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Route 1: Commercial vs. Residential

Hyland and Kauffman give their appraisal of "The Highway."

<bt>All the conspirators were assembled last Thursday night at the Mount Vernon Country Club thoroughly enjoying the death of an old nemesis — the Route 1 corridor as it was 10 years ago.

"Route 1 as we knew it is dead. And, I'm very happy to be a co-conspirator in that accomplishment," said Dana Kauffman, Lee District Supervisor. "Every time the rest of the county was booming we went down. That's not happening any longer."

Kauffman and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland were the featured speakers at the sixth annual dinner on "Economic Revitalization in Southeast Fairfax County" co-sponsored by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. Both gave a glowing assessment of how far "The Highway" has progressed in the past decade.

Much of that progress was attributed to the work of SFDC Executive Director Becky Witsman, who is leaving that post April 8 to become business development manager for the City of Falls Church. In honor of her 16 years of service to SFDC, 11 as executive director, she was presented plaques from both the Chamber of Commerce and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

"WE ARE EXPERIENCING very favorable development along Richmond Highway and we owe a great deal of that success to two great staff members Becky Witsman and Stephanie Landrum," said Rick Neel, president, SFDC.

Landrum, who served as SFDC's development coordinator until recently when she joined Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Inc., was also presented a plaque by Daniel F. Rinzel, Chamber of Commerce chairman.

"There is presently $424 million worth of construction, either under way or slated to be under contract by the end of 2005, along Richmond Highway. And we are looking forward to bringing in another talented professional to continue this revitalization," Neel said.

"Since this revitalization began we have added such businesses as Target, Lowes, Wal Mart and Starbucks. And almost all the ‘no-tell’ motels are gone. Plus, the new Groveton office center will be the most beautiful office building on Richmond Highway with the right proffers," Kauffman said.

"In addition, the Board of Supervisors is committed to bringing transit to the corridor. And, the new east/west link will give us better access than we have ever had," he said. "But, the Richmond Highway corridor still faces a set of challenges to become a truly prosperous area."

PRIOR TO ARRIVING at the dinner, both Kauffman and Hyland had been given a set of questions from the Chamber of Commerce which members wished to have answered. Hyland commenced his remarks by addressing one of those questions directly.

"How do you reconcile the county's increasing willingness to re-zone commercial properties on Richmond Highway and elsewhere to residential with the county's critical fiscal priority to restore the shrinking commercial/industrial component of the county's tax base to 25 percent?" he reiterated to the audience.

"There are some that indicate the residential development has been too much. When the comprehensive plan was done, everyone said they wanted more people living on the corridor. That is exactly what has happened," Hyland said.

"I'm a little surprised and frustrated in now hearing this message of more commercial and less residential. We need to get the message straight so that we can all benefit," he said.

To highlight that point, Hyland revealed the Multiplex theater on Route 1 may be closing very soon. "This is a very substantial piece of property. How should this be used?" Hyland asked.

"The Multiplex site is a perfect example. If that can only be used for commercial space, I'll be dead before that's done," he said. "What should be done with that site that will benefit all of us?"

ANOTHER QUESTION dealt with expediting the county's business review process in the revitalization area. Hyland indicated that the Board of Supervisors was not aware of a problem with that process. "If there are problems in this procedure we need to know that," he said.

"The applications in a revitalization area are to be automatically marked as such. If this is done it should cut down the review time by at least four months," Hyland said.

On the subject of affordable housing, the question was asked, "What percentage of affordable housing will be in the Mount Vernon/Lee districts if the Board of Supervisors approves the one cent of tax for affordable housing?"

"Twenty percent of all dwelling units in Fairfax County are here (Mt.V/Lee districts). If the Board approves the one cent set aside for affordable housing, the first thing on the table is going to be where they should be constructed," Kauffman said. "We will be looking to disburse affordable housing throughout the county."

ON OTHER SUBJECTS, Hyland and Kauffman stated:

* By fall a new plan will be in place to move traffic more effectively on Route 1 on the weekends. It now tends to become a seven-mile backup.

* Fairfax County's convention and visitor's bureau will see an estimated $25 million benefit from the new tax on hotel occupancy.

* This Board of Supervisors has made a commitment to close the tax gap between commercial and residential real estate. "Residential shot far ahead in recent years and commercial is just now catching up," Kauffman said. "But, we have to make more of a commitment."

Finally, Hyland promised, "SFDC is here to stay. The Board of Supervisors will continue to support SFDC and, in fact, we intend to increase the money to SFDC. County staff will assist in bridging the gap during this personnel transition period."