I read with interest the front page story in last week's Gazette concerning a proposal to replace the Belle View Shopping Center with a mixed use development including retail as well as nearly 1,000 dwelling units. While potential progress is always worth considering, from my perspective, this proposal looks to be likely dead on arrival.
In considering proposals for redevelopment, numerous factors are considered. In this case, the proposal could not be "by right." This is because virtually the entirety of the property is in the floodplain, built prior to establishment of the current floodplain elevation. In that area of the County, the floodplain elevation is 10 feet above sea level and one may not develop a habitable space lower than 18 inches above the floodplain elevation or within 15 feet of the edge of the floodplain. In other words, in a redevelopment, the lowest habitable floor would have to be at 11'6" above sea level. Currently, the parking lot level is at somewhere between 6 and 8 feet above sea level. Raising the property level as much as 6 feet in spots could result in flooding all surrounding neighbors. Building the entire project on stilts would still require significant storm water controls.
Then there are the numerous environmental considerations with creating such a large impervious area. Again, storm water issues would have to be addressed. Then there are the transportation considerations resulting from adding almost 1,000 dwelling units in a confined area. Could Belle View Boulevard and Fort Hunt Road withstand significant increase in traffic pressure without significant widening? If widening is required (likely), who is going to pay for it, developers or taxpayers? Interesting question.
Pressure on our school system is another important consideration. We are in the process of spending millions of dollars to refurbish Belle View Elementary School close to the shopping center. Would this proposed project result in new overcrowding? Likely.
These are but some of the issues that would have to be addressed in order for such a project to get beyond square one. From my perspective, the elevation of a property currently several feet below the floodplain elevation may be a deal breaker, particularly if adjacent property owners can't be assured that the new development won't create stormwater runoff issues.
Legal precedent says that the views of adjacent property owners carry the most weight in the public hearing process. If they oppose the development, it is unlikely to come to fruition.
H. Jay Spiegel