WOODLAWN TRAIL ROAD PEDESTRIAN ACCESS

 

Mr. Frank Cohn, Chairman Transportation Committee, MVCCA
March 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Cohn:

My name is Christopher H. Lynt. I live in Milway Meadows. In past years I have served on the Milway Meadows Civic Association as the Toll Ct. representative. 

I recently discovered there is a private fence with a locked gate on Woodlawn Trail across the public right of way which prevents any access between two sections of Woodlawn Trail, thereby blocking pedestrian and bicycle traffic from Hollin Hills and Milway Meadows to Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail.

While researching this situation, I came across The Record, The Committee Reports, March 2006, of the MVCCA, and saw that Bob Brubaker of Safe Crossing had raised the issue sometime around March of 2006, with the transportation committee which you chair:

"(6) A complaint by Bob Brubaker of Safe Crossing, to examine the fencing which precludes pedestrian passage on Woodlawn Trail, cutting off a pedestrian connection between Hollin Hill and Hybla Valley, was discussed. Apparently property owners on both sides of the fence have opted for this closure and the fence is constructed on private property. No action was taken on this matter."

However, contrary to the above paragraph (6), at least part of the fence is definitely NOT on private property, but is located on and obstructs a public right of way. It has apparently been admitted by the Woodlawn Estates developer, Wakefield Homes, and the Woodlawn Estates contact person, Kimberly Monroe, that this is a fact, based on information Ms. Monroe forwarded to me via e-mail recently.

As background, I have lived in Milway Meadows since 1989. Before the houses were built in the development known as Woodlawn Estates, I often used an already well worn footpath through the woods where the development now sits to reach Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail from the end of Milway Drive.

When Woodlawn Estates was being built, the woods, and the path with them, were torn down and a new segment of paved street called Woodlawn Trail was constructed connecting to the end of Milway Drive. The new segment dead-ended in a cul de sac adjacent to the already existing segment of Woodlawn Trail that extended to Rte. 1.

At some point, I presume in 2006, a fence was built across these two segments of Woodlawn Trail, blocking any access through the right of way between the segments, and cutting off pedestrian access to Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail from my neighborhood. This is what Bob Brubaker had apparently complained about in 2006.

At some point, a gate was put in the fence at the public right of way by the developer, to accommodate a disabled person in the neighborhood and comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), according to Kimberly Monroe the Woodlawn Estates contact who lives on Woodlawn Trail. However, the gate is kept locked and only an elite group of neighbors have keys. I sincerely doubt that this complies with the ADA, however it has not yet been challenged in court.

Sometime last year I myself encountered the locked fence gate when I was attempting to reach Rte. 1 by foot. The fence is at least 6 or 7 feet tall, and I could not scale it.

Therefore, my obvious concern now is that my path as a pedestrian or bicyclist has been obstructed by this obnoxious fence with a locked gate across a public right of way.

Therefore, I respectfully ask that your committee reconsider this matter. 

The private fence and the locked gate most assuredly are on a public right of way and block the public right of way from use by the public. Other routes for pedestrian or bicycle traffic to Rte. 1 and the new shopping center are particularly inadequate - Boswell is the next street over but is congested, narrow, has no sidewalk on much of it, has a deep drainage trench on the sides, and the surface is rough and unsuitable for walking.

I have made separate inquiries recently with Gerry Hyland's office and VDOT to try to resolve this matter after first requesting of the Woodlawn Estates contact person, Kimberly Monroe, that the gate be unlocked or removed permanently.

From a legal perspective, certainly it could be argued that a proscriptive easement was clearly and conclusively established by the more than 20 years that residents used the paths that crossed the undeveloped land that is now Woodlawn Estates to reach Rte. 1. With the public right of way now clearly in existence between the segments of Woodlawn Trail, there can be no doubt that this fence and locked gate are improper and should be removed.

As an affected resident of Milway Meadows, and an attorney admitted to the Virginia Bar, I plan to take whatever action is necessary to have this situation rectified.

I hope the MVCCA will reconsider the matter and find a way to support my efforts where possible in the future.


Sincerely,


Christopher H. Lynt, Esq.
Alexandria, VA 22306
(703) 768-


cc: Bob Brubaker, Gerry Hyland, Kimberly Monroe

Sent: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 5:41 PM   Subject: Woodlawn Trail fence and locked gate

 

Dear Ms. Monroe:

My name is Christopher Lynt, and I live in Milway Meadows. I have read your letter to Gerry Hyland about connecting Woodlawn Trail to Rte. 1. 

I would not like to see Woodlawn Trail connected for through automobile traffic to/from Rte. 1.

I would, however, like the locked gate at the end of Woodlawn Trail that prevents foot-traffic from our neighborhood to Rte. 1 to be opened.

I do not know the history of this locked gate, but I occasionally consider walking or biking over to the shopping center when the weather is nice or one of my kids has my car. Sometime last year, I set out to walk to Rte. 1 and encountered this locked gate. Because the fence was too high for a man my age to climb, I walked to the other end of Woodlawn Trail and traipsed through the mud, eventually reaching Rte. 1 via Boswell.

I would also add that probably everyone in Milway Meadows drives to Rte. 1, to access the Hybla Valley shopping center or other facilities, via Boswell. The traffic on Boswell has gotten pretty bad since the Hybla Valley shopping center was redone, and Wachovia Bank opened a branch in that area.

The rights-of-way on Boswell may need to be used to widen the road. I'm sure the new "gentry" on Boswell will not like this. Neither do they like the traffic problems. I wouldn't either.

Certainly I would on occasion walk to Hybla Valley shopping center via Woodlawn Trail, if I only could, and perhaps others would, too, if not for that darn locked gate.

Because of the locked gate on Woodlawn Trail, I have no choice but to take a more circuitous route, or drive, to reach Rte. 1.

Your letter mentions in item 4, that our neighborhood is used as a footpath to Hollin Meadows, and indeed we 'allow' foot and bike traffic to the Mt. Vernon Square complex through our neighborhood.

Then why, and by what authority, has a locked gate and a high fence been placed across Woodlawn Trail between our neighborhood and Rte. 1? I would appreciate an explanation, if you know.

Thank you for your consideration of my concerns.

Sincerely,

Christopher H. Lynt, Esq.
#### Toll Ct.
Alexandria, VA 22306
(703) 768-####

cc: Gerry Hyland

Date:3/1/2007 4:28:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time

______________________________________

Dear Mr. Lynt,

I will try my best to answer some of your concerns but please keep in my mind that I am also just a concerned neighbor on the issue of opening Woodlawn Trail to thru automobile traffic. Although my name is on the letter as a contact for Gerry Hyland, it is not "my" letter but hopefully coming from the entire Milway Meadows neighborhood with all those deciding to sign. 

The Mt. Vernon Council of Civic Associations may be the place for you to address your concerns about the locked gate on Woodlawn Trail. However, I will try to communicate what I do know about the history of the "gate." 

When my husband and I purchased our home on Woodlawn Trail it was represented to us that the end of the cul-de-sac would be fenced off and large Leyland Cypress trees would be planted as a screen to the other road. Historically, access to Richmond Hwy was not intended to be available by this route from Milway Meadows. It had been private property for years. There was never a mention of a gate during the process of buying our home. I believe the county approved plan for the street indicates a fence. After many of the homeowners moved in but before Wakefield homes completed their landscaping a homeowner requested that a gate be installed so he could access Route 1 by walking. In my opinion, the lock was put on the gate to appease the rest of the homeowners who thought there would not be any access to Rte. 1 at the end of the cul-de-sac. Keys are available to any neighbors who request one. 

In looking through some paperwork received from Wakefield Homes (dated 9/20/05) I found the following: (in reference to the fence and gate)

The right of way (ROW) still exists and is public property, however, Wakefield homes received permission to install fencing in the ROW as noted on the approved site plan and extending into Lots 4 & 11. A Home owners' Association is not required since there is no common community property. Technically, the State should maintain this area between Lots 11 & 4 however, in practice, homeowners on Lots 11 and 4 would be expected to mow these small areas similar to the areas property owners mow between the curb and the sidewalks. These areas are in the ROW but common practice dictates that they are mowed by each homeowner. ... In addition, another homeowner has a daughter who has a disability that needs to access public transportation. Under the American Disabilities Act, Wakefield Homes was advised that this was a reasonable accommodation which is required unter the law. Since the gate is technically on public property, Wakefield believed this was the proper accomodation to make and would not diminish the intent of installing the fence. Any person has the right to climb the fence in the ROW and walk down the street

As evidenced by your email, this is an issue with various strong opinions. I hope that the neighborhood can unite in opposition to automobile traffic being routed from Route 1 thru our wonderful neighborhood and that we can come to an amicable solution about the gate.

Sincerely,

Kim Monroe

Date: 3/11/2007 10:53:24 AM

______________________________________


Dear Ms. Monroe:

Thank you for your reply.

I appreciate that certain representations may have been made to you and your neighbors by Wakefield Homes. However, when I studied property law and real estate law in law school, there were plenty of law suits involving false and unenforceable representations made by developers to home buyers. Wakefield Homes may well have had no basis on which to make any representations about fencing off the cul-de-sac, however I have not made any inquiry in that regard, so that remains to be determined. As you must know, we all own our properties subject to various rights of way, covenants, and so forth, and no developer can unilaterally remove them in mere "representations."

I note that when we purchased our home in Milway Meadows in 1989, there were several trails trough the wooded area where your new homes are now located, which people in our neighborhood had used for years to access Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail. Yes, some of the trails may have crossed private property out of necessity to reach the public road on the other side of the woods, but these were old and well-established trails. As you may or may not know, rights of way can be created by such use, even across private property, under certain conditions. However, I mention this primarily for historical reference only. Once the property was developed, and streets/sidewlks put in, including and extension of Woodlawn Trail, there is no question that a public right of way was created, including the property between the now-fenced-off sections Woodlawn Trail. Since as far as I can tell the state did not cede or sell this right of way to the developer, it still exists.

The automobile and pedestrian traffic into and out of the newly developed area, where your home sits, must travel through Milway Meadows using Milway Drive and Lisbon Lane to reach Elba Road. To reach the Hybla Valley area of Rte. 1, the shortest existing route is via Boswell, a road already often overburdened with traffic from the Hollin Hills and Milway Meadows neighborhoods. However, there is no reciprocity, in that we who live in Milway Meadows, have not even pedestrian access to Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail. I suppose the consensus in Milway Meadows when connecting the sections of Woodlawn Trail for automobile traffic was being considered, was that it would be better to have the increased automobile traffic from the new homes routed through our neighborhood than to risk the possibility of even heavier traffic should the two sections of Woodlawn Trail be connected thereby providing automobile access to Rte. 1 through our neighborhood.

However, the effect of the impassible fence with a locked gate is to block all public access to the right of way. I think that goes too far.

I find it quite out of the ordinary to have a private fence put across a public right of way thereby cutting-off even pedestrian traffic on/through the right of way. Perhaps the developer of your neighborhood, Wakefield Homes, could have purchased the right of way during negotiations with VDOT, I do not know. Perhaps VDOT did not want to give up the right of way because it would not be in the public's interest.

I do not know who gave the "permission" you refer to in your response, you did not specify, but it is my belief that only VDOT would have jurisdiction over a public road/right of way. I find it difficult to understand why VDOT would give a developer permission to construct an impassible barrier across a right of way. Further research into this would be needed, except that the ADA you brought up, because it is Federal Law, would trump any agreement between the developer and even VDOT.

As for climbing the fence, you say was mentioned in the unspecified papers you received from Wakefield Homes dated 9/20/05, if the fence were shorter, say three or even four feet tall, climbing it might be possible. However, I found it to be impassible when I first encountered it last year, at least six feet tall I'd guess.

I do not understand why a developer or anyone else would think they have the right to block a public right of way to pedestrian traffic, or why one would want to, for that matter. If one wants to fence off one's yard or home for security or privacy, that is one thing, and permissible within limits by local zoning. But to block the public from using a public right of way - what gives anyone that right? In my opinion, if one wants to live in a gated community, then one should move into one, not try to create one by fencing off public rights of way.

You indicated you are a contact person on the issue of opening Woodlawn Trail to traffic. Therefore, let me ask you to discuss removing the locked gate, or at the very least, removing the lock from the gate, with your neighbors so that the public right of way is free of this encumbrance. It would seem to me at least that to fully comply with the Federal "American[s With] Disabilities Act" you mentioned, it is not enough to provide a key to any neighbor who requests one (see for example an informational website, http://www.jan.wvu.edu/links/adalinks.htm ): 

"Barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications have imposed staggering economic and social costs on American society and have undermined our well-intentioned efforts to educate, rehabilitate, and employ individuals with disabilities. By breaking down these barriers, the Americans with Disabilities Act will enable society to benefit from the skills and talents of individuals with disabilities, will allow us all to gain from their increased purchasing power and ability to use it, and will lead to fuller, more productive lives for all Americans. " 

It is my understanding that the ADA is intended to protect ALL of the disabled public, not just the "neighbors" to whom keys would be given. I would think that ANY gate obstructing the right of way would probably be impermissible were it tested in Federal Court. Imagine the surprise of a blind person encountering a gate across a public right or way! At the very least, an unlocked gate would seem to be required by the ADA.

Regarding this key, I must note that I was never offered a key, nor was I informed that a key was available until now, nor was I even informed that there was going to be a locked gate across a public right of way, for that matter. No one else in Milway Meadows with whom I have spoken about this matter has a key either, by the way.

Finally, when Alice Novak came by the other day with a petition about the opening of Woodlawn Trail to automobile traffic as requested by the residents on Boswell, I inquired and complained about the locked gate, and she informed me that others in Milway Meadows had raised concerns with her about this locked gate as well. Therefore, please consider that I am not the only one who apparently finds this blocked right of way obnoxious.

Perhaps pedestrian/bicycle access to Rte. 1 via Woodlawn Trail through the public right of way would help relieve some of the automobile traffic on Boswell and reduce the chances of Woodlawn Trail being opened to automobile traffic? 

Therefore, might I impose on you to kindly ask whom ever of your neighbors is in charge of the locked gate to either remove gate or the lock permanently and without delay, so that the public's right of way is not encumbered, and unnecessary and unpleasant legal "wrangling" can be avoided?

I look forward to hearing from you soon that the gate problem has been eliminated and free and unencumbered pedestrian access to Rte. 1 has been restored.

Sincerely,


Christopher H. Lynt, Esq.
####  Toll Ct.
Alexandria, VA 22306
703-768-####

cc.: Jerry Hyland

 

 

CLERK'S BOARD SUMMARY REPORT OF ACTIONS OF THE FAIRFAX COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MONDAY November 20, 2006

 

 

Fatemeh F. Allahdoust
Senior Transportation Engineer
NOVA Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator
Virginia Department of Transportation

Dear Fatemeh,

Per the email below, this question is related, but not directly, to Route 1 pedestrian problems. A neighborhood pedestrian connector path to Route 1 that has existed for years has recently been blocked by a fence.

Woodlawn Trail Road heads east from Rte 1 near Hybla Valley. Approx 1/4 mile along the way it is blocked to vehicle traffic but was available for pedestrians. Recently a large fence was erected which not prevents pedestrians use. I want to find out if the fence was erected on what may well be VDOT right of way. The loss of this low traffic walkable route now means people must walk further north/south along busy Route 1 and to find alternatives. One of those alternatives is the heavily used Boswell Ave 
[to the south]. I want to bring this issue to Dallas Shawkey's Safety Comm's attention but first want to determine the VDOT right of way.

Please advise and thank you for your help.

Bob


Robert Brubaker, Director
Metroped Inc.
P.O. Box 7244
Alexandria, VA. 22307-0244
Phone: 202-747-6031
www.metroped.org
"Pedestrian advocacy for the less addressed issues ..."

Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:24 AM  Subject: Woodlawn Trail Road  

______________________________________

Bob,

I have made a field visit and researched this fence. This fence is on state right of way and was put in by the developer. The plans for this development will be researched to see if this fence was in the original plans. If it was not the developer will be asked to remove this fence, if it was in the plan then we can check to see if the proper permit was granted from Fairfax County to construct this fence. If a permit was not issued then the fence must be removed as well. If the developer had this in their plans, and had all the proper permits there is not much we can do to change this situation. After making a site visit I can see why a developer would want to put in such a large privacy fence. I also have seen that a gate was installed with a dead bolt lock. This is so the residents can have access through this fence and no one else can. I also have noticed that Hollin Meadows Swim Club is in the area which has lots of pedestrian traffic. After Land Development has conducted a review of the plans I will give you a follow-up on this. In the case that the fence must be removed, if the developer would like to re-construct a privacy fence with pedestrian access I would be happy to work with the developer on this. I would make sure the proper procedures would be followed as well. 

If you have any questions feel free to contact me at the number below.

Kenneth Kanownik
Transportation Planning
Bicycle and Pedestrian Engineer
703-383-2239

Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2005 9:06 AM  Subject: Woodlawn Trail Pedestrian Blockage 

______________________________________


Bob, 

After an investigation on right of way issues by our Permits Department we have found out that the fence built blocking Woodlawn Trail is not on VDOT Right of Way. This was done by two Engineers in our Permits Office. 

A little information on the Permitting Process: 

When a developer builds a sub-division or part of a sub-division as in this case, they first build the roads and surrounding areas to County and State Standards. There is an area zoned for public use (Street and Sidewalks) but it only becomes public land if Fairfax County or VDOT adopts the roadway 
into their network. As this subdivision is not complete it has not been inspected by VDOT inspectors. I can not speak for what the county has done on this issue. There is nothing VDOT can do about this fence. Our Permit office has concluded that any action we would take would be trespassing. 
The issue has been brought to the attention of the Fairfax County Area Supervisor of Site Inspections for this area. If the county decides to adopt this section of Woodlawn Trail then public action can be taken. If it is to be adopted by VDOT in the future then VDOT can take direct action. 

If you have any questions about this feel free to contact me. If you wish to discuss this issue with our Permits Office for further explanation of the Permitting Procedures I will give the correct persons your contact information and they will contact you. 

I will apologize for the duration that this matter has taken. However, VDOT had to take the right steps to insure the proper right of way boundaries were being observed. I know this is not the news that you wanted to receive. I may also suggest contacting the contractor with a petition from the neighborhood to have the fence removed. I have also seen the fence in person and I would also recommend asking the developer if they would just replace the lock with a latch so the residents could keep their privacy and 
pedestrian access would be restored. 

Kenneth Kanownik 
Transportation Planning 
Bicycle and Pedestrian Engineer 
703-383-2239 


Woodlawn Trail Pedestrian Blockage 
From: Kanownik, Kenneth J. <Kenneth.Kanownik@VDOT.Virginia.gov> 
To: Robert Brubaker <robert.brubaker@metroped.org> 
CC: Allahdoust, Fatemeh <Fatemeh.Allahdoust@VDOT.Virginia.gov>, Engelhart, Cindy L., P.E. <Cindy.Engelhart@VDOT.Virginia.gov> 
Date: Feb 28 2006 - 4:05pm