Gateway to Revitalization?

Gateway to Revitalization?

Land use leads effort to eliminate traffic bottleneck.

An ugly duckling — named "Mount Vernon Gateway" — is about to turn into a swan. It's comprised of two components: A plot of land that has homes primarily with absentee owners and the intersection on the Route 1 corridor that is a traffic bottleneck.

Bounded by Route 1, Buckman Road and Janna Lee Avenue, the 17-acre plot will become a gated community containing "432 dwelling units, 30 affordable housing units, 70 units for those 55 year of age and older, 55,000 square feet of office space, and 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of retail space." Both of the latter will have underground and surface parking.

That's according to John H. Thillmann, vice president, Landmark Communities of Arlington, developers of the site. The proposal was recently considered for an out-of-turn plan amendment by Fairfax County Planning Commission.

"We have been talking to the property owners for the last 10 months. We wanted to see this amendment go forward. But, transportation considerations are critical to its ultimate success," Thillman said.

Thillman is a land use planner by profession with a dedication to environmental protection. He spent many years practicing his profession inside the governmental structure, both at the local and federal levels. "If I can't do something right I won't do it," he said.

That sentiment was buttressed by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland. "Mr. Thillman has brought forward a proposal that is a major plus for that plot of land and that intersection. It will make traffic flow much better. It is a very creative addition to the revitalization of the Route 1 corridor," Hyland said.

WHAT HYLAND was referring to was the solution to a major traffic congestion point that has existed for years at the intersection of Route 1, Buckman Road and Mount Vernon Highway. The problem has been the so called "green time" provided to those exiting Buckman Road and turning north onto Route 1.

The proposed plan for the Buckman Road/Route 1 intersection calls for traffic going north and south on Route 1 to gain green time. This would be accomplished by not allowing north bound turns from Buckman Road onto Route 1. They would be required to enter Route 1 at Janna Lee Avenue after it was converted to four lanes from Buckman Road to Route 1.

"There would be a new traffic signal at Route 1 and Janna Lee. Plus, there would be three lanes going east on Janna Lee and one west. Those entering Route 1 could turn either north or south," Thillman said.

"That also allows south bound traffic on Route 1 to flow better at the Buckman Road intersection because it allows more green time to continue South or turn onto Mount Vernon Highway," he said. "It's a great solution and is critical to the success of this project."

Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, in whose district the development is planned, said, "This is one of those rare projects that adds a lot of value to the entire community. And it includes a commitment to bring a real solution to one of the real choke points on the highway.

"In addition to bringing more senior housing to the area, it's a mixed use project that has the backing of the civic community, the business community and the revitalization organizations. That's a rare combination," Kauffman said.

PLANS FOR "Mount Vernon Gateway" calls for the development of 182 units in a mid-rise building with two levels of underground parking backing up to Route 1. Another 128 units will be in three low-rise condominium buildings of four stories each.

These will be complemented by 86 "two floor over two floor" townhomes plus 36 back-to-back townhomes. "All the townhomes will have garages. There will be surface parking for guests," Thillman said.

"We are designing this development to appeal to all age groups. We didn't want all one type of owners," he said. "We want all age and family variations."

The average condominium size will be 1,000 square feet although some will range up to double that size, according to Thillman. "There will be year round recreation, a little theater, library, community room, pool, wading pool, and other amenities in a community structure under a plaza skylight," he said.

It is expected there will be approximately 430 units throughout the projected $250 million development. "We expect the residential price range to be in the $400,000 plus bracket depending on the unit," Thillman said.

Townhouses will have 18-foot driveways and individual garages. Condominiums will have a minimum of two stories of internal parking.

Streets throughout the development will be of a porous nature to get water back into the ground, according to Thillman. "We are also planning a large, one and a half acre, entrance pond and fountain at the Buckman Road/Route 1 entrance. This emphasis on porous roadway construction will help supply that pond," he said.

"There will be big bulk open space areas throughout the development for both passive and active recreational uses. This will include children's play areas," Thillman said.

The seven-story condominium building will have recessed balconies. And the townhomes will have double fronts to make them as attractive from the rear as the front, Thillman explained.

THE PROJECT'S primary entrance will be off Janna Lee Avenue onto a large boulevard that terminates at a round-about which leads off to the highrise condominiums backing up to Route 1 or to the townhomes along Buckman Road. There is another entrance off Buckman Road just after the pond area. Each entrance will be controlled by a gated system.

Other development highlights include: Extra tree canopy along internal streets; an eight to nine foot county trail on Route 1; two new bus shelters on Route 1; and a street scape along Route 1, Buckman Road, and Janna lee Avenue.

The one point of disagreement between the developers and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is Landmark Communities' proposal to create a pull-in for buses at the rear side of the community facility backing up to Route 1. "This would enable buses to get out of the line of traffic and serve the residents better," Thillman said.

VDOT had expressed opposition due to the curb cut necessary to accomplish the turnout. However, there is presently an entrance into a parking area in that same vicinity to service a medical facility. "When it comes before the Board of Supervisors, I will support the turn out," Hyland said.

During a Jan. 6 meeting of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, Thillman explained the details of the proposed development. Following that presentation SFDC unanimously adopted a motion supporting the Mount Vernon Gateway concept.

"SFDC looks forward to working with Landmark on their rezoning proposal where more details will be discussed," said Becky Witsman, SFDC executive director.

After a Jan. 26 Planning Commission public hearing, a recommendation was issued stating, "The proposed mix of non-residential and residential uses can create new chances to live work and shop in one neighborhood. The opportunity for housing with office and retail use will increase development flexibility on the site, which may facilitate revitalization of the area."

County staff recommended the Comprehensive Plan be amended. It will now go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 28.