The site for a new retail and housing development along Garrisonville Road in North Stafford has been idle for years, but developers and county officials now say they hope work will start this summer.
Plans still include a Regal Cinemas movie theater, which would be a welcome sight in an area that hasn’t had one since 2007, when Stafford’s only theater was razed, along with the rest of downtown England. Aqua.
“[Regal does] plan to come,” Deputy County Administrator Mike Morris told supervisors on Tuesday.
Downtown Aquia was located at the entrance to the Port of Aquia Subdivision, and the site has remained mostly empty land ever since.
Not much happened on The Garrison site either. The project was first presented to the county over a decade ago and sat vacant until October 2021, when ceremonial chrome shovels were used to pave the way for the new mixed-use community. Even this ceremony took place two years after the originally planned start date.
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At the grand opening along the 400 block of Garrisonville Road, county officials and representatives of the project’s developer, Reston-based Pence Group, said The Garrison would include high-end shops, apartments and a gym. movie theater.
“It’s a process. There will be no cinemas or restaurants tomorrow,” former Garrisonville supervisor Mark Dudenhefer said. “It will take a few years. Everyone must remain patient in everything we do here.
Pence Group chairman Geoff Pence said his company is now aiming for summer 2023 to finally innovate.
“It’s taken a lot longer than expected, thought or hoped, but we’re still committed to it and eventually there will be a big project here,” Pence said.
The Pence Group’s previous projects in the county include the 2003 construction of Stafford Marketplace off Garrisonville Road.
Morris told supervisors that the project’s final hurdle involved two creeks on the property that needed to be reviewed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“So (Pence) received DEQ approval about six weeks ago and they are now awaiting final approval from the Corps of Engineers,” Morris said. “And based on that, they plan to submit their plans to us to begin with.”
Pence said he expects final approval of the company’s stormwater management plan, which involves the two streams on the 57-acre parcel, to come soon.
“Hopefully we’ll get our approval from the Army Corp (of Engineers) momentarily,” Pence said. “Once we have that, we’ll let our architects and engineers update the site plan and submit it to the county.”
The first phase of the project will include three locations for future merchants, as well as a 40,000 square foot mixed-use building comprising 136 apartments.
“And we asked about Regal Cinemas and we were told, obviously, because of the pandemic, movie theaters, that industry has dropped significantly,” Morris said. “So (Pence) had many conversations with Regal. Regal told them they wanted to keep their rental agreement in place. They plan to come.
Roadway improvements near the new project are also expected, including widening portions of State Route 610 to accommodate traffic near the development and a new traffic light at Travis Lane. A connector at the back of The Garrison to Highpointe Boulevard will also be added to provide motorists access to Mine Road.
As for the old downtown of Aquia, county leaders said the project would also get off to a quick start.
Nearly three years ago, Stafford supervisors voted unanimously to terminate the county’s memorandum of understanding with Maryland-based Aquia Town Center landowners due to the company’s inability installing new signage at the entrance to the old shopping centre. Terminating the deal meant the property developer would lose millions of dollars in additional tax incentives, but it also meant the center’s future would remain a mystery.
On Wednesday, Aquia Supervisor Monica Gary said the condition of downtown Aquia was “the county’s problem and the public holds the county accountable to do something about it.”
“I think we need to buy it, build the fire station and redevelop the rest,” Gary said.
Gary said she plans to hold a town hall on the subject soon.