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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Seven Corners residents: Fix roads before approving redevelopment

Task force members, left to right: Evelyn Haught, Mark Silverwood, Co-chair John Thillman, Co-chair Mary Ellen Ward, Karl Moritz, and Patrick Hoar.
When community leaders and residents got a chance to address the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force Aug. 12, one key concern was repeated over and over: Don’t start construction on new developments until the transportation improvements are in place – or at least until they are funded.

That’s not likely to happen, however. Kris Morley-Nikfar of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said at the meeting that new transportation funding “is dependent on redevelopment. It all works together.” The developers would be responsible for creating new street grids on their properties, he said, and those streets need to be in place to support construction of a new interchange and ring road around the Seven Corners intersection.    
Most of the discussion at the task force meeting centered around the Foulger-Pratt Co.’s proposal to build apartments, townhouses, and retail on property occupied by Sears and two office buildings on Leesburg Pike.

At the request of the task force, staff of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization fleshed out plans for three options for developing that site. The task force rejected two of the options that included office space and more retail, which are not considered economically viable.

The task force will take a formal vote on a plan for the Sears site at its next meeting, but all members present last night favored the third the option, proposed at the last meeting by Mark Silverwood calling for 385,000 square feet of multifamily housing (about 465 apartments), 100 townhouses, and 34,000 square feet of retail. 

Foulger-Pratt’s original plan called for about 50 townhouses and nearly 800 apartment units. Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt, who serves on the task force, said he is willing to reduce the density and include more townhouses, but cautioned against limiting the size of the project so much that it won’t be economically feasible.

There was also some discussion last night about the need to retain affordable housing in the redevelopment area, including the number of affordable housing units required by the county, the household income limits used in the definition of affordable housing, and the amount of flexibility permitted.

Task force member Jim Edmondson, an affordable housing advocate whose company owns the Seven Corners Apartments, said the only way to make redevelopment work while retaining an appropriate level of affordable housing is to have additional funding from the county. “We’ve got to talk money,” he said. “If we fail to push the Board of Supervisors that funding has to be a part of this, we’re just spinning our wheels.”  

Much of the public comment period of the meeting was about the proposed Sears project, as that is the first concrete redevelopment project that has surfaced and it would have a huge impact on nearby single-family neighborhoods.

Here’s a summary of some of the key concerns raised by local residents:  
  • That’s a key point in a joint letter signed by the presidents of five neighborhood associations: Buffalo Hill, Ravenwood Park, Lake Barcroft, Ravenwood, and Sleepy Hollow Manor. That letter also recommends that transportation improvements come before added density, that neighborhoods near the Sears site be protected, that density on the Sears project be limited, and that the plan should include a new school and neighborhood-serving retail.
Task force co-chair John Thillman said he agrees that new development on the Sears site should not be accessible to Juniper Lane and that the only access point should be on Leesburg Pike.
  • Lake Barcroft Association President Jim Kilbourne raised concerns about the potential for increased cut-through traffic in that community and the negative impact of development on Tripps Run and the Lake Barcroft watershed.
  • Ravenwood Park President John Iekel urged the task force not to exacerbate traffic congestion on Patrick Henry Drive.  
  • Juniper Lane resident Ivan Cheung said redevelopment is needed, but it’s “unacceptable” to proceed without the transportation improvements in place. He said the planned density would lead to a 79 percent increase in population and an additional 1,600 vehicles in the census tract that includes Sears.
  • Ben Cooper of Lake Barcroft read a letter from school board member Sandy Evans urging the task force and county to consider how to accommodate an expected influx of hundreds of new students before recommending any specific redevelopment proposals. Schools in the area are already overcrowded. Stuart High School, for example is projected to be 520 students over capacity by the 2018-19 school year.
  • Sleepy Hollow Manor resident Debbie Ratliff urged the task force to consider the impact of the new Upper Bailey’s Elementary School on traffic congestion on neighborhood streets and ensure road improvements are in place before approving redevelopment. Echoing the task force’s goal for Seven Corners, she said, “You can’t live, work, or play in a place you can’t get to,” she said.

4 comments:

  1. "The task force will take a formal vote on a plan for the Sears site at its next meeting, but all members present last night favored the third the option, proposed at the last meeting by Mark Silverwood calling for 385,000 square feet of multifamily housing (about 465 apartments), 100 townhouses, and 34,000 square feet of retail."

    I think your numbers are wrong, Ellie. The total development at the Sears parcel will be 719,000sf, which will include, per the third option endorsed by Dick Knapp and rubber-stamped by TF Chairman John Thillman, the following:
    220,000 sf townhomes (100 units @2,000sf each)
    465,000 sf multi family (465 units @1,000sf each)
    34,000 sf retail (no office)

    This is a HUGE departure from the November 2013 charette numbers, endorsed June 23 by Chairman Thillman:

    220,000 sf townhomes (110 units @2,000sf each)
    165,000 sf multi family (165 units @1,000sf each)
    134,000 sf retail
    200,000 sf office/hotel

    The total square footage is the same, 719,000sf, but the make up is vastly different. With most of the DC metro area on vacation during the month of August, it is glaring that the TF and the county are trying to cram this through, by changing their own processes and voting on this at the next TF meeting, August 26.

    Community members are meeting with Penny Gross, Mason District Supervisor, to express our disappointment and resolve to not let this be railroaded through.

    The developers are the only ones who will benefit from this vote and this high residential density. They argue that they will not be able to find tenants for office/retail space, but the current buildings are 90% occupied, so clearly, Seven Corners does not suffer from the same lack of office/retail tenants that they argue the rest of the county is experiencing.

    Community members are furious.

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  2. "Foulger-Pratt’s original plan called for about 50 townhouses and nearly 800 apartment units. Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt, who serves on the task force, said he is willing to reduce the density and include more townhouses, but cautioned against limiting the size of the project so much that it won’t be economically feasible."

    Please remember that Foulger Pratt's original plan is not the Task Force's original plan. Foulger Pratt joined the TF in late in the game. The TF original density numbers included much more mixed use (retail and office) and less residential. So to characterize the situation as if Foulger Pratt is compromising is not accurate-- Foulger Pratt came late into the game, as I said, and significantly changed the numbers, all but eliminating mixed use and making the development virtually all residential. This is economically feasible, yes, but what that means is that it will yield Foulger Pratt the greatest profit.

    The developers are driving the bus, here. And the TF is nodding along in agreement.

    We need the developers to build, of course, but it is not responsible development to let the developers drive this whole project -- their only interest is their self-interest which is their profit. This is no secret.

    However, it is the TF and the County's responsibility to also take into account the community's best interests before a decision is made. And they are not doing this.

    Shame on them.

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  3. If this plan goes thru...you might as well take out of storage the 19 classroom trailers that were needed in the over crowded school! This project must include some land use for a new elementary school! This project is much to dense...more green space is needed!

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  4. The pols get their "easy money" campaign funds from the developers, not we the people. Guess who's interests are likely to be accommodated.

    ReplyDelete