The Fairfax County Planning Commission is recommending approval of Van Dorn Business Park, a combination office and hotel development at the South Van Dorn Street interchange of the Capital Beltway in southeast Fairfax.
The favorable vote by the planning commission came after Centennial Development Corp. negotiated with Fairfax County planning staff members for more than 16 months seeking solutions to traffic and environmental problems. However, traffic problems along South Van Dorn Street remain unresolved between the developer and the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation (VDH&T).
But planning commission members were willing to leave those details to the developer and VDH&T. Centennial is willing to "take the risk" of having to meet VDH&T conditions in the future, according to Alan Fink, project development manager for Centennial.
"I'm happy with it," said planning commission member Carl L. Sell Jr. after pointing out that future VDH&T proposals and present Centennial plans may differ.
Centennial Development Corp., based in Tysons Corner, "has promised to spend $1.2 million in road improvements in the area," Fink said, if the project is approved by the board of supervisors. Supervisors are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposals for the hotel and office park June 10.
The proposal calls for construction of a six-story hotel and six office buildings. Four of the office structures would be built around a plaza in the center of the site, according to the development plan submitted to the county by the developer.
The project is considered extremely important to the future of Southeast Fairfax by those who are pushing for the revitalization of older areas in that part of the county while seeking high-quality development of remaining open spaces in commercial areas.
South Van Dorn Street is now a busy two-lane road. "We are proffering to make South Van Dorn Street three full lanes all the way from an existing Comfort Inn to 300 feet south of Crown Royal Drive," Fink said. Those improvements extend well beyond the parameters of the business park and hotel. Centennial also plans to provide for turn lanes along South Van Dorn, Fink said.
Although developers apparently have worked out most of their problems with county transportation officials, there are still problems with VDH&T. Fink said one of the major reasons for those troubles is that the systems used by Centennial traffic consultants, Fairfax transportation officials and VDH&T officials all differ.
"On May 26, VDH&T planners said our levels of service projections did not concur with state projections," Fink said. That action set off rapid negotiations between the developer and the county and state officials. The negotiations between the county and the developer led to the favorable vote by the planning commission less than 10 days after VDH&T raised its questions.
Fink said his consultants predicted increases in traffic of 5 percent per year while VDH&T predicted 6 percent hikes.
Centennial has promised Fairfax County officials that it will redo traffic studies as various stages of the business park and hotel are finished and will fund necessary road improvements.
That was one of the reasons Sell cited for supporting the project.
"There are outstanding transportation questions not involving the county but are VDH&T problems. I'm willing to leave that to the design staff, whatever they require," Sell said.
"This is a very heavily traveled corridor," Sell said. With Kingstowne, a proposed massive mixed-use commercial, office and residential new town planned in the same part of Fairfax, traffic is not going to get better on its own, officials said.
"Traffic has reached the saturation point," Sell said.
The staff report said traffic in the area of the South Van Dorn Street/I-95 ramp intersection will be overloaded in the near future.
"This situation will occur either with the proposed development or without it," the report said. "It is estimated that the improvements to be provided by the developer in conjunction with the development will postpone the date when this congestion occurs, although by only a few years."
Sell said maybe "this will give us time until VDH&T can get off its duff and do what it needs to do." Sell represents the Lee magisterial district, which contains both the Van Dorn business park and Kingstowne.
The original application by Centennial was filed in February 1984. A year later, the county planning staff recommended deferral of action on the proposal. The original request sought to rezone 45 acres for the office park from an R-3, residential, category to I-5, industrial. But developers purchased additional land and filed an amended application seeking an I-3 industrial zoning rather than an I-5 for more than 51 acres. That proposal was approved by the staff.
A separate application for a special exception had to be filed to gain permission to build the hotel.
According to development plans submitted, the hotel will face South Van Dorn Street at the main entrance to the business park.
Recent concessions made by the developer include promising to restrict retail use of commercial buildings to first floors. "Sinage for the buildings and uses will be coordinated for the entire development. Quick service food stores as an accessory use have been proferred out of the development," according to the planning staff.
There were major environmental questions to be resolved, officials said. Centennial has promised to provide a major overall landscaping plan and to allow for a 100-foot-wide buffer zone in what the county calls an "environmental quality corridor" along the west side of the property.
Residents of a large town-house development nearby oppose the use of Crown Royal Drive, the major road into their development, as an access point for the office hotel complex. According to the staff report, Centennial has agreed to build a left turn lane at Crown Royal Drive.