Agreement seems to exist that the land between Beulah Street and Fleet Drive needs a fresh start. Most of the 5.9-acre area was developed about 50 years ago, and some of the properties are showing their age.
“This is a property that I will say has been of interest … for redevelopment,” said Planning Commissioner Rodney Lusk (D-Lee), at the commission's March 7 meeting.
But the plan proposed by Fleet Drive, LLC to put 49 townhouses on the site (one below the threshold which would mandate affordable units) has raised concerns among county planners, and the Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended denying the request, which they say is too dense.
The plan, said planner Cathy Lewis, seems designed simply to maximize the number of houses and is not of a high quality, according to the staff report. Additionally, county planners do not think the plan offers enough protection to the mature trees on the site. Nor do they think it includes sufficient open space, said Lewis.
Most of the problems could be resolved if the developer were willing to reduce the number of units, according to the staff report.
Planning commissioners asked questions about the layout of the site, agreeing with county planners about a lack of space.
“In this particular plan, there isn’t much elbow room for anything,” said Commissioner Jim Hart (At-large).
Commissioners were also concerned about the cost to future residents. They noted that the development would have a private retaining wall and private streets to maintain. Additionally, commissioners discussed moving the development’s stormwater detention facilities underground. While this would create more usable open space, it would also be expensive to maintain. “That is going to be quite a condo fee,” said Commissioner Suzanne Harsel (Braddock).
The developer also was unable to acquire a parcel in the center of the development, creating a “U” shape for the layout of the homes. This would make future development of that center property problematic.
The developer did make efforts to incorporate the property said Bob Lawrence, attorney for the developer.
Additionally, Lawrence said, the plan meets the terms of the zoning ordinance in terms of the amount of required open space, yard requirements and tree buffering.
“We think we’ve addressed the main problems,” he said.
When the new residents move in, they would also have the opportunity to meet with the neighboring development, Franconia Commons, and perhaps discuss ways they might contract to use some of the amenities in that development, such as the community pool.
“This is a very, very tough site,” said Lusk. He noted that the Lee District Land Use committee had some issues with the proposal, but did not vote to oppose it.
Lusk deferred the decision for a week, to allow more time to try to resolve the open space issue in particular. The commission deferred its decision until March 14.
After the commission’s recommendation, the proposal will go to the Board of Supervisors for another public hearing and a final decision.