After a four-hour debate, the Fairfax County Planning Commission last week voted to override negative recommendations from the county planning staff for Centennial Development Corp.'s 80-acre Centennial Gateway project in the Fair Oaks area.
The proposals for mixed-use commercial development on two 40-acre sites separated by West Ox Road are scheduled to come before the Board of Supervisors Monday.
The sites are currently zoned residential, with 38 acres on the west side and 41 acres on the east side of West Ox Road.
Centennial's plan calls for a total of 10 office buildings ranging from six to 10 stories; two retail centers, including a three-level retail building; housing for the elderly; a commercial recreation facility, and a 14-story hotel and conference center.
The original applications for the two sites were filed as a package late last spring at about the same time the Tysons II application was filed, but the original Centennial proposal was harshly criticized as not containing sufficient residential development. Centennial hired nationally known architect Welton Beckett to help solve the problems with the plan.
Several weeks ago, after months of negotiating between developers and the county planning and transportation staffs, the planning staff recommended deferral or denial of the application because of what the staff said were continuing traffic problems.
The staff report said problems continued to exist because of the "magnitude of this development and its proximity to the proposed Route 50 -- West Ox Road interchange." The staff said it was "imperative that the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation and Fairfax County determine the preliminary design of the interchange and the amount of right-of-way needed from this property. These facts have not yet been determined by the appropriate authorities," according to the staff report.
That news caught Centennial officials by surprise and led to multiple trips by developers to VDH&T officials in Richmond in search of a resolution to problems that developers thought had been resolved.
Centennial official Alan Fink said the transportation controversy centers on whether two loops and two diamonds or three loops and one diamond will best handle the traffic in the interchanges in the mixed-use project.
"We think three diamonds and one loop will solve the problems," Fink said. "Five different independent studies in the area agreed. We think a loop is needed in the northwest corner," Fink said.
But Fink was told by county officials that they had realized on the basis of new figures that two diamond interchanges and two loops would be necessary to take care of an additional 180 cars that traffic experts were now saying would be using the roads.
Fink said company engineers went back to the drawing boards and revised plans to meet what the county said was needed. "We drew two loops and two diamonds and hand-carried the plans to Richmond to get approval," Fink said.
Fink said David Gehr, chief of the VDH&T's Northern Virginia division, was ready to write county officials saying the latest plan was approved, when Fink said he was told by county officials that "Fairfax doesn't make it a practice" to take unsolicited recommendations from VDH&T.
Eventually, the county requested the opinion, and VDHT&T approved the change.
Fink said his staff was "feeling good" about getting rapid approval from the state, but then questions arose from the county staff about funding road improvements; Fink said that issue had been settled long ago. The development will make contributions as demanded by the 50/66 Task Force study to fund roads as well as dedicate rights-of-way for interchanges.
Fink said he hopes the final plan will include the original three-diamond-and-one-loop concept because independent traffic consultants think such a plan will better serve the entire Fair Oaks area. "The county is saying that none of the traffic from our development will be leaving to go to Fair Oaks mall," he said.