Fairfax board to vote on Seven Corners plan that has sparked heated debate

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to move forward with an ambitious redevelopment plan for the traffic-choked Seven Corners area.

The plan to create three villages in the area would add several thousand new homes to the neighborhood, along with restaurants and shops and a new grid of streets that could draw local traffic away from the confusing Seven Corners intersection that is often backed up with cars and trucks.

Tuesday’s vote would addresses changes to county planning guidelines for Seven Corners that would allow the redevelopment to happen.

Residents from the neighborhoods of single-family homes that surround Seven Corners have opposed some aspects of the plan, arguing that it would bring in too much density and worsen traffic in the area, which is home to the Seven Corners Shopping Center.

Earlier this month, the county planning commission passed an amended version of the original plan that attempted to address community concerns. Though the plan’s new version reduced by several hundred units the overall number of new homes and apartments to be created – bringing the total closer to 5,000 — it still faces some opposition.

“It’s trending in the right direction, but if you talk to people and say it’s 5,000 units . . . in the Seven Corners area, they go: Whoa,” said Marty Machowsky, a local homeowner who who plans to testify during a public hearing scheduled Tuesday before the vote.

“How many total people does that mean and how many more cars will that generate?” Machowsky said. “We can hardly get through the Seven Corners area on a Saturday now.”

County officials say the plan’s latest version makes several compromises in response to community concerns. Among them are worries about school overcrowding that would result from adding more residents.

County executive Edward L. Long and Fairfax schools superintendent Karen Garza have agreed to work toward building a new 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, social services for school families and the multicultural center, said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason,) who represents the area.

“That is going to be many years in the future because there is no money right now,” Gross said, about 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 County that has been worn down since the Seven Corners mall was a regional draw for shoppers during the 1950s and ‘60s. She called it a road map for what Fairfax County will look like in the next 50 years.

“We need to make 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 Smart Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”

Michelle Krocker, who heads the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said there aren’t enough guarantees in the plan to keep lower-income families from being pushed out, which could have long-term repercussions for the Washington region.

“If there’s no place for them to live affordably, we potentially lose them as employees in the area or they move far out into the hinterlands,” Krocker said. “And, then they’d have to commute in, and that’s problematic for everybody.”

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