Public Hearing Regarding MVUC Revised Permit Application
Welcoming River Farm Forest School to MVUC!

As you know, the Board of Trustees has been working diligently for months to establish a new home for the River Farm Forest School (RFFS) at MVUC. We believe that welcoming RFFS to our campus is a wonderful opportunity and will be to our mutual benefit. We look forward to the School becoming an active part of our community. 

Throughout the process, there have been a number of logistical and practical hurdles that we have overcome, but we do have one more to get over before we can begin the transition – and we need your help.

Many months ago, the Board applied to Fairfax County on behalf of MVUC for an amendment to our Special Use Permit which currently allows for a part-time preschool on our property. The revision is minor and includes: 

  • adding 30 students 
  • extending the hours of operation 
  • permitting a private K-8 school in addition to the already permitted preschool 

This is one of the final steps in bringing RFFS to our home.

Unfortunately, the Mason Hill Citizens Association (MHCA) has opposed our application to the County.  As a result, we find ourselves having to defend our decision to expand educational opportunities on our own property.  Early in the process, FFC zoning & permitting staff seemed to regard the changes we are requesting as so minimal that there should be no problem. The MHCA opposition has changed that.

We have countered all of MHCA’s claims and submitted our rebuttal to the BZA staff. We are confident that we have refuted all of their erroneous claims and statements. Normally a matter of course, the BZA scheduled a public hearing on this issue for September 13 at 9 AM. Because of the opposition, the stakes are now high. The BZA will now weigh the issues and either approve, adjust or reject our application.

Here’s how you can help…

We would like to ensure a huge turnout, supportive of MVUC and RFFS, for the hearing so please plan to attend if you are able. We have been advised to limit the number of speakers at the hearing but were encouraged to have supportive MVUC members and friends submit comments and videos by email in support of our position.  

A large turnout and many written or video comments will have an effect on the outcome – an outcome that can make or break this entire initiative.

Now is the time for MVUC’s members and friends to pull together to help make a significant and positive difference for MVUC’s future. This initiative and new partnership with RFFS will help us to live into our values more fully, make a positive impact in our broader community, grow our membership, and greatly improve our fiscal health.

Here are some things you can do (you can do more than one):

  1. Sign a petition asking the BZA to approve MVUC’s request to amend its special use permit to operate schools. The petition can be found in the Commons after service on Sundays or you can download a PDF here.
  2. Just show up at the BZA hearing at 9 am, Wednesday, September 13 at the Board Room of the Fairfax County Government Center Auditorium at 12000 Government Center Parkway If you have an MVUC T-Shirt, wear it. (We will try to organize carpooling.)
  3. Write a letter or email to the BZA about why MVUC should be allowed to rent space to the River Farm Forest School (See “talking points“, and information on where to send it below).
  4. Deliver testimony at the hearing as part of MVUC’s block of speakers, either in person or by phone or video. Church leaders are making arrangements to have a few folks deliver such testimony. We can help you with the testimony topics.

For more information, help with writing your statement, sample testimony, and more details regarding the hearing itself, see information below.

MVUC Talking Points
RFFS History and Curriculum
How to Testify at the Sept. 13 Hearing
Sample Testimony
Petition PDF


Special Use Permit Amendment request SPA-82-V-069-04

MVUC’s Application

A revision to the existing permit, not a new application:

  • Increases the total number of students and teachers
  • Increases operational hours
  • Adds a private school, grades K-8, to the existing permit for a preschool


  • The number of kids projected for Fall 2023 is less than the civic association claims – Accurate Count (estimate as of 8/16/23: 43 RFFS, 15 FHP = total 58) 
  • Carpools are used predominately for trips back and forth to school and reduce the number of cars/trips substantially to around 15 additional cars 2x a day. (Definitely not 1 student per car as claimed by MHCA). 
  • FFC Department of Transportation has determined that a traffic study is not warranted because the number of additional cars does not meet the minimum threshold for a traffic study.
  • Increased speeding and stop sign violations and accidents cannot be assumed to increase with this minimal increase in traffic.
  • Neither Richmond Hwy nor GW Parkway construction is relevant to this application 
  • Deterioration of road infrastructure is already happening and will not change due to such a minimal increase in traffic (and already repaired!)

Ingress and Egress

  • There are 9 points of ingress and egress to MVUC, not one as claimed by MHCA

Speeding and Stop Sign Violations

  • According to the MHCA “Mason Hill already endures speeding and stop-sign violations.” 
  • MVUC has offered to support an application for speed bumps
  • MHCA rebuffed the idea of installing speed bumps, an obvious and workable solution that other neighborhoods throughout the county have chosen (Including neighboring Hollin Hills). 


  • None of the MHCA safety claims are based on actual data: In the 65 years of church history, there have been no accidents related to cars coming and going from MVUC.
  • No children have been injured 
  • No people or pets have ever been injured 
  • There has been no loss of access by emergency vehicles
  • There have been no auto accidents


  • This assertion assumes that the neighborhood has the right to be protected from children who act like children
  • Normal and reasonable sounds of play and happy children should be expected and welcomed during normal school hours
  • Children are supervised at all times
  • Use of permitted outdoor space on MVUC property is confined to M-F during the day

MVUC is a good neighbor 

To Mason Hill Citizens Assoc. (and others in the neighborhood)

  • MVUC provides free use of the MVUC buildings for MHCA’s use for meetings and activities.
  • MHCA Annual Meeting, Bi Annual Meeting and Potlucks are held in the Chapel and Commons free of charge.
    • MHCA actually held a meeting in August to discuss their opposition at MVUC!! 
  • Free use of MVUC’s landscaped grounds for family and pet recreation and respite
    • Dog walking, pooping (we provide bags and disposal cans), off-leash playing, frisbee throwing, etc.
    • Bicycle riding training for kids in our parking lot
    • Roller skating, skateboarding
    • Family and pet play in the meadow
    • Walking and sitting throughout the gardens and meditative spaces
  • Free deposit of kitchen waste in composting containers. MVUC pays a commercial service for waste pickup, MHCA uses this for free, MVUC pays for it.

To the Wider Community

  • MVUC contributes financially to local organizations:
    • Venture in Community Hypothermia Outreach Program, Together We Bake, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, Frog Pond Early Learning Center, United Communities, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, Rising Hope, No Child Goes Hungry, Friends of Guest House, Gum Springs Historic Society, So Others Might Eat, Neighborhood Health, South County Task Force.
  • And regularly volunteers in support of
    • Climate action, anti-racism, refugee response, voter registration drives, gun violence prevention, and LGBTQ advocacy. Helping the unhoused and those living in poverty in the Route 1 corridor through our Route 1 Task Force undertaken in partnership with United Community, Ventures in Community (VIC), New Hope Housing, and Habitat for Humanity 
    • MVUC provides food for distribution (through United Community), food (6x annually) for the shelters in Alexandria, prepared meals and overnight supervision at Rising Hope, and, toiletries, sheets, towels, coats, hats, gloves, and school supplies for a number of shelters.

MVUC needs to manage our property to financially sustain our existence (like many churches in Fairfax County and beyond). 

  • Renting space is the least intrusive way for MVUC to do this, especially when the tenant is so perfectly in line with the church’s and neighborhood’s values, unlike many other options available to us.

RFFS is a Perfect Fit for MVUC

There are 188 private schools in Fairfax County, 53 of which are affiliated with churches of faith (22 Catholic) that support the values of those religions.  The River Farm Forest School (RFFS), established in 2013, is a private school without a religious affiliation but does support the values and principles of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) faith. There could be no better fix for MVUC, and we would not have considered this opportunity if it wasn’t such a perfect fit.

RFFS is currently housed at St. Mark’s Church on Telegraph Rd., in Franconia. It is looking for new space because St. Marks is consolidating space with two other churches and because RFFS needs more space to grow.

Their Values

  • RFFS shares many UU values, including a commitment to social justice, environmental stewardship, and community building. We believe that partnering with RFFS will help us live these values more fully.
  • RFFS offers a refreshing and immersive approach to education that perfectly aligns with MVUC’s core beliefs and values regarding lifelong learning and personal development. 
  • Its outdoor classroom environment fosters exploration, experimentation, and discovery while encouraging critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. 
  • RFFS offers a holistic approach to education, which considers the whole child – their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. This is in line with our belief that each person has inherent worth and dignity and should be supported in reaching their full potential.   


  • MVUC’s intent with the River Farm Forest School is to create a mutually beneficial partnership that will strengthen both our church and the school. We see this as an opportunity to live our values more fully, and to make a positive impact in our community.

Notes from RFFS: History, Curriculum, and Synergy at MVUC

  • History of RFFS

River Farm Forest School, originally River Farm Cooperative School, was founded in 2014, by a group of Fort Hunt neighborhood families in response to the need for a small, inclusive, and supportive micro elementary school. After a wonderful experience at the Fort Hunt Community Preschool, they wanted to continue with the model of cooperative education because they saw the value of community, family and civic engagement. The healthy, sustainably growing, cooperative of today is a result of our member families’ many years of dedication and volunteerism.

Over time, the cooperative evolved to a small K-7 parent-involved school, drawing inspiration from progressive educational philosophies and a growing awareness of the benefits of nature-based learning. During the COVID pandemic in 2021, outdoor education was strongly emphasized to reduce the transmission risks of indoor classrooms.  The school was renamed River Farm Forest School, embracing its identity as a place where children could thrive by immersing themselves in the wonders of the natural environment. Today, River Farm Forest School stands as a testament to the continued needs of the community, the power of educational vision, and the wisdom of the outdoors.

  • Unique curriculum/community

River Farm Forest School (RFFS) provides an educational environment that is substantially distinct from both public and most private schools available in Fairfax County. Established with a vision of fostering a deep connection between children and the natural world, the school’s curriculum prioritizes outdoor exploration, hands-on experiences, and a holistic approach to education.  Students spend significant time outdoors each day, learning through direct interaction with the forest area near the school. RFFS’s teaching philosophy, rooted in nature-based and experiential learning, fosters connection to the natural world, collaboration, empathy, and communication skills.  This approach cultivates a strong sense of community and emotional intelligence among students, instills a lifelong appreciation for the environment, and love of learning that extends beyond the classroom

  • Context of RFFS compared to other private schools

According to Niche and Private School Review the average tuition cost in Alexandria and the surrounding areas is $31,199 annually. River Farm’s full year tuition is $9830 annually, $22,000 dollars less than average which can put an alternative, outdoor education in reach of many families in the area. RFFS’s cost is comparable to St. Rita’s which is 2 miles away, but St. Ritas is a religious school. There are 188 private schools in Fairfax County, 53 of which are affiliated with churches of faith (22 Catholic) that support the values of those religions.  RFFS offers a unique secular educational experience and a value proposition that fills an otherwise unmet need for families in Fairfax County.  

While RFFS is not religiously affiliated, the school shares many values with MVUC, including a commitment to social justice, environmental stewardship, and community building. RFFS offers a unique and immersive approach to education that aligns with Unitarian Universalist core beliefs and values regarding lifelong learning and personal development. Its outdoor classroom environment fosters exploration, experimentation, and discovery while encouraging critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. 

  • Good Neighbor

At their current location RFFS students play in Franconia District Park, taking care of the park by picking up trash, and abiding by leave-no-trace principles. The teachers keep an eye on the park and let the park authority know if anything goes amiss in the park. School drop off and pickup are quiet affairs that do not even register with the neighbors. When RFFS approached neighbors on properties adjacent to the school, the neighbors were unaware that there was a school at the location.

  • Enrollment Numbers

Current Enrollment is 43 students from 22 families. Many families carpool to and from school. During the school year there are six full time staff members. Of those staff members, only three do not have children who attend the school, so the staff generates three car trips to the school site. 

How to Testify at the Sept 13 Hearing

If you want to testify at the hearing as part of our program either in person or remotely, you must submit your name, contact information, and testimony by  September 5 at 3pm.

MVUC will coordinate a block of testimony with speakers on certain topics and in a set order. IF you wish to be part of this effort, please contact any board member.

You may testify in this block in person, by phone, or by sending in a video.

We also invite members to write individual letters or emails to the BZA or to sign our petition. Contact board members Robin Roberts, Karen Delmonico or Richard Roesel here for more information by sending an email here. Letters are usually not read at the hearing but will be delivered to BZA members.

TO TESTIFY AT THE HEARING as part of the Organized MVUC Block

  • Connect with Robin, Karen, and/or Richard to discuss your testimony topic
  • Sign up online using the BZA Speaker Sign-Up form  The form will ask whether you want to testify in-person, by phone, or by video. Follow the instructions and deadlines.
  • Always include Case # ” SPA 82-V-069-04 (Unitarian Mount Vernon Church; addressed 
    1909 Windmill Lane, Alexandria 22307” ) on any/all form(s), subject line(s) or wherever required.
  • The clerk of the BZA will contact you by phone before the hearing to confirm that you will present in person, by phone or by video.
  1. Submit written testimony for in-person or phone presentation by Sept 5 to: or through the website:
  2. Submit video by Sept 5 to: or through the website: click on “Related Services,” then “Contact Us”
  3. Real-time phone testimony can be arranged during the hearing by calling 703-324-1020 while the hearing is in progress 

To send written testimony that will not be read aloud at the hearing:

Submit by email by Sept 12 to: or through the website (see above):

Submit by mail for receipt by Sept 12:

Fairfax County Zoning Board of Appeals
County Government Center
12055 Government Center Pkwy
Suite 801
Fairfax VA 22030       

ATT: Special Permit Branch

Include Case # ” SPA 82-V-069-04 (Unitarian Mount Vernon Church; addressed 1909 Windmill Lane, Alexandria 22307” ) on any/all form(s), subject line(s) or wherever required.

Sample Testimony

To:       Fairfax County Zoning Board of Appeals

RE:       Case #: SPA 82-V-069-04   [Include this number in any correspondence to the BZA and
in the subject line of any emil to them]

(Unitarian Mount Vernon Church; addressed 1909 Windmill Lane, Alexandria 22307)

Public Hearing: September 13, 2023

I urge you to support the Mt Vernon Unitarian Church’s application to revise our existing permit, which allows us to increase the total number of students, increase the operational hours, and include a private school along with the preschool. 

As a member of MVUC, I strongly believe that this opportunity will (INSERT YOUR REASON(S)

This initiative is vitally important to the stability and sustainability of Mt Vernon Unitarian Church. We ask that you support us as we move forward.

(INSERT Your Name)


For all written email, letters, testimonies, etc., to the BZA, provide a copy and indication of the sent document here.

* To the eagle-eyed editors among us: the phrase “Unitarian Mount Vernon Church” is not a typo – it’s how the project is referred to in at least one County database.