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County planners need more knowledge of Lake Anne’s physical constraints before writing plan amendment text.

Fairfax County planners have decided they need more time to learn about Lake Anne’s physical features before they write the language for the area’s comprehensive plan amendment. What was originally intended for a public hearing before the county’s Board of Supervisors this summer has now been pushed to early next year.

According to Fred Selden, director of county’s planning division, further study of the area is needed in order to write a plan amendment that would serve the purpose of revitalizing Lake Anne Village Center. "We have a history of being true to the language of the plan," said Selden. "How we phrase the plan is very important."

A team of consultants, led by Basile Baumann Prost & Associates (BBPA), handed over to the county their recommendations for the plan text and design guidelines in March. County planner Heidi Merkel said BBPA’s proposed language raises questions from staff working on the plan text. For example, a recommendation calling for below-grade parking at Lake Anne is a recommendation planners are not comfortable with at this point, because they do not know its feasibility. "We have reservations putting something into the plan that may not be realized," said Merkel.

If that was done, trouble may present itself if a developer showed interest in building a project at Lake Anne, but the project would not be approved without the developer providing below-grade parking. However, the county planners do not know yet whether below-grade parking is feasible at proposed locations, due to physical constraints and pipes installed underground that feed the water into Lake Anne. "If they can’t do it, we have to go back and amend the plan," said Merkel.

ANOTHER BBPA PROPOSAL that raises questions is an option of allowing additional density on the site of the Fellowship House if North Shore Drive is realigned. "The second option has a big question mark," said Merkel. "We don’t have a sense of what’s feasible in terms of road realignment," she said.

Selden said it is important to get these questions answered before the plan amendment is implemented. "Can we put three levels of parking under ground? I don’t know," he said. However, having the requirement in the comprehensive plan may discourage developers from coming in with projects if the market does not demand such parking, which is costly to provide. Selden said getting these questions answered before plan amendment implementation furthers revitalization goals, because leaving them up to future developers to answer may discourage those developers from coming to Lake Anne.

Merkel and Selden both said that the planners are hoping to hire consultants to conduct engineering and transportation studies on the site, which would provide the county with input to the feasibility of some current recommendations for the village center. Selden said he expects the county to soon implement a contracting mechanism that allows it to dip into a pool of already selected consultants, making the selection process shorter and getting the results of the studies sooner. Merkel said the results could be provided to the planners in October or November, leaving open a possibility of a plan amendment early in 2008. Selden said a Board of Supervisors public hearing would not happen prior to January 2008.

In terms of additional parking information, Selden clarified that the planners would not ask consultants to engineer future parking garages, but rather to determine the area’s ability to handle parking. "We’re still looking for answer to question A," he said. "How much parking can we feasibly and realistically do on site" is the question for consultants, said Selden. Those answers could also be factors in how much additional density the area could handle, an ongoing debate in the Lake Anne and greater Reston community.

The two planners addressed the Reston Community Reinvestment Corporation (RCRC), a community representative in the Lake Anne revitalization process, on Tuesday, June 19. Members of the RCRC board wanted to hear more about the issue of road realignment. Board member Van Foster said he was aware of the talk to realign Village Road from Baron Cameron so people entering the village center would get a clear view of the plaza and the lake. However, he was not aware of much talk of reconfiguring North Shore Drive. "Most people I talk to understand that the current road alignment doesn’t serve Lake Anne particularly well," said Selden, with visibility and circulation issues often brought up about the circular North Shore Drive. "I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘Keep it the way it is,’" he said.

Lee Rau, Hunter Mill District’s representative on the county’s redevelopment and housing authority, said realigning North Shore Drive is a safety issue. "Getting in and out of that parking lot" is difficult, he said, referring to the surface parking lot serving Washington Plaza.

THE UPDATE ON THE PLAN amendment was more than a discussion of issues raised in the BBPA report to the county. Selden said there is a lot of tension in the planning process, because a plan that seeks to guide a community long term is not always a plan that seeks to revitalize a community. "If you’re looking to revitalize Lake Anne, you don’t want a 40-year plan, you want a five-year plan that can be implemented," said Selden. He also said that a five-year plan does not mean a build out of the plan in five years, but rather the beginning of its implementation.

Howard Green, a member of the RCRC board, said he liked the idea of a five-year vision, which would serve revitalization purposes. He also urged the planners to provide some illustrations, non-binding to future developers, representating their vision for the plan. Selden pointed to the comprehensive plan for the Merrifield area, which encompasses some graphics, but the buildings that have been built since the plan’s approval do not reflect those graphics. "The development does not look like the picture, but the features are there," said Selden. "Sketches did not dictate the architecture."