At first glance, it would seem that residents would prefer having one five-story building, rather than two 11-story buildings, erected in front of their homes. But that's not the case at the Fairfax Towne Center.
Lincoln Property Co. of Herndon plans to construct a mixed-use development on the existing, surface parking lot at the northwest corner of the intersection of West Ox Road and Monument Drive. It will spring up between the movie theater and Baja Fresh.
But the residents of the Fairmont Condominiums, behind that parking lot, have serious concerns. And they voiced them at the March 2 meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission — which will render its decision Thursday night, March 16.
"I always knew there was going to be development, but when I saw what was proposed for a small, three-acre parcel, I was amazed," said Monument Court resident Maureen Amendola. "How in the world can you add more residential units and retail, take away 202 parking spaces and have enough parking for everyone? Right now, the overflow goes out of the parking lot into our street."
Aaron Schreiber, with the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, explained Lincoln's proposal. He said two, 240,000-square-foot office buildings currently approved for that site would be replaced with a five-story, 203,800-square-foot building.
It would have 184,000 square feet of residential use — consisting of 169 condos and eight affordable dwelling units (ADUs) — on four floors, over 19,800 square feet of ground-floor retail. A pool, gym, terraces, walkways, seating areas, underground parking and landscaping are also planned.
THE PROPOSAL needs county approval before it may go forward, and Pete Murphy, chairman of the Planning Commission, deferred decision until March 16 so the commissioners would have time to consider the residents' concerns.
Schreiber said this plan "reduces the development intensity of this site and results in a drastic reduction in traffic on West Ox, Monument Drive and Monument Court — the internal road which serves the shopping center."
He said Lincoln will also build an 8-foot-wide trail along the northern portion of the site and paint a new crosswalk to connect with an existing crosswalk at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Lincoln's also agreed to contribute money for additional trails in the Springfield District.
Representing Lincoln, attorney Keith Martin said the shopping-center owner "didn't know anything about office [uses]," and approached his client to, instead, construct residential and retail there. And the APR [Area Plans Review] Task Force agreed.
He said the developer met twice with Fairmont's homeowners association board. Because these residents lack adequate parking for themselves, they've been unofficially using the shopping center's lot in front of them.
"They've asked if we could provide some parking specifically for them," said Martin. "But according to the zoning ordinance, we're not allowed to provide off-site parking for residential in a commercial district. It's not legal."
FAIRMONT WAS built as Fairfax Towne Center's residential component, and it consists of 132 condos in six, three-story buildings. And Ajay Batra, condo association president, said Lincoln's plan would "massively and adversely" impact the residents.
He said traffic entering and exiting the shopping center via West Ox Road will worsen, as will traffic on Monument Court. Said Batra: "We're particularly concerned that shoppers will enter our private area on Monument Court to enter the shopping parking garage, in order to bypass the already-congested West Ox entrance."
He said the new building would tower three stories over theirs because of Fairmont's lower elevation and would block the morning sunlight, leading to more winter ice on Monument Court and potential accidents. Batra said residents would like the building level with theirs and the West Ox entrance improved to ease traffic flow.
He requested signs and gates at all entrances to his community to keep shoppers out of it, plus a traffic light at Monument Court and Monument Drive. He said speed bumps on Monument Court would slow down traffic and he asked for at least 20 designated parking spaces for his community "to soften the impact of spaces lost to shoppers refusing to use the garage."
Lincoln contends that garage is under-used and will easily absorb the 202 lost, shopping-center parking spaces. But, said Batra, "Requiring shoppers to park [there], further away from the shops than before, may lead to increased crime. Many people are already afraid to park there due to teen-agers that hang out there at night ... causing trouble."
He said two, tall buildings with a break between them might have been more "aesthetically pleasing" to the residents. But, said Murphy, "This property is going to develop — either this way, with modifications, or with two, 11-story buildings with far more traffic. So be careful what you're asking for, because you might get it."
MURPHY SAID the commissioners would see if any of Batra's suggestions could be put into practical use and his concerns could be addressed. Said Murphy: "Quite frankly, that whole community — not only yours — will be better off with this application." And, added At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart, "The traffic from an office use would be a lot worse when a lot of you are coming and going."
Resident Amendola said the proposal would add "a minimum of 350 more cars to and from West Ox. Logistically, it'll be a mess. Make Monument Court a dead end so cars can't come through Bed, Bath and Beyond to avoid West Ox."
Neighbor Hazel Costello moved to Fairmont in 1999 and wasn't aware of the future development. She asked if there could be a security guard at the entrance to the parking garage. "People are there at 3:30 a.m., and there's been some spray painting," she said.
She noted, too, that her community has no visitors parking and, for residents needing in-home nursing and therapy treatments, "the lack of parking for these aides poses a hardship." And she wondered if some new spaces could be created in a wooded area on Monument Court.
"We'll see if we can figure out some way to get them some designated parking to help them out," replied Martin. Added Murphy: "We'll try to do what we can to ameliorate some of your concerns. But it's a busy part of town and we have to address it in a logical way to do what's best for it and for you."