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Mapping Out Springfield's Future

Urban Land Institute has been hired to study planned development in Springfield to determine possible impact on traffic, safety.

Impending changes to the landscape of Springfield, from the completion of the Springfield Interchange to the construction of the Midtown project and the redevelopment of the Springfield Mall, promise to inject new life into the area.

But what happens when all those projects become a reality? How will all those people in all those cars navigate their way around an area which is already gridlocked during rush hour?

During the April 3 Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) presented a Board Matter requesting the board to approve a contract with Urban Land Institute to conduct a five-day Advisory Services Panel, studying the way the planned developments might be able to work together to eliminate what could be a messy traffic situation.

"We're trying to avoid the lack of understanding from the cumulative impact of these projects," Kauffman said. "There are three significant projects for Springfield, each of them independently is something we're thrilled about. "

His concern is that the traffic caused from the residential and commercial projects will slowly add up, and in turn each project will blame the increase in traffic on what comes after, Kauffman said.

"We have to be able to secure all the positive things that are going on here," he added.

THE URBAN LAND Institute (ULI) is a group of land use experts, ranging in background from real estate developers to transportation planners, that volunteer their time to study existing and planned development in an area, said Tom Eitler, director of advisory services with ULI.

With over 30,000 members nationwide, ULI takes on 15 five-day advisory panel projects each year in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Eitler said.

A community will contact ULI with a specific problem or series of questions, which will dictate how the survey is to be conducted. "All of the studies are very site specific but cover a wide variety of issues. None of the volunteers who go out to conduct the survey are from the area, so there isn't a problem of anyone being an inside stake holder to that particular region," Eitler said.

Members of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning are still compiling a list of questions that ULI will be working to solve during the five-day advisory services panel, which will be conducted May 22-26, Eitler said.

The volunteers will come in, get a tour of the area in Springfield where the three projects are planned and then begin work, he said. "We have a fairly well-oiled process of coming in, talking with stake holders and then the panel is sequestered for a few days to hash through charettes until we can come up with suggestions as to how to answer the questions we're given," Eitler said.

At the end of the five days, the panel will give a PowerPoint presentation to Kauffman and possibly other county officials, which will be delivered as a written report within eight to 10 weeks after the completion of the study, he said.

"We're not looking to create a comprehensive plan or a sector plan, we're just giving advice based on what they asked us," Eitler said.

IDEALLY, THE greater Springfield community should be connected between the new developments at Midtown Springfield, the Mall and the revitalization district in the central part of the area, said Paul Gagnon, chair of the Lee District Land Use Advisory Council.

"Currently, we're pushing the idea of having shuttle services increased and enhanced bus service between those sites and the Metro, but transportation in Springfield doesn't always work well," he said. "We want to make it easier for people to walk around. If people wanted to walk from the Charles E. Smith Apartments to the Mall right now, they're taking their lives in their own hands."

Gagnon is hopeful that ULI will be able to offer insight that will help the county and developers work together to create a higher quality of life in Springfield.

"If we can find a way to make it all work together, that'll reduce traffic," he said.

The questions submitted to ULI have centered mostly on the placement and protection of open, public space in Springfield in addition to the as-yet unknown impact of the Base Realignment and Closure requirements at the Engineer Proving Grounds, said Jim Zook, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

"We need to create public plazas where people can gather. We want more shared outdoor space," Zook said.

At the same time, a long wish-list of what developers and Springfield stakeholders want in their future may not be feasible, leading to another reason why ULI was hired.

"The reason we asked them to come in was so we could get an outside perspective," Zook said. "We're hoping for exciting ideas for things that we haven't thought about yet. We expect to hear great ideas from people who have worked on this type of things around the country."

Overall, many in the Springfield community are optimistic that the advisory panel will come up with creative solutions to prevent more traffic qualms.

"I think this is a good step in the right direction to really get the county, [Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council], the Chamber and all other revitalization efforts going in the right direction," said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Manney said she'd like to see the panel come back with "do-able" solutions that require cooperation between developers and the private sector, which would help foster the sense of cohesion and, in what has become the buzz-word for the recreation of Springfield-synergy these projects are promising.

"This needs to be a partnership. We need to work together to make sure these things are being done positively and properly," she said.