Some residents of Great Falls and Reston are reluctant to pass up the chance to impose a master plan on a 273-acre chunk of land at the intersection of Baron Cameron Road and Route 7 in western Fairfax. At the same time, the attempt to change the site from strictly residential development to a mixed-use project has the blood of at least one member of Fairfax County's Planning Commission boiling.
James T. Lewis, a Tysons Corner-based developer, and Mack Crippen, who owns the land involved, have asked Fairfax to change its comprehensive land-use plan for three corners of the busy intersection from residential to allow for a planned development commercial (PDC) project. However, residents opposed to commercial use say they would like to keep talking with the landowner and developer about a possible planned residential community on the tract, which involves three separate building sites.
Robert Fitzgerald, attorney for the applicants, this week said at two meetings focusing on the proposal that his clients are willing to talk about a residential plan.
However, a residential proposal likely would not include major transportation improvements that were proposed in the mixed-use plan. These improvements include a major grade-separated interchange at Route 7 and Baron Cameron and making portions of Route 7 six lanes wide.
According to Fitzgerald, only 163 dwelling units could be built on the site as zoned. But Fitzgerald said such density is not compatible with nearby residential construction, particularly on the land located on the south side of Route 7 abutting the boundaries of detached-home developments in Reston.
"We are willing to develop at a density equal to Reston, four units per acre," Fitzgerald told a meeting of the Dranesville Task Force, a group of citizens named by Supervisor Nancy Falck to study and make recommendations on a long list of proposed land-use changes in the Dranesville area.
"We don't think 163 units is a reasonable number of units," Fitzgerald said. He made a similar presentation to the Centreville Task Force, whose members were appointed last week by Supervisor Martha Pennino.
Members of both the Centreville and the Dranesville groups discussed the possibility of asking for deferral of action on the proposal during the current plan review cycle to give the developer and landowner more time to talk with homeowners in Reston and Great Falls. There was a lot of confusion at both meetings over whether the task forces have an option to vote to defer, or only have the option to vote for or against a proposal.
County staff members at both meetings said the only way the proposed change or a similar change for all residential use could be brought up again next year would be for either Falck or Pennino to initiate a review next year in what is known as an "out of turn" hearing.
Representatives of citizens groups at both meetings said they would like to continue discussions with the developer. After the public sessions, some said they would like to work with a developer who was at least willing to consider a plan for the entire area involved, in the hope of getting at least 90 percent of the site as open space or single-family residential development. The sites are not contiguous. Portions of the overall land involved are in the southwest, southeast and northwest corners of the Baron Cameron/Route 7 intersection. A plant nursery is in the northeast corner, and a gas station is located on a small tract on the southwest corner. The gas station site is not included in the Crippen/Lewis proposal.
There is an unresolved legal question hanging over the Route 7 and Baron Cameron intersection. In 1981, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors denied a request by Exxon Corp. to build a service station on land that was residentially zoned in the southeast corner of the intersection. Exxon was seeking a commercial, C-5 rezoning.
In 1982, the Virginia Circuit Court ruled that residential use of the land at one unit per acre was not an appropriate use of the site involved, which consisted of 2.8 acres. The court also said that Exxon had proved that some "commercial classification would constitute a reasonable use of the site," but it said that Exxon had not proven that a density of C-5 was appropriate.
"There has never been a final order in that case," said attorney Charles Shumate this week. Shumate represents Exxon in many land use cases. He said Exxon still has a "contractual" interest in the property that was involved in the yet-to-be resolved zoning case.
Fitzgerald promoted the Lewis/Crippen plan as providing a "gateway to Reston," while county staff members explained that the staff is "looking negatively at the project because it is a major extension of Reston to incorporate portions of Route 7."
The discussions before the Centreville Task Force triggered strong reactions from John H. Thillmann, a member of the county planning commission who was asked by Pennino to chair the citizens task force in the Centreville area. Thillmann represents the Centreville area on the planning commission.
"My blood is beginning to boil. I was a county employe when the comprehensive plan was developed. I was a Reston planner. I can remember when week after week we the county were in court" over zoning cases, Thillmann said.
"We took over 18 months to replan every square inch of the county. We developed a comprehensive plan that is, in my estimation, a good plan. We may have lost one or two cases in 15 years. We were losing one or two a week," Thillmann said, referring to the years before the comprehensive plan was adopted.
He said the plan that guides development in Fairfax is not static. "We have to look at it every year. Now we are looking at everything you put before us. It is up to us to decide what the plan ought to be," Thillmann said.
Fitzgerald told the Dranesville meeting that developers had thought Reston and Great Falls residents would be more interested in the proposed traffic improvements than they appear to be. "Land use is the issue here," the lawyer said.
Thillmann said Saturday that "just because transportation improvements need to be made, it is no reason for a land-use plan change."
Chris Malkerson, a member of the Centreville Task Force and a resident of the Navy-Vale area, opposed having the task force take a negative vote on the proposal.
"We are experiencing tremendous pressures in this area. I am just not sure that the concept Steve has articulated is a viable one," she said. Steve Lopez, a member of the county planning staff, had said the limits of Reston as well as those of Tysons and other commercial nodes in western Fairfax should be well-defined, with open spaces and large single-family lots separating them.
"One of the biggest problems with Reston is not how nice it is once you get there," Malkerson said. The problem is getting there, she said.
This week, both the Dranesville and the Centreville task forces voted to recommend that the planning commission deny the Lewis/Crippen request. And several residents said they will ask the commission to defer the case to allow for additional citizen input.
However, developers run the risk of not being able to bring the item up for consideration for as long as three years unless they withdraw it before the planning commission holds public hearings on the case next month.