|Chick-fil-A's design for a proposed restaurant in Annandale.|
During a Planning Commission discussion July 8 on the proposal for a Chik-fil-A restaurant, at-large commissioner James Hart raised concerns that a stand-alone fast-food restaurant on Little River Turnpike does not meet the vision spelled out in the Annandale Comprehensive Plan.
The commission easily endorsed the project and sent it on to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to have a hearing on it Jan. 14.
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The proposal includes an “interparcel connection” that allows people to access the restaurant from the Speedway gas station next door. That provision had raised concerns among members of the Mason District Land Use Committee in November.
The Planning Commission tacked on several development conditions, including a requirement for trees along the street, instead of small shrubs, if VDOT approves.
While all the commissioners present at the meeting voted to support the project, Hart abstained.
He noted that the ambitious comprehensive plan for Annandale, which was approved in 2010 with community input, envisioned a transformation of Little River Turnpike into a “grand, elegant boulevard with shops and restaurants lining the street” and pedestrian-oriented development. “Citizens were hopeful that that is the vision we would see,” he said.
In contrast, the drive-through Chik-fil-A restaurant epitomizes the type of automobile development discouraged in the Annandale plan.
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Pedestrian-oriented development is being successfully implemented in Reston and Tysons and is happening more slowly along Route 1, Hart says, but “in Annandale we missed the mark. Even though the real estate market is strong, that vision has not materialized.”
“It may be that we miscalculated,” he said. “It may be that transit has to be part of the equation in order to have mixed-use development.”
“What we have now is a very ambitious plan for this grand boulevard that doesn’t seem to be happening and may not be as viable or as realistic” as initially hoped, Hart said.
“That presents a dilemma for us,” he said. “What are we going to do in Annandale next time something comes along? Are we going to get another automobile-oriented free-standing fast-food drive-through which is exactly what we didn’t want and what I think the plan discourages?”
Approval of this project sets a precedent that the vision for Annandale in the Comprehensive Plan isn’t realistic and needn’t be followed, he warned. Once a single-story project like Chik-fil-A is approved in the middle of a block, that removes any possibility that a larger, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use project can happen in that space.
“It’s certainly better than what’s there,” Hart said. “We have a junky site with rickety dilapidated buildings that are an eyesore, and the community would like to get rid of them.” But what’s replacing those buildings is a one-story fast food restaurant. “We’re not getting a grand boulevard.”
“Once we bust the plan here, what do we do in Annandale henceforth? Do we just keep busting the plan?” Hart said. Once this project is allowed to happen, it will make it hard to stick to the plan everywhere. “The citizens have an expectation. We put such effort into creating the plan text that we ought not take it lightly.”