The one thing everyone who watched Halle Companies’ presentation on its plans for Kingstowne Towne Center could agree on was that the developer’s new proposal is an improvement from its old ones.
The development plan for Kingstowne Towne Center land bays M and N peddled to community members assembled at the Snyder Center in Alexandria on Aug. 29 is the third proposal that Halle has drawn up for that particular site in the past decade.
First, the developer envisioned land bays M and N as office space, receiving approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2008 to transform the 5-acre vacant lot off of Kingstowne Village Parkway into a pair of 200-foot office buildings in response to an influx of workers to Fort Belvoir.
The Great Recession, however, torpedoed the market for commercial office space, so Halle later returned to the Board of Supervisors with a vision of mixed-use development, suggesting that the office buildings could instead be turned into 800 apartments and condominiums supplemented by some retail and office uses.
County supervisors approved the proposed mixed-use community in June 2016, but Halle now believes the approved plan is too dense, too tall, and has too much retail, which would comprise 29 percent of the 886,000 square-foot development.
Submitted to Fairfax County in April, the latest proposal calls for 11,400 square feet of retail, down from 68,000 square feet, and two eight-floor, 85-foot-tall residential buildings with 646 residential units. The town center would have 14.9 dwelling units per acre.
The currently approved plan allows for 800 residential units in four 12-story buildings between 85 feet and 150 feet tall, giving the town center 18.5 dwelling units per acre.
“It’s frankly much less intense than the existing approval,” DLA Piper Partner Antonio Calabrese said of the developer’s new plan. “…That has dramatic beneficial impacts on the transportation network.”
Halle is “painfully aware” of the transportation challenges that already exist in the Kingstowne area, says Calabrese, who is representing Halle as a land use attorney.
According to Halle, downsizing of the development’s residential and retail capacities will reduce the number of vehicular trips through the Kingstowne Towne Center by 44 percent, from the 5,567 daily trips that the approved plan was projected to add to 3,125 daily trips under the new proposal.
In addition to building two residential buildings and some retail that will likely take the form of a restaurant, Halle will revamp the largely concrete open area that currently sits between the town center’s Panera Bread and the Regal Cinemas movie theater into a 0.8-acre, 34,000 square-foot plaza with grass, outdoor dining seating, and open space for performances, a farmers’ market, or other activities.
The developer plans to install an ice skating rink in the plaza during the winter months, similar to what Boston Properties has in its open-air pavilion at the Reston Town Center.
“It’s a really attractive additional amenity for the town center residents and customers. There's nothing like that in the [Kingstowne] Towne Center now,” Calabrese said. “…These great mixed-use environments have attractive, family-friendly plazas exactly along the order of what we’re proposing to build with our first phase.”
Despite the reductions in the proposed development’s capacity, some people in the Kingstowne community, a collection of over 5,300 homes in Alexandria represented by the Kingstowne Residential Owners Corporation, worry the introduction of more than 600 new residents could strain the infrastructure of the town center and its surrounding area.
Few community members disputed the complaint raised at the Snyder Center meeting that any increase in traffic will make navigating Van Dorn Street and the other roads around Kingstowne Towne Center even more intolerable.
Some attendees questioned whether the town center will have enough parking to accommodate the new residents and visitors.
Halle has not determined exactly how many parking spaces the new development will have, but the residential buildings will have a built-in parking deck with 1.6 spots available for each unit, as required for multiple-family dwellings by the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance.
There will also be some “modest” additional parking for retail and restaurant visitors, according to Calabrese.
The failure of past development proposals to materialize has created additional anxiety around the possibility of another abandoned project.
“I think most people’s consensus was the smaller plan was a whole lot better than the bigger plan, but there was a lot of skepticism,” Kingstowne resident Peter MacDowell said. “…We wonder about what happens if the financing doesn’t all come through or it collapses in the middle of a recession. It’s happened before. It could happen again.”
As president of the Kingstowne Lake Improvement Association, one of MacDowell’s primary concerns is how Halle’s proposed development will impact Kingstowne Lake, a privately owned and maintained regional stormwater retention pond encircled by a walking path.
While acknowledging that it was designed for stormwater management purposes, KLIA argues that Kingstowne Lake has become an attractive amenity for the community with recreational and environmental value.
Dedicated to cleaning up and protecting the lake, the community group has raised concerns about the maintenance and safety of the facility under the Kingstowne Community Association, which consists of the Kingstowne Residential Owners Corporation and the Kingstowne Commercial Owners Corporation and currently owns the lake.
MacDowell formed KLIA in January after he and his neighbors grew tired of seeing trash in the lake, and he is worried about the possible effect of adding 646 residences at the Kingstowne Towne Center.
“That’s a whole lot of pedestrian pressure, if nothing else, around the lake,” MacDowell said. “That’s going to take some smart planning to maintain the lake as an attractive amenity, rather than as a place to be filled with trash.”
Calabrese told residents at the community meeting on Aug. 29 that Halle is dedicated to making sure Kingstowne Lake stays in good condition, including by maintaining trash fences that the developer recently installed around the facility.
The KROC Board of Trustees disputed the lake improvement association’s characterization of the lake in a four-page article in the Kingstonian, the monthly newsletter that the homeowners’ association publishes.
KROC sent a request to Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay’s office on July 10 asking Fairfax County to assume responsibility of Kingstowne Lake, which would relieve the organization of liability and insurance costs.
According to KROC president Kathleen Snyder, the organization maintains the lake with regular trash collections, inspections, and water and chemical testing. A sediment loading analysis is also conducted annually to determine whether the facility needs to be dredged.
“The runoff from the current development and even from development over by the Toys ‘R’ Us, if it were ever to happen in our lifetime, it’s more than adequately planned and engineered for existing lake,” Snyder said.
Halle submitted plans to Fairfax County in early June to bring residential development to a separate parcel in the Kingstowne Towne Center previously occupied by a Toys ‘R’ Us.
After Toys ‘R’ Us filed for bankruptcy in 2017, the grocery store chain Aldi won a bid to take control of the lease for the next 10-plus years, so Halle will not be able to redevelop the property unless Aldi leaves.
KROC has not yet taken an official stance on Halle’s proposed town center developments for when the projects are presented to the Lee District Land Use Committee and the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
Snyder anticipates that KROC’s board of trustees will vote on the land bays M and N proposal in the next one or two months.
While she understands residents’ frustrations about parking and traffic in the area, Snyder says the existing parking garages at Kingstowne Towne Center are rarely, if ever, full, and she is glad Halle downsized its plans from the development that has already been approved.
“As long as the county is going to go ahead and continue to approve development, the best we can do is just be part of the dialogue,” Snyder said. “One of the things that we are really advocating as this moves through the process, is an absolute commitment to transportation from those apartments to and from the Metro.”
Kingstowne Towne Center has a shuttle that services the existing commercial development, and Calabrese says it will likely be enhanced for any new developments.
According to the Washington Business Journal, Halle Companies owns 26.6 acres of the 35-acre Kingstowne Towne Center, which extends from Kingstowne Village Parkway, Kingstowne Boulevard, and South Van Dorn Street.
The town center encompasses 305,000 square feet of office space and 245,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. Boston Properties controls the movie theater, adjacent retail, and two office buildings.
“We think that the proposed developments are very much in keeping with the best interest of the Kingstowne community,” Calabrese said. “And we think there’s going a lot of enthusiasm for occupancy of both projects when they’re ultimately concluded.”