Not quite three years ago, the Board of Supervisors approved recommendations to update the county’s Comprehensive Plan for the Seven Corners/Willston area. Specific language was added for building an elementary school, if the school system deems one necessary. Potential residential density was reduced by 20 percent for the Seven Corners Shopping Center property, and follow-on motions addressed transportation analysis and the challenging Seven Corners intersections. The stable residential neighborhoods nearby are protected and preserved, but many agree that the mid-20th century model needs to change to attract new residents and businesses – those moving here in the next 30 to 40 years. Providing guidance now through the Comprehensive Plan gives form and function to the abstract concepts of change and density over a 40-year planning horizon.
That extended time frame often gets lost when discussing potential redevelopment in the area. The Plan changes never were anticipated to be implemented immediately, or even across a period of a few years, but gradually, over time, as property owners make decisions about their long-term investments. Comparisons often are made with the Mosaic District in Merrifield as an example of a community-centered, walkable, and popular neighborhood for living, dining, shopping, and recreation. And Mosaic certainly is all of that; however, today’s Mosaic redeveloped a nearly dead industrial area that was once home to a multiplex movie theatre, popular in its time, but fatally affected by location, changing demographics, and movie industry policies. After the multiplex closed, there was “no there there” in Merrifield, and then-Providence District Supervisor Gerry Connolly instituted a community process to redevelop and revitalize Merrifield, including the missing residential component. What is at Mosaic now took more than 15 years to achieve, and it’s not done yet. Most, if not all, of the remaining properties will require private investment to implement the next phases of Mosaic, and that probably will be years in the making.
In contrast, the Seven Corners/Willston area is a thriving retail, commercial and residential center. Both centers are nearly fully leased, with national stores like Target, Home Depot, PetSmart, and Safeway as anchors. Hundreds of apartments there are fully leased, with many renovations done during the past 20 years. Unlike the old Merrifield, Seven Corners/Willston is economically viable, and continues to serve the community and support the local economy. It will take a lot of diligence by property owners to determine how they might redevelop their properties for the 21st century, and ensure a level of financial return for their efforts. Those deals don’t happen overnight, and may take years before the market is optimum for investment. When that happens, the Comprehensive Plan provides the roadmap to get there, just as it did for the smaller, and probably easier, Mosaic District. In the meantime, in addition to the recent pedestrian intersection upgrades, Fairfax County continues to apply for federal funding to augment the county’s effort to make transportation improvements. A rezoning for a new townhome community on the old medical building property near Target also was approved. While the bulldozers aren’t coming up Route 7 yet, incremental steps are underway, to ensure that Seven Corners/Willston still is a dynamic place to live and do business.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]