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Votes

Exxon Car Wash Shines for Supervisors

August 8, 2002

On a motion by Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, the Board of Supervisors on Monday voted 8-1 to approve Exxon-Mobil’s plan for a car wash, six more gas pumps, and an “On the Run” convenience store at the McLean intersection where a gas station has operated since 1959. Exxon has operated it since 1973.

Board Chairman Kate Hanley (D) voted no, and Gerry Hyland (Mt. Vernon) was not present. The other supervisors voted yes.

“If we turn it down, I think it would have a chilling effect on the other businesses we’re trying to get to do improvements in downtown McLean,” Mendelsohn said.

Exxon proffered $250,000 to help pay for undergrounding utilities at the central intersection it faces.

Another $250,000 will pay for an enhanced architectural design and brick “streetscape” in front of the station, said attorney Keith Martin, who represented Exxon.

“I just can’t do it, looking at that pile of trash,” Hanley said as she voted against Mendelsohn’s motion. “Nay. That’s it for that one.”

She referred to a photograph of one of 10 service bays at the service station that are now closed. Piled before it were 15 to 20 bags of garbage.

Doug Potts, a resident of Hamptons of McLean who entered the photo into the hearing record, captioned it “Our good neighbor Exxon.”

Potts said he photographed the pile of garbage over the weekend as an example of what the station could be like when it is operated by only two employees.

“There are two guys who run this station,” Potts said. “They just let [the garbage] sit there all day [on Aug. 3 and 4].

By Monday evening, Aug. 5, the pile of garbage had expanded to include even more bags of garbage. One contained an envelope addressed to a residents on Sunny Hill Lane in McLean.

“Our concern is now they’re going to add a mini-mart and a car wash” without adding new employees, he said.

After the hearing, Robert Caserta, the construction project coordinator for Exxon, drove to the station and called a trash hauler to ask why the garbage had not been collected.

He said it was piled behind the station because a dumpster was overflowing because the hauler, a private trash company, had not picked it up as scheduled.

FOUR SPEAKERS OPPOSED Exxon’s request for an amendment for an amendment to a 1993 special exception. Exxon wants to add six additional pumps, an automated car wash enclosed by brick, and a convenience store that will have a smaller footprint that the existing structure. Its 10 service bays were closed by Exxon voluntarily. Now, they will be replaced by a 3,795 square foot “On the Run” convenience store.

“Disgusted is the word for me,” said Jim Peoples, who represented the Bryn Mawr Citizens Association. “There was hope that this particular vote might not be unanimous.”

“Whoever chooses to run as a Republican in Dranesville [in 2003],” he said, will face the ire of four homeowner associations who opposed the car wash.

Bryn Mawr opposed Exxon’s plan. So did the homeowner associations at McLean Mews, Salona Village, and Hamptons of McLean.

The McLean Planning Committee voted unanimously against it, and the McLean Citizens Association opposed it 16-14. Fairfax County’s planning staff recommended against it.

On July 25, the Fairfax County Planning Commission voted to approve the proposal on a vote of 4-3 with one abstention.

Barbara Soderquist, vice president of the McLean Planning Committee, said “The supervisor who appointed all of us [on the McLean Planning Committee] told us many times that if we came to a consensus, he would support us,” she said.

“It was a unanimous vote [of opposition from the MPC] and he didn’t support us,” she said. “That’s unacceptable.”

“I wasn’t here just for me,” Soderquist said. “I was here for 16 people who thought their supervisor was going to do what he promised us.”

MENDELSOHN SAID HE MADE a “difficult” decision to support Exxon even though he disagreed with the MPC.

He acknowledged the group, composed of 16 people appointed to represent homeowner associations, the Chamber of Commerce, downtown landowners, and the McLean Citizens Association, “has guided McLean through revitalization” since the vision of a pedestrian-friendly downtown was first limned in “charettes” in 1996, his first year in office.

“I have always followed their advice on almost every case,” he said.

But on Exxon, he said, he disagrees with the MPC on what will be the fastest route to improving McLean’s downtown.

“Does turning this [proposal] down improve it?” Mendelsohn asked rhetorically. “Or does going forward and getting a design with a streetscape” and the beginning of underground utilities move it forward faster, he asked.

“The car wash has become sort of the major issue,” Mendelsohn said.

But after visiting a similar car wash in Vienna over the weekend, he said, “From the noise point of view, I don’t think that’s an argument,” he said.

“Getting a half million dollars of public improvements warrants the applicant doing something” to justify its investment,” Mendelsohn said.

“I don’t think there’s any question this will improve what’s there.”

“My concern is that if we turned this down, I don’t think we’ll see undergrounding in the near future,” he said.

“That was a done deal before we even got there,” Potts told Martin after the hearing.

“I’m just doing my job,” said Martin, a McLean resident.

POTTS AND OTHER CITIZENS favored mixed retail and office use at the intersection, as provided in the Comprehensive Plan.

He said Exxon could have build a structure that would have allowed them to sell gasoline and have a convenience store, with offices on the second and third stories above.

“Our vision would be that there would be a row of two to three-story townhomes brought up to the road, with mixed retail and restaurants and some outdoor dining” on the first floor, he said.

Soderquist said Exxon had been unresponsive to efforts by the MPC and citizens to negotiate a plan more pleasing to the MPC.

Caserta said the extent of the requirements for Exxon’s design plan went “above and beyond” any of the improvements at its other locations in Fairfax County.

“We tried for a year to obtain support from the community,” he said. “I disagree that we were uncooperative.”

He said “market factors” will determine whether three car washes can thrive at the same intersection: Exxon’s will compete with competing car washes at the Crown station across the street and Embassy car wash on Old Dominion Drive near the Goodyear store.

“You’ll hear more ambient traffic noise” more than the car wash, he said.