Residents of the Spring Bank Neighborhood Association finally got to take that long-awaited bus trip this past weekend to see the "example" sites JPI Development Company says it envisions for the Kings Crossing site in Mount Vernon District.
Reactions were mixed.
"Each site we visited we talked about what we liked and didn't like, but most were not JPI sites. Everything we looked at was stick construction. When we got to [JPI's] site, all we saw was residential. All the amenities were for residents. It was not mixed use," said Martin Tillett, a Fairview Drive resident whose property is adjacent to the Kings Crossing site.
"It's safe to say we all found something to be admired at each site and something that we didn't like at each site," said David Dale, president, Spring Bank Neighborhood Association.
The tour of various sites in the Northern Virginia area was designed to ease the concerns of the Spring Bank area residents over the proposed plans to develop the Kings Crossing site on Route 1, now home to Michaels Arts and Crafts Store and Chuck E Cheese. Residents, public officials and Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) hope the space will be used to build a mixed-use development, emphasizing retail and commercial use, with a minimal residential component. The 11-acre site is owned by Archon of Dallas, Tex.
Residents, Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D), SFDC representatives and JPI have held a series of meetings under the aegis of SFDC, attempting to work out differences as to site development plans. The excursion to other sites was to demonstrate JPI's experience in mixed use development.
"We are encouraged and we think progress is being made. We believe we can make a very good mixed use development without the need for any high rise buildings," said Gregg Lamb, senior vice president, JPI.
One of the development suggestions backed by the neighborhood association, SFDC and Hyland is that the site contain at least one high-rise building of mixed use to serve as "a landmark for the area." However, under Fairfax County Building Code no building can be more than 60 feet tall unless it is constructed of steel and concrete. JPI's present plans call for primarily wood construction, known as "stick" construction.
"We still continue to talk about stick construction. We have not committed to any highrise development,” said Lamb. “We have brought in many consultants and land planners trying to educate the community. We don't necessarily agree with them that a high rise is necessary.”
All the most recent dialogue, as well as this past weekend's "bus tour" for Spring Bank residents and others, grew out of the recent meeting at SFDC headquarters. Becky Witsman, executive director, SFDC, characterized the site tour as "a worthwhile expenditure of time."
"Each of the projects had elements we would like to see at Kings Crossing and others that we would not want to see,” Witsman said. “But, we all appreciated that we had the opportunity to view them."
The trip took the group to three sites in Northern Virginia: mixed-use developments at Shirlington, Pentagon Row, and Clarendon, as well as a JPI site in Rockville, Md., known as Jefferson at Congressional Village. The latter is a mixed-use development of residential, retail and commercial. However it emphasizes residential, which the local government wanted, in contrast to the desires of residents and officials for Kings Crossing.
"They still don't seem to be reacting to the mix wanted by the community. But I felt the dialogue at this past meeting was more significant than in the past," Hyland said.
"I thought there was some movement [on the part of JPI.] My impression was that they were willing to go back to the drawing board," he said.
"The goal of these meetings is to discuss, in detail, how to bring the vision for the Kings Crossing site into reality. As part of this collaborative and challenging task, meeting participants all committed to working together to ... meet the goals of the community's vision for the site," Witsman said in her review of the meeting.
"There is a need for more Class-A office space and quality retail businesses along Richmond Highway, but the shape and orientation of this property makes designing the project extremely difficult," she said.
ONE POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH resulting from the tour was JPI's exposure to an existing "green roof" construction in Falls Church. Added at the suggestion of Tillett, the tour visited the environmentally friendly site to explore other developmental possibilities.
"I think it really impressed the JPI people," Dale said. "The object was to show that there was not that much difference in construction costs if green roof construction is built into the original construction. Admittedly, it is expensive if it is done as a retrofit."
Two of the primary stumbling blocks since the outset have been the development of the Fairchild Property, immediately to the rear of the Michaels site, and the ratio of retail/commercial space to residential. Local residents and business owners want more emphasis on retail/commercial while JPI continues to emphasize residential.
"As far as we are concerned, townhouses on the Fairchild property [are] a deal killer," Tillett said.
"They've changed a few things. But, there are still things bugging [residents] and SFDC. The main problem is still the retail/housing mix," he said.
"[JPI] seem to be asking us to tell them how to do it better. They seem to want us to agree to a design. But, they haven't bought into the idea of two tall buildings as part of the overall plan," Tillett said.
Dale agreed with Tillett's assessment of JPI's approach to the Fairchild property. "I don't think our community will support any housing on the Fairchild property," he said.
"It has always been assumed that would be a neighborhood park. But JPI's reaction is that there's going to have to be some things we agree to disagree on," Dale said.
"We have subsequently taken a vote in the community and it turned out unanimously against townhouses on the Fairchild property. That is going to be a major issue. That's not going to fly and I hope they heard us," Dale said.
The other primary issue affecting at least five of the residents along Fairview Drive whose properties back up to the Michaels site is the still-unsettled disposition of damages incurred as a result of a JPI subcontractor bulldozing a path on their properties without prior permission. The incident also damaged a County Resource Protection Area.
Immediately following the late July incident, JPI took full responsibility and offered to reforest the area plus compensate the property owners for damages. However, as of this date neither has occurred.
"The whole thing has become a big irritant. The Mount Vernon Council passed a resolution calling for the replanting to be done by the end of November. As of now, [JPI] have done nothing," Dale said.
"We feel we have given JPI ample time to make a reasonable offer toward compensatory damages. But, they seem to want to get off the hook for the lowest possible price,” Dale said, adding that the affected parties will likely seek legal advice at this point.
Dale said there were three elements involved in correcting the situation — repairing the damage to the land, putting up a fence, and paying compensatory damages. “We have reached agreement on the first two but not the third," Dale said.
"Rather than JPI doing the first two, they decided to make a monetary offer and allow us to do whatever we wanted with the money. However, we felt the amount of the offer was an insult," he said.
"They accepted responsibility but have not acted responsibly. Every day that goes by my respect for JPI deteriorates. The damage to the RPA is indicative of the JPI attitude. It's time for the County to take some legal action on that," Dale said.
ONE OF THE PRIMARY deterrents to a settlement seems to be that JPI has approached several of the affected property owners in an effort to buy their properties. This has split the group into those that are alleged to be entertaining JPI's alleged purchase offer, and those that are not. Dale is in the latter group.
"JPI has sent a potential purchase offer to everyone impacted by the bulldozer incident. But we haven't agreed to anything with JPI," said Gregg Stine, a Fairfield Drive resident.
Several property owners have approached a real estate firm about representing them in potential negotiations with JPI, according to Stine.
As for Lamb, he said, "We have no agreement with any property owners to join the development. If there is no interest in selling to us then we can proceed with the land restoration.
"Nothing has happened because there has been no agreement with the homeowners. We can do landscaping up until the soil actually freezes," he said.