Minutes from the Mason District Council Forum - A Discussion of the Seven Corners Revitalization Plan 10/7/14
Post date: Oct 23, 2014 8:37:28 PM
Thank you to all who participated in the Mason District Council's forum on Seven Corners Redevelopment on October 7th.
Below, please find the meeting minutes and links to the video of the meeting and an article in the Annandale Blog.
Over 150 residents from the Seven Corners surrounding area attended the Mason District Council (MDC) Seven Corners Revitalization Forum that included the following panelists:
Penny Gross, Mason District Supervisor
John Thillmann, Co-Chair, Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force
Jo Anne Fiebe, Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization
Bernie Suchicital, Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning
Martin Faga, Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force, and Chair, of the Sears Site Committee
Sandy Evans, Fairfax County Public School Board member
Kaye Kory, State Delegate for the 38th District
Leonard Wolfenstein, Fairfax County Department of Transportation
Paul Kraucunas, Land Development Program Manager, Virginia Department of Transportation
The meeting began with an introduction by Mollie Loeffler, MDC Chair, and the panelists’ self introductions.
Mr. John Thillmann. Mr. Thillmann outlined the two-year working plan that the Land Use Task Force followed that began in 2012 with residents’ visioning sessions. The first nine months were spent bringing in experts to share their expertise on topics, such as economic and retail trends, transportation consultants, etc. He explained it was basically a Land Use College 101 in order to give task force members the information they needed to design an excellent land use plan for the revitalization of Seven Corners. Mr. Thillmann was very proud of the Seven Corners Task Force because it was unlike other revitalization task forces he had served on. He said other task forces were driven mainly by county staff input. He was also proud of the fact that Task Force members independently came to the same conclusions on what would work best for the revitalization of the opportunity areas.
One of the most significant points made by Mr. Thillmann, and one that he wanted to leave with the attendees, was that existing businesses, such as the Seven Corners Shopping Center, owned by B.F. Saul, are actually performing very well so that the owners have very little incentive to want to do something as radical as what is being envisioned by the Seven Corners Task Force. Mr. Thillmann said that the proposed high density market-rate residential units, once completed, would generate up to $500,000,000 a year in disposable income. He said that is the incentive that will transform the area.
Ms. JoAnne Fiebe, Office of Community Revitalization (OCR), provided a presentation to show the three opportunity areas in the Seven Corners Revitalization plan. They are the Willston Center (Opportunity A), Seven Corners Center (Opportunity B), and the Sears property parcel (Opportunity C). (See the statistical information for the Opportunity areas at
She talked about the creation of new road grids that would connect the three opportunity areas for pedestrians and automobiles. Ms. Fiebe discussed the transportation design with a spine road that would connect the three areas. She also discussed the traffic/transportation changes that would be affected. She presented the concept of a ring road that would direct drive-through traffic around the business area. Ms. Fiebe showed drawings of what the proposed widening of Route 7 would look. Several residents questioned how the widening of Route 7 could occur as it appeared on the drawings that there was inadequate room. The response was the current access roads would be converted and as development proposals came in the developers would be required to dedicate parts of their property to the roads for the additional lanes. (See the Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force’s 9/23/14 plan athttp://www.fcrevit.org/baileys/download/TaskForce-WGs/7Cs%20Draft%20Plan%20Text_Master%20Draft_September%2023.pdf.
Kaye Kory. Delegate Kory stated that residents should not look to the state for transportation funding anytime soon including money to widen roads around Seven Corners. Ms. Kory thanked Supervisor Gross and John Thillmann for hearing residents’ requests to study further the Sears parcel’s development proposal.
Marty Faga. Mr. Faga, a member of the Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force, was recently appointed Chairman of the new Sears Site Committee. He explained that because the final plan for the Sears site could not be agreed upon by the Task Force members, the Sears site parcel was separated from the other two opportunities areas and given more time for residents to review. The proposed plan for the other two opportunity areas (A and B) was unanimously approved by the Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force on 10/2.
The Sear’s site was under contention by the surrounding communities because residents did not agree with any of the proposed mixed use plans. Residents wanted a better balance of residential units, businesses, and retail for the site. Residents felt the number of residential units proposed was too high. Consequently, Supervisor Gross pulled the Sears parcel from the other opportunity areas to allow more time for residents to study and come up with a better mixed use proposal. Mr. Faga stated that Supervisor Gross asked surrounding citizen association and HOA presidents or designate to serve on a special Sears Site Committee. Mr. Faga hoped to begin committee meetings by the end of October and urged the remaining citizen association presidents to indicate their representative as soon as possible. The committee will meet every 2 weeks at the Mason District Government Center for two or three months, and all meetings will be open to the public.
Supervisor Penny Gross. Supervisor Gross said she has heard from most of the community associations and HOAs presidents to serve on the special Seven Corners Sears Site Committee and she urged the remaining associations she had not heard from to let her know who their representative would be as soon as possible.
The meeting was then opened for questions from the audience.
Len Jones, Ravenwood. Mr. Jones asked where the land to widen Route 7 was going to come from to allow for mass transit and sidewalks. Jo Anne Fiebe said that much of the right of way land already existed because of the access roads. Both Supervisor Gross and Ms. Fiebe said that when developers propose new developments they are required to dedicate some of their property for mass transit and pedestrians. Supervisor Gross said this is a 20- to 40-year plan and these are changes that are anticipated to come about over time.
Clyde Miller, resident of Holmes Run. Mr. Miller summarized a handout that he had prepared entitled "Is That What We Want?" He described the Task Force’s plan to add 6000 residences in high rise condos of up to 12 stories high. His handout can be found at http://holmesrun.org/sevencorners/. He stated his concerns about overcrowded schools and traffic congestion and the failure of the Task Force to address these important issues. He was very concerned about the density of residential units and the creation of 12-story buildings. He worried that the suburban communities of Seven Corners would not be protected in the redevelopment as the area turned into a city or urban center. Mr. Miller proposed three activities, see below:
1. He asked that attendees sign the sign-in sheets at the meeting to make sure they receive updates on the revitalization plan.
2. He asked residents to send their positions on the final plan to the Fairfax County Planning Commission. This will help the Commissioners to know what residents want and will help them to make the best planning decisions possible.
3. He asked the Mason District Council to consider conducting a survey of the community to find out what the residents think and what they want the redevelopment/revitalization of Seven Corners to look like.
Sandy Evans, FCPS Board member. Ms. Evans responded to the overcrowded school situation. She stated that the school board is always studying and is involved in how best to handle the number of children generated from redevelopment. She wanted to let residents know that the school board is very proud of the new Upper Bailey’s Elementary school. She said it is beautiful and invited everyone to come to see it.
Debbie Smith, Ravenwood. Ms. Smith asked what could be done to return the Willston Multi-Cultural Center back into a school. Supervisor Gross said the plan was to redevelop the property for a County facility –the East County Government building. Sandy Evans said the school board has been interested in returning the center back to a school facility but they have not made a formal request yet. Ms. Smith urged Sandy and the school board to make a formal request to the Board of Supervisors.
Mike Lyon. Mr. Lyon stated he appreciated the Task Force’s work but his biggest concern was about the schools since he had a 4th grader. He said he has seen the overcrowding grow and the underwhelming planning by the County Facilities Department in the past. He stated “we have to build more schools period.” On another topic, he said he believes that affordable housing in our area has been abused. He said the overcrowding in Culmore is not what it was meant to be. He asked in the revitalizing plan to please do it right and not make it into a ghetto. Mr. Thillmann responded that the plan for affordable housing was to replace the 600 units one for one but the other housing would be market rate residential units.
Eric Welch, long-time teacher at JEB Stuart H.S. He asked if a community school task force could be created to allow more of a community voice into the JEB Stuart High School pyramid. He said the task force could provide new ideas and a different perspective for solutions to fix the overcrowded schools, etc. Sandy Evans and Kaye Kory thought it was a great idea and would be happy to work with him to organize it. Ms. Evans suggested the new Sears Site Committee could be part of the task force too.
Ernie Wells, Sleepy Hollow Manor. Mr. Wells asked about the school bond that voters had approved in the last election. He said voters thought they were voting to get a brand new school not a renovated building. He said that’s not how the bond money was portrayed or sold.
Elaine Kava, Sleepy Hollow. Ms. Kava stated there has been significant population growth in the area but the jobs are not there. She asked if the Task Force and our leaders are planning to have more job opportunities or would the new graduates have to go elsewhere to get a job. She said that people who live in this area not only need schools and jobs but they need parks for recreation. Ms. Kava wondered if the redevelopment plan covered all those needs too. Supervisor Gross responded that the Fairfax region has 1.5 million jobs and the region is expected to have more than 2 million residents in the near future. Ms. Gross believes the problem is that there is not have enough housing for people. She believes that we need to provide more housing.
Maureen Kaiser, Teacher in the Pyramid for FCPS. Ms. Kaiser said she thought constituents had put elected leaders in office to work on solutions for overcrowded schools, etc. Why do we need to create a community school task force? This is part of the job leaders and staff are supposed to be doing. Schools are way too crowded and are dangerous. Sandy Evans stated that every year the School Board and the Facilities staff work together to solve problems and to make adequate plans based on the projections they are given, but Ms. Evans believes that having a community task force would be a good resource for a different perspective. She said that Stuart H.S. will soon have more than 1900 students. There is room to expand the building but student growth is happening faster and faster. She said the Facilities department has new staff and they are making better projections but it’s still hard to keep up with the growth of the student population. It is growing by 3000 students every year.
Ellie Pisarski, Lake Barcroft. Her question had to do with density and demographics. She said she and her husband had looked at the whole plan to create 5 to 6 million square feet, and they determined it was the same size as the Pentagon--enormous. She had looked at the statistics from COG (the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments) which stated that Fairfax County was not growing but in fact was declining, except for the influx of the immigrant population. She asked if we could really expect more people to fill the 6,000 residential units planned. Supervisor Gross replied that Fairfax County is not one of the high growth counties anymore, Loudoun and Prince William are now. She said that because those counties are smaller in size the percentage of growth appears to be higher. She said Fairfax is still growing. Over the past 19 years, Mason District which started out with 98,000 people now has between 116,000 and 120,000 resident. Ms. Gross interprets the COG’s statistic differently.
Sarah Mattingly, Lake Barcroft. Ms. Mattingly stated she heard a lot tonight about overcrowded schools. She says residents want new transportation and new schools but she had not heard how we are going to pay for those items, except that we can’t expect any funds from the state. Ms. Mattingly asked the question if there is a way for all of us could compromise on a plan. Couldn’t we take the current plan with all the density and design it so that it is done really well? She stated we have to have some level of compromise or we will stay as we are today with crumbling infrastructure and old buildings. John Thillmann responded that in other areas that are redeveloped it’s usually taking open space and under-producing property to make it more profitable. But in Seven Corners we don’t have that luxury. The businesses are profitable and the owners are fine with the way things are. If we want to change it with revitalization we have to create an incentive that’s the problem we have.
Marlene McQue, Sleepy Hollow. Ms. McQue’s question was about traffic and congestion. She said we have terrible congestion now so what will happen when redevelopment happens. Are we going to be caught in the situation of building road infrastructure at the same time that retail and housing units are being built? John Thillmann answered the question by reading the Proposed Seven Corners Plan Amendment Follow-on Motions that deal with the implementation of the plan. His point was that they did not forget about transportation funding and how it will be implemented.
Audience Question: The audience member stated they were very eager to see the revitalization realized; however, what is the proposed mix of residential units to be. How will it change from what we have now? John Thillmann responded that there are currently 600 affordable units, and those would be replaced one for one with the balance of the 6000 units would be market rate units. He said that is where we will create the disposable income. He said that the metro is a 17 minute walk from Willston Center. The audience disagreed that Seven Corners is a metro-centric area. Debbie Smith said the County guidelines are that an area is considered metro centric if the metro is a ½ mile from the development. The metro is more than a mile from Seven Corners.
Don Smith, Ravenwood. Mr. Smith stated that the number of 6,000 new residential units is completely off the chart in comparison to any other residential area. It’s more than twice as big as the Springfield Town Center and the Reston Town Center, and those are both on the metro. He asked if John Thillmann could point to another area that has the density size proposed. He also asked about transportation, specifically about the proposed ring road. Mr. Smith said the revised ring would still extend into Falls Church City property. He said that in order to adhere to Seven Corners Task Force promise to Falls Church City to avoid City property; we would have to create a new intersection to rejoin Route 7 at Koon’s Ford property, which is about 1/10 of mile from the current intersection. How does creating this new intersection actually help? He sees it creating an 11-corners intersection. John Thillmann said that the Reston Town Center is the same size as the Seven Corners proposal, which Don disagreed with, and that Reston has not yet had been on the metro. Mr. Thillmann said the ring road would most likely go behind the Eden Center, which the Falls Church City plans to redevelop.
Jeff Hamilton, Holmes Run Valley. Mr. Hamilton stated that he patronizes the current retail stores in Seven Corners and is happy with the way it is. He wanted to know why and who wanted to change and revitalize the Seven Corners area. Supervisor Gross said she has heard from many residents over the years asking for Seven Corners to be revitalized. In addition, Supervisor Gross did not want to keep doing spot development here and there but she wanted a comprehensive plan for the entire area.
Matt Dillard, Sleepy Hollow Manor. Mr. Dillard asked about the new Sears Site Committee. He thought it was a good idea, but he wondered about the makeup of the committee because residents on the committee are not experts. Supervisor Gross said that county staff who were there tonight and other county staff will be on the committee. John Thillmann will not continue. She said this is a citizen-driven group and that members will have access to all that information accumulated from the past two-year process of the first Task Force. In addition they will have the county staff there to help. Mr. Thillmann said the new committee will also have a planning expert on it--Karl Moritz. Mr. Moritz is an Alexandria city planner and also served on the original Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force.
Laura Wells, Culmore. Ms. Wells expressed her support for the proposed pedestrian access plans, the parks, and the transportation upgrades, etc., but she wanted to see a more detailed plan. Ms. Fiebe gave her the county website where the plan is explained, http://www.fcrevit.org/baileys/7corners.htm but she also explained that the plan is a concept for guidance and is not a detailed plan at this point.
Audience question. What was the make-up of the Seven Corners Revitalization Task Force? Supervisor Gross said there was 15 members total, nine residents from surrounding communities and six property owners or their agent from businesses in the Seven Corners CBC. She said it was carefully balanced.
Catriona McCormack, President of Ravenwood Neighborhood Association. Ms. McCormack said that it was great to hear that the Seven Corners Task Force had complete consensus on the Opportunity A and B plans, but the residents have serious concerns that have not been addressed. She said those concerns were conveyed in an August 12th letter that was signed by the surrounding communities’ citizen associations and HOA presidents. She said there are questions in the letter about the proposed residential unit density levels that have not been addressed beyond the conversation tonight between John Thillmann and Don Smith. Mr. Smith had presented statistics that compared other revitalized areas in Fairfax County with the proposed residential density in Seven Corners. Ms. McCormack stated the only answer Don Smith received from John Thillmann was that Mr. Smith’s figures were wrong. The facts and figures questions have not yet been answered, she said. Ms. McCormack respectfully requested that the new Sears Site Committee broaden its purview to include the entire area in the revitalization plan. Supervisor Gross replied that she will discuss that request with the Chairman of the new Sears Site Committee.
Carol Turner, Ravenwood Park, stated that none of the current nine Follow On Motions proposed include residents from the community on them. They only include county staff and surrounding staff from the Falls Church City and Arlington. Ms. Turner stated that a petition is under development that will be circulated to petition the Board of Supervisors to create a non-profit Seven Corners Development Corporation. The corporation, which would be similar to Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC), would have as its primary mission to stimulate economic growth for the Seven Corners area. The Seven Corners Corporation would work closely with local residents, business owners, developers and Fairfax County officials to bring about the revitalization of the Seven Corners CBC. The non-profit corporation would have two paid staff that would be independent from the county. It would serve as a link between all interested parties and would be dedicated to fulfilling the Seven Corners CBC revitalization plan. Supervisor Gross said that other districts have also wanted to create corporations for their districts. She said it was a good idea and she would take the proposal under consideration.
Final audience question. How will the county handle the displacement of the 600 low income housing residents while the redevelopment takes place? Mr. Thillmann said the county is required by law to make transfer plans for residents displaced. Supervisor Gross said the county has always taken care of this issue and would continue to do the policy.
The meeting was adjourned.
Carol Turner, Secretary, Mason District Council
October 19, 2014