|The Sears site on Leesburg Pike.|
Members of the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force agree with local residents’ concerns that a proposed apartment complex on the Sears site would be too big.
The group’s July 8 meeting focused on revisions suggested by task force members to the language for the Seven Corners amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan drafted by county staff. Most of the discussion, however, was about Land Unit C, also referred to as Leesburg Pike Village, located along the southwestern edge of Leesburg Pike.
During a June 23 task force meeting open to public comment, many residents of Ravenwood Park, Buffalo Hills, Sleepy Hollow, and other neighborhoods close to Sears argued that the high-density Foulger-Pratt proposal would overwhelm the community and would lead to more traffic on already-congested roads.
At the July 8 meeting, task force member Dick Knapp, a senior vice president at Foulger-Pratt, indicated reducing the number of units would make the project economically unfeasible. He said, “720,000 square feet is break even for us.” Requiring a lower density would be “gutting a central component of Seven Corners revitalization” and would be an “arbitrary, draconian approach.”
In a July 8 email to task force members, Knapp noted that the current real estate tax assessment for the 12-acre site, including the existing buildings, is $24 million. “It was our initial hope to obtain density that would create a value in excess of this $24 million and thus provide us with an incentive to undertake the development risk to create Leesburg Pike Village, fund proffers, off-site costs, lease buy-outs, and demolition.”
When task force co-chair John Thillman asked members to give their views on the Sears proposal, several people cited residents’ concerns and said they favored reducing the size of the project.
Mark Silverwood, whose company owns a couple of apartment complexes in Seven Corners, said the Sears project would work with fewer apartments, and Blake Smith, a resident of Juniper Lane who works for the National Association of Homebuilders, said, “The community is more comfortable with the numbers in the charrette.”
The charrette was a land-use planning exercise undertaken by the task force last summer that resulted in a recommendation for 385,000 square feet of residential development (which could accommodate about 385 apartments), 134,000 square feet of retail, and 200,000 square feet of office space for Land Unit C. Combining the retail and office space would equal about 150 townhouses. There would also be space for about 30,000 square feet of local-serving retail, such as a coffee shop and restaurant, on the ground floor of one or two multifamily buildings.
Thillman said he supported the idea of revising the language in the staff-written draft amendment, which recommends 720,000 square feet of residential uses on the Sears site, and returning to the density levels that came out of the charrette. He asked Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization staff to develop a couple of scenarios for redevelopment of Land Unit C with lesser amounts of residential density than proposed by Foulger-Pratt.
The task force never officially considered the Foulger-Pratt proposal, Thillman explained later. It was just “one person’s idea that never made it to the task force for any level of formal consideration or for any level of staff review.” The action taken by the task force July 8 was not a change. “It was a reaffirmation to stay with the charrette numbers that we had already decided to adopt because it seemed that a reaffirmation was necessary for the community.”
In response to residents’ suggestions to build more office or retail on the site and less housing, Knapp said he didn’t want to compete with other retail in Seven Corners, and offices are “totally unbuildable.” Thillman noted the county has 19 million square feet of vacant office space.
Thillman announced additional task force meetings to ensure the group can meet its goal of submitting a Comprehensive Plan amendment to the Fairfax County Planning Commission in October. The task force’s next meeting, Aug. 12, will be open for public comment. The group will also meet Aug. 26, Sept. 9, and Sept. 23. The task force is not expected to vote on a plan amendment until the Sept. 23 meeting.