The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals is set to determine this fall whether or not a contentious for-profit therapy program for teens can open in McLean.
Newport Academy’s plans to turn its three purchased homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) into a treatment facility got derailed after the county’s zoning administrator said the facility is not a by-right use.
While the zoning administrator added that the facility would require approval from the Board of Supervisors, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust has previously said that he would oppose the facility if it was brought to the county board for a vote.
Newport Academy is looking to appeal the ruling, and now the zoning issue is set to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Oct. 30, BZA staff told Tysons Reporter, adding that people interested in the case should check a week or two before that date to confirm it will still take place.
“These dates do sometimes change, although I do not believe that will be the case for this hearing,” staff wrote.
It is unclear what will happen to Newport Academy’s proposed group home at 1318 Kurtz Road, which was not addressed in the zoning administrator’s ruling.
Around half the attendees at last night’s McLean Citizens Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee meeting left abruptly after discovering that the contentious Newport Academy wouldn’t be discussed at the meeting.
Kim Tomsen, a McLean community resident since 1975, spoke up early in the meeting and began asking the committee about the future of Newport Academy, which would bring a for-profit mental health care facility into a McLean neighborhood.
Her concerns were quickly shut down by Rob Jackson, the committee’s chair, who said that Newport Facility was not up for discussion or on the agenda, since there was nothing “pending” on the matter.
Now, the fate of the Newport Academy is in the hands of the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, which are not likely to make a decision until September when the board is back in session.
The committee proceeded to discuss various items on their agenda including home businesses and modernization of zoning ordinances before community members decided to voice their concerns. Tomsen was among the first of more than a dozen people to leave the room after realizing that none of her concerns would be addressed.
Tomsen and a handful of people that Tysons Reporter spoke to said they saw online that the committee would discuss Newport Academy.
The brief committee agenda posted online before the event outlined three topics for discussion that evening — none of them relating to the controversial Newport Academy or commercial housing in residential areas.
“Then it’s a waste of our time to attend,” Tomsen said to the committee members and attendees.
“If someone put that online, they misled you,” Jackson replied back to her.
A Facebook user named Tom Shen, the founding member of the “Fairfax County Rehab Facility Discussion” group, posted an update in the group Monday (July 290 evening asking members to “help protest against commercial housing in residence zones” by showing up to the Tuesday, July 30, meeting.
It is unclear if this was the only message online requesting the presence of people opposed to commercial housing in residential areas. Tysons Reporter reached out to Shen to ask about the post, but has not heard back.
There have been more than a few stories recently on the Newport Academy’s planned opening of a for-profit therapy program in a McLean neighborhood, but as Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova pointed out, it’s an issue that could set precedent in Fairfax.
In May, Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson issued a letter saying that because the Newport Academy’s three adjacent properties at 1620, 1622 and 1624 Davidson Road shared staff and resources, they were not individual properties eligible for by-right development but as a congregate living facility.
But in the appeal filed to the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Newport Academy laid out its argument that it had been the unfair victim of public backlash and a selective zoning ruling.
“The Newport Academy has been deprived of the right to operate each of the Davidson Properties… as a residential facility for up to eight individuals with mental illnesses as permitted and consistent with [Virginia code],” the company said in the appeal.
The appeal also lays out a timeline of events starting with Newport Academy purchasing one property at 1624 Davidson Road and another at 1318 Kurtz Road. In August, the company sent a series of questions to the Zoning Administrator regarding the prospect of opening multiple homes at Davidson Road, to which zoning answered that the group residential facility may occupy a dwelling unit without any proffered or development conditions and that there was no limitation on the number of group residential facilities.
After this, the appeal says Newport Academy invested millions of dollars on the purchases and renovations for the other properties. Now, the Newport Academy is saying Johnson’s ruling is inconsistent with Virginia law and other codes.
The appeal also alleges that the Newport Academy was the victim of a “sophisticated campaign to turn elected and appointed public officials against Newport Academy’s efforts to provide appropriate mental health services to adolescents in McLean” that included dozens of letters, emails and phone calls from local residents.
The Newport Academy reiterated that it is a group residential facility, defined in zoning ordinance as “a group home or other residential facility with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, in which no more than eight mentally ill, intellectually disabled or developmentally disabled persons reside… or eight handicapped persons reside.”
Newport Academy alleges in the appeal that Johnson employed external factors without a statutory basis.
“The Zoning Administrator considered factors including common ownership, physical proximity, and programmatic elements of the proposed use at the Davidson Properties, factors not found in either the Virginia statue or the Zoning Ordinance,” the appeal said. “This ‘single facility’ analysis is foreclosed under [Virginia code], which unambiguously invests [the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services] (VDBHDS) as the sole authority to determine whether a home meets the requirements of being considered a ‘residential facility.'”
The Newport Academy argues repeatedly throughout the appeal that Johnson stepped on the VDBHDS’ role as the licensing agency.
The appeal also points to other group residential facilities in Fairfax, like the properties at 8333, 8337, and 8341 Lewinsville Road, which share a driveway and programming across the three facilities.
When, or if, the appeal will be heard by the BZA is still to be determined. The appeal was received on Friday, June 14, and must be scheduled within 90 days if accepted unless other arrangements are agreed to. Brian Worthy, a Fairfax County spokesman, said that county staff are currently going through the application before the county officially accepts it — a standard procedure for every application.
Updated 2:45 p.m. — Bulova’s Office noted that the interview does not represent an endorsement of the Kurtz Road property and that an official letter from the Zoning Administrator is still pending.
What started as residents upset over a series of group homes slated to move into a residential cul-de-sac has ballooned into a contentious issue that could set precedent in Fairfax County.
The Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy program for teens with mental health or addiction problems, wanted to turn its three purchased homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) into a treatment facility. The plan hinged on the buildings being a by-right use, meaning no zoning approvals would be required, but a letter from Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson said this wasn’t the case.
The issue seemed settled. The Facebook group that had been the bastion of local resistance disbanded. But yesterday, Fairfax County staff confirmed that Newport Academy had filed an appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
Outgoing Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova weighed into the discussion to lay out next steps and take a stance on the issue.
TR: We received confirmation that Johnson’s decision is being appealed to the BZA – does it end there or could it move up to the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors?
Bulova: If they deny it — if the BZA says “no, county staff is correct” — then they could file a special exception, which is what she said they needed to do. I’m assuming BZA will agree with county staff, but that doesn’t mean it’s over for them because they could file a special exception. Then it would go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
They’re appealing this decision probably because they don’t want to move forward with a special exception faced with the kind of opposition they’re getting from the community.
TR: I saw in your letter to the residents that you have concerns about the facility. I was wondering if you could lay out what parts of this facility are concerning to you?
Bulova: I have been very supportive of group homes. I think they’re important, they provide an important service in our community, where people get the kind of support and help that they need, whatever the disability or need.
My concern about the Newport Academy is that this isn’t just a group home, this appears to be a little campus being developed out of a single family neighborhood. This is not a group home, but a [cluster] of individual homes being turned into a complex. That, to me, is a different situation than an individual group home where someone is able to live in a community and get the kind of supportive help they need.
The Kurtz Road [location] may be fine, but the Davidson ones are encircled and fenced in together. That’s something different
TR: In your experience as Chair, have there been other instances of projects or controversies like this?
Bulova: Group homes come up all the time, and back in the olden times group homes used to cause some concerns within a community. I remember back in the olden days, there were community days about the group home. Federal law stepped in and said “you can’t do that, group homes have to be treated like a family moving in.”
Generally, they are welcomed into the community. We’ve never dealt with something in my experience where someone seemed to have consolidated the properties and is trying to create a complex or campus of buildings. I’ve never seen this before. I see this not as being about a group home, but about something very different that changes, I think, the nature of the residential community.
After a seeming defeat, Newport Academy is fighting back against a zoning ruling that would keep it out of a McLean neighborhood.
Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy program for teens with mental health or addiction problems, wanted to turn its three purchased homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) into a treatment facility.
Newport Academy’s plans to open the McLean facility hinged on it being a by-right use, which wouldn’t require approval by the Board of Supervisors. Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust has previously said that he would oppose the facility if it was brought to the county board for a vote.
In May, Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson determined that the facility at Davidson Road would not be permitted as a by-right use and would require approval from the Board of Supervisors.
On Friday (June 14), Newport Academy filed an appeal to that ruling, staff at the Board of Zoning Appeals told Tysons Reporter. Zoning policy stipulates that the case will be scheduled within 90 days of the appeal being accepted unless staff and the appellant agree to something outside of that timeframe.
Brian Worthy, a Fairfax County spokesman, said that county staff are currently going through the application before the county officially accepts it — a standard procedure for every application.
While the zoning official’s ruling seemed to be a win for neighbors opposing the controversial treatment facility, Newport Academy’s push to appeal the zoning determination signals a possibly longer fight ahead for both sides.
Currently, Newport Academy has three jobs listed for McLean: a part-time fully licensed adolescent therapist, an LPN licensed practical nurse and a housekeeper.
Newport Academy also has plans for another project at 1318 Kurtz Road — a standalone property that was not considered in Johnson’s review. What will happen to the Kurtz property remains unclear.
The vote is the latest push in a fight led by neighbors against plans to open a series of new group homes in a residential neighborhood by McLean High School.
MCA voted last night (June 5) to oppose a special exception that would allow the Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy and rehabilitation program for teens, to open a facility at Davidson Road.
The group also voted to support Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson’s determination that the facility would not be permitted as a by-right use and would require approval from the Board of Supervisors.
MCA members shared a common sentiment at last night’s meeting: this is not the last time they expect to hear about Newport Academy.
“The MCA will revisit this case if new facts become available or circumstances of the proposed use change, including but not limited to additional facts becoming available about the proposed use at Kurtz Road,” the draft resolution said.
Rob Jackson, the chair of MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee, said that the vote on the resolution is possibly the beginning, rather than the end, of MCA’s involvement in the Newport controversy.
“We’re just taking one bite of the apple,” Jackson said. “I think we need to wait to see where the next shoe drops.”
The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) could finally be weighing in tomorrow night regarding the group homes controversy, but the fight may already be over.
A draft resolution planned to be discussed at MCA’s Wednesday (June 5) meeting would oppose a special exception that would allow the Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy and rehabilitation program for teens, to open a facility at 1620, 1622 and 1624 Davidson Road, located in a residential neighborhood near McLean High School.
But the proposed resolution comes late in the game — local residents started protesting the issue more than two months ago.
A grassroots group opposing a rehabilitation facility recently claimed victory, although the sourcing for that win remains unclear.
An administrator on the Davidson and Kurtz Road Rehab Facility Facebook page — a nearly 500 member group that had been a discussion board for residents opposed to the development — said last Tuesday (May 28) he received the following statement from the Newport Academy:
Newport Academy is the nation’s leading provider of mental health residential and outpatient treatment for teens and young adults. As such, we have received direct requests from parents, clinicians, insurance companies and other referral sources to bring our well-recognized adolescent mental health treatment program to the Northern Virginia market. To that end, we acquired multiple properties to extend our reach more formally into the McLean community. Although these group homes are fully legal and protected under the Fair Housing Act, as well as other applicable federal, Virginia and Fairfax County laws, Newport Academy has listened to the community’s feedback and has opted to modify its expansion plans by ceasing planned openings on Davidson Road.
Our commitment to service the Northern Virginia market remains intact. We look forward to opening these much-needed services in McLean in the near future and hope to keep the lines of communication open with the community and its elected officials as we seek to contribute in a positive way towards addressing the mental health crisis in the greater DC area.
After repeated calls to the main company line and to the group’s community liaison in McLean over a week, Tysons Reporter was unable to confirm the source of the statement.
Staff at Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office said they received an identical statement, but could not get confirmation from the Newport Academy that they were the source.
Two weeks ago, Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson wrote in a letter that the facility would not be permitted as a by-right use and would require approval from the Board of Supervisors. Foust had previously said he would oppose the development if it was brought to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.
The Facebook group shut down one day after the statement allegedly from the Newport Academy was posted, though some members have already started another splinter group to continue discussing the facility and other community concerns.
What will happen with the other proposed group homes not addressed in Johnson’s letter — like the one at 1318 Kurtz Road — remains unclear. The MCA resolution states that the group will revisit the facts regarding the Kurtz Road property.
The MCA meeting starts at at 7 p.m. in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue).
Neighbors opposed to a controversial for-profit therapy program got a win from a Fairfax County zoning official’s letter.
A piece of the Newport Academy’s plans to open a facility treating teenagers with mental health or addiction problems in a McLean neighborhood hinged on that facility being a by-right use — a use that won’t require approval by the Board of Supervisors. But local officials are now saying that isn’t the case.
Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson said in a letter to local residents that the facility is a congregate living facility, which is not permitted as a by-right use at the location.
According to Johnson’s letter, in August 2018 the Newport Academy sent a letter to the Department of Planning and Zoning stating its intent to open two homes — one at 1624 Davidson Road and one at 1318 Kurtz Road — and asked if it could purchase a neighboring house and operate it as a licensed home.
In response, the zoning staff agreed that the buildings would be considered group residential facilities, which are limited to eight residents. The response did not directly answer whether a neighboring home could be used as a licensed home, and the Newport Academy did not contact Fairfax County after it purchased the properties at 1620 and 1622 Davidson Road.
But Johnson said the Newport Academy’s assertion that the homes were separate operations — crucial for qualifying for the eight resident limit — were contradicted by other applications listing the operations as a single program with residents above the limit for the group residential facility classification.
The appearance of the Newport Academy program being a single facility didn’t stop there. Johnson’s letter to the community notes that in April, county staff learned that a 6-foot fence had been built around the facility, “creating the appearance of a completely enclosed facility.”
Johnson’s letter said the supposedly separate facilities were listed as having shared staff, like a security guard and night staff, in both public meetings and other permit applications.”
Tensions reached a boiling point last night (Wednesday) in McLean as local residents threatened to run a therapy center out of town — legally or illegally, in the words of one neighbor.
Three of the homes — 1620, 1622 and 1624 Davidson Road — are clustered on a private cul-de-sac one block away from McLean High School, while another one is going in at 1318 Kurtz Road.
Representatives from the project, several elected officials and Fairfax County staff started a community meeting in the McLean High School auditorium with presentations about the project, but the more than four-hour-long public hearing after the presentations showed that the project has struck a deep nerve with the local community.
On one side were the Newport Academy staff and a handful of supporters in the audience who said the program is necessary to help deal with the local mental health crisis. Teenagers or adults who said they had struggled with mental health issues described the difficulty of finding treatment facilities in the area. These stories were frequently interrupted by a chorus of booing from the audience — at least once in the middle of a young woman recounting her trauma following a sexual assault.
But opponents of the project — mainly nearby residents or parents with children at McLean High School — comprised the vast majority of the standing-room-only audience in the auditorium.
While they were united in opposition to the project, their reasons varied. Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) conducted an impromptu poll of the audience, and half said they are opposed to any group home while the other half would be fine with just one, but opposed the cluster.
“It’s three houses side by side; it’s a compound,” Robert Mechlin, a nearby resident, told Tysons Reporter. “If I want to build a shed, I have to get a permit. Why isn’t this the same litmus test?”
Mechlin also echoed concerns about how residents of the facility would affect safety in the nearby neighborhood. In the small town of Bethlehem, Conn., students at the Newport Academy were responsible for at least two criminal incidents — the theft of a car and a student who stole bottles of vodka from a local bar. Throughout the evening, nearby residents said the prospect of the treatment facility next door makes them feel unsafe.
Newport Academy Founder and CEO Jamison Monroe said security tightened after the incidents in Connecticut. A presentation on the project noted that alarms would be attached to every door and window and the students would be closely supervised by staff. Later in the meeting, Monroe offered to pay for a security guard to monitor the site, but by then the public concerns around the project ballooned beyond just security.
The secrecy and allegations of deception surrounding the purchasing of the property were also recurring themes among the opponents. Neighbors said that after the properties were purchased, the real estate agents who orchestrated the deals told neighbors they were subject to non-disclosure agreements.
“I was told multiple times that [the development] was for a wealthy individual,” Steve Wydler, a leasing agent with Wydler Brothers Real Estate in McLean, said. “It was only after construction started that we were told the project was under an NDA.”
Monroe admitted that he didn’t know why the non-disclosure agreements were put into place.
“I’ve learned some things about our real estate agents this evening that I was not aware of previously,” Monroe said.
Marc Lampkin, who became one of the unofficial orchestraters of the opposition from a seat in the front row, said the facility would extract money from the students and leave the neighborhood with problems.
“We all appreciate the notion of treatment, but the single biggest concern is that you failed the good neighbor policy out of the box,” Lampkin said. “You hired a real estate agent who bought the property with lies and misrepresentation. You are a for-profit entity and you’re driving a truck through a loophole [in Fair Housing law].”
As frustrations escalated throughout the evening, Monroe became the main target of the community’s rage, with local residents calling him smug, arrogant and a “son of a bitch” several times.
Caught between the two, the elected officials expressed unhappiness with the project, but said it was being redeveloped by-right and left their hands tied.
Two of the rallying cries from the opposition were “Remember Sunrise” — a reference to a plan by Sunrise Senior Living Facility that the Board of Supervisors denied following widespread public outrage — and a promise to oust elected officials if they didn’t vocally oppose the project.
“I do not support three houses on the same site,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “But it is the law. In my opinion, one company buying those properties changes the character of the neighborhood. I oppose that. But we do not see a way to stop it.”
The county argued that the project is a group home, which is considered a “by right” development — meaning there’s no requirement of public notice and no zoning approvals needed from the county. Several of the politicians said they first heard of the project when the outrage started.
“I am not at all surprised to see this turnout,” Sullivan said. “Three weeks ago, our emails lit up with questions and comments.”
Complicating the issue, the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals because of a handicap or disabilities, which the Code of Virginia says includes residential facilities housing individuals with mental illnesses.
But several opponents noted that there are ways around that protection. Some locals questioned whether the project qualified as a group home. Wydler said that the project might not qualify as a residence — a crucial part of the project’s status as a by-right development — given that the average length of stay for students of the program is substantially less than the 183 days that the tax code considers residency.
Fairfax County Attorney Beth Teare said the county was still looking into the zoning regulations and rules surrounding the project. The group’s license application is still pending before the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
If the licenses are granted, Monroe said the facilities could begin operation within a few months. If it does, at least one attendee threatened to file a lawsuit.
Regardless of the outcome, Sullivan said he and other elected officials would look into closing what the public saw as fair housing loopholes.
“One of the things I want to look at moving forward is making sure there is more advanced notice of this sort of thing,” Sullivan said.