Do the residents, or the powers that be, in Mount Vernon District really want a viable mixed-use development at Kings Crossing? That question was the essence of a hastily called meeting Tuesday night at the Mount Vernon Government Center.
With nearly 30 representatives from a host of civic organizations and community associations present, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland laid the cards squarely on the table. "This is the first time during my nearly 20 years in elective office that I have asked folks to come together in this context," he said in opening the session.
"We had sort of a tortured experience during the first proposal for Kings Crossing. Now JPI has a new proposal. No matter what you think or feel about JPI, I would not have brought you here tonight unless I felt this proposal was to be taken seriously and is much better than what we had before," Hyland said.
"However, this meeting is not intended to cut in front of the normal planning process. They [JPI] must take this proposal to all interested parties. What I'm looking for tonight is a sense of whether this proposal is what we want to see on this site," he said.
"We need to consider this proposal seriously or just forget it. If you feel this is a viable opportunity we are going to move out on it. We can not take another two years of talking," Hyland said.
ARRON LIEBERT, vice president and area managing partner for the McLean-based JPI Development, had shepherded the previous Kings Crossing proposal: a joint venture between JPI and Dallas-based Archon Corporation, owners of the 11-plus acre site at the intersection of Richmond and South Kings highways. That proposal was based primarily on mixed use development of residential and retail/commercial. The residential element contained individual townhomes, condominiums and rental units. It also called for a hotel, high-end retail, high-rise office buildings, a town center, and a park/open space component.
Due to continuing delays and disagreements between JPI, Archon, and various civic organizations over the land use mix and the
amount of relocation money to be allocated to residents of Penn Daw Mobile Home Park — which was to be incorporated into the original site — the proposal became stagnated and the contract between JPI and Archon expired. The project was considered dead by many, including Hyland.
On Monday, prior to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, Liebert brought forth his new proposal. Hyland acknowledged he was impressed and saw it as a viable concept to revive the comatose project.
As Liebert pointed out, the landowners, Archon and their backers, want to get their investment in the property back. They can develop the site into a "big box" retailer; it is zoned accordingly and they would need little or no further approval from either the County or those assembled in the Community Room Tuesday night.
"We (JPI) have spent a lot of time and money over the last couple of years. Now we need some very open and honest dialogue to determine if this proposal is worth pursuing or not," Liebert told the group.
"We no longer have a contract with Archon or Mr. Epps [owner of the Penn Daw Mobile Home Park land]. We need to know up front if JPI, the community and the county can come together to work on this concept that will be good for everyone," Liebert said.
"We have also brought in new talent that is more experienced in this new concept. Our previous partners couldn't get their hands around a concept that was dependent on one part becoming viable before moving on to the next," he explained.
That new partner is JBG Rosenfeld Retail headed by Grant M. Ehat, principal. He was a prime mover in bringing Whole Foods to Alexandria and participating in other development project throughout the metropolitan area.
"We feel very confident we can bring in high end retailers and a high end grocer to this development," Ehat said. Hyland and others have envisioned Wegmans Grocery locating on this site. The previous plan did not allow enough land area for a Wegmans.
Under this plan a high-end grocer would be the anchor property. It also reconfigures the road network on the site to accommodate, not only a better traffic flow to aid the grocery, other retail and residents, but also makes the entire development a more walkable community.
However, Liebert was quick to warn attendees, "I can't guarantee
Wegman's will open a store here. We are meeting with them next week to explore the possibility. But, we will seek a high-end grocery."
REACTION TO THE PROPOSED NEW PLAN was generally favorable, realizing that there are a myriad details to be ironed out. "Every staff person who has seen this has thought this is what we had hoped for on this site," said Barbara A. Byron, director, Zoning Evaluation Division, County Planning & Zoning Department.
"From our perspective, the worst thing that could happen here is to do nothing," she said.
"I think this is a very good design compared to what we saw before. I don't see any major problems. We recognize that having more residential units will be good for retail," said David Dale, president, Spring Bank Community Association (SBCA), the group most involved with the original project since its inception and the only one to finally endorse it. That was echoed by Martin Tillett, vice president, SBCA.
Although the group's overall reaction was positive, they realized there were many details to be work out. As Hyland noted in opening the meeting, "We are not looking for any vote here tonight. But, I'll be dead before Kings Crossing gets approved unless we do something now."