UPDATE, Tuesday, 5 p.m.: After hearing some public comments from those concerned about traffic and the impact on the neighborhood, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the new Costco store in Mount Vernon.
ORIGINAL POST: Everyone wants to go to Costco. They just don’t want to have to drive there or find a parking spot.
As part of the plan to revitalize Route 1 in the Mount Vernon area, it looks like Costco is going to take over the site of the old Mount Vernon Multiplex Cinema, near the intersection with Buckman Road, which was an eyesore even when it was open. This afternoon, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on approving Costco’s modest little 143,000-square-foot warehouse, after it passed muster with the county planning commission last week.
It means 250 jobs. It means convenience and new retail for a neighborhood which needs it. It means the ability to buy 400 rolls of toilet paper all at once.
“It’s going to be looked back upon as one of the turning points of The Highway,” Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said Monday.
So everyone’s happy, right? Well, maybe not if you live there and have to fight through traffic which is already miserable, and was already going to become worse as BRAC adds a new mass of humanity to Fort Belvoir later this year.
“This [Costco] project is probably going to have the biggest traffic impact of any development on Route 1 in the next ten years,” said state Del. Scott Surovell, who’s been listening to complaints from the nearby residents. The intersection at Buckman Road is already unpleasant during most waking hours, and Surovell said the increased traffic is troubling the residents of the historic Gum Springs African-American neighborhood, and the proposed elimination of a median will make life for a nearby apartment complex much harder.
“The community across the street, which happens to include the oldest African-American development in Fairfax County [Gum Springs],” Surovell said, “does not feel like they’ve had any input on this project, nor was it requested.”
There’s also the Spring Garden apartment complex across the street, on the east side of Route 1, and drivers heading south on Route 1 would have to do a U-turn at Buckman Road to get there, including fire trucks and buses. An owner of the apartments told the Fort Hunt Patch, ”I shudder to think about how a fire truck would be able to negotiate a U-turn” to reach a fire in progress. A Costco official said the chain was willing to work with VDOT to keep the turn open, and McKay said Monday night he had proposed changes to keep the median in place.
Surovell acknowledged the benefits of Costco, which not only include huge new retail on Route 1 but also greatly improved stormwater management. ”But before you make a decision,” he added, “it’s important that everybody in the community be heard from.”
McKay acknowledges that Costco’s presence isn’t going to improve traffic, but he said it actually won’t be much different from the days when the multiplex was in business. Costco’s traffic analysis estimates the giant discount store would create about 4,500 more cars a day during the week, and about 5,800 on Saturdays. [For some reason, there were no stats on Sunday traffic, though Costco plans to be open.] He said Costco was willing to work with VDOT to make whatever changes are necessary to keep the area flowing and safe.
McKay said he grew up going to the drive-in that was originally on the site, and then the multiplex after that. The Costco site is about 12 acres, on the corner of Ladson Lane and next to the existing Wal-Mart, and will have about 550 parking spots, which Costco’s application says will be extra wide, at 10-feet across.
McKay said the pluses are simply too great to ignore. As a members-only store, it brings in a higher demographic of customers and aids local businesses. And for the many South County folks who now have to drive to Newington to get to Costco, it’s just far easier.
“The opportunity to move services closer to people is a tenet of smart growth,” McKay said. He said Costco’s willingness to locate in Hybla Valley was a great sign of the area’s ability to redevelop.
“It is a big deal for Route 1,” he said.