|Fairfax County staff and members of the Mason District Land Use Committee discuss Seven Corners.|
Residents are concerned the plan would allow too much residential density, that there is no funding for the transportation improvements, and that there weren’t enough opportunities for community input.
Meanwhile, seven neighborhood leaders signed a letter to Mason Supervisor Penny Gross requesting an additional review of the Seven Corners plan with more community participation. [See the end of this post for the full text of that letter.]
Debbie Smith, vice chair of the Mason District Council of Community Associations, told the MDLUC the council has “huge concerns” about the Task Force recommendations for Areas A and B (compromising the Willston area and Seven Corners Shopping Center). Smith contends there are no comparable, large revitalization areas in Fairfax County that aren’t close to Metro.
Bernie Suchicital, of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, called that comparison “apples to oranges,” noting Seven Corners is at the nexus of major highways [Route 50, Route 7, and Wilson Boulevard].
Seven Corners resident Mark Hayes complained that county staff had been working on a new East County Office Building for the Willston site for the past few years but those plans weren’t shared with the task force or community. Meanwhile, the school board and community have been calling for a school on that site.
“We’re looking at an educational use at Willston,” Suchicital said, but new alternatives can’t be addressed in the staff report on the Seven Corners plan amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. [According to Gross, the new county office building won’t be located at Willston.]
Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, listed a series of other concerns: “extreme high density” with 5,500 new apartments, resulting in an additional 13,000 to 15,000 residents; the demolition of 589 low-income housing units; an insufficient road network that would result in cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets; and no money for transportation improvements. “This is unrealistic,” he said.
Suchicital said developers would be expected to pay for new proposed street grids within their property and would be required to contribute to improvements on Route 7. The details would be established during the proffer negotiation process.
Miller called it misleading for the county to say the low-income housing would be replaced on a one-to-one basis. The units that would be demolished are currently affordable for households with incomes as low 60 percent of the area median income. The replacement housing would be designed for households with a range of incomes – including some much higher – but would still be considered affordable.
Joanne Fiebe, a planner with the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization, said some rents for some of the existing housing in the Willston area low because the owner is receiving a tax credit. Other existing housing has market-rate rents that are low because of the age and condition of the apartments.
Miller was also concerned that one of the new roads in the plan, connecting Route 50 with Wilson Boulevard, would go through an existing shopping center whose owner was not involved in the task force. The original plan for a “ring road” around the Seven Corners intersection is now a partial ring, he noted, because of opposition by the City of Falls Church.
Seven Corners resident Doug Smith said the proposal for the Seven Corners intersection is overly complicated, would cost more than $100 million to implement, and there is no money for the work. As a result, new apartments might be built, while the road improvements may or may not happen. “That is tremendously unsettling,” he said.
The plan is a guide for future development, Suchicital explained. Kris Morley-Nikfar of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, added there are options for phasing in the transportation improvements when the land become available.
According to Miller, the task force only allowed public comment at a few of its meetings, and the community didn’t become aware of the “magnitude of density” in the plan until the task force was nearly finished.
If the Seven Corners plan has a 40-year timetable, there is no rush to get it approved by the Board of Supervisors, said Carol Turner. So there is plenty of time for more community input.
“We’ve been working on this since 2011,” said Fiebe. “It’s truly innovative. It sets the stage for an incredible future for Seven Corners. We don’t know how it can be improved.” When a developer comes in with specific concept, the plan will be refined during the rezoning and site plan processes, she said.
The letter to Gross seeking more community involvement was signed by George Fitchko, acting president of the Buffalo Hill Neighborhood Association; John Iekel, president of the Ravenwood Park Citizens Association; Jim Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft Association; Catriona McCormack, president of the Ravenwood Neighborhood Association; Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association; Caroline Morel, president of the Sleepy Hollow Manor Citizens Association; and Debbie Smith and Carol Turner of the Mason District Council of Civic Associations.
Here is the complete text of the letter:
“We are writing to you as representatives of Seven Corners neighborhoods that will be directly and disproportionately affected by the proposed Seven Corners redevelopment. We share your desire to see Seven Corners revitalized. We believe that the Special Working Group you created established an efficient, community-led process that resulted in significant improvements to the Task Force’s original recommendations for Opportunity Area C.
“Our communities have multiple, similar concerns about the Task Force’s recommendations for Opportunity Areas A and B, concerns which we have expressed over the past year. We urge you to establish a similar community process for improving the redevelopment plans for Opportunity Areas A and B before moving the proposal forward.
“The Task Force’s vision of a walkable, bikeable, “village” atmosphere with trees, bike lanes, community-serving retail and outdoor dining space is very attractive to us. We believe that the Special Working Group, made up entirely of community representatives, significantly improved the initial recommendations made by the Task Force for the Sears site. Those improvements include:
• increasing the amount of green space, including recommending placement of a park next to the urban school so that school children may have access to green space that is lacking on the school property
• increasing the amount of community-serving retail and office space
• increasing the amount of community-serving park and plaza space
• recommending entertainment space
• reducing overall residential density
• recommending language to address concerns regarding traffic impact on established neighborhoods.
“The process undertaken by, and the results of, the Special Working Group strongly suggest to us that it is possible – indeed, imperative - to respond to community concerns, improve the recommendations of the Task Force, and maintain the economic viability of the redevelopment plans.
“We understand that you have been told that there was Task Force and community consensus regarding the redevelopment plans for all parts of the redevelopment area except the Sears site. We respectfully, and strenuously, disagree. Throughout the Task Force process, and at the time that you established the community-led Special Working Group, our communities pointed out concerns regarding the Task Force recommendations for Opportunity Areas A, B and C:
• appropriate density of redevelopment, including residential and commercial square footage
• sufficiency of community-serving retail
• adequacy and timing of transportation improvements to accommodate existing and projected traffic
• green space, tree cover, and environmental amenities
• infrastructure, including, but not limited to, schools, to support additional density and residents
• affordable housing.
“We greatly appreciate your approach to Opportunity Area C, establishing the community-driven Special Working Group, which resulted in meaningful improvements and significant additional community support for the plans for the Sears site. We urge you to create a similar process to facilitate improvements to the Task Force recommendations for Opportunity Areas A and B prior to formal consideration and approval of the Task Force’s recommendations for amendments to the Comprehensive Plan.”