Turner Farmhouse Foundation now has the go-ahead to build a retreat center behind the historic circa-1905 house in Great Falls, fulfilling the dream of the group’s president, Sarah Kirk.
Fairfax County supervisors on July 29 unanimously approved a special exception allowing creation of the facility at 10609 Georgetown Pike.
The retreat center will provide grief-and-bereavement support to people coping with the deaths of parent, siblings, primary caregivers, family members, spouses, children or other significant people in their lives.
Fairfax County Park Authority owns Turner Farm and leases 4.95 acres of it to the foundation under the agency’s resident-curator program.
The retreat center, to be built in an existing garage building located south of the farmhouse, will offer programs to individuals and groups from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, with overnight retreats on some weekends.
Weekend retreats, which will accommodate up to 10 people, will occur from Fridays at 3 p.m. to Sundays at 5 p.m.
The foundation’s plans will not change the historic character of the house, but will add stairs, an elevator, deck and bike rack to the garage.
Supervisors also granted a waiver for the home’s setback along Georgetown Pike, which falls 2 feet short of the usual 40-foot minimum.
Kirk and her family moved to Fairfax County in 1981 and relocated to Great Falls in 1998. Eight years ago, their daughter, Becky Love, committed suicide.
“Death became really real to me,” Kirk said. “My family and my faith in God helped me to recover, but I realized just how difficult a process that can be.”
A month after their daughter’s death, the family formed the Becky Love Foundation to help others cope with grief and bereavement. They discovered there was a lack of facilities in Northern Virginia and Great Falls to aid people.
The family founded the Turner Farmhouse Foundation when the resident-curatorship at the farmhouse became available, and formalized the arrangement with the Park Authority in November 2018. The garage building on the site seemed an ideal place for a retreat center, Kirk said.
Jennifer Falcone, chairman of the Great Falls Citizens Association’s Land-Use and Zoning Committee, said the group and community members had worked with the applicant to enhance development conditions to ensure the new facility would mesh well with the surrounding area’s rural character and preserve Turner Farmhouse’s integrity.
“GFCA believes that the outreach it conducted allowed interested members of the community to express their views on the appropriateness of this special exception,” Falcone said. “Consequently, with modifications to the development conditions, GFCA believes that a balancing of interests has been achieved.”
The applicant has agreed to publish separate calendars of retreat and resident-curator events at the site, and update social media regarding resident-curator happenings, she said.
The foundation also has agreed to protect the dark skies above the nearby Turner Farm Park observatory by mounting full-cutoff fixtures parallel to the ground for any new or replacement exterior lighting at the retreat center, Falcone said.
The facility will fulfill an important need in the community by serving people who have experienced loss, she added.
Tom Hixon, president of the Foxvale Farm Homeowners’ Association, lauded the development conditions GFCA obtained for the application, especially one requiring that mental-health professionals help craft the retreat center’s programs and check on the facility’s progress.
The program’s sponsor will hold at least quarterly consultations with a mental-health professional and provide a record of those meetings in an annual report to the Dranesville District supervisor and GFCA.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) noted the Board of Supervisors’ excitement a decade ago when the General Assembly authorized the creation of resident-curator programs, which preserve historic public structures by letting curators live at the sites in exchange for making renovations and occasionally opening the properties to the public.
The Fairfax County government’s resident-curator program took a while to launch and the Turner Farmhouse was the second site selected, he said.
“Once we advertised it as part of the resident-curator program, the amazing, uniquely nice Sarah Kirk stepped up,” Foust said, calling the Turner Farmhouse project “beautiful, a step back in time” and “one of the nicest things I’ve been associated with that we’ve done in Dranesville since I’ve been on the board.”