8800 Richmond Highway to get “do-over” public hearing

No parking sign in front of business

The entrance of 8800 Richmond Highway in Dec. 2017.

Whatever comes next for the 8800 Richmond Highway property, it’ll have to wait a little bit longer. The Fairfax County Planning Commission announced last week that a second “do-over” hearing is needed to get public input on a proposal that would allow for residential construction on the site.

The new hearing, scheduled for Oct. 24, comes after a nearly four-hour planning commission hearing on 8800 Richmond Highway on July 19. That meeting featured a number of speakers sounding off on a 43-townhouse project that developers and the property owner hope to eventually build on the site.

But the townhouse proposal technically wasn’t what the July hearing was about. That proposal will be handled in a parallel rezoning request sent to the county and now scheduled to go before the planning commission on Nov. 29. The July hearing was more narrowly focused on a potential change in the text of the county’s comprehensive plan — a broader document that guides how the county envisions various areas to be used — that would allow for potential development at the site.

The bigger problem: Because county planners are recommending not to change the comprehensive plan, no proposed text for such an amendment was presented at the July hearing.

So instead of a decision on the amendment being made at planning commission’s Sept. 13 hearing, Mount Vernon District Planning Commissioner Walter Clarke announced they’d need to take a step back.

It has been brought to our attention because there was no planned text for the [amendment] at the [July] planning commission meeting, we need to have a new public hearing,” Clarke said. “So we get to have a do-over here.”

The “do over” is unusual — Lee District Planning Commissioner James Migliaccio said he didn’t recall it happening during his eight years on the board. But a Fairfax County spokesman said it was necessary for the public to see what such an amendment would look like — even if county planners think the amendment is a bad idea.

“Our planning staff didn’t provide revisions to the plan language in July because they are recommending that the currently adopted guidance in the plan be retained,” spokesman Brian Worthy said. “However, notwithstanding this recommendation, it was later determined that draft amendment text should be available for public examination, so the county is advertising a new Planning Commission public hearing to be held after draft text is available.”

The new text is expected to be available in early October, Worthy said.

The public remarks made during the July meeting will be transcribed and put on the county’s webpage regarding the 8800 amendment, Clarke said. Speakers from the July meeting are welcome to testify again, or have their remarks from July added to the hearing’s record, according to Clarke.

Should the planning commission vote on the amendment on Oct. 24, the Board of Supervisors would then hold their own hearing on it on Nov. 20.

Owner optimistic

Clarke and three other planning commissioners held a special meeting to walk the 8800 property in August in order to better understand what’s at stake. Situated south of the Sacramento Center and north of Dogue Creek on the west side of Route 1, the property faces many challenges, including the fact that it mostly falls in the 100-year flood plain and overlaps with environmentally protected areas. For those reasons, county planners have opposed any changing the comprehensive plan to allow for residential development.

But supporters of the project say the status quo is not acceptable, and that a townhouse community can be successfully constructed on the property while at the same time remedying environmental problems caused by years of commercial and light industrial use on the 8800 property.

Pete Sitnik, who owns the property along with his brother and sister, says he’s disappointed the public hearing needs to be held again. But he added that he’s still fully confident that the current plan being floated for the site is the best way forward. His family, which has owned the site since the 1950s when it briefly served as an amusement park, have heard offers for the land over the years, Sitnik said. But none measured up to the proposal currently being put forward by Stanley Martin Homes.

“The future for that piece of property can be something nice,” Sitnik said. “We believe that the townhomes is the right way to go.”

One factor in Sitnik’s favor is a broad coalition of support from nearby neighborhood associations for the townhouse proposal. Community organizations including the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, Engleside Civic Association and the Clusters at Woodlawn HOA have lined up behind the project, and supporters outnumbered opponents at the July public hearing.

“The neighbors support it, the local businesses support it, the elected officials support it,” Sitnik said. “For it not to go forward would be a shame.”


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