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Votes

Kings Crossing: A Fading Dream

It's all in the timing — both winning and losing.

After several years of negotiating, bickering, endless meetings with community groups and Fairfax County officials, the planned mixed use development of Kings Crossing appears to be dead. That is the assessment by many of those involved.

But, that does not mean that the 33 acre site at the intersection of Richmond and South Kings highways in Mount Vernon District will just sit vacant. David Paul, representing Archon of Dallas, Texas, owners of the land, recently told the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, "We are exploring our options," according to Laura Fritts, executive director, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation.

Until this fall, Archon had a contract with JPI Development of McLean, to develop the site incorporating residences, offices, a hotel, and a variety of retail/commercial enterprises. However, the stumbling block from the outset has been the ratio of residences to commercial/retail space.

Archon/JPI wanted to develop more residential space while the Spring Bank Community Association and others, joined by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, originally pushed for 80 percent commercial/retail to 20 percent residential. The land owner and developer were focused on a flip of those ratios.

JPI consistently lowered their residential goals while SBCA did the same on the commercial/retail side of the controversy. A consensus appeared to have been reached at a meeting June 12, 2006 when SBCA voted overwhelmingly, 15 to 2, to support the revised development proposal.

"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, at that time. Following that vote, Aaron Liebert, vice president, JPI, expressed the feeling that a real break through had been accomplished in the two-year struggle for consensus.

"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," Liebert said at that time.

AS NOTED at that critical meeting SBCA had three priorities in developing the site: the creation of a town center; that the bulk of the Fairchild property at the rear of the site would become a community park; and that development would not cause an adverse traffic impact on the existing adjacent community.

JPI included the first two in their final plan and agreed to "put money in place to mitigate traffic flow" through the installation of speed tables and traffic signs. Other concessions agreed to by JPI at that time, according to Dale, included:

* 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 that consensus plan, JPI had reduced the number of residences, which initially included townhomes, condominiums and rental apartments, to no more than 676, nearly 200 less than originally envisioned. Some of the residences were to be blended with retail uses.

The condominiums were dropped from the plan as that market tumbled this summer in favor of more town homes, both individual and stacked. A little more than 400 apartment units also remained.

However, as Dale was quick to point out at that time, "This community vote only represents a community consensus. It is not binding on the County planners or other interest groups."

THAT FACT proved to be the ultimate undoing of the Kings Crossing plan. Included in JPI's application to County planning was the acquisition of a mobile home park to the north of the main site known as Penn Daw Mobile Home Park. That was required by the County, according to Liebert, which added an additional financial profitability strain on JPI.

They also never received final approval from either the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation or the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations. All this coalescing with a downtown in the residential market caused JPI to requested an unlimited extension in their zoning application.

On Oct. 30, Elizabeth D. Baker of Walsh Colucci Lubeley Amrich & Walsh, P.C., representing JPI, sent a letter to Cathy Lewis, senior staff coordinator, Zoning Evaluation Division, Fairfax County

Planning & Zoning Department, requesting that "the Planning Commission public hearings for [Kings Crossing] currently scheduled for Jan. 24, 2006 [she meant 2007] be deferred for an indefinite period of time."

THAT LETTER coincided with the expiration of the development contract between Archon, owners of the property, and JPI, developers. Since then Archon has terminated its lease with National Wholesale Liquidators, which had taken over the space vacated by Michaels, and placed Chuck E. Cheese’s on a month-to-month lease.

There is presently speculation that Archon plans to have the space developed by a big box type store or other commercial/retail entity. However, several calls to and messages left with Paul were not returned to verify his firm's future plans for the site. There is a sign at the entrance to the site stating "Stores To Be Built."

"We'd still very much would like to do this project but we don't own the land. We were committed to making it a real asset to the area and we still are. It was just taking to long to get all the pieces in place," said Liebert.

At a joint community/developer/land owner meeting hosted by Hyland in June at the Mount Vernon Government Center there was still a lot of disagreement on what should and could be required. At that time Paul stated categorically, "We are running out of time."

During an earlier meeting with SBCA, Paul told association members, "If we [Archon] have to go way up on commercial space that we believe is not the best use of the property then we are going to be looking at what else could be done with this property." Since it is now zoned commercial it can be developed in that way "by right."

Hyland warned early on, "One of their [Archon] options is just to renovate the existing center with permanent new tenants." One of those possible tenants is COSTCO which attended a meeting of the association to outline their desires to place a store at the site.

As for the mobile home park, all the land is owned by Robert Epps. Although the County was requiring JPI to pay for relocating those residents if they acquired that land as a part of the Kings Crossing mixed-use development, there is no such requirement of Epps. He could simply allow the individual leases to expire or terminate them and put the land to another use.

What will happen now is a wide open question. What is certain at this juncture is that the Town Center, bucolic park land, 150 room hotel, various commercial/retail enterprises, and a walkable residential community are presently out of sight. But, not necessarily, out of mind.

As Liebert said, "I also want this mixed use development. I put two years of my life into developing this concept and I thought we had a consensus. I still have all my plans in the boxes and we're [JPI] ready to go if it comes to life again."