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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Seven Corners plan deferred; new committee will look at Sears site

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, Planning Commission member Janet Hall, and Seven Corners Task Force Co-Chair John Thillman at the Lake Barcroft Association meeting.
The Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force will delay its final report, and a new committee made up of community residents will be formed to make recommendations on the redevelopment of the Sears site, Mason Supervisors Penny Gross announced at a meeting of the Lake Barcroft Association Sept. 22.

The committee will be chaired by Martin Faga of Ravenwood, a community representative on the Seven Corners Task Force. Gross will appoint community association presidents to serve on the committee, who would be able to designate someone else if they prefer.

The Sears site as seen from Juniper Lane.
Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings on a Seven Corners amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which had been scheduled for November and December, will be deferred until 2015, Gross said.

A proposal for the Sears site, known as “Area C” in the Seven Corners Task Force plan, that called for a large apartment project, townhouses, and other development on that site generated a huge amount of opposition from people who live nearby. Main areas of concern centered around general traffic congestion, cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets, overcrowded schools, and the fear that the recommended transportation improvements won’t be funded.

Task force co-chair John Thillman, a former member of the Planning Commission, gave an overview of the task force’s work since it was created by Gross in 2012 following a series of “visioning” sessions with the community. The task force spent the first nine months studying the Seven Corners area, including development patterns, allowable densities, public facilities, demographics, socioeconomic characteristic, existing transportation conditions, housing stock, school capacity issues, mass transit needs, and retail trends.

Coming up with a land use proposal for the area involved a multi-hour charette, a planning exercise in which members of the community and professional planners joined task force members in mapping out a redevelopment vision for the three main areas in Seven Corners most likely to be developed first: (1) the area around the Willston Multicultural Center, Willston I and II shopping centers, and the apartments between Route 50 and Wilson Boulevard; (2) the Seven Corners Shopping Center; and (3) the site along Route 7 occupied by Sears and a couple of office buildings.

Because of all the work that went on before, “we all came up with very similar concepts” for those three areas, Thillman said. Following the charette, Fairfax County planning staff produced a more refined plan spelling out possible density levels and building heights in the three areas.

The Seven Corners intersection.
A similar process was undertaken by the task force to develop a transportation improvement plan. After several options were analyzed by county staff and consultants, the task force approved a plan for creating more streets and overpasses over Route 50 and Route 7 to improve the flow around the Seven Corners intersection and improve accessibility to the East Falls Church Metro station.

The process seemed to be going smoothly until a meeting of the Ravenwood Park Citizens’ Association in June, when task force member Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt told residents his company was proposing to build nearly 800 multifamily units on the Sears site. That was much a higher density level than discussed in the charrette, and Thillman said, “the task force never agreed to that.” And that’s when residents of the nearby single-family family neighborhoods began to campaign against the proposal.

When the task force voted among four options for redeveloping the Sears site Sept. 9, they rejected two of them but split between one option calling for up to 415 multifamily units and another calling for 165. Both plans also called for about 110 townhouses and various amounts of retail and office space.

Without a consensus, the task force tabled a decision. A recommendation on the redevelopment of the Sears site will be delayed until the committee of residents sorts out what the community wants.

After the task force submits its final plan, both the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings. Gross expects the Board of Supervisors will consider several motions – eight are being drafted – that address various implementation issues, such as the Route 7 transit study, plans for a new street grid, and coordination with the City of Falls Church.

If the plan is approved, Janet Hall, the Mason representative on the Planning Commission, said, “nothing will change with the zoning.” The plan is a guide for future development, which “may take 40 years or may never happen.”

County planning staff will review developers’ rezoning proposals to determine if they conform to the Comprehensive Plan, Hall said. If they don’t, their proposals will face more hurdles in gaining approval.

At the meeting, several Lake Barcroft residents expressed some anxiety over the possibility that the redevelopment will happen, but there won’t be any money for the transportation improvements. Del. Kaye Kory noted that the General Assembly voted last week to defer state funding to localities for transportation until 2016 in order to address a budget shortfall.

The county hasn’t estimated how much it would cost to put in the three overpasses recommended in the plan or the other road improvements, but it’s likely to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Gross said that the existing pedestrian bridge over Route 50 cost over $5 million. Funding would come from a mix of sources including state funds, local funds, bonds, and proffers from developers.

Thillman said transportation and redevelopment needs to happen in a “reasonable, coordinated way.” He suggested developers could contribute to a “road club” to help pay for some of the road improvements. 

Gross told the audience bond money is available for installing sidewalks all along Route 7 from Seven Corners to Bailey’s Crossroads. But if there is a recommendation for widening Route 7, Ben Cooper asked, wouldn’t that mean the sidewalks will have to be torn down. 

“We can wait until everything is perfect or we can chip away and do what we can when we can,” Gross said. The sidewalk project was in a bond approved by voters. “I’m not willing to wait until everything is perfect before going ahead with what the community wants.”

Several people noted that Seven Corners has been steadily declining for years and agreed that the area needs a lot of new investment.

Affordable housing in Seven Corners.
“The plan is great,” said Richard Dreiman, but what happens if the transportation component isn’t funded, and we end up with “narrow streets and tall buildings”? That would result in more cut-through traffic on the back roads in Lake Barcroft, he said.

Denise Patton blamed the decline of Seven Corners on the large concentration of low-income housing, which makes it difficult to attract higher-quality businesses. She asked whether anything could be done to disperse affordable housing throughout the county.

Gross acknowledged that Mason District has about 15 to 19 percent of all affordable housing in the county, which is more than in the other districts. “In an ideal world it be great if you could disperse the affordable housing so it would perfectly scattered around the county,” Gross said.

The average family income in the Seven Corners study area – which doesn’t include single-family homes in the surrounding area – is $42,000. That compares to a county average of $107,000.

“The big issue is income disparity,” said Thillman. “We need to bring in people with disposable income” to provide more of a balance. Much of the housing around the Willston area is federally subsidized, so if those apartments are torn down, they would have to be replaced with new affordable units. At least three market-rate units need to be built to pay for each new affordable unit, he said.

The county also requires 12 to 15 percent of the units in new developments to be “workforce housing” affordable for households with incomes up to 80 percent of the county average. 

The Seven Corners Shopping Center could be redeveloped at twice the current density under its current zoning, Thillman said. Instead, the task force is proposing more residential development in that spot with retail on the ground floor. 

The Seven Corners Shopping Center.
“Unless we bring in market-rate housing nothing else will be developed,” Thillman said. The right kind of residential development could bring in half a billion dollars in new investment in that area.
Other residents talked about the need for bold, innovative design for the area and a “fundamental clear concept” for what should happen in Seven Corners. One resident urged the task force to look at the 2012 study by the Urban Land Institute that proposed an elevated park and other creative ideas.

Finally, residents complained that the county and Lake Barcroft Association haven’t done enough to inform people about the Seven Corners meetings. Gross said she’s put out information in newsletters and other publications but people ignore them.

People don’t come to meetings because they don’t think anyone will pay attention to what they have to say, one resident said. Residents do have a voice, Lake Barcroft Association President James Kilbourne, who noted the plan for 800 units Sears site was shot down.


  1. Terrific article. This is a difficult project and will require better leadership than Penny Gross can offer. The comment that residents feel powerless eloquently summarizes this situation. Supervisor Gross has never engaged her constituents, preferring to remain in her office and be led by Chairman Bulova. The notion that residents will be motivated by "newsletters and publications" is particularly telling. It's a supervisor's responsibility to reach out to constituents. That may require knocking on doors and making more of an effort to be accessible. In contrast, Gross often doesn't even bother to answer her emails. Mason District is changing rapidly and requires better leadership to keep up.

    1. Agreed. Great leadership will help Mason District really revitalize. We lack positive leadership that educates and engages with the community.

      Is Penny really suggesting that we pay for new sidewalks all the way from Bailey's to Seven Corners, then a few years later, tear them out to widen Route 7?

      "“We can wait until everything is perfect or we can chip away and do what we can when we can,” Gross said."

      Chip away? Do what we can when we can? That sounds like playing whack-a-mole, not leadership.

      How about a true vision and a path to that vision?

  2. I am so glad to hear that clearer heads have prevailed to take a step back and focus on the immediate issue of the Sears site. I am also glad to hear about the intention to have more community representation in the planning process. It is the surrounding neighborhood communities that drive much of the retail revenue in seven corners. I also agree that Mason District deserves better leadership than Penny Gross has offered us these past several years.

  3. Note quite sure why residents feel the Lake Barcroft Association (LBA) hasn't done enough to inform them on this issue? 1) It is not their job and 2) nor should they (LBA) speak on behalf for all of Lake Barcroft on this matter (was there a majority vote in the community on this issue)

    1. Community Associations like LBA have a much louder voice with the BOS and the Planning Commission than individuals. That's just the way it is.

      Furthermore, it is the community association's job to inform the community and represent them with local government on important issues like this. LBA is a very tight community with means of communication with and education of its very active population.

  4. Gross acknowledged that Mason District has about 15 to 19 percent of all affordable housing in the county, which is more than in the other districts etc..

    Trying to my due diligence here but have been unable to locate any official source where it is reported that 15-19% of affordable housing is located in n the Mason District. IMO, seems closer to the 19% or more than lesser amount . In any event if someone could provide a link where i can obtain that information I would certainly appreciate it. Thanks in advance

  5. The comments made by Denise Patton are spot on. This area will continue to deteriorate unless there is change. That is the truth. The Mason District can no longer be the dumping ground for affordable housing. This model is broke and counter productive. Ms. Gross sounds defeated and resigned that this is the way it is and will be for the Mason District with her "ideal world: comment. Residents deserve better. There is vibrant growth going on all around the area and why doesn't it happen here? Oh right we are not near a Metro.. yeah that's it right... as I read that more than 1,000 children apprehended by immigration authorities have poured into Fairfax County this year Fairfax County has received 1,023 children, the sixth-largest total of any county in the nation. Let me go out on a limb here and say they probably didn't get placed in Great Falls.

    1. Mason District has resigned itself to spiraling down deterioration. At this time it is probably irreversible by the current leadership unless draconian measure are taken. NO ONE in FFX County has that political will!

  6. Perhaps there is enough "affordable" housing in this area! Actually, what is needed is luxury large space housing! Any approved planing must have space for a new school building, as well as parks, bike trails, etc. All projects, as planned are massive!

  7. "Gross expects the Board of Supervisors will consider several motions – eight are being drafted – that address various implementation issues, such as the Route 7 transit study, plans for a new street grid, and coordination with the City of Falls Church."

    Can someone clarify what these 8 implementation motions are and where they're coming from (who is authoring them and what are the resources)?

  8. Who's that sleeping at the table?

    1. LOL - she is a beast though as Ms. Gross wins election after election. She gets the votes and has been doing so since 1995. She probably could sit at that meeting waiving her middle finger in the air and still get the votes.

  9. What a disaster, why did I ever decide to buy a house and live here! This place is a disaster.

  10. Penny Gross represents the very best that Annandale has to offer: sex trafficking, Korean organized crime, gangs, schools with downgraded accredidation, etc.:

    Organized Crime:

    Sex Trafficking:

    MS-13 and gangs:

    EDVA Brothel from Washington Post:

    and, the high school with the lowest rating in the county:

    And whose accreditation was just downgraded:

    Yup. Mason District's taken a dump.

  11. Yes, Mason District deserves better representation and leadership than we are getting from Penny Gross. We can challenge that at the ballot box. Is there any appetite out there for a LRP (Let's Replace Penny) committee?

    1. Good Luck with that, Penny has been WINNING since 1995. Don't get me wrong, I agree new leadership is required across the board starting with Ms. Gross, but I have seen this call to action before and nothing happens.

    2. she keeps winning as developers keep giving her money. someone does need to run and we should maybe start with buying some URLs like and then recruit someone good to run

  12. Why would anyone invest in a home purchase when Stuart High School is "on warning" for losing accreditation! I believe strongly in public education, but this is a disgrace! Renters come and go and more high rise apts. are not the asker to upgrading the area!