Supervisors have approved Harris Teeter’s application to build a larger grocery store and shopping center—all except for the drive-throughs.
The grocery chain will now be allowed to build a larger store, which it says will be a new type of store with places to stop and dine or pick up hot food to go, but only after Braddock Road is fully built out into a four-lane road. The county will also allow an automobile service station on the property. In addition, Harris Teeter will have to construct a six-foot berm, plant tree buffers, and will be limited to a 20-foot high building and light poles and face restrictions on light coming off the property.
The application has faced both strong support and strong opposition from its neighbors. The majority of supervisors said approving the application now is better than denying it and losing the leverage to negotiate the same conditions if the same application comes back later.
The property is at the corner of Braddock Road and Northstar Boulevard in the county’s transition policy area, an area meant to provide a buffer between the rural west and suburban east. But supervisors pointed out that the Harris Teeter property is surrounded on three sides by residential developments that previous boards approved for higher densities than would normally be allowed in the transition area, and board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said there is “zero chance” the area will remain in the transition policy area after the county completes an ongoing review of the county comprehensive plan, which sets out the transition policy area.
“What’s in front of us now is a much better application, and it’s a much better application, I think, because it’s still in the transition policy area,” Letourneau said. “… When it’s not, a lot of the conditions of approval that were placed on this item will be a lot harder to justify, because it will become a suburban policy area.”
“In this particular location, the battle for protecting the transition area has already been lost,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), adding residents and the board would be better off dealing with the application now than waiting for later and “rolling the dice and seeing what happens after the comprehensive plan has been changed.”
Supervisors gave Letourneau credit for negotiating stricter terms on the application, including thicker tree coverage, a higher berm, a lower building, and more lighting restrictions than when the application was filed.
“I know we have some presidential candidates running on building a wall, but I believe Supervisor Letourneau may have succeeded in getting one built,” quipped Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). He later added, “Not only will a six-foot wall-slash-berm be built, but Harris Teeter will be paying for it. I really think you should consider writing a book after this, The Art of the Better Deal, by Supervisor Matt Letourneau.”
A minority of supervisors, however, held out for outright denial. Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), whose district includes the application, said although the application had come a long way, he still could not support it. He, Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) voted to deny the application. Buffington has stridently opposed the application since its introduction.
“Supervisor Buffington really went to battle for his constituents, and I just have a lot of admiration for how hard he fought and how much flak he had to take,” Umstattd said.
The county will not be allowing three drive-through restaurants. Supervisors some time trying to find the best way to make sure that idea stays dead.
Some supervisors argued for the idea of marking the application for the drive-through restaurants inactive rather than denying them, a procedural trick that would push back the earliest date that Harris Teeter could reapply with the same idea. With an outright denial, Harris Teeter could return with the same application in a year’s time.
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) said inactive status would be the applicant’s way to politely bowing out of the application.
“There are times when an applicant puts an application on inactive status and it’s a polite way of letting it go,” Volpe said. “I fully don’t expect this applicant to bring it forward in the future, and these things kind of go away quietly.”
But Buffington successfully pressed for denying the application. He said residents in the area felt the application would be hanging over their heads.
“I would like to not have this hang over their heads any more,” Buffington said. “If it’s going to go away, if they’re going to politely let this go away, then how does this hurt anything? It’s not a surprise that I’m bringing this forward. If it is, then somebody wasn’t paying attention. I’ve been saying this since day one.”
Supervisors voted 7-0-1-1 to deny the drive-through restaurants, Volpe abstaining, Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) absent.
“I’m probably going to be taking more flak when this is over, because this is very nuanced stuff,” Letourneau said. “It’s hard to explain to people things like comprehensive plans and zoning amendments.”