|The working group reviews development options for the Sears site on Route 7.|
The three designs had different amounts of density, different mixes of housing, retail, and offices; and had different layouts – but they weren’t that far apart.
Members of the public who voted on the three concepts at an open house last month didn’t express a clear preference, although the design by Team 1 got slightly more votes, 76, than Team 2 (57 votes) and Team 3 (64 votes). A “no-build option” got 14 votes.
“There were lots of conflicting opinions,” said Joanne Fiebe of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization (OCR). Members of the public generally liked these amenities the most: outdoor café seating, green space, recreational space, and high-quality architectural finishes. Here are the main features of each concept:
Team #1 – This design, named “the Aerie” because this group wants to retain and repurpose the round tower on the Sears building, calls for the tallest buildings lining Route 7 with some first-floor retail and housing above; a plaza at the center of the property; an entertainment complex; townhouses at the rear closest to the single-family houses; and either retaining the existing office building closest to Patrick Henry Drive or putting senior housing at that location.
Team #2 – The design for “the Hollows” calls for two main buildings facing Route 7, ground-floor retail, an interior road winding through the property lined with townhouses, senior housing by Patrick Henry Drive, and lots of green space.
Team #3 – The proposed “Village at Craftsman Heights” would have a park at the rear, a recreational field next to Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for use by the school and community, three major buildings along Route 7, townhouses at the rear, and a community entertainment feature. This plan would have two access points on Route 7, while the other two would only have one.
Members of the working group easily reached a consensus on the elements they prefer from all three teams. They like the idea of senior housing because it fits the demographics of the area and wouldn’t burden the schools.
They also like the athletic field near the school, the highest density on Route 7, townhouses at the rear, an entertainment facility, such as a movie theater; a central plaza; and concentration of retail along a central road with access to Route 7. They also want to make sure that Juniper Road won’t be accessible from the neighborhood.
OCR staff will further refine the concept, figure the square footage of development, and present a detailed plan at the next meeting, on Jan. 20.
Also during the meeting, Ajay Rawat, coordinator of facility planning services for Fairfax County Public Schools, gave a presentation on the methodology used by FCPS to determine how many school-age children any new project is likely to generate.
Many working group members and local residents believe the FCPS formula consistently underestimates the number of students in Mason District, leading to severely overcrowded schools, because it fails to take into account the fact that there are more families in older apartment complexes. “There are twice as many students in Seven Corners than the formula would suggest,” said working group chair Marty Faga.
Rawat noted that FCPS is required to use a single formula across the whole county and cannot use different formulas in different areas. It was later reported that Mason School Board member Sandy Evans is planning to propose a change in the school capacity formula so it better reflects current conditions.
During the public comment period, Ernie Wells, expressed concerns about the impact of higher density on the schools, and suggested the redevelopment plan endorsed by the working group use a more accurate school capacity formula than the one used by FCPS.
Mark Hayes suggested the community should have an opportunity to see the plan in advance of the next meeting. John Iekel, president of the Ravenwood Park Civic Association, expressed concerns about the possibility of increased traffic on Patrick Henry Drive, which already bears 700 vehicles a day.
Debbie Ratliff said she supports lower density and green space next to the school. She also urged the working group maintain the integrity of the Shadeland cul de sac and make sure it doesn’t become a through-street. Opening up that street has never been an issue, Faga said.
Clyde Miller noted that the comprehensive plan can be modified later if a developer comes in with a proposal for a higher-density project. As a result, he suggested making the comprehensive plan amendment for the Sears site as limited and simplified as possible. Setting the development bar very low – with a low level of density – would prevent the county from approving a high-density project, he said.
OCR Director Barbara Byron said if the bar is set too low, developers won’t want to put in as many amenities, so the result won’t be what the community wants.
“The community wants more clarity and transparency, not less,” added working group member Bill Lecos. “Going backwards is absolutely the wrong direction.”
Don Smith, a resident of Juniper Lane, urged the group to consider not allowing higher levels of density and not allowing more development. “Between drowning and hanging the best option is ‘none of the above,’” he said.
That would default to the current zoning for the site, Lecos responded, and without a plan, the result would be piecemeal development.