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Tysons gas station hit by tornado nears approval for convenience store

The Tysons Mobil gas station on Chain Bridge Road was damaged by a tornado in March (staff photo by David Taube)

The Mobil gas station by Tysons Corner Center was looking to make some changes before it got hit by a tornado this spring, but the damage resulting from that storm added a new sense of urgency to the project.

When it meets tomorrow (Wednesday), the Fairfax County Planning Commission is poised to approve a renovation of the station at 1953 Chain Bridge Road that would replace the existing vehicle service bays with a convenience store.

The car wash and repair bays haven’t operated since a tornado briefly touched down in Tysons on March 31, damaging the Mobil and adjacent Sunoco gas stations, Wire Gill LLP partner David Gill told the commission at a public hearing last week.

“We are very eager to move forward on this so we can begin repairs on the building,” said Gill, who is representing PMG in the land-use case.

The renovation of the eight-pump gas station, which has been running since 1973, would add a convenience store sales floor, a 350-square-foot cooler vault and a 240-square-foot employee work room. The 2,585-square-foot building’s façade would be replaced.

While no new exterior construction or additions to the building have been proposed, PMG has agreed to realign the existing sidewalk on Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) and widen it from 4 to 6 feet, including in front of the Sunoco station up to International Drive.

A private road that connects the two gas stations will be closed off “to reduce vehicle conflicts and the possibility of collisions,” leaving the site with two entrances off of Chain Bridge and a rear service road to International Drive, the staff report says.

Gill said the closure will also give the site some additional open space that will be filled with trees and other landscaping.

However, the landscaping along Chain Bridge will be located between the property and sidewalk, rather than by the street, a deviation from Tysons’ design guidelines that Gill said will allow more trees to be planted and prevent visibility issues for drivers.

“Overall, this is an incremental change that reflects larger trends with the fueling station industry, where convenience stores are replacing service stations,” Kevin McMahan with the Department of Planning and Development said. “In staff’s opinion, the upgrades to the building’s architecture and streetscape improvements along Chain Bridge Road will be positive improvements to the area.”

The planning commission stopped short of approving PMG’s special exception request last week, because a development condition that would require the property owner to install two electric vehicle charging stations was still being finalized.

Staff had initially pushed for Level 3 chargers to be required, but the condition has been revised to less-intensive Level 2 chargers. Gill said the site doesn’t have the space to accommodate the infrastructure needed for Level 3s.

Who will be responsible for installing and operating the chargers hasn’t been determined yet, but Gill said PMG has partnered with providers to install stations at other sites in the past.

“We’ve figured out, if worst comes to worst, we’re in that game ourselves now if we put in these chargers,” he said.

Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner observed that the growing acceptance and use of electric vehicles presents a potential opportunity for convenience stores and other businesses that could serve drivers waiting for their cars to charge up.

He said the commission will “need to look thoughtfully at what expectations we have for future developments,” suggesting that they push for Level 3 stations at sites along I-495, I-66 and other major highways.

“The matter of electric vehicle charging is going to continue to come before us, and I think we’re getting more and more insight into what that really means for the future of vehicle use in Fairfax County,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.

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