After hours of discussion and debate Tuesday that stretched toward midnight, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-1, with one member absent, to move forward with an ambitious redevelopment plan for the traffic-choked Seven Corners area.
The plan would create three villages and add several thousand homes to the area, along with restaurants, shops and a street grid that could draw local traffic away from the confusing Seven Corners intersection.
The board argued over affordable housing and density before the vote on proposed changes to county planning guidelines, changes that would allow the redevelopment to take place.
“I do not think that there is value in deferring this any longer,” said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), who represents the area and was referring to a nearly three-year-long community discussion marked by intense debate.
Residents of the neighborhoods of single-family homes that surround Seven Corners have opposed some aspects of the plan, saying it would lead to increased density and worsen traffic in the area, home to the Seven Corners Shopping Center.
This month, the county’s Planning Commission adopted an amended version of the original plan in an attempt to address community concerns. Although the revised plan reduced the number of new houses and apartments by several hundred units — bringing the total closer to 5,000 — it still generated worries.
During the hearing, about 40 people lined up inside the Fairfax County Government Center to express both support and concerns about the plan.
“Density, particularly residential density, must not be so high that the accompanying people overwhelm the support-services system, particularly schools and transportation,” James Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft homeowners association, said to applause.
County officials say the plan’s latest version makes several compromises in response to community concerns, including worries about school crowding that would result from adding more residents.
County Executive Edward L. Long Jr. and Schools Superintendent Karen Garza have agreed to work toward building a school on the site of a former elementary school in the area that is now home to a multicultural center serving low-income immigrants who live nearby, officials said.
The site of the former Willston Elementary School would also feature a second building that would house a day-care center, social services for school families and the multicultural center, Gross said.
“That is going to be many years in the future, because there is no money right now,” Gross said, referring to the idea of a new “urban-style school” inside a high-rise building. “But we are committed.”
Gross said the overall redevelopment plan is an attempt to bring new life to an area of Fairfax that has become worn in the years since the Seven Corners Shopping Center was a regional draw in the 1950s and 1960s. She called it a road map for what the county will look like in the next 50 years.
“We need to make sure that whole area is ready for all the newcomers who are going to be coming here,” Gross said. “We need to make sure that the community that is being developed is what they would like to live in.”
Urban-planning groups say the kind of walkable, transit-friendly communities envisioned for Seven Corners are needed in aging suburbs that have become homes to mostly vacant office buildings and discount stores with little commercial traffic.
“The future of Fairfax lies in these aging commercial corridors,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”