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Making Midtown a Reality

Lee land-use committee provides sounding board for developers.

The proposed Midtown development, which would transform a large chunk of Central Springfield, is moving forward in the lengthy approval process.

The first stop for Vienna developer KSI is the Lee District Land Use Advisory Committee, a group of citizens that advises Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) and Lee District Planning Commissioner Rodney Lusk on land use matters.

KSI and its legal representative McGuire Woods met with a subcommittee formed especially for the Midtown development, for the second time on Monday, July 25 at the Franconia Governmental Center, this time with specific details about the project.

"We are here to listen tonight, to learn hopefully. The goal is to come away with the sense of what the issues are and the opportunities are," said Greg Riegle with McGuire Woods.

Riegle and KSI Vice President Matt Slavin led members of the subcommittee through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation about the proposed development, dubbed "Midtown Springfield."

MORE DETAILS emerged about the project, which would require a re-zoning from the county, but fits within the current language allowed by the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. Aerial views, streetscape renderings, and more detailed plans were brought out during the presentation, which allowed members of the committee to better understand the scope of a project that would radically transform the skyline of Central Springfield.

KSI, along with Federal Realty, plans to build a mixed-use "town center" on 8.8 acres of land on parcels to the west of I-95, and bounded by Brandon Avenue and Commerce Street.

An introduction page in the presentation called the "Midtown Springfield" development "the best in modern downtown living" and it would be similar to developments such as Pentagon Row in Arlington, Bethesda Row, and Reston Town Center. Current plans call for components of office, retail, residential and community space within the development. The residential component would be contained in three separate towers, over 20 stories tall, as well as some mid-level space, about 800 residences in total. In addition, 100,000 square feet of retail space, in restaurants, shops, and at least one hotel is included, and 40,000 square feet of office space, located above the mid-level residential space.

"This will give people a reason to be in Springfield," said Riegle.

"There are some very good examples in the Washington area of mixed-use development, which proves this concept can work. Why not here?" he asked.

The Midtown Springfield development is located within the 169-acre Community Business Center (CBC), identified by the Fairfax County Office of Revitalization as a possible incubator for development, intended to revive the downtown area of Springfield. The CBC stretches along the west side of I-95 north to the Yates Village subdivision, and south to housing communities north of the Franconia-Springfield Parkway. The Midtown Springfield project is designed, said Riegle, to "set the tone for continued meaningful development."

THE MEETINGS with the Lee District committee are only the first step in a lengthy process for the development. Committee chair Paul Gagnon said the group would likely not make its recommendations regarding the project until early 2006, when it goes before county staff. While the committee serves no official capacity, Kauffman and Lusk have said the committee provides an invaluable resource in the land-use process, since members' experience allows them to address many of the same concerns about proposed development that county staff would.

On Monday, those concerns centered around traffic and the nature of the residential development. Many committee members cautioned KSI to proceed deliberately when working out its transportation plan, since more development, combined with new traffic patterns caused by the completion of the VDOT Springfield Interchange Project in 2007, will mean much more traffic on Bland, Brandon, and Commerce streets. Riegle said the Midtown project is designed to be a pedestrian-friendly area, where visitors are encouraged to park their cars at one of several structured, below-grade parking facilities, and walk throughout the area. Committee members raised issues regarding the commuting situation, both for those who will eventually live in Midtown Springfield, and those who live nearby and see the parking facilities as a good meeting place for slug lines.

Planning Commissioner Peter F. Murphy Jr. (Springfield) said that he is concerned about the development’s effect on current traffic patterns, which have taken intense work to smooth out.

"You can’t screw up Keene Mill Road. I’m concerned about what you’re going to do for those who are going to still take the HOV (lanes)," he said.

The committee also cited the need to beef up public transportation to the area, increasing the number of trips made by buses like the TAGS and Fairfax Connector services.

KSI could not say definitively the nature and price range of the 800 residential units. Slavin said they would be for-sale units, and would likely be similar to the residential units at the other recent mixed-use developments in Fairfax County.

"It’s a mixed-use community that is upscale and very active, so the housing is projected as being toward the luxury end of the market," he said. "It’s difficult to build high-rise units anywhere in Fairfax County without being high-quality."

Representatives from a host of other groups, including engineering and architectural firms, attended the meeting, and will regroup with the committee in the near future to present their revised plans.

Gagnon said while he appreciates the vibrant potential of the Midtown Springfield development, it still has a long way to go.

"It has real possibilities, but it also has some major hurdles," he said. "We’re going to need to see a real transportation plan."