|Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, Planning Commission member Janet Hall, and Seven Corners Task Force Co-Chair John Thillman at the Lake Barcroft Association meeting.|
The committee will be chaired by Martin Faga of Ravenwood, a community representative on the Seven Corners Task Force. Gross will appoint community association presidents to serve on the committee, who would be able to designate someone else if they prefer.
|The Sears site as seen from Juniper Lane.|
Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings on a Seven Corners amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which had been scheduled for November and December, will be deferred until 2015, Gross said.
A proposal for the Sears site, known as “Area C” in the Seven Corners Task Force plan, that called for a large apartment project, townhouses, and other development on that site generated a huge amount of opposition from people who live nearby. Main areas of concern centered around general traffic congestion, cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets, overcrowded schools, and the fear that the recommended transportation improvements won’t be funded.
Task force co-chair John Thillman, a former member of the Planning Commission, gave an overview of the task force’s work since it was created by Gross in 2012 following a series of “visioning” sessions with the community. The task force spent the first nine months studying the Seven Corners area, including development patterns, allowable densities, public facilities, demographics, socioeconomic characteristic, existing transportation conditions, housing stock, school capacity issues, mass transit needs, and retail trends.
Coming up with a land use proposal for the area involved a multi-hour charette, a planning exercise in which members of the community and professional planners joined task force members in mapping out a redevelopment vision for the three main areas in Seven Corners most likely to be developed first: (1) the area around the Willston Multicultural Center, Willston I and II shopping centers, and the apartments between Route 50 and Wilson Boulevard; (2) the Seven Corners Shopping Center; and (3) the site along Route 7 occupied by Sears and a couple of office buildings.
Because of all the work that went on before, “we all came up with very similar concepts” for those three areas, Thillman said. Following the charette, Fairfax County planning staff produced a more refined plan spelling out possible density levels and building heights in the three areas.
|The Seven Corners intersection.|
A similar process was undertaken by the task force to develop a transportation improvement plan. After several options were analyzed by county staff and consultants, the task force approved a plan for creating more streets and overpasses over Route 50 and Route 7 to improve the flow around the Seven Corners intersection and improve accessibility to the East Falls Church Metro station.
The process seemed to be going smoothly until a meeting of the Ravenwood Park Citizens’ Association in June, when task force member Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt told residents his company was proposing to build nearly 800 multifamily units on the Sears site. That was much a higher density level than discussed in the charrette, and Thillman said, “the task force never agreed to that.” And that’s when residents of the nearby single-family family neighborhoods began to campaign against the proposal.
When the task force voted among four options for redeveloping the Sears site Sept. 9, they rejected two of them but split between one option calling for up to 415 multifamily units and another calling for 165. Both plans also called for about 110 townhouses and various amounts of retail and office space.
Without a consensus, the task force tabled a decision. A recommendation on the redevelopment of the Sears site will be delayed until the committee of residents sorts out what the community wants.
After the task force submits its final plan, both the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings. Gross expects the Board of Supervisors will consider several motions – eight are being drafted – that address various implementation issues, such as the Route 7 transit study, plans for a new street grid, and coordination with the City of Falls Church.
If the plan is approved, Janet Hall, the Mason representative on the Planning Commission, said, “nothing will change with the zoning.” The plan is a guide for future development, which “may take 40 years or may never happen.”
County planning staff will review developers’ rezoning proposals to determine if they conform to the Comprehensive Plan, Hall said. If they don’t, their proposals will face more hurdles in gaining approval.
At the meeting, several Lake Barcroft residents expressed some anxiety over the possibility that the redevelopment will happen, but there won’t be any money for the transportation improvements. Del. Kaye Kory noted that the General Assembly voted last week to defer state funding to localities for transportation until 2016 in order to address a budget shortfall.
The county hasn’t estimated how much it would cost to put in the three overpasses recommended in the plan or the other road improvements, but it’s likely to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Gross said that the existing pedestrian bridge over Route 50 cost over $5 million. Funding would come from a mix of sources including state funds, local funds, bonds, and proffers from developers.
Thillman said transportation and redevelopment needs to happen in a “reasonable, coordinated way.” He suggested developers could contribute to a “road club” to help pay for some of the road improvements.
Gross told the audience bond money is available for installing sidewalks all along Route 7 from Seven Corners to Bailey’s Crossroads. But if there is a recommendation for widening Route 7, Ben Cooper asked, wouldn’t that mean the sidewalks will have to be torn down.
“We can wait until everything is perfect or we can chip away and do what we can when we can,” Gross said. The sidewalk project was in a bond approved by voters. “I’m not willing to wait until everything is perfect before going ahead with what the community wants.”
Several people noted that Seven Corners has been steadily declining for years and agreed that the area needs a lot of new investment.
|Affordable housing in Seven Corners.|
“The plan is great,” said Richard Dreiman, but what happens if the transportation component isn’t funded, and we end up with “narrow streets and tall buildings”? That would result in more cut-through traffic on the back roads in Lake Barcroft, he said.
Denise Patton blamed the decline of Seven Corners on the large concentration of low-income housing, which makes it difficult to attract higher-quality businesses. She asked whether anything could be done to disperse affordable housing throughout the county.
Gross acknowledged that Mason District has about 15 to 19 percent of all affordable housing in the county, which is more than in the other districts. “In an ideal world it be great if you could disperse the affordable housing so it would perfectly scattered around the county,” Gross said.
The average family income in the Seven Corners study area – which doesn’t include single-family homes in the surrounding area – is $42,000. That compares to a county average of $107,000.
“The big issue is income disparity,” said Thillman. “We need to bring in people with disposable income” to provide more of a balance. Much of the housing around the Willston area is federally subsidized, so if those apartments are torn down, they would have to be replaced with new affordable units. At least three market-rate units need to be built to pay for each new affordable unit, he said.
The county also requires 12 to 15 percent of the units in new developments to be “workforce housing” affordable for households with incomes up to 80 percent of the county average.
The Seven Corners Shopping Center could be redeveloped at twice the current density under its current zoning, Thillman said. Instead, the task force is proposing more residential development in that spot with retail on the ground floor.
|The Seven Corners Shopping Center.|
“Unless we bring in market-rate housing nothing else will be developed,” Thillman said. The right kind of residential development could bring in half a billion dollars in new investment in that area.
Other residents talked about the need for bold, innovative design for the area and a “fundamental clear concept” for what should happen in Seven Corners. One resident urged the task force to look at the 2012 study by the Urban Land Institute that proposed an elevated park and other creative ideas.
Finally, residents complained that the county and Lake Barcroft Association haven’t done enough to inform people about the Seven Corners meetings. Gross said she’s put out information in newsletters and other publications but people ignore them.
People don’t come to meetings because they don’t think anyone will pay attention to what they have to say, one resident said. Residents do have a voice, Lake Barcroft Association President James Kilbourne, who noted the plan for 800 units Sears site was shot down.