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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Seven Corners Working Group agrees on broad concept for Sears site

A rough sketch of the Sears site. Leesburg Pike is on top. Red = multifamily housing, blue = office, orange = entertainment, and yellow = senior housing. [OCR]
The Special Working Group on the Sears site in Seven Corners made some progress toward coming up with a plan amendment to guide future development – although there was some disagreement over the mix of uses.

Most of the group members at the Jan. 20 meeting said they wanted less housing than outlined in the draft plan, although they didn’t object to the overall density.

The draft plan calls for the following square footage for the different uses: 40,000 for retail, 45,000 for entertainment, 25,000 for office, 390,000 for multifamily (390 units), 85,000 for town homes, and 100,000 for senior housing (100 units).

Staff from the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization (OCR) had created a rough map of what is known as Opportunity Area C, which is currently occupied by the Sears department store and two office buildings on Leesburg Pike.

That proposal, based on previous discussions by the working group, a design workshop, and comments from the public, calls for three six-story buildings along Route 7 with retail on the ground floor and multifamily housing or offices on the upper floors.

There would be an entertainment center, which would most likely be a movie theater; a multifamily building for older adults on Route 7 between Juniper Lane and Patrick Henry Drive; townhouses at the rear of the property closest to the existing single-family neighborhoods; a park next to Bailey’s Upper Elementary School; and another pocket park on the north side of Juniper. 

A market analysis by Jones Lang LaSalle for OCR found the mix and amount of development in the draft is realistic in terms of what a developer would find economically feasible. JLL estimated the current value of the site at $22-$24 million, while the market development land value would need to be $27-$28 million. That leaves a gap of about $4 million, which JLL says could be addressed by adding more housing.

The Working Group has proposed draft language for a comprehensive plan amendment outlining a basic framework for redeveloping the area. Among the basic elements of the plan:
  • The tallest buildings should face Route 7 and taper off with buildings of no more than three stories next to the existing neighborhood.
  • A new internal road system would be added within Area C.
  • Juniper Lane would not be reconfigured, and Shadeland Drive would not be connected to the new development.
  • Urban design guidelines would address the streetscape and the design of buildings.
  • Auto-oriented uses would be discouraged.
  • A certain percentage of the housing would be affordable units.
  • The park next to the school would be shared by students and the community.
Several local residents who offered comments to the working group said they like the mixed-use aspect of the plan. Residents suggested the following changes: Address phasing so at least some of the transportation planning is done before the area is rezoned; reduce building heights; strengthen the language on barriers and screening from the existing neighborhood; and don’t isolate the senior housing.

School board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) urged the working group to recognize the need for more school capacity and support the school board’s request to use the Willston Center property for a new school. The draft plan language calls for developers and the county to work with the community and Fairfax County Public Schools during the zoning process to identify solutions to the impact of redevelopment on school capacity.

Last year, Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt urged the Seven Corners Task Force to endorse his company’s concept for building 748 apartments on the site and said anything less than that wouldn’t be feasible.

On June 20,  Scott Adams of McGuire Woods, who represents Foulger-Pratt, said what the working group is proposing is “a high-quality development that could work for us and the community.” Adams said he’s optimistic about the plan, but might want to “tweak some numbers” to add more housing.

Marty Machowsky, a member of the Ravenwood Park Citizens’ Association board, argued for reducing the multifamily housing by 50,000 square feet and the senior housing by half, adding more retail, and including professional offices with the senior housing. Under the draft plan, 85 percent of the square footage would be housing, which he said isn’t truly mixed use. 

Catriona McCormick (Ravenwood) suggested cutting about 100 multifamily units and adding more office space. Margaret van Voast (Seven Oaks II) also proposed reducing the number of multifamily units and townhouses and integrating the senior housing with the rest of the development.

Bill Lecos (Lake Barcroft) agreed there could be less residential and more office space. Having an  entertainment center is important for creating vibrant streets, he said, but suggested that 45,000 square feet for that use might be too much.

Lecos also said the plan is consistent with what the public said they wanted at the open house and other meetings, noting, “We’re in the realm of the reasonable.”

Duane Morse (Sleepy Hollow Manor) said he supports the mix of uses in the plan. The area needs enough housing to provide clientele for the businesses, he said, and too much office space, which would be vacant on weekends and evenings, would detract from what should be a vibrant community.

Special Working Group chair Marty Faga raised concerns that cutting too much housing might make the site economically unworkable – with the result that nothing would happen. If the group fails to come up with a plan amendment, the current property owners could develop by-right projects under the current zoning.

If the site is developed on a parcel by parcel basis, “you won’t get the elements people want, such as parks,” Lecos said.

Faga said he will work with the OCR staff to further refine the plan, reducing residential uses but not the overall density, before the group’s final meeting on Feb. 5. The Special Working Group’s proposal would then be integrated into the plan amendment proposed by the Seven Corners Task Force and presented to the Planning Commission. 


  1. "School board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) urged the working group to recognize the need for more school capacity and urged it to support the school board’s request to use the Willston Center property for a new school."

    Can language this specific be included in the SWG's recommendations for the plan amendment?

    1. The special working group is specifically tasked with making recommendations about the development of the Sears site. The Willston Center clearly isn't a part of that property. The disposition of the Sears site is already controversial enough without linking it to an increasingly hot button issue like the Willston site. The future of the Sears property can be decided without reference to Willston. Accordingly, the special working group would be well advised to disregard Sandy Evans and focus on the specific task for which it was convened. Sandy Evans' efforts to politicize the special working group's deliberations is characteristic of the irresponsibility she has demonstrated throughout her term on the school board. It's time for her to be replaced. - Tom

    2. Whoa slow down Tom, you are making too much sense.

    3. The current proposal would add hundreds of new apartments and townhouses and thousands of new residents at the Sears site. The new residents will have kids, and they will attend local schools that are already near or over capacity. We need to think about school capacity *before* we plan any massive new residential developments.

    4. "The special working group is specifically tasked with making recommendations about the development of the Sears site. The Willston Center clearly isn't a part of that property." Tom, for a developer, you sure have a hard time grasping the concept of comprehensive planning. - Joe

  2. Who said Tom is a "developer"? I don't know either Joe or Tom, but Joe's comment is reflective of an immature, arrogant, ignorant person.

    First, simply because a person expresses views you don't agree with does not give you the right to label someone as something that is supposed to be despised.

    Tom is a "developer." Is that like being part of the 1% Joe?

    Second, labeling and demeaning others because of their line of work and the way they make a living is a trait of those who want to cause division and animosity in their communities. Those people who want to demonize developers for building things they don't want where they don't want them need to grow up and act as adults.

    Finally, Sandy Evans has made it crystal clear she and the Superintendent want to take the Willston Center back from the County.

    It is far from clear whether Sandy Evans actions here are helping her cause or making her a pain in the neck to others, and a subject of ridicule in public and private.

    1. "Tom" might not be a developer, but he is certainly a blowhard on their behalf.

      Whatever the merits of Sandy Evans proposals, her motives are clearly in line with the parents and children. She is beyond reproach.

      But I'm sure Avalon Bay and Atlantic Properties will find much to ridicule in her efforts. Their motives very clear.

      If they and Penny had not screwed this up from the very beginning, we might have had chance of aligning business interests with the community.

      As it stands, there is little trust left in the process.

    2. No elected official is "beyond reproach." Especially one who wraps her demands in claims it is all for the children.

      You are right there is little trust left in the process.

      The reason for the demands coming out now for a school on the Willston Center and against the Avalon Bay development that would include a new school is transparent.

      There are many people opposed to moving the homeless shelter on the Moncure site to a much more modern setting where services that meet the needs of the homeless can be centralized, such as in the proposed East County Office Building.

      Many people are opposed to any development on the Moncure site that would result in a move in the homeless shelter.

      And these critics wrap their criticisms in the protective wrapping that they are pursuing this for the children so they can feel self-righteous while they criticize the developers.

    3. i don't criticize the developers. they're profit machines. nothing wrong with that. atlantic propertys and avalon bay are doing what what real estate developers does. nothing to criticize. but definitely something for the neighborhood to be wary of.

      i will criticize gross for not carrying out her responsibility to transparently shape the direction of development.

      she blew it. form matters. people are pissed. she's shown little sympathy and less grace with her condescending and arrogant response to recent criticism. not sure there is any chance to reset this and start over.

      and she's got no one to blame but herself.

  3. Where are all these apt. dwellers going to hang out during warmish weather! There is not enough open green space in this plan! They will leave the area for some fresh air! Where is a bike path? play area for adults and kids?