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Votes

Work it Out

City Council debates development, park improvements and transportation at Feb. 20 work session.

With the Old Town Village development underway in downtown Fairfax, the proposed development for the old Frank’s Nursery site on Route 50 and the recent Main Street Marketplace downtown, real estate developer Jay Donegan is making his mark in the City of Fairfax.

“It’s an environment I’m comfortable working in,” said Donegan, at the Tuesday, Feb. 20 City Council work session.

Donegan came before City Council to present his company’s latest proposal: a bank, coffee shop, food and retail marketplace, at 10930 Fairfax Blvd., previous home of Frank’s Nursery. Consideration for the shopping center comes before planning gets underway for the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan next month, which had at least once councilmember concerned at the meeting.

“There’s a timeliness here,” said Councilmember Patrice Winter. “Are we jumping the gun?”

Winter was the only councilmember to speak up about possibly delaying the public hearing. City Council went ahead with scheduling the public hearing for the project’s special use permit for Tuesday, Feb. 27 — less than one month before hired consultants are scheduled to conduct a community outreach week that is expected to get an overall sense of how people want the Route 50 corridor to look in the future— if people show up. The City Council ignored the postponement consideration though, citing Donegan’s previous projects in the city.

“This will serve as a model on how some of these other properties [along Route 50] can be redeveloped,” said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

So the developer’s “model” will come before the official model put forth by Dover, Kohl & Partners — the consultants that the Business Improvement District along the corridor is paying about $750,000 in tax dollars to in order to craft a master plan. The firm was hired for its town-planning expertise. Donegan’s company specializes in retail leasing and development.

Victor Dover, of Dover, Kohl & Partners, presented City Council with his firm’s plans for the process, Tuesday, Feb. 13. At that meeting, councilmembers expressed their enthusiasm for the amount of public outreach that all parties agreed upon, including the councilmembers themselves.

Lederer said how important it would be to get the community involved so their visions could be incorporated into the master plan.

“There’s a lot going into this and we need your feedback or it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on,” said Lederer, at the Feb. 13 presentation.

But Lederer said the master-planning process is a long one, and the end result will be "nothing more than a guiding document."

"One signal we don't want to send to developers is that we've put a screeching halt to anything in the mean time," said Lederer. "In the development community, timing is everything."

Silverthorne said the reason council felt comfortable moving forward with Donegan's application is because it's not changing the use of the property; it's merely upgrading it, he said. Also, Donegan has a track record of "quality developments" in the city, said Silverthorne.

"It was already retail, and it's being redeveloped as retail," he said. "It's really the same use; there's nothing new going in here."

He cited last fall's rejected Rocky Gorge application as an example of that, since that application sought to change the zoning to residential. The applicant wanted to build a condominium development on Route 50, just west of Stafford Drive, in a commercially-zoned area.

"There's nothing controversial about a retail use in a retail corridor," said Lederer. "When you change the use or change the pattern, then maybe [postponing] would be a legitimate issue."

CITY COUNCIL DISCUSSED another Route 50 development at the Feb. 20 work session. In the case of the Boulevard Shops, at 10670 and 10700 Fairfax Blvd., redevelopment was the key issue that sat in the shadow of the parking issue at the shopping center. The applicant, Saul Holdings LP, represented by Attorney David Houston, is requesting several special exceptions and special use permits for the east part of the shopping center. Currently, the center houses Panera Bread, Party City and Petco. The Super H Mart resides on the adjacent property, also owned by Saul. The two properties have some shared parking arrangements, which is why Councilmember Jeff Greenfield said the exceptions couldn’t be considered without looking at the property as a whole.

“You cant look at just the one side of the shopping center to determine if there’s ample parking or not,” he said. "If you go out there and you look, there is a serious parking problem. When you can’t park in the one shopping center, they move over and park in the other.”

Councilmembers agreed the parking issue is huge, and they weren’t comfortable with moving forward with the special exception and permit process until the applicant comes back with the details of the parking agreement.

“Go back and see if there’s a way to refine this,” said Silverthorne.

The proposed special uses would include tearing down the former Danker Furniture building, which is freestanding at the east side of the lot, to construct a bank with drive-through facilities. The special exceptions would adjust required setbacks, landscaping, parking, open space and trails.

ANOTHER ONGOING ITEM at the Feb. 20 work session was the discussion on improvements for Providence Park. Michael McCarty, the city’s parks and recreation director, presented council with the three cost estimates for the project, with and without bathroom facilities. Concept A, the concept staff recommended and the one City Council generally agreed upon, would cost $389,047 without bathrooms, and $944,240 with bathrooms.

After conducting outreach to the surrounding communities, Lederer said he remembered that the neighbors were leaning more toward concepts B and C, and said he was disturbed that council was looking at option A as the best one based on the location of the tennis courts and their proximity to West Drive and the basketball courts.

“I don’t ever remember anyone arguing the location of the tennis courts,” he said.

Councilmembers Silverthorne and Gary Rasmussen both wanted to postpone the discussion until after the city’s budget is completed, but most of the council agreed the project has taken a long time already. Lederer instructed staff to schedule the concept for formal action as soon as possible so it can move forward. And since the park is, for the most part, a neighborhood park, council agreed bathrooms would not be necessary since people generally live nearby.

IN OTHER COUNCIL business, the transportation legislation from both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates was summarized and presented to council so it could decide whether the tax formulas proposed were acceptable. In the Northern Virginia Tax Package, $219 million of $403 million in annual tax increases would come directly from Northern Virginia and would stay here. The other $184 million would come from the state, which includes Northern Virginia’s heavy contributions.

“I don’t see how that’s progress,” said Lederer. “This to me is just more of the same. Once again, it puts the tax burden on the citizens of Northern Virginia, with no help from the state.”

After years of back and forth debate about the region’s transportation problems, the package is something over nothing, said Silverthorne. While the package isn’t the best scenario, he said choosing nothing would just prolong the problems. He commended the Northern Virginia General Assembly members for working hard, but called the rest of the legislature “backwards” and “incompetent.”

“We’ve been at this for a decade … they just don’t have the foresight,” said Silverthorne.

While the council reluctantly approved the package, they agreed it was only an option because it was the lesser of two evils.

“The legislature needs to do their job,” said Greenfield.

The General Assembly is expected to vote on the package by the end of the session, which is Saturday, Feb. 24.