Elections were on everybody’s minds for a greater part of 2004, as both national and local campaigns dominated the news for Democrats and Republicans alike. Lisa Marie Cheney ran against incumbent Jim Moran for the 8th Congressional District seat in Virginia. Moran won handily, but Cheney promised to be back for the next election. Nationally, Alexandria voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, but Virginia went for Bush. Virginia saw aggressive campaigning for both candidates as dedicated volunteers tried to get their man elected.
The year 2004 had many high points; it also had some low points. Progress along the Route One corridor has been fast and furious, a positive sign of growth. On the down side, Mount Vernon is still dealing with the aftermath of five homicides, two of which occurred in the last few weeks.
The most recent homicide was that of 60-year-old Sun Ku Kwon, who was stabbed to death while working at the 7-Eleven store on Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. A 14-year-old Fort Belvoir area has been taken into custody; a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 21, at which point the courts will decide if there is probable cause to try him as an adult.
Just two weeks before that, Shawndre Fulton was found shot to death in the Mount Vernon Woods Park. Fulton was shot in the upper body, and was eight months pregnant. Her boyfriend, Darius T. Hicks, has been indicted by a Fairfax County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and the unlawful killing of a fetus. He is currently being held in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. jail on unrelated charges.
Three other Mount Vernon cases have all been closed; the most recent one being the case where Nelson Noe Moreno, of 5379 Bedford Terrace, stabbed an acquaintance, Maria J. Alvarenga, 27 with a knife. Moreno was arrested and charged with murder.
In April, Christian J. Aranzana-Vasquez, of 6400 block of Pickett Street in the Beacon Hill area, was shot in the parking lot of the Days Inn located on Richmond Highway. Suspects have been apprehended and charged in that case, as they were in another previous case with two brothers.
MAKING PROGRESS on Route One, Krispy Korner opened only six months after the sale of the old Krispy Kreme doughnut factory building for new owners Maisel-Hollins Development to open their new retail center.
Their first tenant, Sprint, opened on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. Harvey Maisel, owner of Maisel-Hollins Development, said that they have also signed agreements with Quizno’s, Sylvan Learning Center and a national dry cleaning chain. There is space for an additional two merchants, and Maisel said that he is negotiating with some other companies. He expects that all businesses will be open by mid-February, 2005.
Down the road, demolition crews have been working to clear the rubble that was once Ames Department Store and the Hybla Valley Roy Rogers. They are being cleared to make way for a new Wachovia Bank in the front of Mount Vernon Plaza, and PETsMART, Michael’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond where the Ames was once located. The owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust, is still looking for other tenants. Stephanie Landrum, projects coordinator for Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC), said that she understands that they are still planning to start construction by the end of the year. That would keep them consistent with their projected opening date of October 2005.
Community groups continue to meet with the developers of the new King's Crossing development; consensus is still far away but both sides remain hopeful that they will come to some agreement. At a meeting with the Mount Vernon Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland said that he doesn’t expect anything to happen on that project for at least a year. Hyland also said that the community has been successful in attracting developers and that it is viewed as a place for opportunity. He’s also hoping to see mass transit on Route One in the future. The Army Museum at Fort Belvoir moves closer to becoming a reality as funding and zoning requests work their way through the system.
JOHN THILLMAN is also optimistic about the future of Route One. Thillmann, owner of Landmark Communities, thinks that Route One has “real possibilities.” He has already completed three smaller projects on Route One and now has a new larger one in the works. He has purchased the Buckman Road Assemblage, a parcel of properties bounded by Buckman Road, Janna Lee Avenue and Richmond Highway in preparation for a new development. He spoke to members of Southeastern Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) about this new project, called Mount Vernon Gateway, at their November meeting.
The Buckman Road project will be the largest in this area, containing 430 residential units. Some of these units will be condominiums, while others will be townhouses. He will also be building 60,000 square feet of office and commercial condominiums to be used by professionals and small business owners, like bakers and coffee shop owners.
THE PERCENTAGE of office space to residential has been a major point of contention for developer Jon Hass, Madison Development Properties (MDP). He and his partner, Daryl Butcher, acquired the property where the original Groveton Elementary School was located, a square block due south of Beacon Center, when the county transferred it to their development corporation. The land swap was part of a deal to build the South County Government Center on Richmond Highway and Hass and Butcher had originally agreed to develop the site as an office building. After months of negotiating, they said that they were unable to locate any commercial tenants due to the availability of existing office space and instead applied for an out-of-turn-plan amendment and rezoning request to allow for the 4.6-acre site to be developed as a mixed-use site (PRM-planned residential mixed-use) instead of as a commercial site (C-3). Dozens of meetings with local civic and planning groups have people both for and against this change.
At meetings last month, both Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approved an Out-of-Turn Plan Amendment (OTPA) for Heights @ Groveton. Prior to that, the Lee District Land Use Advisory Committee approved the amendment with the provision that there be a desired goal of 70,000 square feet of office space and a minimum requirement of 50,000 square feet.
Both SFDC and the Chamber of Commerce have given their approval only if the developers include 70,000 square feet of office space. At their November meeting, The Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations passed a resolution opposing the proposed residential development, calling for adherence to the original agreement.
Becky Witsman, executive director of SFDC, is concerned that there is a trend towards an overabundance of residential development and is trying to maintain the balance of Richmond Highway. She is concerned that the projects that developers are applying for are not in keeping with long-range plans.
WITSMAN IS EXCITED about the recent award received by the Richmond Highway Facade Improvement Program and Gold's Gym; it was given by the Community Appearance Alliance of Northern Virginia. Gold's Gym, located in the completely renovated Hechinger's building at 7770 Richmond Highway, was the first organization to receive the first-ever matching grant funds in a pilot project sponsored by Fairfax County and SFDC.
This pilot project for the proposed Richmond Highway Façade Improvement Program encourages building owners to renovate the exteriors of their buildings and sites. Gold's Gym, along with 3 MAG LLC, invested over $170,000 in improvements to the exterior façade of the old Hechinger's building, and over $2 million on interior improvements to the building, parking lot and grounds.
The success of the pilot program at Gold's Gym is evident. As a result, a larger, more formal Facade Improvement Program has been approved. Eligible building owners may request 50/50 matching grant funds up to a maximum of $25,000. The SFDC will be administering the new program; a Design Review Committee has been designated to make decisions on applications submitted.
Witsman said that the second facade project has just begun construction — it is the small strip center near the intersection of Lockheed Boulevard and Richmond Highway, currently home to Kang's Market and Cintron Safe and Lock.
OTHER CHANGES taking place along Route One and Telegraph Road have not been voluntary, but instead caused by the massive construction project being undertaken by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.
Gone are several gas stations that were once located at the intersections of the Beltway and Route One and Telegraph Road. Gone is the Honolulu, a Hawaiian restaurant that was claimed in the spring by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Gone are the pool and sign at Travelers Motel. In process is the new ramp that will be as close as six feet from parts of Kenneth Blunt’s 30-room motel.
In jeopardy is the Alexandria Diner, whose owners are waiting to hear whether or not their building will be demolished to make way for a new seven-story tower suite at the Hampton Inn. Ironically, this construction is not due to the bridge project, but it comes on the heels of the diner being surrounded day and night by construction equipment and suffering roads being closed and torn up.
Ourisman Dodge & Imports Inc. is also dealing with the inconvenience of the construction, which has caused them to lose over 200 parking spaces and lay off 40 employees. The beginning of a huge fly-over ramp looms over the car dealership; they have applied to build a multi-level garage addition to compensate for some of the lost property.
OTHER GROUPS making news this year were schools and non-profit groups. Last year, Sharon Kelso moved to Las Vegas, leaving her long held position as executive director of United Community Ministries. Cheri Zeman has since assumed that role.
Good Shepherd Housing also had a change in command. Shannon Steene was named as GSH’s executive director, replacing long-time director Shirley Marshall, who went to Africa with her husband.
There have been many changes in the schools as well. Eric Brent left West Potomac High School to return to Mount Vernon High School. Assuming the head position as West Potomac is Rima Vesilind, formerly a principal at Woodley Hills. Sharon Aldredge was promoted from assistant principal to the top spot at Woodley Hills. Maura Caulfield left Waynewood Elementary School to become principal of Stratford Landing Elementary School. Veteran principal Otha Davis was recently honored as Principal of the Year Finalist. Changes were made at the top of the school system as well. Dan Domenech was replaced by Dr. Jack Dale as Fairfax County Superintendent of Schools. Brad Center and Dan Storck assumed positions on the school board, beginning their tenure at the beginning of last year.
New assistant principals hired for Cluster IV elementary schools were Tim Kasik, Washington Mill; Rich Pollio, Waynewood; Joan Carter, Stratford Landing; and Brandon Davis, Woodley Hills. West Potomac High School also hired two new assistant principals — Greg Oliver and Janice Murphy; Marianne O’Brien is acting assistant principal. Riverside’s renovation was completed this year.
While progress is being made in the schools, there is still much work to be done. Four Cluster IV schools received accreditation with warning status, while four other schools missed their Schoolwide Achievement Index goals. A few schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress. Schools will continue to focus on areas where they need to make improvements.