A large gathering of citizens and representatives of citizens groups applauded loudly Tuesday night at all public remarks favoring a reprioritized “transportation solutions first” approach to Fairfax County plans for the revitalization of its Seven Corners area adjacent the City of Falls Church.
It had been the intention of the Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force appointed earlier this year by Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross that land use and density elements of their revitalization plans for Seven Corners come first to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors this fall for inclusion in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and that the transportation component would come later.
But those plans may change now that the neighborhood has weighed in so heavily in favor of doing the transportation planning first.
For the City of Falls Church, located adjacent the Seven Corners area, this change could have a profound impact. Namely, that is because the plan developed in its early stages – yet included in formal documents and graphics – calls for an innovative approach to solving the bottleneck intersection of Route 7 and Route 50 that has bedeviled the area for decades.
The plan, which was outlined to a meeting of the Falls Church Planning Commission and Citizens Advisory Transportation Committee (CACT) last week, calls for redirecting non-Route 7 traffic away from the intersection to connect with Route 7 by way of a so-called “ring road” encircling the intersection. Cars coming off Route 50 would come onto the “ring road” instead of directly to the bottlenecked intersection, as it is now.
The problem with the plan is that major stakeholders in the construction of such a “ring road” were hearing about this plan for the very first time last week – including anybody and everybody in the City of Falls Church. The drawings of the proposed “ring road” show that it will plow into the Falls Church jurisdiction, displacing major elements of the community. Yet, nobody in Falls Church even heard of the idea before last week. Two members of the Task Force appointed from the City had not made any of this generally known to anyone in the City from meetings held since the first of the year.
While startled Planning Commissioners and CACT board members took all this in on Aug. 4, rumblings through City corridors of power ensued as the week progressed. John Thillmann, chairman of the county task force, told the meeting this Tuesday that the plan was “well received” by the Falls Church groups last week, because he was there and saw it. His perception did not include the aftermath when City jaws ceased being dropped, and people began talking.
By this Monday’s meeting of the Falls Church City Council, City Manager Wyatt Shields was publicly expressing concern about the impact of the county plan on Hillwood Avenue and commercial properties in and around Eden Center.
He said a letter was being drafted to the county task force insisting that “this must be a collaborative, not unilateral, process,” and looking for some better answers when the task force addresses the Falls Church City Council on Sept. 15.
Vice Mayor David Snyder said there will need to be “both a political and technical outreach” to the county, and Mayor David Tarter added, “We have to be clear that anything on this matter has to be approved by the government of Falls Church.”
Since there was nothing in what the county task force presented to date indicating how such decision making would be made, some in the City were raising concerns that the county might try to take the City land it would need by unilaterally invoking “eminent domain.”
The problem now is that what was once conveyed to the City as a “back burner” concern due to the timing of the task force’s plans, may now become “front burner” if the task force reacts to the citizens’ concerns from this Tuesday’s meeting.
Jeff Plattenberg speaking for the Sleepy Hollow Manor Citizens Association and five other neighborhood and citizen groups in the vicinity of Seven Corners Tuesday said that the task force needs to act swiftly to bring its “ring road” plan to reality, since it would impact the owners of the Seven Corners Shopping Center and areas of the City of Falls Church behind the Eden Center.
“We all now have a big problem,” he said, because Seven Corner citizens are demanding a workable design, and a county commitment to fully fund the construction of the new project before moving ahead with other land use components of the area revitalization effort.
A six-page letter circulated at Tuesday’s meeting by a number of neighborhood associations reiterated its main point repeatedly: “We strongly recommend that the Task Force include in its recommendations language that makes it clear that actual transportation improvements must be funded or completed before higher density redevelopment will be approved.”