|The Southeast Quadrant on Columbia Pike.|
The real estate exchange would spur revitalization of a blighted area along Columbia Pike, and Gross said she’s been working on plans to redevelop the Southeast Quadrant since 2002.
In general, the deal calls for Fairfax County to swap land with AvalonBay and purchase the Landmark property next to Radley Acura. If the land swap is approved, AvalonBay would build a 375-unit apartment building on the site of the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, which would be relocated.
A new road would connect Seminary Road with Columbia Pike, and the county would build a new East County Government Center.
Several residents who spoke at the BoS hearing urged the supervisors to reject the land swap. Residents said they support revitalization in the Southeast Quadrant but raised concerns about the relocation of the homeless shelter, the lack of time for public feedback, the lack of transparency, and questioned the need for a new county office building.
Debbie Smith, chair of the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC), asked the supervisors to delay a decision on the land swap “until the community is given a reasonable amount of time to review it.” She said residents only had two business days to examine the land swap since a community meeting last week and still don’t have information on a lot of the details.
Smith called on the county to consider alternative sites for an East County office building, noting that Bailey’s Crossroads has an office vacancy rate of 47 percent and that BoS Chair Sharon Bulova has formed a working group to explore ways to repurpose vacant office buildings. She suggested the county look at the vacant building at 5600 Columbia Pike, where a proposal for an apartment building fell through.
Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, said there’s no reason for VDOT to spend $7 million in road improvements without a traffic analysis showing a new road is needed, there’s no proof that the county needs a new office building, and the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until a permanent location is found.
County officials are negotiating for a temporary site for the shelter until they can find a suitable location for a permanent site that also includes transitional housing for the homeless.
The county has not announced the site of the temporary shelter, pending a final agreement with the landowner, but local residents believe it is on the property of the First Christian Church at 6165 Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners.
Denise Patton told the supervisors she welcomes revitalization but “it’s the nature and quality of the revitalization that is the issue for me.” She questioned why the county wants to build a new office building when Bailey’s Crossroads has such a high office vacancy rate.
Ravenwood Park resident Carol Turner called the land swap “a bad deal for residents and the homeless.” If the new county office building includes a homeless shelter, it might be worth doing, she said. “Otherwise, it’s worthless."
Turner asked Gross if she is going to recuse herself from a decision on the land swap because John Thillman, who had contributed to Gross’ re-election campaigns, is a principal in Landmark Atlantic, which owns the office building the county wants to purchase.
Thillman “doesn’t have any ownership interest in the property we are talking about,” Gross responded.
Al Cobb, who also lives in Ravenwood Park, raised objections to locating a homeless shelter so close to his neighborhood and asked the board to delay a decision until the community is given more information and more time to comment.
Homeless advocate Esther Armstead spoke about the need for housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels and said the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until there is a permanent site for it.
Lake Barcroft resident Larry Golfer said the current deal on the table won’t create the vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community envisioned in the comprehensive plan for Bailey’s Crossroads approved approved by the BoS in 2010.
Jon Clark of Annandale, a member of the MDC board, said “public involvement in this process has not been up to the standards Fairfax County has expressed it would like to maintain.”
Only two people who spoke at the hearing urged the BoS to approve the land swap.
Martin Howell, a representative of AvalonBay, said the land swap agreement is the culmination of three years of work by AvalonBay, county staff, and the former property owner, the Weissberg Corp. He said the proposal calls for an $86 million investment in the community, which would generate $5 million in fees and taxes to the country for the construction of the project and $1 million a year in property taxes.
“This is the worst stretch of road in Fairfax County,” and it’s a blighted area that needs to be developed, said Bill Lecos of Lake Barcroft. “We’ve talked about Bailey’s Crossroads for 10 years. This is the type of redevelopment we’re looking for,” he said. If the project goes forward, this property will be assessed at over $100 million. “One must look at the return on investment. This is an extraordinary opportunity.”