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Seneca Development Snarls Loom

Commercial and residential development along Seneca Road raise trafic fears among ressidents.

Great Falls residents living along Seneca Road have been expressing exasperation over the intersection at Georgetown Pike for years. With the impending development of Seneca II Plaza and rumors that several hundred acres of farmland at the end of the road are poised to be offered for sale and turned into housing, some homeowners along that stretch of road are bracing for the worst.

In the works is a Route 7 improvement plan that will widen Route 7 to four lanes from Rolling Holly to Reston Parkway and would create a traffic light at the Seneca Rd., and Georgetown Pike intersection. The improvement project would also create additional turn lanes at the heavily congested intersection.

Karen Moreland with the Department of Transportation for Fairfax County said, “VDOT has a plan to widen Route 7 from Rolling Holly to Tysons Corner. The only part that’s funded right now is Rolling Holly to Reston Parkway. We don’t know when it’s going to get full funding.”

MORELAND SAID the project will cost $18.5 million and that construction will not begin until 2006, at the earliest. “Right now there’s no money and there are competing projects,” said Moreland.

“An additional lane in each direction and turn lanes where they are needed are planned. Georgetown Pike is going to “T” in a little better as well. There will be a double left into Georgetown Pike and a double right onto Route 7. And Seneca will be widened for a left thru lane and a lane dedicated to a right turn,” said Moreland of the state’s planned improvements to the intersection.

In the interim, Seneca II plaza’s developers have been working with the county and concerned homeowners to come up with a design for the shopping center that will not add more congestion to the intersection.

The developer has slated two right turn lanes at the Seneca Rd. / Georgetown Pike intersection. “The developer is designing an additional turn lane at the citizens request,” said Seneca Road resident and local community activist Dr. Ralph Lazaro.

Moreland said that improvements will come first through the development of Seneca II plaza and should help alleviate some of the traffic problems. County and state help, she said, is further down the road with each passing day. “There’s no money in the budget this year for it, so, there you go,” said Moreland

The owner of the property, Parvis Rashidian, did not return repeated calls for comment.

“Sometimes, it feels like you are sitting there for days trying to get onto Georgetown Pike. You learn to start timing when you do things. I can’t remember the last time I tried to get out after 5 [p.m.],” said Helen Wilson.

VDOT reviewer Al Kaub said he has received an updated traffic study done to accommodate Seneca II plaza. “We are working to resolve any issues. Right now we are assuming the shopping center will come in before our project,” said Kaub.

Dianne Van Volkenburg and other Seneca Road homeowners have been working directly with the developer to make sure the shopping center does not further snarl traffic. “It looks like they will start on the shopping center this summer. They expect it to take about a year,” said Van Volkenburg.

AN ISSUE EMERGED over the type of water container positioned at the entrance to the center, according to Van Volkenburg, that caused the owner to get a waiver from the county and created the need to re-design the parking lot so they don’t loose parking space sand can overcome grading issues that have cropped up. The plaza has nearly 140 parking spaces, according to Van Volkenburg.

“He hasn’t been difficult to work with. He openly says he’s a businessman and needs to do what’s right for the community. He doesn’t want to put a Burger King in there, he wants upscale businesses,” said Van Volkenburg.

“People need to realize the plaza is coming regardless. We tried as a citizens group to stop it but he owns it and it’s zoned commercially. It’s a by-right development,” said Van Volkenburg.

She said it could have been worse. “Cox apparently offered him a nice sum for the place and they were going to put a tower on it. To me, that’s the worst of two evils,” said Van Volkenburg.

Lazaro said, “we’d be really happy if he’d reduce the footprint of the building. He’s going to overload the intersection.” Lazaro said that plans for the plaza show it to be “30 percent larger than the other shopping center across the street.”

Lazaro has more doomsday predictions for the future of the troubled road. “The future of that intersection, even with those improvements, isn’t going to be an improvement to the intersection. Seneca II plaza is just going to raise the frustration levels higher. Not initially maybe but it will,” said Lazaro.

His prediction is based on the assumption that someday the 800 acres owned by the Spaulding family will come on the market and that hundreds more cars will be using Seneca Road.

“The matriarch of the family is 80-some years old. There are 800 acres, 400 acres are dedicated to the county but the other four hundred could one day be sold and developed,” said Van Volkenburg.

CURRENTLY 5 AND A HALF ACRES are for sale at the end of Seneca Rd with an asking price of several million dollars. “I can’t imagine what the price for [the Spaulding property] would be,” said Van Volkenburg, a local real estate agent. “Around here, you’re looking at a house for about every two acres though. That would be a lot of houses,” said Van Volkenburg.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” said Lazaro. “I’m hearing every day that they are in talks to sell the property. We need to talk about that now, before it arises. If not now, it’ll be a few years from now. But, it’s coming,” said Lazaro.

“The impact to the northern end of Seneca, tied into the southern end - one commercial and the other residential...Seneca Rd. is about to undergo an amazing change in the next few years, and not for the better,” said Lazaro.

Van Volkenburg was recently elected to the Great Falls Citizens Association. She is unsure of whether she will make Seneca Road her pet project while working with the organization. She does expect the issue to come up, however. Van Volkenburg said that owner has given her assurances that the GFCA will see the final plans before development begins.