Developers plan to build an all-new, one-level, pedestrian-friendly University Mall.
A meeting at Oak View Elementary earlier this month brought out a large, opinionated crowd of residents that would be affected by the changes to University Mall.
Rick Wolf of College Town Associates, the company that owns University Mall, outlined the plan using many maps and in-depth slides. Many of the features addressed concerns brought up by neighbors at
“When you drive into the project it’s going to look literally brand new,” Wolf said. “The buildings themselves won’t look anything like they do today.”
Other changes include:
- Making traffic improvements along Braddock and Route 123.
- Detering cut-through drivers from using the streets behind the mall.
- Energy-friendly buildings.
- A renovated, possibly expanded Giant.
- Community space for residents/groups to hold meetings.
Wolf said the Saxby’s Coffee in the center reflects the new signage and design of the entire center once completed.
Some of the buildings in the development will be silver-certified LEED buildings, corresponding to requirements for “green” buildings. One feature of that includes white roofs that will reflect heat, bringing down cooling bills.
Wolf says that Giant plans to at renovate the store and upgrade it inside and out, moving the entrance out of the courtyard. Giant will also analyze whether they should expand the store. The renovation of the grocery store should occur at the same time as the rest of the center and be completed around the same time as well.
“We would prefer they’d have left so we could have gotten a new tenant,” Wolf said. “I’ve been hearing complaints since [the renovation discussion] began about how bad that Giant is.”
As part of the renovation, the shopping center will be leveled out to take out existing grade changes. Wolf said that all the stores will be at the same level instead of having different floors and staircases to get to them as currently exists.
Wolf also showed a map which highlighted the locations of all dumpsters, storm water drains and the decorative towers planned to be on the building. An expert at the meeting stated that the storm water facilities will be able to handle a 10 year rainfall or even a 50 year rainfall. Utilities in the area have been taken into account and no electric or gas lines will be disturbed.
At least 1,000 square feet in the development will be provided for community use. The county and other organizations will be able to use the space rent-free for meetings. They have not determined a mechanism for coordinating the use of the space yet, but Wolf suggested it could be organized through the Braddock District Office.
Wolf mentioned that the planners have had to take into account a 20-year transportation plan which could have traffic on 123 going over Braddock Road in a grade interchange. Meeting attendee Ginger Groeber instantly pointed out that the interchange is in a planning document but is not funded.
“This is not something the people that live around here have accepted is going to happen,” she said, remarking that the proposed interchange is not a done deal and is a hot topic in the neighborhood.
Wolf said that in any case, University Mall owners have to plan for that contingency. He said the building currently holding an M&T bank on the far northwest corner of the property would be demolished and a temporary road would be built through the west side of the property to allow traffic to continue along Ox while construction occurs. A new building for a bank would be built farther into the center and would be attached to a Wendy’s, both with drive-throughs. The developers are also planning the back end of the shopping center to be unfriendly for cars trying to cut through from 123 to Braddock Road. Wolf said this could be achieved by making the route convoluted and placing elements of the buildings in the way.
Wolf said the developers have also taken into consideration foot traffic of students from Mason, planning crosswalks, sidewalks and increased pedestrian walkways. Supervisor John Cook, who helped run the meeting, pointed out that George Mason University already has shuttles running to University Mall and will continue that so not all of the students have to walk over.
University Mall will be outfitted with security cameras throughout the site, which police will have access to in case of an emergency call. A security company will be on the ground, with guards around on Friday and Saturday nights as well as when special events are happening.
Wolf assured attendees at the meeting that College Town has a continuing obligation to the project even after its construction. “If something doesn’t perform the way it’s supposed to, we’re the one that has to fix it,” Wolf said.
College Town says they’re working hard to get everything with the plan figured out before the meeting in April in which the planning commission will make a final decision on whether to approve the project or not. Before that meeting though, College Town will have to show that they have signatures from 10 homeowners who live behind University Mall approving the renovation, as part of a covenant. Braddock District planning commissioner Suzanne Harsel said at a previous meeting that for the application to get site plan approval, the county attorney must be satisfied that the terms of the covenant are fulfilled.
“We have met with those landowners [in the covenant] over the last year and shown them our plans every time it changes,” Wolf said. “At this point I have not heard from any of those landowners that they have a problem with this plan. But I haven’t heard that they don’t have a problem with it.”
Wolf explained that before he could get the signatures from the covenant stakeholders, the plan has to be completely determined and frozen.
Wolf said that if the Board of Supervisors approves the plan in April, the site plan will still have to be approved. Construction would start in the fall at earliest, with the goal of finishing by the end of 2012. He estimated the cost of the new construction at about $24 million.
Many at the event seemed to support the renovation.
“It’s a great proposal; I’m looking forward to seeing it in place,” Marc Greidinger said. “Everyone seems for it, with a few questions.”
Ginger Groeber though, voiced her concern about what the development could do to traffic in an area that’s already congested.
“Yes [University Mall] needs to be refreshed,” Groeber said. “The problem is with this increase, has anybody looked at what it’s doing to the traffic increase in the area? I want to make sure everyone’s thinking through what impact it has on the community.”
In response to Groeber's question, a traffic impact study performed on the area was sent to both Groeber and Burke Patch editor Rachael Dickson. The study's executive summary concludes that traffic delays in the area would probably still continue even without renovation of University Mall. It estimated that the redevelopment would bring out an estimated 427 new morning peak hour vehicles and 504 Saturday peak hour vehicles to the center.
Suggestions for offsetting the traffic impact of the renovation include adjusting the timing of traffic signals at Braddock Road and 123 and Braddock Road and Sideburn and changes to lane demarcations at Braddock Road and Roanoke River Road.
The full study can be seen on this article under PDFs.