|A Mason District Council community forum attracts a large crowd.|
Many of those concerns were raised at a community forum earlier this month organized by the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC). Meanwhile, about 200 residents from several Seven Corners neighborhoods signed a petition asking Mason Supervisor Penny Gross to expand the scope of the follow-on committee that is looking at Seven Corners revitalization.
Because the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force was unable to reach a consensus on redevelopment at the Sears site, Gross announced the formation of a committee chaired by Martin Faga to consider options for that property. The committee would consist of community association presidents or their designees.
The petition says that committee “is no fix for a range of concerns regarding the plan as a whole that have been repeatedly raised and have yet to be addressed,” including overall density in Seven Corners, a proposed reduction in community-serving retail, the sequence of transportation improvements, the need for new schools, the use of the Willston Center as a school site, and the potential displacement of a significant number of current residents.
If you would like to sign the petition, submit your first and last name and address to Catriona MacDonald, president of the Ravenwood Citizens Association, CMacdonald@LinchpinStrategies.com.
More than 150 local residents attended the MDC’s community forum on Oct. 7, which included brief presentations by panelists, followed by a question-and-answer session. The following report on the forum is based on notes by Lake Barcroft resident Kay Cooper:
John Thillmann, co-chair of the Seven Corners Task Force, described the effort to develop a revitalization plan for the area, which began in May 2012 with a series of “visioning sessions.”
One significant point made by Thillman not previously reported is that the Seven Corners Shopping Center is performing very well economically, so its owner, the B.F. Saul Co., isn’t interested in doing something as radical as what is being envisioned in the proposed plan unless there is a financial incentive, such as higher density of high-end residential units.
JoAnne Fiebe of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization, described the three “opportunity areas” in the plan – which are currently occupied by the Willston Center/Willston shopping centers, Seven Corners Shopping Center, and Sears – and the proposed transportation improvements.
When Fiebe showed drawings of how the proposed widening of Route 7 would look, several residents questioned how that could happen as there doesn’t seem to be adequate room. Fiebe said current side streets and right of way would be used to create space needed for the additional lanes. Del. Kaye Kory (38th District) indicated that state funds aren’t likely to be available for any traffic improvements in Seven Corners.
Marty Faga, chairman of the newly organized Sears Site Special Committee, said he hopes to begin committee meetings by the end of October. The committee will meet every two weeks at the Mason Government Center, and all meetings will be open to the public. Gross said she has heard from most of the community associations about who they want to serve on the committee and urged the others to name a representative to the committee as soon as possible.
During the long, tense question-and-answer session, many residents voiced their frustrations and concerns about the task force proposals.
Clyde Miller, a resident of the Holmes Run community, summarized a handout he had prepared titled “Is That What We Want?” that predicts Seven Corners might end up with 6,000 new housing units in high-rise buildings 12 stories high, resulting in even more overcrowded schools and worse traffic congestion than already exists. Miller criticized the task force for failing to address these concerns.
One of the primary concerns expressed by many residents was the county’s and task force’s failure to address overcrowding in local schools, which will be exacerbated by the proposed increase in residential density.
When asked why the Willston Community Center was not considered as a site for a new school, Gross said she had not received a “formal request from the school board.” Mason District school board representative Sandy Evans responded that she and other members of the school board had discussed this informally with Gross.
One resident called Gross’s response “disingenuous,” since Gross was certainly aware of the school board’s interest in having a school at the Willston Center site. Debbie Smith, vice chair of the MDC, asked Evans to urge the school board to submit a formal request to the Board of Supervisors to return the Willston site to the school board for use as a school.
Many residents also expressed concern about the levels of density proposed (5,000 to 6,000 additional residences) for opportunity areas A (the Willston site) and B (the town center site currently occupied by the Seven Corners Shopping Center).
Elizabeth Pisarski of Lake Barcroft pointed out that the total square footage of new development proposed for those areas would equal a building the size of the Pentagon. Several people said improvements to relieve traffic congestion and school overcrowding should be made before any new development is carried out.
Lake Barcroft resident Sarah Mattingly said a funding source needs to be identified for the school and road improvements first, and that we can’t rely on state funds. She urged the county to create a bold vision, such as the plan developed by the Urban Land Institute, and cited the High Line park in New York City as a good example. If there was an innovative plan that includes walking routes, bike routes, and green spaces, she said, the community might be more willing to accept a compromise allowing for higher density, thus creating a broader tax base to fund new schools and transportation fixes.
Catriona McCormack, president of the Ravenwood Neighborhood Association, summarized the concerns cited in an Aug. 12 letter from several community association presidents to Gross and the task force members—and noted that they have yet to receive a response.
She requested that the new committee chaired by Faga to discuss revitalization of the Sears site be expanded to include the rest of the Seven Corners revitalization area. Gross responded that she would consult with Faga about this.
Ravenwood resident Don Smith stated that the number of apartments proposed in the Seven Corners draft plan dwarfs any other town center or large development in Northern Virginia, including those being built near Metro stations.
He also pointed out that, to avoid going through the City of Falls Church, the proposed partial ring road would need to intersect Route 7 just one-tenth of a mile from the current Seven Corners intersection, which would violate VDOT regulations that require signalized intersections be at least 1,320 feet apart. He said the ring road would actually make the Seven Corners intersection more like “11 corners.”
Eric Welch, a long-time teacher at JEB Stuart High School, suggested that concerned community members form a task force that would focus on delineating the current needs and problems in the Stuart pyramid and recommend solutions. Evans and Kory voiced strong support for this idea and pledged to work with interested community members.
Carol Turner, a member of the MDC board, said none of the nine “follow-on proposals” from Gross included input from community members.
She noted that a petition is under development calling for the Board of Supervisors to create a non-profit Seven Corners development corporation, modeled on the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, which was created to stimulate economic growth along the Route 1 corridor. Gross said she would take that proposal under consideration.