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Friday, February 6, 2015

Sears Working Group agrees to draft plan for redevelopment

Friday afternoon traffic on Route 7.
Members of the Special Working Group for the Sears site began their final scheduled meeting Feb. 5 not sure if they’d ever reach a consensus. By the end of the meeting, three and a-half hours later, they had agreed to a draft plan outlining the amount of density and mix of uses for “Opportunity Area C” in Seven Corners, which includes Sears and two office buildings on Leesburg Pike.

The working group revised a proposal discussed at a previous meeting, agreeing to reduce the amount of multifamily housing and add more townhouses and more office space.

The group agreed to reduce the overall percentage of housing from 85 percent to 79 percent of the total development. The draft calls for a total of 654,000 square feet of new development, including 135,000 for non-residential development, with 375 multifamily units and 72 townhouses.

The nonresidential uses would include 40,000 square feet of retail, 50,000 square feet of office space, and 45,000 square feet for a movie theater or other entertainment facility. The office space would be targeted to health-related uses. While office buildings aren’t considered economically viable in Fairfax County – with the exception of offices near Metro – there is a market for medical offices.

“We made a lot of progress,” said Bill Lecos of Lake Barcroft. “We moved from absolute conflict” to a point where the developer is revising the number of units he can live with. “We’re in the ballpark now.”

Dick Knapp, the senior vice president of Foulger-Pratt, one of two landowners in Area C and a potential developer of the site, had initially told the working group that anything less than 390 multifamily units wouldn’t be economically feasible. Last night, however, he agreed to reduce the number of apartments and add more townhouses – and also switch the 100 units of senior housing that the working group had previously considered to market-rate apartments.

According to Knapp, the apartments should be open to people of all ages but would probably attract a lot of older people wanting to downsize. “Age-restricted housing has a dampening effect on redevelopment,”  he said, and won’t attract the type of “lifestyle restaurants and shops” the community wants.

Joanne Fiebe, a planner with the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization, said staff will develop a written report and illustration based on the draft numbers agreed to by the Working Group before a Feb. 19 community meeting on Seven Corners revitalization scheduled by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross. That meeting will cover the work of the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force, as well as the Special Working Group on the Sears site.

The Feb. 19 meeting will give the Working Group another opportunity to hear from the public, said chair Marty Faga. He plans to ask Gross to convene another meeting of the group after Feb. 19 to approve a final recommendation.

The final reports of both groups are expected to be presented to the Fairfax County Planning Commission in the form of a proposed amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Most of the Special Working Group members represent neighborhoods close to the Sears site. At the Feb. 5 meeting, they discussed the concerns they’ve heard from their communities.

Lecos said Lake Barcroft residents want more green space, environmental sustainability, and small shops and restaurants where people can engage and do not want big-box retail.

Sleepy Hollow Manor is generally supportive of the redevelopment plan and would like the working group to have one more meeting and give residents another chance to comment on it, said Duane Morse. 

Jan Keyes of Sleepy Hollow said the Seven Corners transportation infrastructure needs to be fixed before there is new development. She called for more open space and more owner-occupied housing. Margaret Van Voast of Seven Oaks II said her biggest concern is traffic and prefers more townhouses and fewer apartments.

Catriona McCormack of Ravenwood said more than 400 people signed a petition expressing concern with too much density in Seven Corners, which would have a negative impact on traffic and schools – and never received an acknowledgement from Gross. Ravenwood wants community-serving offices and likes the proposed park next to Bailey’s Upper Elementary School, she said.

Marty Machowsky of Ravenwood Park said residents want to explore ways to retain access from Juniper Lane to Route 7 to ensure that Patrick Henry Drive doesn’t get more congested than it already is.

Kris Morley-Nikfar of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said FCDOT will conduct a study of those roads – and noted it’s surprising that this issue is coming since up to now there had been a consistent message from residents opposing any connections to the new development from Juniper.

The working group agreed to keep this section of the plan open for now; it should be resolved before the rezoning process.

Machowsky also expressed concern with the overall density for the site. He suggested keeping the maximum amount of development really low – and letting developers decide whether they could work within that framework or propose another plan amendment. Other group members suggested that just setting broad guidelines won’t result in the amenities residents want.

Several local residents who spoke at the Feb. 5 meeting called on the Working Group to ensure a balanced mix of uses – and not have too much housing.

“We had great hopes in the Sears Working Group,” said Tina Trapnell, a former Mason District supervisor who lives in Lake Barcroft. Referring to the earlier discussion about having 85 percent of development consist of housing, she said, “that is not what the community wants. The community wants more of a say. This should be a partnership. If you approve 85 percent residential, the community will feel betrayed.”

A couple of people questioned the validity of an economic analysis done by Jones Lang LaSalle. That study found the current value of the property on Area C is $23 million and that the value of the site after development would need to be at least $4.5 million above that in order for redevelopment to be economically feasible.

Several residents recommended extending the working group’s deadline to give residents more time to respond. Faga noted that Gross would have to approve an extension.

Other concerns brought by up residents: Include more retail, services for the community, green space, and pedestrian connections; delay development until the transportation infrastructure is improved; and include more owner-occupied homes and fewer rentals.

The Working Group did not discuss a proposal from Fairfax County Public Schools revising language in the Comprehensive Plan to address school capacity.


  1. We've been Dick Knapped!

    1. Who could have seen this coming? Pretty much everyone who's been to these meetings.

      Now watch Gross claim this process somehow seriously represents the will and interest of the community. Ask someone who was there. Then hear how Gross inevitably repackages the workshop to dismiss growing community objections.

      I wish there was video of the last 30 minutes of the meeting where Dick Knapp tells everyone how it's going to be.

      There is hope that even the most skeptical are now convinced this visioning process was never a serious attempt to engage the community, but rather a smokescreen for the developers.

      It'll be a running battle until November.

    2. we are all sure that supervisor gross will claim this. she has no shame.

  2. "Bill Lecos said Lake Barcroft residents want more green space, environmental sustainability, and small shops and restaurants where people can engage and do not want big-box retail."

    We have no control over what kind of retail stores will go in any redevelopment. Big-box and discount stores could go in under existing zoning or under the draft plan. The only guarantee under the draft plan is that we will have hundreds of new apartments and thousands of new residents and cars.

    1. With the state of retail, I say we are more likely to see the emergence of third-world street hawkers selling goods to motorists as they creep and stop through one of the worst traffic design fails in the country.

    2. At least stalled motorists will be able to stare out the window at the "green space" planned for the Sears site while they wait to inch up toward 7 Corners.

  3. The last part of the meeting devolved into a feeding frenzy by the developer.

  4. Jeez--Eeyore is an optimist compared to you guys.

  5. Were you at the meeting?

    1. Is the sky falling?

  6. Just stay calm.

    No need to pay any attention. Dick Knapp is here; and he's here to help. I know it's hard to understand, but he's going to make sure everything works out for benefit of our community. Because he's a professional. That's what he does for a living. He helps communities.

    Now just sit back, relax, and enjoy.

  7. The solution is simple: Tell Gerry Connolly (or whoever your Congressman is) that you want him/her to enforce our immigration laws.