Oakville Triangle project makes further progress at Saturday’s council hearing

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Oakville Triangle project makes further progress at Saturday’s council hearing
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

As Del Ray continues to grow and Potomac Yard prepares to welcome a new Metrorail station, nearby Oakville Triangle’s redevelopment continued to gather steam Saturday as city council unanimously adopted a plan for the design of the area by U.S. Route 1.

The Blackstone Group owns 13 acres of the 20-acre industrial park, and have partnered with Bethesda-based developers StonebridgeCarras in designing plans to redevelop the parcel.

The proposal is a mixed-use development including residential town homes and multi-family units, retail and office space, park land and so-called “maker spaces” on the ground floor of some units for some light-industrial use still in the area. The plan would look to take advantage of the existing Metroway bus rapid transit system and future mass transit in the city.

Council’s approval of the Oakville Triangle plan comes at the end of a long public engagement process, with an advisory group studying the area and providing recommendations to officials.

“This certainly is a very nice proposal,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “Again, this is a plan; we still have the [development special use permit] to come forward with all the final details as it advances through numerous phases. Certainly what I think I like about the project is it is a transit-oriented development project.”

In the midst of the new retail and residential development is a total of 157,000 square feet of open space, both at ground level and on the rooftops. Laura Durham of the city’s department of parks, recreation and cultural activities said that the majority of that open space would be freely accessible, while the planned improvements included a $2 million developer contribution to nearby Mount Jefferson Park. But some said that the distinction between
rooftop and ground-level open space should be clearer.

“We need to make sure the public understands that open space is down on the ground, not up on the roof, because what’s up on the roof is only available for the people who are in the building and their guests,” said Ann Shack. “Even if they give some kind of outside access, it’s not going to be the same as being able to walk into the park.”

City councilors agreed that better distinctions should be made, but said that rooftop green space is also of enormous benefit to the city, including for the management of storm water. Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg asked staff to prepare a memo on how much open space is available at ground level, not including the rooftop space.

“We don’t want to diminish the encouragement of the development community to do that stuff, but we could probably look at whether there’s legal ways to split it up to be more clear with the public about how we talk about it,” said City Councilor Justin Wilson.

The proposal includes a minimum of 65 affordable housing units, included as part of an overall developer contribution of $3 million to the city’s affordable housing fund. Helen McIlvaine from the city’s department of housing said the department anticipates adding more affordable units as the plan evolves over time.

But residents raised concerns about a number of aspects of the plan, including the proposed “maker spaces” and whether they will be viable options for businesses currently operating in the area.

“Those businesses that are currently there, like the stonecutting nursery and auto repair businesses, will not likely fit into maker spaces inside of residential or office buildings,” said Pamela Smith. “We will be trading local employers for several thousand more service-needing residents, and that is not smart development.”

Several people worried about the increased density and the strain placed on the existing roads and infrastructure. With buildings as tall as nine stories and Swann Avenue transformed into the main retail space, the influx of people was seen as a big issue.

“As a homeowner in the area, I continue to have concerns about the increase of density this development will bring and the broader implications that will have for the services of this city,” said Brian Burton.

Silberberg said she agreed with concerns about the increased density and traffic volume, but added that she felt many of the new residents would use mass transit and therefore not put too much strain on the roads.

The project is expected to return to council in December for approval of a proposed coordinated development district plan, then again in January or February for the first development special use permit for an office building at the intersection of Swann Avenue and U.S. Route 1. As the proceedings came to a close, City Councilor Del Pepper stressed her expectation to see high quality architecture and building materials.

“For heaven’s sake, let’s not just accept anything that comes in, or modify it a little bit because heaven forbid we wouldn’t want to offend anyone,” she said. “I think we have to get right in there and ensure that what we have in this very important street, that it really is classic, and that’s what I’m hoping you’re going to see. It’s going to be a busy, hustling area that’s going to draw people there.”

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