The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously recommended Wednesday night that the Board of Supervisors approve Costco Wholesale’s application to build a store on Richmond Highway in the Gum Springs area.
Costco, the nation’s largest membership warehouse club chain, proposes to build a 143,416 square foot warehouse on the site of the former Mount Vernon Multiplex Cinema. The 12 acres site is west of Richmond Highway and north of Ladson Lane.
Locals have expressed concern the new store would add to current traffic congestion. Costco maintains in its original submission that the development would not have a “significantly higher impact than an operational movie theater located on the same site.”
In its traffic impact analysis submitted to the Planning Commission, Costco analysts predicted that 737 new peak hour trips on Saturday and 4,496 new daily trips on weekdays would occur after completion of the store. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation Route 1 handles about 60,000 vehicles per day.
In response to local criticism that Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) will add to traffic congestion along the Route 1 corridor, the federal government recently approved funds to make improvements to local trasportation infrastructure.
Of the 150 million dollars that were approved, $145.5 will used to widen Route 1 between Telegraph Road in Lorton and Route 235 in Mount Vernon.
At Wednesday’s public hearing before the Planning Commission, representatives from Spring Garden Apartments were also critical of the retail chain’s plan to close the existing median break at the intersection of Richmond Highway and the entrance into the apartment building.
If the median break were to close, the entrance to the Spring Garden Apartments would function as a right-in/right-out entrance providing access only to the northbound traffic on Richmond Highway.
Drivers coming from southbound Route 1 would have to make a u-turn to park in front of the building, as would those seeking to exit onto southbound Route 1.
Jube Shiver Jr., general partner for Spring Garden Apartments LLT., said that closing the median break would inconvenience bus drivers, local tenants and emergency vehicles.
“I shudder to think about how a fire truck would be able to negotiate a u-turn [to address a fire], he said Wednesday. The area is currently served by four Fairfax commuter buses in addition to the Richmond Highway Express (REX) Metrobus.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has said that closing the median in front of the 207-unit apartment building would smooth traffic flow along the highway.
Gregory Riegle, attorney for Costco Wholesale Inc. said the retail chain would be willing to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to keep the median open.
“[We] have an absolute willingness to spend the money and roll up our sleeves to take on the 800 pound garilla that is VDOT,” he said.
Costco says the project would invest $25 million dollars into the community and bring 250 new jobs to the Route 1 corridor. The retail chain says it boasts some of the highest wages in the industry, with the average wage close to $20 per hour. Ninety percent of its employees are eligible for benefits.
The store would be built using sustainable materials, including all recyclable material for the exterior of the building. The retail chain says over 70 percent of local businesses in the Mount Vernon area have a Costco membership.
The proposed Costco has garnered support from local civic groups, including the MVCCA Transportation Committee and the MVCCA Planning and Zoning Committee. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the issue on Tuesday.
Nancy Malir contributed reporting.