For James Kornick, developer, the prospect of a spanking new 100,000-square-foot office building standing in the depressed Rte. 1 corridor in southeast Fairfax is chance to "perform a little miracle on that part of Richmond Highway."
For Felipa Unciano, however, that little miracle means the sale of her family's television repair business, her palm reading salon, and her beauty shop. "I really don't want to sell. I've paid enough in taxes to keep it," said Unciano.
Yesterday, Unciano and a few of her neighbors also threatened by the county's ambitious plans for the Rte. 1 corridor appeared before the County Board to plead with the supervisors to protect them from "having our property taken away from us."
"I am not willing to sell my property," said Elizabeth Severson, owner of a beauty shop that sits on the five acres that would be developed first under the so-called Groveton Redevelopment Plan.
"I certainly don't want it taken away from me. I'm trying to run a business there."
Severson and a handful of property owners with small businesses on the site said they object specifically to the provision in the plan that gives the county's Redevelopment Authority and the citizen corporation steering the project the power to condemn their land if they continue to refuse to sell.The Groveton Redevelopment Plan encompasses 10 acres of land, or approximately two large city blocks at the intersection of Rte. 1 and Memorial Drive.
The first phase of the plan calls for a 100,000-square-foot, four-story office building to be built on five acres now filled with aging small businesses and the old Groveton Elementary School.
Fairfax County targeted the seven-mile Rte. 1 corridor for redevelopment a few years ago. That section of Richmond Highway was once a busy thoroughfare for southbound tourists and servicemen from Fort Belvoir, but in the last two decades the strip has suffered a decline. It is now characterized by low cinderblock structures and even lower rents.
Kornick, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, said privately yesterday that most of the property owners on the five-acre Groveton site have come close to agreeing to the sale or leasing of property, and the requested condemnation power is merely a security measure. The private, nonprofit development corporation, run by local attorneys, developers and businessmen, was set up by the county to attract development to the Rte. 1 corridor.
Property owners holding out for much greater sums, Kornick said, do not understand the true value of land on the strip. "This is a depressed area and a few of these people are holding out for what they think a McDonald's might pay them. We can't pay them that much."
To owners who are holding out, some of whom have been on the property for two decades, the prospect of condemnation is frightening. "I have three children and five grandchildren," Severson said after the meeting. "I'm hanging on to this property to give it to them."
Supervisor Audrey Moore criticized the plan, which she said gave the developers too much independent power over condemnation of the land. She proposed several amendments, one of which would require board approval of any condemnation proceeding.
Board Chairman John F. Herrity supported Moore's proposal. "The amendments would make it impossible for either the housing authority or the development corporation to take any action that would disturb the status quo out there without approval of the supervisors."
The board agreed to delay action on the plan. In the meantime, Herrity added that the county had no intention of giving its Groveton parcel away.