Mount Vernon To Get ‘Gateway’

Mount Vernon To Get ‘Gateway’

Redevelopment project brings more mixed use to Richmond Highway.

John Thillman is hoping that his project is only the start of redevelopment along Richmond Highway. “I think it could be the catalyst for change in this area,” he told the Planning Commission during its July 28 meeting.

Thillman is the representative for Landmark Property Development, a company that is proposing a mixed-use, gated community on Richmond Highway at the intersection with Mount Vernon Highway and Buckman Road. The almost 17-acre property, which now has a handful of single-family homes, is to be developed with a total of 432 housing units, split between condominiums and townhouses, plus about 80,000 square feet of commercial space. Included in the housing will be 70 units restricted to ages 55 and older and 19 Affordable Dwelling Units.

The plan also calls for a stormwater management pond designed to control the runoff not only from the site, but also from 11 surrounding acres.

“He’s going well beyond,” said Paul Phelps of the Little Hunting Creek Watershed Committee, praising the project. He noted that county regulations call for new developments to create no increase in the amount of stormwater runoff that they create.

This one, however should actually reduces the runoff to a level 10 percent lower than the pre-development. “We’re hoping this will become a model,” Phelps said in a later interview.

Others who came to speak were also in favor of the project. “I am very confident that it will contribute significantly to the revitalization of Richmond Highway,” said Rick Neel of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation.

PLANNING COMMISSIONERS brought up the issue of the proposed school proffer. Landmark offered a contribution of $405,000 to the school system to help the schools deal with the impact of the students it will generate. This money, they propose, will be used for after-school programs, library books, computers and capital improvements for Mount Vernon Woods and Woodlawn elementary schools and Sandburg and Whitman Middle schools.

Commissioner John Byers (Mount Vernon) noted that school proffers are not usually so specific. Typically the money is given to the school system, and it is left to the School Board to decide how best to spend it. Byers, and the rest of the commissioners who spoke, stressed that they were supportive of the ideas of the proffer, but were not sure it if was legal.

“My understanding was that proffers that went to schools had to go to capital improvements,” said Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill). Capital Improvements are projects such as building a new school, or other large-scale building projects.

Commissioner Janet Hall (Mason), also supportive of the idea, questioned if the School Board had been contacted. “What if the applicant proffers something and the schools don’t want it?” she said.

Instead, Landmark will direct some of the money to another agency which will oversee the after school program.

NOT EVERYONE was as enthusiastic about the proposal.

Planning Commissioner Laurie Frost Wilson opposed the project. Since it will be gated, it will cut off some existing neighborhoods from easily accessing buses on Richmond Highway, she said. Although pedestrians will be able to walk across the property during the day when the gates are open, they will not be able to do so at night and in the early mornings.

Wilson said that she did not have a problem with the concept of gated communities, but its effect on pedestrian access. “They [nearby residents] have to go around the parcel, one way or another,” she said.

She noted that the Comprehensive Plan calls for increasing pedestrian access in the county and said she does not think that the plan as presented complies with the plan.

The project is in the Lee district, and Commissioner Rodney Lusk (Lee) stated that he approved of the plan. “I’m delighted to see the transformation occurring in the area,” he said.

The commission voted 11-1 in favor of the project.

The issue of pedestrian access did not come up during the Board of Supervisors' Aug. 1 meeting. In supporting the project unanimously, supervisors noted the transforming effect that the development might have on the Richmond Highway corridor.

“It will be a significant development,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). Although the project is in the Lee district it is near to Hyland’s district

The following members of the Board of Supervisors disclosed that they had received campaign contributions of more than $100 from individuals or entities associated with the development: Penny Gross (D-Mason), Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville), Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), Gerry Connolly (D-at large), Hyland and Michael Frey (R-Sully).