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Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth supports a “yes” vote for Capstone’s rezoning application

Capstone Collegiate Communities is proposing to build housing oriented toward students in Old Town Fairfax along University Drive near Layton Hall Drive. Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth supports a “yes” vote for rezoning the property for the proposed use.  We think it will be beneficial for the City, for the reasons below. We also think there are some remaining aspects in which the project could be even better.

Capstone rendering from Whitehead and University Drive

A rendering of the proposed Capstone project along University Drive, from Whitehead.

Why we support the Capstone application:

  • A vibrant and successful downtown requires a mix of housing, businesses, stores, services, and parks. Adding additional housing in Old Town Fairfax will help make it a more vibrant place and support restaurants and other businesses. Capstone Communities’ application for housing will bring many new residents to the downtown area and fill an important gap.
  • Expanding housing options was a key priority identified in the 2014 VisionFairfaxMason plan. This project takes advantage of George Mason University’s proximity to Old Town to benefit and strengthen the ties between the two neighboring communities. Furthermore, Mason students and staff are a huge and largely untapped asset for revitalizing Old Town Fairfax. The project will address both Mason’s need for more nearby housing options, and the City’s need for a more active Old Town. We have already heard from City restaurants that they not only look forward to the business generated by the students and their parents, but also see the students as a needed and reliable workforce.
  • The project will serve as a catalyst for more compact, pedestrian-friendly redevelopment in the area around the Old Town core. A more pedestrian-oriented space will be created by adding dense housing that is built up to the street, and interior streets that will form the first building blocks of a compact street grid for the area outlined by Layton Hall Drive, Main Street, Old Lee Highway and University Drive.

Key improvements could make this new development even stronger:

Improve pedestrian and bicycling access and safety: If the project is successful, it will create much more “life on the street,” with the new residents walking and bicycling to and from downtown destinations, as well as to the nearby CUE bus stop. We acknowledge the developer’s proposal to widen some key sidewalks.  The City should improve nearby public streets, especially University Drive, to make walking and bicycling easier and safer:

  • Add a crosswalk and pedestrian-activated signal on the north side of the University Drive / Democracy Boulevard-Whitehead intersection.
  • Square off the corners at the University Drive/Democracy Boulevard-Whitehead intersection. This makes the streets easier and safer to cross by reducing vehicle turning speeds and shortening the walk across the street.
  • Install pedestrian-scale lighting along University Drive and Layton Hall Drive, making pedestrians more visible and reducing risk of vehicle-pedestrian conflicts.
  • Improve the crossing at Layton Hall Drive by adding on-road marking and pedestrian-scale lighting alerting right-turning motorists to the presence of pedestrians.

 Activate the streets on the southern and eastern property boundaries: Require the applicant to install a 10-foot sidewalk along the new private street and the portion of Democracy Boulevard within the subject property just as they have proposed to do on University Drive; and to implement traffic calming features such as bulb-outs, narrow travel lanes, landscaped buffers, well-marked crosswalks and pedestrian-scale lighting. In the future as the adjacent parcels are redeveloped, those too would be required to provide matching sidewalks and traffic calming features. This forward thinking will maximize walkability and enhance pedestrian safety.

Provide more community-serving open space: The applicant has added some publicly accessible spaces, such as the pocket parks along University Drive and the plazas on the east side of the building. However, the project still lacks enough functional parkland accessible to the entire community. We believe the eastern end of the property, currently planned as surface parking for visitors, could be redesigned to provide a small park. Then when the adjacent property to the east redevelops, a portion of that new space could be added to the Capstone space to form a sizeable and useful park for resident and community use. This would be the start of repurposing the vast and underutilized parking acres in the Layton Hall Old Lee Highway corner.

Increase the number of vehicle pick-up and drop-off locations: We commend the developer’s commitment to encouraging bikeshare, which should be readily accessible to non-residents. Shared transportation services such as Uber and Lyft are also increasingly popular, and can reduce the demand for expensive onsite parking. Our understanding is that Capstone is proposing to set aside two spots for vehicles in the shared area for residents to be picked up and dropped off.  Given that the facility will have multiple entrances, some far from those two spaces, the applicant should work with the City to identify passenger loading zones elsewhere.

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Next meeting: Nov. 20

Join us for our monthly meeting on Tuesday November 20, 7:00-8:00 PM at Fairfax City Library Room 204.

Planning Commission recommends moving forward on Paul VI redevelopment

[UPDATE: On June 12 the City Council voted to defer a decision on the Paul VI proposal to September 11.]

On April 23 the Planning Commission approved a recommendation to redevelop the Paul VI campus primarily for townhomes and condominiums, knit together by a network of trails, open space and walkable streets.

Paul VI is located along Fairfax Boulevard and shares borders with several neighborhoods. The current landowner, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, is building a new school campus in Loudoun. The IDI Group is the contract purchaser and is seeking to to build 301 homes and a small amount of retail and commercial development.

View the staff report on Paul VI here.

View Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth’s letter and checklist: Paul VI-Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth

The Paul VI property was originally developed for Fairfax High School in 1935. After Fairfax High School moved to its current location, the property briefly functioned as George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. Since 1983, it has been the home of Paul VI.

Picture1 cropped

Aerial view of current Paul VI campus. Courtesy of googlemaps.

Paul VI aerial proposed-credit IDI Group

Proposed redevelopment of Paul VI. Courtesy of IDI Group.

Before the Diocese’s announcement in 2015 that it planned to relocate the campus, the City had not anticipated the property would change its ownership or current use. The City’s comprehensive plan has no guidance on the future disposition of the property, although it does call for commercial development along Fairfax Boulevard. Zoning for most of the property is commercial. The eastern side of the property is zoned for detached housing.

IDI’s plans required both a comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning. City staff recommended approval, but also identified 18 revisions to the plans, including adding trail connections, providing a phasing plan, and for the applicant to take full responsibility for stormwater and floodplain improvements.

The application now goes to the City Council. The City Council plans to hold a public hearing later in the year.

One line of discussion during the Planning Commission public hearing concerned the limited amount of proposed retail and commercial development. Planning Commissioners asked staff and the applicant if this area could absorb more demand for retail and commercial. Five years ago, the City commissioned a study by Streetsense on market demand for retail and commercial uses on Fairfax Boulevard. Streetsense completed the study and briefed the City Council and Planning Commission in 2013. The study indicated that, outside of the Northfax area around Route 123, there is very limited demand for retail and commercial development on Fairfax Boulevard.

 

 

 

 

The future of Paul VI

During the next two months, Fairfax City will be deciding on the future of the Paul VI property. The IDI Group is proposing to build 300-321 townhouse and condominium units on the 18-acre property, while preserving and adaptively reusing the main school building and providing a small amount of new retail development facing Fairfax Boulevard.

 

Picture1 cropped

Aerial view of current Paul VI campus. Courtesy of googlemaps.

Paul VI aerial proposed-credit IDI Group

Proposed redevelopment of Paul VI. Courtesy of IDI Group.

Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth has met with IDI several times and assessed the application according to our priorities for more walkable, mixed-use development, vibrant public spaces and expanded housing options. Our letter to the Planning Commission and assessment can be found at Paul VI-Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth

The application would redevelop a currently auto-oriented private school campus as a network of open space and walkable, bikeable internal streets. However, the proposed development does not provide new vehicular connections,  which are essential to relieving congestion on Fairfax City’s severly overburdened arterial roads.

The Planning Commission is supposed to hold a public hearing and vote on their recommendation for the application on April 23. The City Council public hearing and vote will be after City elections on May 1.

 

 

Smart Growth Checklist

Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth uses this Smart growth checklist  to assess proposed development projects.

 

Great opportunity to provide input on smart growth

Fairfax City is asking residents to help chart the course of future growth. This is a great opportunity to communicate the need for more walkable, mixed-use communities.

The City is asking residents to mark up maps and indicate where they would like future development of homes, stores, and offices to be concentrated. You can provide input by going to the Fairfax City Scenario Planning webpage.
1) Print both the map on the webpage, and the “Development Scenario Planning-development types” document.
2) Mark up the map in the areas where you would like to see future growth concentrated, and identify what types of development you would like to see, such as more compact, pedestrian-oriented building types.

We will also have maps and dots available at our group’s next meeting, on Monday November 20 at 6:30 PM at Fairfax City Library Room 103.

ScenarioPlanningHandoutDev

This is part of a new scenario planning tool that the City introduced at a meeting this week. Scenario planning uses a software program to model expected outcomes of different development types and scenarios – for example, more compact, walkable, mixed-use development vs. more dispersed development.

Many members of Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth attended and marked up the maps in person. If you didn’t attend the meeting, you can still weigh in by going to the webpage, or attending our meeting on Nov. 20.

City staff have developed four initial scenarios. They will use the citizen input potentially to develop a fifth scenario. At a follow-up meeting on December 7, planning staff will brief residents on the different scenarios and the predicted outcomes they would yield, in terms of transportation and traffic, City finances, environmental impacts and benefits, etc. This input will inform the update of the City’s comprehensive plan to guide decisions about development.

Walkable communities mean business

The metro DC region has emerged as a hotbed for walkable environments with a mix of housing, shopping and offices. Vibrant, economically dynamic urban areas exist throughout Northern Virginia, from the Rosslyn-Ballston area in Arlington to Reston Town Center. The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis calls these areas Walkable Urban Places, or “WalkUPs.” Its 2016 report, Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros, ranks the DC region second in its concentration of WalkUPs — behind only the New York City metro region.

The report demonstrates the growing demand by individuals and employers to live and work in walkable areas. A recent article in the Washington Post by architectural critic Roger Lewis recaps the report’s findings. As Lewis writes, “Given higher values and that investment returns that WalkUPs support, it’s also no surprise that, in America’s 30 largest metro areas, the market share of walkable urban office and apartment development is rising while market share of offices and apartments in auto-dependent suburban development is decreasing.”

Old Town Plaza, photo by Fairfax City Dept. of Community Development and Planning

Fairfax City’s success depends on creating more walkable environments, such as Old Town Plaza

We can do better at Northfax

This Tuesday, the Fairfax City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to recreate Fairfax Shopping Center as the same commercial strip it is today. We can do much better.

Fairfax Shopping Center is located on Fairfax Boulevard between University Drive and Eaton Place. A development application by Regency Partners  proposes to build a grocery store and two retail buildings at the site, with surface parking taking up most of the area in between.

Fairfax Shopping Center lies within the area of the city known as Northfax, defined by the intersections of Fairfax Boulevard, Route 123 and Eaton Place. The City’s Comprehensive Plan (p. 171)  calls for redeveloping Northfax with a mix of stores, homes and offices and a compact grid of walkable streets.

Fairfax Shopping Center pictures  show what the project would look like — and what the area would look like under the vision in the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan. Which would you prefer?

Increasingly, people and businesses are gravitating toward compact, walkable areas. Nearby places such as the Mosaic District, Fairfax Corner and Reston Town Center are capturing the most desirable retail stores and employers, because people want to spend time in these kinds of environments. Conventional “strip” shopping centers, on the other hand, are rapidly losing their luster.

Arguably more than any other area in the City, Northfax has the potential to be a  regional destination that can attract the mix of uses that make for a vibrant community. If this project were approved, it would be almost impossible to redevelop the surrounding parcels as the compact, walkable area envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan and essential to making Northfax a success.

Putting quality development in place takes time. It took decades for areas like Reston Town Center and the Mosaic District to come to fruition. But planning and following a long-term vision pay off. The City should stay the course called for in its Comprehensive Plan.

Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth is asking the Mayor and Council to reject this project — read our  letter to Mayor and Council