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Mixed Results on Mixed Use

Kings Crossing meeting reveals stumbling blocks.

It's an encouraging start but the developers still don't seem to get the message. That was the consensus of those attending a two-hour plus meeting at Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation headquarters last week on Wednesday night regarding plans for the Kings Crossing Development Project.

"Twenty five percent commercial is not going to do it. It's not where we started and it's not where we are going," Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland said.

"The meeting was good to have. It was a good start. But, it's got a long way to go. It was a baby step. We are still not on target, But, hopefully we will get there," Hyland said.

David Dale, president, Spring Bank Neighborhood Association, put it another way: "They are still trying to take their vision and make it fit what we are saying rather than trying to make our vision work."

That was buttressed by Martin Tillett, another member of the Spring Bank association who attended the meeting. "They kept talking about the challenges of the property. Everything they see as a challenge seems to be an excuse to do what they want and not what we want," he said.

What Hyland, Dale and Tillett were referring to was the latest plan unveiled by representatives of JPI Development Company of Vienna, developers of the Richmond Highway Kings Crossing/Michaels site, at a meeting they attended along with other association members and representatives of SFDC; Groveton Civic Association; Fairfax County HCD; Jeff McKay, Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman's chief of staff; and Charles Unger, Hyland's chief of staff.

A follow-up to the Sept. 13 meeting at Groveton Baptist Church, where JPI made a presentation primarily focused on work they had done throughout the region, it was anticipated that this gathering would address the concerns expressed about JPI's approach to developing the site. However, "It was not substantially different from their original plan," Dale said.

Greg Lamb, senior vice president, JPI, kicked off the meeting by asking the group "to discuss goals for the project, the development process and to establish a regular schedule of meetings where JPI will listen to and take back ideas from the participants to their consultant team," according to the meeting's minutes. He also took the opportunity to announce that JPI had engaged Art Walsh of the Walsh, Colluci, Stackhouse, Embry & Lubeley law firm.

DURING THE GROVETON Baptist Church meeting, Lamb had highlighted JPI's Congressional Village project in Rockville, Md., as a model of their work. It was agreed at the SFDC meeting that on Oct. 30 a trip will be scheduled for those interested in traveling to that project to view an example of JPI's capabilities in mixed use development.

Tillett's reaction to the Rockville excursion was, "We said we'd like to take them to see our type of developments that have environmental pluses such as green roofs. They said they felt those things would be later discussion points after we reach an agreement on the basic design of the overall project."

In addition to a significant emphasis on residential, as opposed to commercial/retail, as desired by all parties other than JPI, at the Michaels/Kings Crossing site, the other primary objection to the JPI scenario is the use of wood as the primary construction material. Hyland, McKay, Dale, and the others all prefer concrete construction for the highrise buildings.

The rationale is that concrete construction enables buildings to be erected much higher. Wood, often referred to as "stick" construction, is limited to a height of 60 feet, according to Fairfax County Building Code. At least two higher buildings with a combined use of commercial/residential would encourage more open space and afford more desirable living space at the higher elevations, according to SFDC and Spring Bank representatives.

"One of their (JPI) remaining real problems is the emphasis on stick construction. We have enough of that type of construction on Route 1. We need to have concrete construction that can be built higher," McKay said.

Tillett agreed. "What we don't want is more of what we've already got. But, they seem stuck on stick construction as opposed to concrete," he said.

"The view from an eight- or ten-story building in that location would be highly desirable as living space. You have a view of the river, Old Town Alexandria and even Washington. You could see the fireworks from there. It also would be an identifying landmark for Kings Crossing as a true town center," said Becky Witsman, executive director, SFDC.

"There's still a good ways to go. But, it's a lot better that originally brought forth. I think they have made good progress from the beginning which started out pretty ugly," McKay said.

"THEY [JPI] ARE NOW showing a main street concept with a retail/residential combination. There is also a park area at the rear of the property. It is a mixed use," McKay said.

McKay also noted, "They are planning office space in the area now occupied by Wendy's and others when those leases expire. And townhouses are planned on the plot immediately behind that present commercial strip along Route 1."

According to the meeting minutes, Lamb said, "Unless you include a significant amount of office space, a 50/50 residential to commercial mix will be very difficult to achieve." He also said "JPI will be partnering with another company, which will develop and manage the commercial portion of the project. That partner will be either Archon or Regency Centers." Archon is the Dallas, Texas-based company that owns the site.

But, as Witsman said, "There is nothing guaranteeing the type of retail to be included. They have added a possible grocery store, similar to a Trader Joe's, and some more retail. But, there is nothing in writing. We are hoping to have meetings about every two weeks."

Dale said, "I'm encouraged that they are at least sitting down to talk to us. And, we also understand it is still very early in the process. But, what they have shown so far is not particularly innovative or creative.

"On the whole I don't think JPI really heard the message from the association and SFDC. Some members of the association are going to get together to see if we can come up with a more creative design."

At the conclusion of the meeting, Lamb agreed that JPI would come back to the next meeting "with new plans that incorporate many of the suggestions from this meeting." Lamb also said they "will bring their planner, Steve Gang with the Lassard Group, as well as the retail specialists ...."

The next meeting was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.