Gaining a multi-interest consensus on the final design and mix of the proposed Kings Crossing development appeared last Friday morning to be as elusive as ever. And, that was after the Spring Bank Community Association overwhelmingly voted to endorse the latest concept plan.
Gathered in the Community Room of the Mount Vernon Government Center for a two-hour-plus meeting were representatives of the Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Department staff, Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, JPI Development, and Spring Bank Community Association. It was chaired by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland in conjunction with Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.
"We put everybody in one room who had an issue with this project to see if we could find a solution," said Hyland. "I think we made progress. But, we still do not have a consensus."
A consensus was reached June 12 when the Spring Bank Community Association, the single most outspoken critic of the development proposal by JPI for the 33-acre expanse at the intersection of Route 1 and South Kings Highway, voted to support the latest plans by an overwhelming majority.
"While maybe we could have gotten a better proposal, with the development climate at the present time we could also do a lot worse," said David Dale, president, SBCA. The vote at that meeting was 15 to 2 in favor of JPI's latest proposal with later e-mail ballots showing about the same ratio.
Following that vote, Aaron Liebert, vice president, JPI, felt that a real break through had been made in the more than two year struggle to transform the old Michael's/Chuck E. Cheese site into a multi-use development and park. Their plans call for multiple residence styles, a wide range of retail/commercial uses, and a hotel enhanced by a large park on the Fairchild property at the rear of the site.
"We are very pleased that the Spring Bank community endorsed our plans to transform this old, bleak shopping center into a vibrant new community that will offer all residents better alternatives than presently exist in this corridor. Spring Bank residents worked closely with us to spell out their wishes and concerns for this land and we are now of one mind," Liebert said.
"When we started this process two years ago the community had three priorities. They were the creation of a town center, that the bulk of the Fairchild property become a community park, and that overall there would not be a great impact of traffic on our existing community," Dale said.
"The first two are part of this latest plan and JPI has put money in place to mitigate traffic flow. They have agreed to install three speed tables and put in more stop signs if we request them," he said. "They have also agreed to erect a sign announcing entry to our community," which lies directly south and contiguous to the Kings Crossing site.
Other concessions agreed to by JPI according to Dale include:
* All of the Fairchild property east of Quander Brook is to remain undeveloped and JPI will deed that land to Fairfax County Park Authority for open space utilization.
* JPI will provide up to $500,000 for stream restoration of Quander Brook.
* A Town Center will become part of the development plan creating a walkable community similar to Shirlington.
Under JPI's latest plan the number of residences has been reduced to 676, nearly 200 fewer than originally proposed. These will include a mix of apartments, condominiums and townhouses. Some residences will be blended with retail uses.
"We have put a lot of effort into designing a community that fits with the County's vision for revitalizing this all-important gateway. JPI and its financial partners have listened carefully and patiently to every concern and we believe Kings Crossing will be reflective of the best ideas and expertise available," said Gregg Lamb, senior vice president, JPI.
However, as Dale was quick to emphasize after the SBCA vote, "This community vote only represents a community consensus. It is not binding on the County planners or other interested groups. Their decision is up to them."
THAT FACT became painfully apparent to Lamb, Liebert and other JPI representative at the June 23 meeting. "I don't see a lot of value added," said Kauffman.
That assessment was challenged by Lamb. "This project has changed so dramatically since we last met. It has met the criteria of the community association and we continue to increase our commitment," he said.
"I'm saying things can be done to add value to the land. I see this as one of the biggest opportunities in Fairfax County," Kauffman said.
When it came time for SFDC to offer their appraisal, Rick Neel, president said, "How does this project present itself to Route 1. I still have concerns how this all looks from The Highway."
In response to that comment, Hyland asked Neel, "If you had your druthers what would your preference be?" Neel expressed the desire to have it guaranteed that a new McDonalds and possibly a new mini-mart would be built along the highway corridor.
"We can't control McDonalds. They have indicated to us they want to rebuild, but nothing is in writing," Lamb responded.
One of the primary stumbling blocks since the project's inception has been the ratio of commercial/retail space to residential. JPI initially proposed a majority of space devoted to residential.
Both Hyland and SBCA have insisted on a significant increase in commercial/retail with a potential of 500,000 square feet of office space. JPI's present plans call for the initial construction of 50,000 square feet of office space.
"We're trying to put our toe in the water with 50,000 square feet at the outset. This is only a beginning," said Attorney Thomas Colucci, representing JPI.
"I think we've done a very good job of reaching out to the community. This present plan comes directly from community input," Lamb said.
"Looking down the road always, my expectation has always been that Kings Crossing was a starting point for the whole area. It is not the finished product," Dale said.
"We also need to deal with the daytime population and have things to offer them. Not everyone will be leaving at 8 a.m. and not returning until 6 p.m.," Dale pointed out.
"Let's all try to work on this together. If we can find a developer to build more retail space we are certainly open to that," said David Paul, representing Archon, the Dallas, Texas, based firm that owns the site.
"THIS WHOLE PROCESS has been a challenge in communications. I'm kind of shocked by some of the things I've heard here today. It's been a step backward. We are going to be flexible with the market. This is a $10 million investment and I believe that shows a lot of risk and commitment," Lamb said.
"Unfortunately we are running out of time," Paul added. He has stated periodically throughout the process that there may come a point when Archon will decide to junk the present development plan and maintain the site as a big box retail venture.
In bringing the meeting to a close, Hyland said, "I believe we've come a long way and I'm encouraging you to move forward. Some of the suggestions made today are very valuable. We need to reach an agreement conceptually." The next ad hoc session was set for July 14.
Following the meeting Martin Tillett, vice president, SBCA said, "There are still some things that need to be met by JPI as far as the County is concerned. But, from SBCA's point of view we believe the proposal is now acceptable."
Dale added, "Our community has other issues regarding the Route 1 corridor. JPI is trying to work out problems to make the portion along Route 1 not look like a strip mall. Everybody needs to get together to delineate the exact issues."
Since the beginning Hyland has stated that he would not support the project until SBCA was satisfied. As of the June 12 vote that is now an accomplished fact.