The board running the retired veterans community in Cascades has ambitious plans to knock over 24 cottages to make room for nine new apartment buildings and an 18-bed assisted living facility.
The problem is that there are people living in those cottages, and many of them don’t want to move.
Falcons Landing is an unusual community: it is only open to military veterans, their widows and spouses, and senior-level federal employees. The residents sign lifetime contracts, graduating as they age from independent living to assisted living. But the residents don’t technically own the property; only their contract with Falcons Landing ties them to it.
The cottages are a mix of single-family homes and duplexes, totaling 38 units. Residents say the plans mark a breach of trust between them and the Air Force Retired Officers Community board, which runs Falcons Landing.
“We who are affected by this zoning are elderly,” said Duane Stubbs during last week’s Planning Commission public hearing. When the board’s redevelopment plans came to the Planning Commission, supporters and opponents mobilized, showing up by the busload more than an hour before the March 28 meeting began. “Most are in our 80s, some close to 90. Most members of management or the board of directors don’t come anywhere near our age. They don’t have a realistic empathy for the impact,” he said.
Even some people from surrounding neighbors came to speak out against AFROC’s plans.
“I don’t live there, but I love the appearance of Falcons Landing, too,” said Don Evans. “I love the charming cottages. I don’t want to see them removed and these sterile multifamily buildings [built].”
Retired Maj. Gen. Barbara Brannon, the president and CEO of Falcons Landing, said the community must redevelop to keep up with modern standards. The development was built between 1994 and 1996. She said baby boomers will be the bulk of their customers in 10 years, and they want designs with larger floor plans, higher ceilings, and large windows.
“Our current apartments and homes are beautiful, but they cannot stand up to these criteria,” Brannon told commissioners. “Seventy-five percent of our residences are apartments, and of those apartments, only 25 percent are in that larger category of 1,500 to 1,800 square feet.” She said when those apartments open up, they are quickly reserved, while the smaller apartments tend to linger, vacant, in the inventory.
If the community doesn’t stay ahead of the curve, proponents of the changes say, it will be too late to play catch up later. If Falcons Landing can’t attract new residents and units stay empty, they say, the community won’t be able to afford to redevelop.
“While I am sympathetic to the temporary inconvenience some residents will incur, I am more concerned about the catastrophic consequences for all residents if we fail to meet market demand and get caught in the death spiral,” resident Peter Scott said.
Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Duff Rice put it plainly: “Not to grow is to die.”
“We moved to Falcons Landing 12 years ago, signed a continuous care life plan contract, giving the AFROC board and the management of Falcons Landing responsibility for maintaining our surroundings through the remainder of our life,” Ronald Trossbach said. “This was intentional. We accepted then that the residents do not have a vote in this process.”
And some residents just lamented the friction in the community, which had the two factions divided neatly across the aisle between benches at the Planning Commission hearing.
“I have eaten brunch with you every single Sunday for the last five years, and this is sad,” Falcons Landing resident Lisa Mehalic said to her neighbors at the hearing. “This is not the way it’s supposed to be, and it’s because of this management.”
The View from the Ground
Jim and Nancy Haynes live in one of the cottages slated for destruction. And although Falcons Landing’s application to the county seems destined for approval—planning commissioners pointed out that they make land use decisions, not mediate contract disputes—the Haynes and the AFROC board are at an impasse.
Although they do not own the house they live in, they do have a contract with Falcons Landing that guarantees them that house for as long as they wish to stay. Others may not be on such solid footing—Brannon said since September, Falcons Landing has been issuing contracts that guarantee a type of home, but not a specific home.
But according to Brannon, the board’s only option is to persuade residents like the Haynes to move out voluntarily.
“We certainly recognize the hardship that that would pose for those who are living in those residences,” Brannon told commissioners. “The AFROC board will make every effort to make their relocation as worry-free as possible, and to that end we have offered those residents a relocation package.”
She said the AFROC board “will of course honor residents’ contracts, but what the hope is that they will be able to successfully negotiate a relocation with those residents.”
Not likely, says retired naval aviator Lt. Jim Haynes.
“We waited over three years to find one exactly like it is, and we put a lot of time and effort into making it exactly the way we want it,” Haynes said. When they moved to the small home less than two years ago, he said, they had to get rid of or give away many of the things they had accumulated in their lives. They planted a tree in the yard and scattered the ashes of their then-recently deceased Dachshund, Elouise.
Haynes penned a letter for the AFROC board entitled “A Crisis of Confidence.”
“We all have contracts which give us the right to remain in our homes until we die or wish to move,” Haynes wrote. “Most of us intend to remain in our homes until we are physically unable to do so. We have been told that the Board intends to honor these contracts. In view of this, how can the Board ask Loudoun County to continue the rezoning process, which would ultimately violate our contracts?”
In his letter, Haynes writes that Falcons Landing’s finances are strong, and that the board should pause the process and take the time to have other options, such as purchasing adjacent land, explored professionally. Support for that sentiment was reflected at the planning commission meeting by residents wearing red buttons that said only “pause.”
“Early on, only a week or two after they announced this, or we discovered what was happening, they had an all-hands meeting,” Haynes said. “And I’m told through people who’ve been here many, many years longer than I have, it was the most contentious meeting ever held at Falcons Landing. I literally saw some of my neighbors crying when they realized their house was going to be destroyed.”
If Haynes and his neighbors refuse to accept a relocation package, the AFROC board is in a waiting game.
“If this is approved, we don’t have to start at any specific time,” Brannon said at the hearing. “It is not time-limited.”
Haynes said when he and his neighbors signed their contracts, it was in the belief that the AFROC board “would do the right thing.”
“And I think for 20 years that was probably right,” Haynes said. “They did a great job. This is a wonderful place. We love it. But somehow they lost their way, as far as I’m concerned, and I frankly don’t understand why they’re doing it.”
Brannon has so far not responded to a request for comment.