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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Residents express growing opposition to Seven Corners redevelopment plan

A Mason District Council community forum attracts a large crowd.
A proposed redevelopment plan for Seven Corners is facing growing opposition from local residents, who are concerned about the prospect of significant increases in density and the impact on traffic congestion, school capacity, and the general quality of life in the area.

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. 

9 comments:

  1. The people proposing all these additional housing units need to pull up a chair anywhere in Rt 7 or Arlington Blvd area and sit there for a week and watch traffic.I travel these roads on a daily basis and the traffic is horrible.Does'nt matter if it's week day or weekend ,night or morning.Now,just add 5,000 to 6,000 more housing occupants to the equation. Does'nt matter it's going to happen because it's all about quanity not quality and quanity brings in more taxpayers for the county and that's what it's really all about is the money.

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  2. Both Penny Gross and Kaye Kory made it a point that since they have been in office, they had not anticipated the population growth and impact to the school system. How many years have they been in office, and watch these issues stagnate? They expect us to trust them with planning for the next 20-40 years?! I think not. Mason District needs and deserves new leadership!

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    1. Much of the criticism of this project has come from the Lake Barcroft crowd. These are the same people who have supported Penny Gross for years and presumably have her ear. Kaye Kory also lives there. Accordingly, I would have assumed that Penny Gross had made herself accessible to them. If not, then it's their misfortune because, notwithstanding their NMBY attitude, this project is going to happen and it's going to benefit more people than it will supposedly harm. Any responsible Mason supervisor would immediately have seen that this proposed development is beyond the ability of ordinary citizens to assess. It requires leadership and additional expertise that doesn't appear to be available within Mason. Instead, as is her habit, Supervisor Gross remained cloistered in her office waiting for the process to resolve itself. This is typical of her approach over the years and has contributed to the haphazard development of Mason, including the absurd trolley line extension for Bailey's. If this matter is to be satisfactorily resolved, Penny Gross must step aside and stop prevaricating as she did at the forum. She is clueless when it comes to this issue and cannot even conceal her ineptitude. Hopefully, someone will eventually step up to replace her, but the next election is over a year away. By that time, I suspect it will be too late.

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    2. First of all the area needs new development because right now Mason is one huge crap dump! It needs smart growth and not a bunch of people who say no to everything because of their fear of the unknown. If the bigots in this county had not said no to metro 20 years ago, we would be enjoying the prosperous growth of our neighbor next door.........Arlington County, run by progressive leadership and a gay County Board Chairman. Fairfax needs to modernize its mindset, its politics, and its state of mind before it can change its demographics, its economy, its business lure, its quality of life, and its attraction to the millenniums to live here.

      If Fairfax continues on its current path it’s destined to be a failure. No or yes to development is not the answer. Smart, innovative and progressive development and planning is the path to prosperity and a better quality of life. And right now, I don’t see that from its political leadership, its populace or its business community in Mason District. The leaders of Fairfax also need to reign in VDOT instead of bowing to this state agency that continues to put a bureaucracy first before pedestrians, cyclists and safety. Do you see any bike ride share stations in Mason, viable bike lanes that go anywhere, urban landscapes? The answer is NO!

      As for the trolley, great idea, it will change the way we think about transiting. It should have been taken to Annandale and Seven Corners to make it a more viable option for FFX. But as usual FFX never quite gets it right! It will make Columbia Pike the next Clarendon. Young people are flocking to this area in droves because they have been priced out of DC and other parts of Arlington. They want to raise families where there are good schools and walkable communities with good transit options. Arlington has that and more. The average home value in Arlington has gone up 140% in the last decade. That is because of smart growth, methodical strategic planning, and
      progressive political leadership. Their compass was accurate 20 years ago and its on target today.

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    3. Progressive leadership begins with vision, will of judgement and smart advisers, and comprehensive planning. As you say, I see none of that here in Mason. If you ask everyone's permission you will never get where you need to go and you will never remedy the issues of the day and of the future. Regardless, leaders will not always make everyone happy and they will make mistakes. However, to do nothing and stagnate is worse than any mistake, because ultimately that will piss everyone off. And that is where we are in Mason District.........very pissed off!

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    4. Anon 4:18,
      The only place that is more frustrating to drive through than 7 corners is anywhere in Arlington. A systematic approach to screwing the most used method of transportation is not progressive, smart or a "good transit option". The trolley idea is perhaps the single dumbest idea to hit this area since...well...they got rid of the trolleys in DC.

      I will agree with you that there need to be smart growth. And that current leadership is..um...not smart enough.

      On a separate note, I wish I would have come up with "11 corners". That is funny!

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    5. Trolleys are back to DC, the H Street Trolley is came on line in late spring. You should take a trip to Portland to see how well a trolley system works, its civilized, efficient and a desirable mode of transportation for the the old and the young. The same negative comments were made of the metro 20 some odd years ago.

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  3. and this proposed development on route 7 where the geico is now where they want to add a three building strip mall is going to also just add to traffic problems and the overall cluttered look to the area. what a mess!

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  4. The new committee's first meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 29 in the library of Bailey's Lower Elementary School, 6111 Knollwood Drive, Falls Church, 7 p.m.

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