It was standing room only at Groveton Baptist Church Monday night.
Members of the Spring Bank Neighborhood Association had come to get answers from the potential developers of Kings Crossing as to whether they intended to adhere to the vision of a true mixed use concept for the site, or just add more residences to the Route 1 corridor.
At the outset Greg Lamb, senior vice president, JPI, developers of the site now home to Michaels Arts and Crafts Store and Chuck E. Cheese, told the audience, "Tonight is not about showing you what we are going to do with this property. We are not going to design a plan in this room tonight."
David Paul, a local director of Archon, the Dallas, Texas-based company that owns the site, said, "We are here to talk about the initial development and begin a dialogue. When we looked at this property we knew we needed to bring in a partner with a lot of experience in this area, to work with Fairfax County and the local residents."
JPI Development Company of Vienna is now a regional partner with Archon, with responsibility for developing the Kings Crossing property. In addition to the 11-acre Michaels property fronting on Richmond Highway, there is also the eight-acre Fairchild property immediately behind, as well as a narrow piece connecting the Michaels lot with Fairview Drive.
"Archon is the owner of Michaels. Fairchild plus some of the adjacent properties along Route 1 are under contract," Paul said.
"This is just a preliminary meeting. This is their (JPI/Archon) first glimpse of what the community is feeling. And, we are reconfirming our support for the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan," David Dale, president, SBNA, said in opening the group's regular monthly meeting.
What caused concern among the residents and triggered the large turnout were two recent actions by JPI that appeared to fly in the face of the long-held vision for the site's redevelopment as a mixed-use, town center concept that would emphasize retail/commercial use and contain no more than 20 percent residential space.
IN LATE JULY, a bulldozer made an unauthorized entry into the rear of properties on Fairview Drive to cut a path for a core boring vehicle being brought in make soil testings. In doing so, it cleared an approximately 20-foot-wide swath through the wooded area at the rear of the properties and through the county's Resource Protection Area felling mature trees, destroying underbrush and creating a red clay spillway into Quander Brook.
One of the affected properties was Dale's, at 2520 Fairview Drive. Immediately before the start of the SBNA meeting, Dale and other property owners met with Lamb to discuss JPI's plans to rectify the incursion. "They have presented a replanting plan that addresses the environmental damage. They plan to start replanting as soon as their plan is approved by the county," Dale said.
"However, there was no discussion addressing the trespassing or destruction of private property issues. We will be meeting with them again in about two weeks. [The affected property owners] will be discussing our various options in preparation for that meeting," he said.
ON SEPT. 10, JPI sent each of the five affected property owners on Fairview Drive a letter, signed by Lamb, along with "a proposed plan to repair the areas ... impacted by the unauthorized grading activities." It was developed in conjunction with JPI's environmental consultant WSSI.
"Prior to beginning work, it is important to JPI that you and your neighbors are satisfied with the proposed repair plans. To that end, we would like to have a meeting on Monday, September 27th ... to review the plans," Lamb wrote.
On the "proposed plan," it was specified that restoration would take place between November and April, but that no planting would be done when the ground was frozen. Most horticulturists in the Northern Virginia advise planting trees and shrubs in either early spring or early fall.
The second misstep by JPI prior to Monday night's gathering was the release of an Request For Proposal [RFP] that called for utilizing an overwhelming portion of the site for residential and only a small portion for retail/commercial — the exact opposite of what has been the vision for the site.
When this was leaked, it drew the ire of not only Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, but also residents and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. "I will not support this RFP. I would sincerely hope the new owners ... will come forward with a mixed-use plan," Hyland said at the time.
Monday night Lamb reiterated what he stated when the RFP surfaced. "That RFP was not supposed to get out. Throw that RFP out. We have been looking at a number of different plans. Our goal now is to listen to the community," he said.
He then went into a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation covering a variety of projects JPI has done throughout the Washington metropolitan area. He emphasized, "JPI is a mixed use developer" and urged the audience to visit their Web site JPI.com.
Jacqueline Hertz, a Fairview Drive resident, said she had done that and that, "Their web site says they're a developer of residential communities. Nowhere does it mention retail. This just does not jell. The site says JPI is one of the largest multi-real estate companies."
One resident asked, "Are we supposed to just trust you as a nice guy?"
Lamb answered, "I'm really just showing you what we have done throughout the area."
WHAT THE PLAN SHOWED for Kings Crossing, as presented by Lamb, was a stretch of retail immediately adjacent to Route 1, with primarily residential leading back to the County's RPA. Lamb presented this as a natural park area.
When questioned about consuming the individual home sites along Fairview Drive, Lamb said, "Right now, we are concentrating on the three large parcels." He also added, "What I'm hearing now is that you want more retail."
This brought forth a comment from Michael Tillett, another Fairview Drive resident. "We had in mind a walkable community. We want retail amenities where we can go without using our cars."
Lamb predicted, "If everything works perfectly" the project should be completed in three to five years. The cost of a residence in the new center will cover a wide range, according to Lamb. "Rental components should be in the $1,000 to $1,500 per month, with provisions for affordable housing," he said.
"Anything you do has to go to the Board of Supervisors and Planning. But you must have input from the community. I'm going to be looking to them. You also need to meet with representatives from various groups. It would be very helpful to have their input from the beginning," Hyland said.
PRIOR TO THE MEETING, Dale had circulated a resolution reiterating SBNA's commitment to the county's comprehensive land use plan. However, it was not adopted based on a request by some of those present to have more time to evaluate its language.
Following the meeting, Hyland said, "I'm pleased that this organization has done what we asked them to do to reach out to the citizens. Obviously, they made a commitment to the community to listen to them as they develop their plan.
"All in all, I thought it was a healthy exercise and first step to put it back on track to work with the citizens. The process has now begun and that's excellent."
His assessment was buttressed by Becky Witsman, executive director, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC). "I was encouraged by the amount of interest from the citizens. I was also encouraged that people want the developer to build what we have intended all along. The proof's going to be the design they come up with."