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Supervisor calls for more retail, less housing in proposed Rose Hill Plaza redevelopment

Rose Hill Plaza (via Google Maps)

Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk is asking the owner of Rose Hill Plaza to lower the number of residential units and increase retail space in its next redevelopment proposal.

The six-decade-old shopping center located off Franconia Road is slated for significant redevelopment but has met some community opposition in terms of how exactly that will be done and what the new center will include.

In response, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted in April to essentially defer the proposed plans to allow owner Combined Properties to “further engage” with the community.

The developer’s preliminary proposal submitted on Oct. 25, 2022 envisioned adding a six-story, mixed-use residential building with 56,000 square feet of retail and green space to the shopping center.

Now, Lusk is asking for specific changes to that initial plan based on “community feedback” after meeting with Combined Properties twice since April, he said in a recent newsletter. Lusk said he was set to meet with the developer again shortly.

“My message to them will be the same as it has been in the previous two meetings,” Lusk wrote. “My expectation, based on community feedback, is that the next version of their proposal should significantly lower the amount of proposed residential units and significantly increase the proposed amount of retail space.”

Lusk said he believes Combined Properties will follow this request, but if not, the proposal will be deferred once again until “I believe [it’s] ready for public consideration.”

He anticipates the new proposal to be ready by the fall or early winter. If so, the Board of Supervisors could then approve a review by staff and remove it from Tier 3 of the county’s 2023 Comprehensive Plan Amendment Work Program.

Eventually, public hearings will be scheduled, sending the plan to the board for approval — potentially by the end of the year, Lusk noted.

However, some residents oppose reducing the amount of housing proposed at Rose Hill Plaza. The YIMBYs of Northern Virginia — a budding regional group that advocates for “more and denser housing” to make housing more affordable, per its website — said it is “disappointed” in Lusk’s request in a statement to FFXnow.

Rose Hill faces the same crisis that most of NoVA faces: working class residents – including essential workers like teachers, nurses, and government employees – cannot afford to live in the area. We remain excited by plans to upzone and develop the Rose Hill development with newer retail, more green space, and hundreds of new residential units. We are disappointed to hear that Supervisor Lusk has recommended deferring the project until the plans include more retail and less housing. The two need not be mutually exclusive: by building up, there’s plenty of space for more retail and more housing.

The group said that while a “vocal subset” of locals may oppose more housing, the idea has support from plenty of others who don’t have time to speak up, use English as a second language or are currently “priced out” of living in Rose Hill.

“Building a place people want to live and linger in is more important than an arbitrary amount of square footage assigned to retail,” local resident Alexis Glenn said. “Retail space will remain empty if we continue to scale back the housing needed to support it. Rose Hill will never be able to support the kind of high-quality retail and services the community desires if there isn’t a significant increase in housing.”

On the other side of the argument is the Rose Hill Coalition, a group of private citizens fighting against reducing retail at the shopping center. Founder Sharada Gilkey says the group is “neither encouraged nor discouraged” by Lusk’s statement, which she says came after she and the Rose Hill Civic Association talked to the supervisor last month.

“The only reason this has become a focus of concern for Lusk and the County is because the local community has strongly objected to the original and revised SSPA,” Gilkey wrote in a statement. “Fairfax County is strongly in favor of additional housing development regardless of whether it addresses the true problem of ‘affordable’ housing. The developer also has strong ties to the County and the representing firm has considerable experience and influence.”

Gilkey says the coalition is keeping a close eye on November’s elections, with Democrat Lusk facing a challenge from Republican Paul Beran for Franconia District supervisor.

“We will save our ‘opinion’ for when we see who wins the election and what new, if any, proposal is submitted by the developer. The actions will speak much louder than words,” Gilkey said.

Lusk defended the board’s April deferral and request for a new proposal that would increase retail and decrease housing in a lengthy statement to FFXnow.

I believe deferring the case and asking for a new proposal is the right path forward because it continues the dialogue around this proposed plan. In the end, we all have the same goal which is a successful and thriving shopping center. Combined Properties as the owner believes the Rose Hill Plaza could face an uncertain economic future and thus proposed a plan in early 2022 that they felt addressed this uncertainty. I asked Combined Properties to present these plans to the community for their feedback before a nomination was submitted. The community meetings I held and attended showed that there was significant concern about their proposal, which many felt leaned too heavily into adding housing and did not retain enough space for retail. We also heard from some residents that we have a growing need for additional housing in Fairfax County and that this project was vital to addressing that need.

I believe both sides have valid points. I agree completely that Fairfax County has an affordability of housing issue, and this proposal could aid in addressing that issue. Adding residential to our shopping centers adds density in a way that both adds to the housing stock and improves the long-term economic outlook for those shopping centers in a time when the future of brick-and-mortar retail is uncertain. On the other hand, as with any project, the end result needs to be in harmony with the adjacent neighborhood in terms of compatibility, height, density, scale and use. I moved to defer the proposal back in April of this year because I heard and agreed with those residents that said this version of the application was not harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood.

I have learned from my years working land use cases that there is almost always a process and a negotiation to these kinds of proposals. There is often a third option besides dismissing a project outright or approving it without changes, and that is to address concerns where possible, find middle ground if it can be found, and then reassess. That is what I am doing now just as I have done in other projects such as the Kingstowne Top Golf project. As I said in my last statement on this project, my goal is for all of us to continue working together until we come to a consensus on a plan that the community and the property owner can agree sustains the Rose Hill Plaza for decades to come.

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