citizens Association during its land use and zoning committee meeting tonight (Tuesday).

“I think what they’re doing is pretty problematic,” Chirite said. “It’s like they didn’t get what they wanted in McLean so they just moved down the road, and you know, we’re going to fight back a little bit.”

Unlike the Davidson Road properties, though, the houses on Plantation Drive have already been used as group residential facilities. They previously belonged to Sagebrush Treatment Center, which operated treatment programs for adult men recovering from substance abuse.

Newport Academy says that its plans for the property will be less intensive than how it has been used for the past three years.

The company says that the services it plans to provide through the facilities on Plantation Drive will be “a key resource,” especially as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates mental health issues for many people.

“Many teens lack access to quality treatment for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma, or face long waiting lists for programs,” Hayes said. “…We look forward to expanding in this area to provide these much-needed mental health treatment services for teens.”

Photo via Google Maps

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