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Introducing The Shops at Centreville's Gateway

Walgreen's, Bank of America are proposed in a historical setting.

A brand-new shopping area honoring and incorporating Centreville's history into its design and architecture is planned for the Routes 28/29 intersection.

And representatives of Unicorp National Developments Inc. made an impressive presentation at Tuesday night's meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee.

IF THE COUNTY eventually approves this proposal, gone will be the adult video store, ethnic grocery and psychic reader currently on this 3.67-acre site along Routes 28/29 and Braddock Road. In their place will be a 14,550-square-foot Walgreen's Pharmacy, a 5,700-square-foot Bank of America and a 3,200-square-foot retail building.

This area is considered the crossroads of Centreville and the entrance to its Historic District, so what's to be built here is being given considerable scrutiny. In addition, the bank and pharmacy both need special-exception permits from the county for their drive-through windows.

The project's appropriately titled The Shops at Centreville's Gateway, and Unicorp's Susan Bourgeois explained the design revisions made to the plan since the WFCCA first saw it in February. The changes were in response to comments from the community, WFCCA, county staff and entities within the Historic District.

"The WFCCA said, 'Get rid of the brick, and tone down the retaining wall,' which we did," said Bourgeois. She then showed a 3D computerized model of what's proposed — viewed from all sides — and how it would relate to the community and to other nearby buildings.

"We've created an entrance feature so it doesn't look like a subdivision," she said. "And we're dropping the grade from Route 29 into the site about four feet." Doing so will enable Unicorp to reduce the height of its planned retaining wall from 14 feet to 6 feet. It will have a decorative railing with figures important to Centreville History, and this lone retaining wall will be to the south side of the church and will be made of stone.

"And we've added story pillars to start your journey into Historic Centreville," said Bourgeois. Noting how the FDR memorial in Washington, D.C., contains etchings to explain a part of history, she said these pillars, plus a different-looking walkway there, will let drivers passing by know that "history waits for them down Braddock Road."

She also said Unicorp is asking Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) to recommend a community group that would work with the developer to create these pillars. Historically appropriate plants would also be used throughout the site, and the building designs would be simple in scale. And stone and siding in keeping with Centreville's historical colors would be used for all the buildings.

THE SIDES of the Walgreen's building would be broken into smaller façades. Said Bourgeois: "The building goes in and out to give the sense of storefronts." And the Bank of America is constructing its prototype for a LEEDS structure on this site, meaning it would be a "green building" — energy efficient, reducing negative impacts on the environment and improving its occupants' health and wellbeing.

Also proposed — both as a design element and something useful to the residents — is a community board which would inform people about upcoming local events. And an interactive community area leading pedestrians from the shopping center to the Historic District would offer movable, hands-on displays relevant to Centreville's history — such as a Civil War cannon or soldier's tent — plus benches for relaxing and reflection.

A major feature of this area would be a seating wall created out of foundation and field stones from various demolished structures. The names of the specific structures, and their historical dates and relationship to the community, would be inscribed on the seating area.

Unicorp also plans to install a historical marker for the Newgate Tavern site and provide maps for walking tours of the Historic District. And a community herb garden "where kids can get involved," said Bourgeois, is planned on three levels connected by the seating wall.

WFCCA's Ted Troscianecki said he was impressed with "how much effort [Unicorp] had put in to recognize the importance of the area where [it wants] to create this and how sensitive it is to the community's concerns."

Bourgeois noted that the project will hardly be visible from St. John's Episcopal Church in the Historic District. And, she added, "These buildings are not behemoth. Walgreen's is 24 feet high; the church and daycare [center nearby] are taller than that."

WFCCA's Carol Hawn was also impressed. "You all are going above and beyond to make this look great and be compatible," she said.

HOWEVER, she was leery of a community group being involved in this project. Hawn said a group recently erected "Welcome to Centreville" signs without consulting WFCCA — which had already painstakingly designed historic signs.

So she worried that, for Unicorp's project, in reality, "only a few people in the community will have input." WFCCA Chairman Jim Katcham then suggested that a group "be created out of a member or two from the various citizen and community groups here."

WFCCA's Dorothy Steranka also noted her enthusiastic approval of Unicorp's proposal, as did WFCCA's Scott Miller. At-large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart recommended using this area's reddish-brown, indigenous stone in the buildings. He also suggested establishing a place on site with information about historical events here, plus a telescope, so visitors could take advantage of the "spectacular view [of the mountains] to the west."

Unicorp will update WFCCA again in September and, said Katcham, "An application that started out good has gotten even better."