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Votes

Developing Exceptions

City Council approves special uses and exceptions to the City Code for two large developments

For developers in the City of Fairfax, they just might get what they want, if they’re willing to ride it out for a few years.

The agenda items that City Council had to work the most kinks out of at its Tuesday, June 26, meeting, dealt with special uses and exceptions for the Boulevard Shops, 10670 Fairfax Blvd., and Old Town Village, 3925 Chain Bridge Road. Developers for each of the two centers have been back and forth with the city for years, regarding what can and can’t be build. There were still unanswered questions at the public hearings for each proposal.

Saul Holdings L.P., owner of the Boulevard Shops, has built, rebuilt, redeveloped and added on to the retail development located across the street from Paul VI High School over the years. The latest proposal has been through three City Council work sessions in the last nine months, with council members tweaking and picking away at the details of the project at each meeting.

John Collich, senior vice president of retail development with Saul Holdings, spoke once again on behalf of the applicant at the June 26 public hearing, defending and listening to some of the same concerns he heard in past work sessions.

"My concern has always been parking at the shopping center; it is tight," said Council member Jeff Greenfield. "You’re a victim of your own success."

WHILE THE BOULEVARD Shops and neighboring Shops at Fairfax are managed as two separate parcels, with the Shops at Fairfax to the west and the Boulevard Shops to the east, both shops are owned and managed by Saul Holdings. Parking has proved to be an interconnected problem between the two developments, mainly because of the success of main anchor store at the Shops at Fairfax, the Super H Mart.

The special-use permit to add on to the Boulevard Shops has its own set of parking requirements, but several council members have not made a distinction between the two properties since shoppers typically park wherever there’s a space, which often means parking on one side when shopping at another.

Many council members have repeatedly complained that parking at the Super H market is out of control. Shopping carts take up several spaces on a regular basis, said Greenfield, who noted that 12 spaces were occupied by shopping carts in the hours before the June 26 City Council meeting.

Employees of the market are not parking where they should, said Collich. That causes a ripple effect to the eastern portion of the development, which is already tight on parking spaces, said Greenfield.

Collich said Saul Holdings is working with the store manager to ensure the problem is corrected.

Greenfield said it’s inexcusable that citizens and council members have been largely responsible for alerting Saul Holdings to the parking problems at the center. He said the company should enforce the rules with its tenants and their employees, not the city.

"It’s not our staff’s job to pick up the phone and call you to tell you there’s a problem in your shopping center," said Greenfield. "I do believe you can do a better job of taking care of this."

GREENFIELD ALSO asked staff to follow up with data that shows the extent of impact that the city’s parking island and landscaping requirements pose on developers and their ability to meet parking requirements. He also added a condition to the proposal that would require Saul Holdings to report back to the city once a year to address the issue.

City Council then approved the special use approval for an 8,000-square-foot addition of shops to the eastern portion of the development and also a 3,650-square-foot freestanding bank where the Danker Furniture store currently resides. Saul Holdings plans to demolish that building to construct a new building for Chevy Chase Bank, including a four-lane drive-through window.

"The basic fundamental issue is it’s an old shopping center that needs a little tender loving care," said Collich. "Now is the opportunity to take advantage of a redevelopment opportunity."

But Council member Gail Lyon, while in favor of the redevelopment of the center, wants Saul Holdings and her fellow council members to reconsider a restaurant for the addition portion, instead of keeping it solely retail as agreed upon in previous work session meetings. If the parking is plausible, she said, a restaurant should be back on the table.

Council member Scott Silverthorne said the differing opinions among the members were likely discouraging and appreciated the willingness of the developers to keep tweaking their proposal until it satisfied the council’s needs.

The special uses and exceptions include allowing a commercial redevelopment that generates more than 700 car trips per day in the Highway Corridor Overlay District, a bank with a drive-in facility and a reduction in landscaping requirements, setbacks, parking, open space and sidewalk requirements.

"I think this I a good plan," Silverthorne said. "I think this [compromise] makes the most sense."

Council member Joan Cross was the only member to vote against the project, citing an unwillingness to overlook parking concerns. Council member Patrice Winter was absent from the meeting.

COUNCIL MEMBERS ALSO questioned the intent of the special-exception application for Old Town Village, the new development under construction in Old Town. The applicant, KRS Old Town Inc., asked to allow building-mounted signs higher than 3.5 feet about the second-story level, for its commercial tenants. Mayor Robert Lederer was confused about the proposal because a comprehensive sign plan was presented that includes the signage plans for the entire development, even though the exception dealt solely with the commercial tenants.

"I want to make sure we’re not going to put one set of businesses at a disadvantage versus another set of businesses," said Lederer, who owns an ice cream shop directly across from Old Town Village, which reportedly includes an ice cream store as one of its merchants. "I want to make sure nothing we’re doing here tonight isn’t going to create a competitive disadvantage."

Michelle Coleman, deputy director of planning and zoning, assured Lederer the sign exceptions did not include retail businesses. The council unanimously approved the exception.

IN OTHER COUNCIL NEWS …

* City Council approved an appropriation resolution in the amount of $5.8 million for the development of ball fields at the Stafford property, located to the northwest of the intersection of Stafford Drive and Route 50. Council agreed to discuss at a future work session whether that money should be spent on developing fields at the Green Acres property on Sideburn Road in order to develop two fields at Draper Drive Park, rather than the one currently planned.

* City Council approved an ordinance amendment to allow photo red light monitoring in the city. The city previously had eight red-light cameras before the state legislation allowing the monitoring expired in 2005. The General Assembly passed legislation this year to reinstate the cameras and the city now plans to install 10 cameras, said City Manager Robert Sisson.

* City Council approved an appropriation resolution in the amount of $4 million to fund the acquisition of the Eleven Oaks School property at 10515 School St. The city plans to purchase the property in order to prevent the county from changing the use, thus changing the "residential character" of the community, said Lederer. A portion of the property will be dedicated to the completion of George Mason Boulevard, and the city plans to sell the rest of it to residential developers.