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Apartments, Retail Planned: Kamp Washington Triangle

Fairfax City Council concerned about density, affordability.

It’s still a work in progress, but Novus Fairfax Gateway LLC hopes to transform part of the Kamp Washington triangle between Fairfax Boulevard and Lee Highway into a modern, community-serving, mixed-use project.

Proposed on the 8.33-acre site are 423 multifamily apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail uses – including 12,000 square feet of first-floor retail and amenities for the residents, plus a 5,000-square-foot restaurant – and a 4,000-square-foot office space for use by a nonprofit.

The design includes a road network that could mesh with the future redevelopment of the rest of that triangle, while adding traffic-calming elements to reduce cut-through traffic in the nearby Fairchester Woods neighborhood.

Details were presented and discussed during a July 8 joint work session of the Fairfax City Council and Planning Commission. And while the project is impressive, City officials have several, serious concerns and say it’s not yet everything they want it to be for that area and for Fairfax residents.

AT THE OUTSET, Community Development Division Chief Jason Sutphin said the City fire marshal is worried about “fire access to the backs of the buildings at the current plan configurement. “The plans don’t show turn or vehicular movements,” said Sutphin. “And the central traffic circle [roundabout] may have to be shifted to allow for traffic stacking.”

Then attorney Lynne Strobel, representing Novus, gave specifics of what’s proposed and said the applicant was there to elicit City feedback and listen to the response. She said four parcels were consolidated and a maintenance endowment was established for the nearby, historic cemetery.

“We’ve developed a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use project introducing high-quality residential to Kamp Washington,” she said. “The site currently is a car-storage lot for Ted Britt Ford, generating $90,000/year to the City. But when developed, tax revenue alone will be closer to $2 million/year.”

Developer Rob Seldin, of Cafritz Interests, said the apartments are needed because “when GMU students graduate, there’s currently no place for them to live nearby where their friends are.” And Strobel said they’ll continue working on the proffers and will address the fire marshal’s concerns. “It’s still a conceptual plan,” she said.

The commercial space and three- and four-story buildings would front on Lee Highway and Fairfax Boulevard. Five-story buildings would be central to the site, and a seven-story parking garage would have a half-story on top for a pool.

Planning Commissioner Janet Jaworski asked if there are plans to screen that pool, and Strobel said that detail will be worked out later in the design process. She also noted that the amenities for the apartment residents would be things such as a fitness center and a business center.

“I’d like the impacts of the 423 multifamily units considered on the two closest parks, when you’re making proffers,” said Planning Commissioner Joe Harmon. Colleague Tom Armstrong asked if they’d considered LEED certification, and Strobel said the buildings would include sustainable features.

“It’s about 20 percent of the triangle site,” said Councilman Michael DeMarco. “It would be nice to incorporate more commercial office space. You should consider providing shuttle buses to the Metro station for the residents. You need to be innovative in addressing affordable housing, and energy efficiency and stormwater management are important.”

Councilman Jeff Greenfield said he believes 423 housing units at this location are too many. “Why would somebody want to be here, when they could be at Fairfax Corner and walk to restaurants, movies and grocery stores?” he asked the developer.

FURTHERMORE, said Greenfield, “I encourage you to submit a traffic plan showing you’ll reduce the number of cars on the street – this seems to add to that number. What are you doing for inside bike parking?”

He also asked Novus to consider providing subsidized CUE fare cards or Metro bus shelters on Fairfax Boulevard or CUE bus shelters on Route 29. Greenfield said he hoped the developer will “take these suggestions to heart and come back with a substantive plan,” and Strobel said they’d be addressed in the proffers.

Councilman David Meyer said residents want “high-quality retail in close proximity” to their homes, but the nearby Kamp Washington retail doesn’t fulfill that need. And he said traffic should be prevented from traveling through the Fairchester Woods and Westmore neighborhoods. “I want this site to have enough breathe-ability to accept new projects, either to the west or east,” said Meyer. “And I’m also concerned about its density.”

Councilwoman Nancy Loftus asked if the required amount of parking for the restaurant would be provided, and Strobel said they’re only requesting a reduction in the number of residential parking spaces they have to provide.

Councilwoman Ellie Schmidt wanted more information about the project’s fiscal impact, and colleague Janice Miller asked why there are so many residential units. “We’re trying to achieve the goals of the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan – retail with housing above,” replied Seldin. “We see it as a key opportunity for urban growth.”

Still, said Miller, “I have serious concerns with this project’s density.” Noting that the streetscape proposed along Routes 29 and 50 will encourage walk-ability, she asked Seldin to work with the Route 29/Jermantown Road shopping center so residents would feel more comfortable walking there.

Miller said two-bedroom units would attract children in elementary school and there wouldn’t be adequate space for them in the schools. And, she added, “I’m also concerned about affordability, plus accessibility for senior citizens or disabled veterans.”

“I’m also concerned about the size and scope of this project,” said Mayor Scott Silverthorne. He, too, worried about affordability. “This entire triangle area could be so much better than what’s proposed here, in my view,” he told the developer. “We might want to have an additional work session after you refine this thing.”

Strobel said the feedback was helpful and they’d work with City staff on their proffers. “I’m concerned about the lack of retail – it should be bolder,” said Silverthorne. “Lowe’s is coming there soon, so when I hear there’s not an appetite for retail, I don’t think that’s necessarily true.”