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Best Use of the Land?

Westmore residents hear hotel proposal, ask if the development would be best use of land adjacent to their community.

The City of Fairfax lacks a large hotel and conference center complex, and a landowner considering a proposal for one could face opposition from the community where it would be built.

Residents in the Westmore community, located to the southwest of the Lee Highway/Arlington Boulevard and Main Street intersection, also known as Kamp Washington, received a preliminary glimpse into a project that might someday affect their neighborhood. After receiving a fluorescent pink flyer about the project, about 50 residents showed up at the Tuesday, March 20 meeting where the property owner’s attorney presented a potential plan that is in the very early stages.

The land in question is the current site of the Next Day Blinds store, located to the east of Havertys Furniture on Route 29. The L-shaped property in question, which consists of three lots that are zoned C-2, or commercial, borders the Westmore community. The property owner, Yogi Dumera, wants to lease the property to an upscale hotel and conference center, but neighbors at the meeting expressed concern about traffic, parking, sewer capacity, noise, lights, appearance and a possible negative effect on their property values.

Carson Lee Fifer, an attorney with McGuireWoods LLP in McLean, told residents at the meeting that the project is extremely conceptual right now. The preliminary plans include a 180-room hotel with a detached conference center and a 400-space underground parking structure. The average height of the building would be about 60-feet, said Fifer, with the side facing Westmore gradually ascending toward the Lee Highway side, making the building less obtrusive to the residential side, he said.

Gary Perryman, president of the Westmore Citizens Association, said he’s concerned about the height of the building, especially since the property is located on a small hill. Preliminary drawings show that the hotel could be as tall as seven stories on the Lee Highway side.

“Everything on that [Lee Highway/Route 50] corridor is two stories tall,” said Perryman. "I have a serious problem with [the proposed height of the hotel].”

A large restaurant and some first-floor retail shops are also in the plans. Sufficient landscaping and buffering would be added between Westmore and the buildings, said Fifer.

Engineers have not studied the land yet, and the necessary traffic and environmental studies have not been done either. Dumera did reveal that Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, operated by Starwood Hotels, has given initial intent to operate the center, with Hilton Hotels also showing interest.

Dumera and his attorneys said they were showing the community the initial plans before working with the city on an application.

Ross Landis, a Westmore resident, was a little disappointed with the presentation at the March 20 meeting, since Fifer didn't bring more details as he had promised at a January community meeting. Landis said it is hard to say whether the community supports or opposes the project since there isn't a lot of information yet.

"My biggest sense [from the community] was frustration because they really didn't bring anything new," said Landis.

BUT WESTMORE RESIDENTS at the meeting cited the motels along Route 50 as examples of what can happen. The county uses the mostly vacant motels to house transients and the homeless. Residents asked Fifer if the hotel would thrive enough to stay in business, since they fear those potential uses of the building.

But Sheraton’s unofficial commitment should ease concerns about the success of the location, said Fifer, since he doubts the hotel chain would have expressed interest in a location without first conducting some kind of market study. The Hampton Inn just up the street is generally 100 percent full from Wednesdays through Sundays, he said.

As for traffic, which is already a problem for the surrounding area, access to the hotel would only come from Lee Highway, not Park Road in Westmore. Fifer said a traffic analysis would be done to ensure the traffic and parking concerns were addressed.

“The hotel has to pass that muster, or else it wouldn’t be done,” said Fifer.

But the muster isn’t always tested accurately, said Perryman, citing the traffic study data from a previous land-use application further east on Route 50. In that application, developers proposed a high-density condominium project and revealed projected trip generation data that seemed extremely low, he said.

“The two [traffic] analyses I’ve seen done for city construction were so far fetched it’s not even funny,” said Perryman.

Fifer tried to appease the concerned residents by saying they could even choose the company to conduct the study. He also said the application would include other conditions to address their concerns, including specifications for the roads that construction and dump trucks could use during the estimated 18-month construction phase. Since the residential roads in the neighborhood are still public roads, police can’t stop trucks from driving through, but a provision in the land-use application would allow the city to step in and enforce it, he said. As for the inconveniences of having a construction site nearby, Fifer told residents it’s inevitable.

“Something will be built there,” he said.

As for the Business Improvement District, or Fairfax Boulevard corridor, master-planning process that begins Saturday, March 24, Fifer said he’s confident the hotel would be consistent with the plan since city officials have expressed interest in a conference center. Mayor Robert Lederer asked Dumera and his attorneys to come to the community first for input, so Perryman encouraged his neighbors to remain vocal about the project.

“We have a good say in this,” he said.

The process now involves more community meetings once some of the community concerns can be addressed. Also, the developers would still need to do engineering studies, traffic studies, analyze environmental impacts before filing an application with the city’s planning department. Then two public hearings would take place — one at the Planning Commission and one in front of the City Council.

“We’re happy to work with you,” said Fifer.