The only thing popping up at Aquia Town Center in Stafford County is tall grass and weeds.
“It’s horrible, it’s an eyesore,” said Lisa Sandross, a resident of Aquia 15 apartments, which overlooks the vacant parking lot.
“You know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this,” said Sandross. “They tore down the movie theater and we were supposed to have shopping, places to go.”
That was the vision for the property in 2015, when Mosaic Realty Partners—a Maryland-based private real estate investment firm—purchased the 25-acre site located just outside the gates of Aquia Harbour.
Since then, the Stafford community has been patiently waiting for a yet-to-be-determined “anchor store” to serve as the flagship of a 160,000-square-foot shopping center.
But that store hasn’t dropped anchor, and neither has anything else—except trash, abandoned cars, potholes and tall grass.
On Tuesday, Stafford’s Board of Supervisors once again tweaked the memorandum of understanding with Mosaic to settle the debris issue, giving the Maryland firm two weeks to sign the new agreement and 90 days to clean up the site—or the deal with the county will be rescinded.
According to Andrew Spence, Stafford’s community engagement director, rescinding the deal would result in Mosaic Realty Partners losing the opportunity to receive incremental tax revenue up to $6.25 million by redeveloping the property.
“We’ve been waiting long enough,” said Supervisor Jack Cavalier. “I hope Mosaic signs and we can move forward and get this area developed within the next 36 months. I’m very happy that the site is going to be cleaned up. The eyesore we now have will be minimized.”
Deputy County Administrator Mike Smith said the county is applying pressure on Mosaic to improve the appearance of the area while the developer continues their search for retail outlets.
“The county is trying to make this place more aesthetically pleasing until development can happen,” Smith said.
County officials say the latest iteration of the agreement spells out in greater detail what Mosaic must do to clean up the site. Conditions of the new agreement include mowing grass, removal of debris, taking down a chain-link fence, updating signage and making sure new debris doesn’t accumulate on the site.
“We have limits to our authority as to what we can make them do,” Smith said.
At one time, the North Stafford property was a vibrant shopping center, anchored by a Shoppers Food Warehouse and Regal Cinemas.
The grocery store, the theater and the strip mall that once stood on the property have all been demolished. The only tenants remaining are a Rite Aid pharmacy, a Subway restaurant and an information technology consulting firm. The remainder of the area is vacant and spotted with clutter and debris.
“It’s an eyesore,” said Kathy Panarella–Mason, community manager of Aquia 15 Apartments, which lies adjacent to the vacant, idle property.
“Vehicles are parked there that shouldn’t be there, trash being left everywhere, grass growing—I mean, it basically to me almost looks like a dump,” said Panarella–Mason.
As for the property’s revival, Mosaic’s attempts to secure an anchor store have so far been unsuccessful.
In April, Mosaic Principal, Isaac Pretter, said his company was searching for an interested anchor store to get the ball rolling.
April’s amended county memorandum with Mosaic included a clause that terminates the deal if 15,000 square feet of commercial space isn’t built out and occupied within three years.
On Tuesday, supervisors gave Mosaic two weeks to sign the latest iteration of the agreement ahead of their July 2 meeting. If the agreement is not signed, the memorandum with the firm would be rescinded.
In the meantime, the surrounding community continues to wait skeptically for something to happen to improve the location.
“They haven’t cut the grass the whole time I’ve been here. I’ve not seen them—ever,” said Panarella–Mason. “If you own it, that is something you should be maintaining. I am sure if we weren’t maintaining our community, I’m sure someone from the county would be in contact with me immediately. We are taxpayers right here on this property and want it maintained. We would expect them to clean their mess up over there across the street.”