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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seven Corners residents concerned about high-density redevelopment

A large apartment complex is proposed for the Sears site on Leesburg Pike.
Don’t redevelop Seven Corners until the proposed transportation infrastructure improvements are funded and in place. Reduce the density in the housing project proposed for the Sears site on Route 7. Provide more time for the community to review and comment on the proposed changes. Don’t allow through-traffic in the neighborhood behind Sears.

Those are the main concerns residents brought to the table at a public comment session June 23 hosted by the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force.

After two years of discussions, the task force is finalizing language in its proposed amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, which would guide redevelopment of the area over the next 30 years. At the same time, the task force has also agreed on a transportation plan to improve traffic flow and make the area more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

More than 150 people packed the meeting at the Mason Government Center, the majority of them from the single-family neighborhoods south of Route 7. Many of the local residents who spoke said they appreciate  the work done by the task force, applaud the plan to make the are more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, and support the overall concept for improving Seven Corners but expressed frustration over the possibility of too much growth overwhelming low-density communities.

Local residents packed the room at a June 23 public comment session with the Seven Corners Task Force.
Rick Chesterton, president of the Buffalo Hills Citizens Association, said the plan to put nearly 800 housing  units on the property on Leesburg Pike now occupied by Sears and two office buildings is way too much, and the project shouldn’t go forward until the transportation plan is implemented. He also said another school is needed to relieve overcrowding at existing schools.

Ravenwood Park Citizens Association President John Iekel also expressed concern about high density at the Sears site and said he strongly opposes any attempt to connect Patrick Henry Drive and Juniper Lane.

While the plan currently doesn’t call for a cut-through from the Sears site or Route 7 to the surrounding neighborhood, Katrina McCormick of Ravenwood said she doesn’t trust that won’t happen based on her experience with Upper Bailey’s Elementary School. Some neighbors felt they weren’t given input on that project, which is under development in a former office building on Leesburg Pike.

McCormick suggested the Seven Corners plan be revised to keep density at lower levels, then if the transportation plan is funded, developers could request the density limits be raised.

Several people who live just behind Sears were worried about the possibility of Shadeland Drive being connected to the proposed development. That would lead to encroaching retail in the neighborhood, more crime, and people working at or visiting Upper Baileys parking on residential streets, said Suzanne Wells of Sleepy Hollow Manor.

Among other concerns raised by residents: school overcrowding needs to be addressed immediately, it makes no sense to improve to the East Falls Church Metro station if there is inadequate parking, construction associated with redevelopment would be disastrous for small businesses, and more development would lead to more polluted waterways and more flooding in low-lying areas like the Lee Boulevard community.

Task Force Co-Chair John Thillman said once the group approves language for an amendment to the Seven Corners section of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, the amendment must be approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Amending the Comprehensive Plan is just “the first step,” he said. “Market forces have to intervene; developers have to be willing to invest in change.”Arguing about the details of the project on the Sears site is “putting the cart in front of the horse,” he said.

Several people in the audience, however, complained that the Sears project seems to be on a faster track and may well bypass the process to approve a plan amendment. Marty Machowsky of Ravenwood Park noted that the task force upped its density recommendations for that area after the Sears project was announced.

The proposed transportation improvements include a ring road around the Seven Corners intersection with additional overpasses; transforming Route 7 into a boulevard with transit lanes, separate bike lanes, and a landscaped median; improved access to and from Route 50; and new street grids within the redevelopment areas.

“This can happen. We want transportation and development to grow together,” said Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. The Board of Supervisors targeted $3 million in transportation planning funds for Seven Corners and $200 million is available for transit, he said, while other potential funding sources include federal and regional agencies, a new tax stream, and contributions from developers.

The land use plan calls for a lot more market-rate multifamily housing in the area, the retention of some affordable housing, and a new town square concept for the area occupied by the Willston I Shopping Center and Willston Multicultural Center on Route 50.

“Redevelopment is our future,” Thillman noted. “This will generate billions of dollars of improvements and hundreds of millions in county revenue. This will become one of the really great places in Fairfax County.” The task force will have another public comment session Aug. 12.

23 comments:

  1. I fully support smart revitalization, the area desperately needs it, but the overall plan calls for nearly 6,000 new housing units (Sears, plus north of Route 50 and where the current shopping center). 6,000!! When Shirlington and Mosaic District revitalized, they added less than 1,000 each.

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  2. Ellie, you didn't mention the fact that the Existing Conditions Report inaccurately represents the demographics of our community. The report reads like a research project for the developers about competing prices for rental properties, so they can gauge their market. Demographic information about the families living in the single family homes in Sleepy Hollow Manor, Ravenwood, Ravenwood Park and Lake Barcroft was curiously omitted from this report, which results in misinformation being used as the basis of this entire project. We all own many cars, we drive everywhere; this area is already congested and our schools are overcrowded. The developers want to add more people, giving them access to our streets as parking lots which will give the developers a bigger profit -- they plan to build higher density residences with inadequate parking. Our streets can't handle this volume already and they want to add more traffic. AND the road and transportation infrastructure, according to the plan now, will come AFTER all the development. This makes no sense.

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    1. Hey "Mason District"--if you're going to be so presumptuous as to use a name that indicates you speak for all of us, and comment on almost every article, maybe you should complete the rest of your Blogger profile. Or maybe all of us who live here should post as "Mason District."

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  3. "Amending the Comprehensive Plan is just “the first step,” he said. “Market forces have to intervene; developers have to be willing to invest in change.”Arguing about the details of the project on the Sears site is “putting the cart in front of the horse,” he said. "
    It sounds like he is saying that the developers (obviously) do not want to change their plan to accommodate surrounding neighborhood concerns, and, as Nancy Pelosi famously said, "we have to approve it so we can see what's in it."
    It has been my observation that, even after a transportation plan is approved, it would be years, if not decades, befor those changes are realized, meanwhile, the residential development is long since completed....

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    1. This is the biggest fear of the neighboring communities. The folks on the Task Force are doing their best but with bad information. And, if they recommend this plan to the Board of Supervisors, they will be handing the developers all the power to build what they want, where they want, and walk away with pockets full of gold. And the residents of Seven Corners and the surrounding communities will be left with the resulting mess.

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  4. Thank you, Ellie for your recap of the meeting. Much appreciated.

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  5. " We all own many cars, we drive everywhere;"

    This is why I want to leave Fairfax county. You live close to a metro station, along several bus lanes. Just the other side of 7 corners Arlington's excellent bike lane network begins. And, the new development will itself improve walkability. And I can imagine the County will be reluctant to spend for all the improvements before any new property tax revenue from development starts coming in.

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    1. If EFC Metro had more parking, more people could use it. As I am told, the buses at Seven Corners don't have a route that runs to EFC Metro. Is that true?

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    2. Parking at metro stations in high demand areas tends to be a wasteful use of space - as many people can use it living in buildings there, plus they will walk or bike for non-commute trips - and it makes it more pleasant for people from further away to walk to than a sea of asphalt.

      I am not sure which bus line you mean - the bus line from Annandale (the 3A) stops at EFC. As there is more development there needs to be more bus service and unlike infrastructure that does not have to take long.

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    3. The bus lines from Seven Corners used to run to EFC Metro, and in fact, even ran up Sleepy Hollow Road. Those were stopped, and the current buses run to Ballston or Rosslyn Metro. But EFC Metro might get very difficult, with the Silver Line added.

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  6. BTW, who much traffic was associated with the old Sears? How much would there be if it reopened as retails, by right?

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    1. I don't think there is much traffic from Sears. The parking lot (and the store) are always pretty empty. In fact, part of the top half of the parking lot is used for storing new cars from a car dealership. Personally, I'm going to miss the convenience of that Sears when it's gone (not that I think it needs to stick around).

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  7. Redevelopment is our future,” Thillman noted. “This will generate billions of dollars of improvements and hundreds of millions in county revenue. This will become one of the really great places in Fairfax County.”

    Mr. Thillman is misguided, yeah, that sure sounds all well and good but this area will never become one of the great places in Fairfax at least not in the next 50 years and has a better chance of becoming an extension of Culmore... housing multi-families flooding the schools further while county officials sit by and do absolutely nothing. The only generating here is that taxpayers will be paying more. And then toss eroding property values in the mix. Always great to drive around and see front lawns turned into cement parking lots or strollers in battalion strength marching to the schools. ,
    Location wise this a great area and should be as Mr. Thillman stated be one of the great places in Fairfax but there is a reason why it is not .

    It would be wonderful to see a Shirlington, Mosaic, or Clarendon type environment stretching from Bailey's/ Cumore to Seven Corners..."one of the great places in Fairfax" as Mr. Thillman put it, Well I guess I can dream too.

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    1. Thank you for highlighting Mr. Thillman's hyperbole. On the surface is sounds really positive, encouraging, but really it betrays the county's focus on billions of revenue generation (for bureaucratic job security) rather than work/life/quality issues.

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    2. Show me a high rise that is like Culmore anywhere in NoVa this close to DC. At worst you have Southern Towers or the older buildings in Landmark - which are much better, and which took 50 years to become that obsolete.

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    3. 5:06 is right. No developer is going to come in and spend millions to replicate Culmore. The ROI won't be there. OTOH, if no one comes in to recapitalize the stretch between Seven Corners and Baileys, it's just going to fall in further into what others claim to oppose.

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    4. "It would be wonderful to see a ... Mosaic"

      nope nope nope nope nope

      It's nice that it has a Target and a fountain and decent coffee, but Mosiac is exactly what NoVA needs LESS of : retail totally untethered from the real world with stores selling $300 shoes and $10 dog treats for recent MBA graduates who move to DC from the sticks and want to play Big City.

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    5. 5:06, 9:25 - I agree, Of course no developer is going sell you on something along the lines of Culmore. I think developers and possibly county officials etc... believe 100% they can create something dynamic in this area but there is a reason why this has not happened. All I see is the proverbial can kicked down ther road, the old phrases "Need more studies, need more community open meetnings, blame it on traffic concerns, etc.. heck, a recent artcile on the blog decison on building shopping center is deferred mainly because of traffic concerns. Drive a few minutes away to Ballston, Clarendon, Rosslyn, or further west down Leesburg Pike and you can't help but run into construction site after construction site with wonderful developments, shops, restaurants, etc..

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    6. People - this is not what it used to be and NEVER will be. Things are moving forward and you best get on board or get out of the way!

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  8. What is so good about Culmore and why does anyone want it replicated at Seven Corners, or anywhere else.

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  9. As long as there is no budge on the density of this development, then it will be clear to all of us that this is about maximizing tax revenue and nothing else. Watch the Board of Supervisors very closely, especially our own Supervisor Gross. Tax revenue and supporting the developers that get her elected is her No. 1 and 2 priorities.

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  10. Supervisor Gross never supports the tax payers who reside in Mason District.

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  11. Yes, I agree w/Anonymous above. I personally think M-D- is over-reacting and certainly doesn't represent my views.

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