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Fairfax’s 7 Corners Revitalization Plan Will Have Big Impact on Falls Church

FAIRFAX COUNTY’S Transportation Study Area, as presented to the Falls Church Planning Commission and Citizens Advisory Board on Transportation (CACT) covers a good chunk of the City of Falls Church according to this graphic. (Map: Fairfax County Department of Transportation)
FAIRFAX COUNTY’S Transportation Study Area, as presented to the Falls Church Planning Commission and Citizens Advisory Board on Transportation (CACT) covers a good chunk of the City of Falls Church according to this graphic. (Map: Fairfax County Department of Transportation)

Members of a Fairfax County Task Force for the redesign and reconfiguration of the Seven Corners section of the county, right on the border of the City of Falls Church, told the Falls Church Planning Commission Monday night that two years of its studies have resulted in plans that will have a profound impact on Falls Church. This is especially the case with long-range plans to build congestion-easing alternatives to correct the infamous Seven Corners intersection itself.

The transportation component of the plan is in conjunction with a comprehensive revitalization of the Seven Corners area composed of 217 acres and with a median income of only $41,000 per household, less than half the county-wide average of $107,000.

Two members of the Falls Church City staff have been involved in numerous visioning and planning sessions to date, some of which have drawn upwards of 150 people, but the whole project came as a surprise to members of the Planning Commission and Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation (CACT) present for Monday’s briefing.

The plan is to bring the proposal before the Falls Church City Council in mid-September in advance of a final approval by the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors by late November.

Current plans are mere drafts, however. They involve breaking up, conceptually, the 217 acres of the target area into three “opportunity zones,” the Willston Village, the 7 Corners Town Center and the Leesburg Pike Village, all susceptible to denser commercial and business development and with the introduction of more residential than non-residential use to create a true community feel.

Clearly, however, from the standpoint of Falls Church, the biggest issue for its involvement in the redevelopment in the area is the transportation bottleneck that is the Seven Corners intersection itself, named Seven Corners for a reason.

Presented Monday night by Michael Garcia, lead Fairfax County Transportation Planner, was an intriguing plan for dealing with the bottleneck, although it is part of a longer-range plan and not in the version that is looking for adoption this fall.

Seven Corners has one of the oldest vehicular bottlenecks in the U.S., as the Seven Corners Shopping Center that used to be an internal mall between the present day Home Depot and the Ross Store was only the second such shopping centers in the entire D.C. area.

The intersection of Routes 50 and 7 (Arlington Boulevard and Leesburg Pike), it was the site during the Civil War of Fort Buffalo, built by Union forces to protect approaches to Washington, D.C., chosen for its elevation. Before that, Leesburg Pike, the much older road of the two, originally followed wagon trails that linked the Shenandoah Valley with the Port of Alexandria. During the Great Depression, government-sponsored programs led to construction of inexpensive housing in the Seven Corners area and after World War II, the demand for residential housing caused the entire area to boom.

For many years, the backup of cars coming into that narrow but many-pronged Routes 50 and 7 intersection is legendary to anyone living in Falls Church, and remains so.

Garcia presented an innovative solution that is being considered on a longer term basis, and not included in the recommendations that the task force is seeking approval for this fall. It eliminates off and on ramps linking the intersection to Route 50, and instead builds a “ring road” around the intersection where cars coming from Route 50 or through the area from Sleepy Hollow or other contiguous places would make their turns to get into the area, including in and out of Falls Church, without encountering the main intersection at all.

Fairfax Supervisor for the Mason District Penny Gross told the News-Press that she appointed the task force for the study a couple years ago. Gross said that once she appointed the group, she stepped away from hands-on involvement because she wanted to allow them freedom to “do their own thing.”

So, for one thing, despite her weekly column in the News-Press, there has been very little mention of this planning process. That was deliberate, Gross said.

“One thing that needs to be stressed, however, is that this is just a conceptual plan. Nothing has been decided yet, and everything is still up in the air,” she said.

The “Seven Corners Community Business Center” draft plan is 57 pages in total. When it is adopted, with whatever changes are yet to come, it will become part of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, 2014 Edition.