|Ernie Wells looks at maps of proposed Seven Corners redevelopment concepts at a community meeting at Bailey's Elementary School.|
Local residents and school officials have been calling for a school at the Willston site for the past few years, and there’s also been some discussion about a community school there that also includes various health and social services.
Gross said she’s been meeting with county and Fairfax County Public Schools officials about a facility that could include a preschool, a variety of family services, and the organizations currently housed in the Willston Multicultural Center. “Is the Willston Center the best site? I don’t know,” she said.
A proposed East County Office Building, which had been under consideration for the Willston Center site, is now “in abeyance,” said Elizabeth Hagg of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization.
There are also ongoing discussions about how a public facility will fit into Seven Corners redevelopment, whether it’s the East County Office Building or not, Gross said, adding, “We’re looking at sites” for the office building.
About 80 residents attended the community dialogue on Seven Corners hosted by Gross, which was designed to give people a chance to comment on the redevelopment proposals agreed to by the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force, which wrapped up its work last fall, and the draft recommendations from the Special Working Group for Area C (the Sears site).
The task force plan calls for mixed-use redevelopment, including apartments, retail, and green space based on a village concept and a transportation improvement plan aimed at reducing traffic congestion. The transportation plan calls for a ring road around the Seven Corners interchange, new streets to give drivers more alternatives for getting through the intersection, and more connections to make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate the area.
The task forced failed to reach a consensus for Area C (which includes Sears and the two office buildings on either side), so Gross appointed the Special Working Group to develop a plan for that site. The recommendations of both groups will be incorporated into a comprehensive plan amendment, which will be considered by the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
Too much density?
Some residents, who spoke at the meeting said they’re generally happy with the proposals on the table because they call for less residential density than early versions, while other people said the plans would still add too much housing to an already-congested area.
Jim Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft Association said the Special Working Group’s current plan for the Sears site is “a vast improvement” over what the task force was talking about last spring – there would be less residential development, more mixed use, and more green space – although traffic and overcrowded schools are still major concerns.
Christopher Bell spoke in support of redevelopment, noting it would lead to increased property values and more amenities, but also expressed concerns about the possibility of increased traffic on neighborhood streets. Lake Barcroft resident Sarah Mattingly said she supports the Working Group’s plan, noting, “It’s not perfect, but we have come a long way.”
At the Working Group’s last meeting Feb. 5, members agreed to reduce the amount of residential development from 85 percent of the Sears site to 79 percent. As it stands now, the draft calls for 375 multifamily units, 72 townhouses, 40,000 square feet of retail, 50,000 square feet of office space, and 45,000 square feet for entertainment uses. The group plans to have one more meeting to finalize a plan.
Whether that’s an improvement depends on where the starting point is. When the group held a design workshop, residential density was at 54 percent, said Debbie Ratliff. At the open house last fall, no option had more 70 percent, and now it’s at nearly 80 percent, she said. “That’s not an improvement,” she said.
The proposed density for the entire Seven Corners area is “gargantuan” and “off the charts,” said Debbie Smith of Ravenwood. She said the proposal would result in a lot more residential units than planned in other, smaller revitalization areas, such as Reston Town Center and Springfield. And, unlike those areas, Seven Corners isn’t close to Metro.
In response to a concern raised by Parklawn resident Mollie Loeffler about the need to address overcrowded schools, Gross noted that the Seven Corners revitalization plan has a 40-year time frame and said, “we know additional schools must be built.”
Mike Cook, who works with the Vietnamese Resettlement Association, which is based at the Willston Center, said he is worried that redevelopment will result in the loss of low-income housing in Seven Corners.
Gross that she directed the task force to ensure that if new housing is built, it must include the same number of low-income units, 585, that are there now. Developers would also be encouraged to include additional affordable units.
Catriona McCormack, president of the Ravenwood Civic Association and a member of the Special Working Group on the Sears site, said there should have been more opportunities for community input for the other Seven Corners areas.
The traffic mess
Mason is already the most densely populated district and has the most overcrowded schools, said Ravenwood resident Don Smith, charging the proposed redevelopment would make it all worse.
He noted that a letter from VDOT Land Development Program Manager Paul Kraucunas raises lots of questions over whether the transportation proposals are even feasible – plus there’s no cost estimate for the transportation improvements or an indication of where the funds will come from.
Gross said implementing the changes for the Seven Corners interchange would cost “well over $100 million” and would be implemented “at some distance in the future.” Funding would come from a mix of county and state sources.
Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said the Board of Supervisors authorized $3 million to begin a study of the Seven Corners intersection. Once that study is completed, the county would identify specific projects and seek funding. The proposed ring road would be phased in, he said, with the first improvements coming on line in 10 to 15 years.
In response to a request from an audience member to put the traffic improvements in place before redevelopment happens, Gross said, “we don’t spend money on transportation plans before the Board of Supervisors approves the comprehensive plan. That would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”