Franconia Residents Protest Redevelopment Of Rose Hill Shopping Center

FRANCONIA, VA — Residents of the Franconia area of Fairfax County worry they will lose the convenience of walking or taking a short drive to neighborhood shops if the county allows the redevelopment of the Rose Hill Plaza shopping center.

The proposed redevelopment of the 60-year-old shopping center, at the corner of Franconia Road and Rose Hill Drive, also will make traffic conditions worse due to the planned addition of up to 400 apartment units as part of the mixed-use redevelopment of the 11-acre shopping center, according to nearby residents who oppose the project.

Many have questioned how the project will benefit residents of Rose Hill and the surrounding communities if it reduces nearby retail shopping options and increases traffic congestion on Rose Hill Drive and Franconia Road. They want to see the Virginia Department of Transportation and Fairfax County make upgrades to nearby roads to handle traffic congestion before considering adding new housing to the area.

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Other residents support the proposal by D.C.-based real estate firm Combined Properties Inc., owner of the shopping center, as long as the final plan retains a variety of retail options beyond simply a grocery store. They also welcome the developers’ intentions to build the five- or six-story apartment buildings and a four-story garage in an area of the site away from the single-family homes in the Rose Hill community.

Combined Properties, which owns several strip malls in Fairfax and Arlington counties, contends now is the perfect time to begin working on getting approval from the county for revitalizing the shopping center.

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The existing leases for the stores and businesses at the shopping center are scheduled to lapse in 2027, “which has been strategically timed with the desired start date for construction of the proposed development for the summer 2027,” according to Combined Properties’ statement of justification for the redevelopment.

“The existing single-story retail structure presents as an outdated, auto-oriented concept that contradicts Fairfax County’s goals and objectives that favor community based, mixed-use development as a means to combat the County’s housing shortage and revitalize the local economy,” Combined Properties said in the statement.

Speaking at a March 9 public workshop of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Rose Hill resident Sharada Gilkey expressed concerns about the construction of high-density housing at Rose Hill Plaza, an area of Fairfax County where she said there is not a shortage of housing.

Gilkey, who founded the Rose Hill Coalition last November in response to the proposed redevelopment of the shopping center, said Combined Properties’ plan would reduce the retail footprint of the shopping center by more than 70 percent.

“CP says they want to revitalize the center,” Gilkey said at the planning commission meeting. “I argue that the center is already vital. Rose Hill Plaza is currently a successful shopping center that is highly valued by the surrounding neighborhoods in the Franconia District.”

Under its proposed redevelopment plan, which is still in the early stages of Fairfax County’s planning process, Combined Properties has promised that the new mixed-use development would include a grocery store and that a McDonald’s restaurant would remain at the site.

The shopping center currently has about 25 retailers, including a Safeway, Walgreens, fitness center, barber shop, dry cleaners, dentist and several restaurants. Members of the community worry that many of these small businesses that they use several times a week will be forced out if Fairfax County approves the redevelopment of the shopping center.

Local resident Becca Gizzarelli, who spoke via a YouTube video at the March 9 planning commission meeting, agreed with developers who say that certain types of retail shopping are dying due to more people using online shopping.

“But that is not what this Rose Hill shopping center is. This Rose Hill shopping center is full of stores that are stores that people need to go to,” Gizzarelli emphasized. “I go to the Rose Hill shopping center to go to the fitness center, to go to my dentist, to go to my doctor, to drop off my dry cleaning, to get my kids’ haircuts.”

“None of those retail options are options that you can do online,” she said. “Although retail may be dying in some areas, it is not dying at the Rose Hill shopping center. … We do not need to reduce the footprint of the retail that his community needs to thrive.”

At the planning commission meeting and at a Jan. 23 community engagement meeting at Franconia Elementary School, some speakers said Combined Properties’ proposal is a good opportunity to transform the large parking lot at the Rose Hill shopping center into more residential units and create a more walkable community.

Alexis Glenn, a resident of the Franconia District and an adviser to the YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, or “Yes, In My Backyard,” a group that advocates for denser housing and infill development across the region, said in a YouTube video shown at the planning commission meeting that “repurposing this center, which is primarily empty asphalt for car parking will be a benefit and an amenity in the village of Rose Hill.”

Aaron Wilkowitz, who lives in Fairfax County’s Dranesville District and serves as YIMBYs of Northern Virginia’s vice president of development for Fairfax County, also spoke out in favor of Combined Properties’ plans for the Rose Hill shopping center.

Areas like Rose Hill and surrounding communities need to increase their housing density, Wilkowitz said in his comments.

The Rose Hill shopping center “has so much transit adjacentness to it,” he noted, pointing to the Van Dorn St., Huntington and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations located within a few miles of the Rose Hill shopping center.

“The Rose Hill development will help fill that housing gap by taking a low density parking lot, a low density strip mall and converting it into mixed use buildings,” he argued.

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At the March 9 planning commission meeting, Franconia District Commissioner Daniel Lagana made a preliminary motion based on a staff recommendation to accept the Rose Hill Plaza nomination to its work plan. The work plan is the next stage of the planning process.

Lagana also moved to recommend that the nomination be placed in deferral, which was approved by the commission. This means that the proposal will be placed on hold until Combined Properties further engages with the community.

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