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Building Plan Is OK'd

Fairfax Towne Center could get more condos, retail.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission last week approved a proposal to bring more condos and retail to the Fairfax Towne Center. A new, five-story structure may arise on what's now a parking lot between the movie theater and Baja Fresh.

THE PROPOSED 203,800-square-foot building would have 184,000 square feet of residential use — 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.

County staff favors the idea because it would be less intense and generate less traffic than the two, 11-story office buildings that could be built there instead, by right. But earlier, residents of the Fairmont Condominiums, behind that parking lot, objected to the plan.

They decried the loss of parking spaces, since their own community has a serious shortage of spaces for its residents. And they asked the developer, Lincoln Property Co., to earmark some spots especially for them.

They said traffic entering and exiting the shopping center via West Ox Road would worsen, as would traffic on Monument Court, which serves their homes. Ajay Batra, condo association president, said residents worried that shoppers would enter their private area on Monument Court to bypass the West Ox entrance en route to the shopping center's parking garage.

And although not all the residents' wishes could be fulfilled, Planning Commission Chairman Pete Murphy said definite progress has been made.

SAID MURPHY: "We met with Mr. Batra and the citizens [prior to the March 16 Planning Commission meeting] at [Springfield District Supervisor] Elaine McConnell's office and discussed realistic suggestions that could be incorporated into the proffers."

The one request the developer was unable to accommodate was the residents' request for their own parking spaces. That's because, according to the county zoning ordinance, it's illegal to provide off-site parking for residential use in a commercial district.

However, said Murphy, four new proffers were added to the proposal to help mitigate some of the project's adverse impacts upon the Fairmont Condominium residents. "[Lincoln] agreed to either do speed bumps on Monument Court or [install] an automatically generated [gate] arm to come down to keep nonresidents out of Monument Court," he said.

One of the new proffers stipulated that the residents need to tell Lincoln in writing which traffic-calming method they prefer and then the developer will pay for it. Another said the developer will designate a construction liaison to keep the condo association president informed about the construction activities.

Lincoln must also establish a written plan detailing how it intends to control construction traffic, debris maintenance and dust and provide a copy to the construction liaison, the condo association president and McConnell's office.

Furthermore, the developer is required to erect a sign along Monument Court directing shoppers, as well as residents of the new building, toward the residential garage, the retail garage or the retail surface parking lot. It must also put up a sign near the eastern entrance of Monument Court, notifying the public that the Fairmont Condominiums are private property.

LINCOLN WILL 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. It's also agreed to contribute money for additional trails in the Springfield District. And it will erect a sign along the trail to be constructed in the western portion of the site, directing pedestrians to enter the shopping center to access trails along West Ox Road and Monument Drive.

In addition, Lincoln has agreed to contribute $127,500 to the county Board of Supervisors for use at schools serving the property. It will also contribute $530 per market-rate unit to the county Park Authority for improvements to Ox Hill Battlefield Park.

At the March 2 public hearing, residents told the Planning Commissioners they were also concerned about safety at the shopping center's existing parking garage. Said Batra: "Teen-agers hang out there at night ... causing trouble."

So Murphy suggested that the residents and the shopping center's merchants association join together to create a comprehensive, Neighborhood Watch program to serve them both. "I encouraged Mr. Batra to contact Capt. [Amy] Lubas, [commander of the Fair Oaks District Police Station] and a Neighborhood Watch coordinator about it," said Murphy. He also advised Batra to then erect Neighborhood Watch signage as soon as possible.

Following the Planning Commission's OK, March 16, Lincoln's proposal now goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. As for the differences between the developer and the Fairmont Condominium residents, said Murphy, "I thought it worked out very well. And I thought the [homeowners] group articulated their position and represented their community very well."