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Shopping Center proposal is heading in the wrong direction

The City Council is considering a proposal at Fairfax Shopping Center for a standard commercial development dominated by surface parking. This proposal would hinder rather than help the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard. The City should say “No thanks” to the proposal and look at redevelopment options that will make Fairfax Boulevard more attractive and walkable.

Fairfax Shopping Center

Fairfax Shopping Center. Copyright Google 2016

Fairfax Shopping Center is on Fairfax Boulevard near University Drive. Many residents and passers-by know it best for the Baskin Robbins, Minerva Indian restaurant and Hooters restaurant that were formerly there. In September, the City Council reviewed a proposal by Regency Centers to redevelop the shopping center with a grocery store and a few other small stores or restaurants, with the remainder of the area consisting of surface parking.

The City’s Comprehensive Plan envisions the Northfax area near Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard as a regional destination with a mixture of housing and stores, and walkable streets. This proposal does not meet the vision in the Comprehensive Plan. It won’t bring more business into the City, and it won’t make the area more walkable.

The City should instead pursue a project that will encourage pedestrian traffic, with street-facing buildings that entice pedestrians to walk by. A higher-density, mixed use project will generate more tax revenue from the parcel.



New bike connections for Fairfax City

Bicycling between downtown Fairfax City and the Vienna Metro station has gotten easier thanks to two recent improvements.

Layton HallOn Layton Hall Road, between University Drive and Old Lee Highway, Fairfax City has added a bicycle lane on the north side and shared use markings or “sharrows” on the south side.







Fairfax Connector new trailOn the Fairfax Connector Trail just east of Fairfax City, Fairfax County has created a new trail starting at Vaden Drive and Route 29. This provides direct access to the Vienna Metrowest community and the Metro station, via Vaden Drive and Saintsbury Road.

University Drive and Government Center Parkway extensions awarded funding

At the June Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting, the state of Virginia approved funding to extend University Drive from Fairfax Boulevard to Eaton Place, and to extend Government Center Parkway from Stevenson Street to Jermantown Road. These two projects will create a more connected street grid, make all forms of travel easier — be it by car, transit on a bike or on your feet — and, in the case of the University Drive extension, encourage more compact, walkable redevelopment on Fairfax Boulevard.

According to the city’s funding application, the proposed University Drive extension will  include one northbound and one southbound lane, right and left turn lanes onto Fairfax Blvd and Eaton Place, and a shared left turn lane to future site entrances. The project will also include new sidewalk, pedestrian crossings, on-road bike lanes, lighting and landscaping.

The Government Center Parkway extension  will fill in the missing link between Stevenson Street and Jermantown Road, between the Lowes and Burlington Coat shopping centers on the west side of Jermantown and Route 29. The project will include two eastbound through lanes to provide right and left turn lanes to Jermantown Road, one westbound through lane, turn lanes to Stevenson Street and the shopping center, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, on-road bicycle lanes, and lighting and landscaping.

Government Center Parkway extension

Through extending Government Center Parkway (left center in photo) by just half a block, Fairfax City will create a much better connection for all users between Kamp Washington and the Fair Lakes area. (Photo from google)

Both of these projects will break up superblocks and create a more compact, walkable street grid. They will also make life easier for motorists. A major factor in traffic congestion in Fairfax City is the lack of alternative routes. For most trips, people have to travel on major roads like Fairfax Boulevard, Lee Highway or Route 236. Creating better connections gives people more options, and will relieve the burden on major roads.

Some residents are concerned about an increase in “cut-through” traffic that could result from extending University Drive. Currently Chain Bridge Road just to the west takes on the lion’s share of traffic between downtown Fairfax and the I-66 exit. Providing another outlet will relieve pressure on Chain Bridge and other roads. The design of the extension seems intended to encourage slower vehicle speeds.

The state awards (slightly under $10 million for University Drive, and $3.1 million for Government Center Parkway) should fully fund both projects.

Walking tour of Old Town Fairfax

Old Town Fairfax has seen dramatic changes that are bringing more people into Fairfax City and making the historic downtown a more vibrant place. But more remains to be done to make Old Town a more walkable, bike-friendly destination with the right mix of housing, retail businesses and offices. On Sunday May 22 the Coalition for Smarter Growth teamed up with Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth to lead a walking tour of Old Town and nearby areas. Despite the wet conditions, more than 30 people attended the walk.

Brooke Hardin and Mayor Silverthorne discuss the planning history of Old Town Square.

Brooke Hardin and Mayor Silverthorne discuss the planning history of Old Town Square.

Mayor Scott Silverthorne provided welcoming remarks to the group at Old Town Square, the downtown park that opened in 2015. Also among the attendees were City Councilmembers David Meyer, Janice Miller, and Ellie Schmidt, and incoming Councilmember Jon Stehle.

Brooke Hardin, Director of Community Development and Planning, Cindy Petkac, Planning Division Director, and Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, discussed redevelopment and transportation efforts that have been implemented, such as Old Town Square and Old Town Plaza, and those that are still being planned. The group learned about the challenges and opportunities of working with property owners to shape the future of areas such as the Courthouse Plaza Shopping Center, and of making streets like Old Lee Highway and University Drive more bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly.

During the next year, Fairfax City will make some big decisions about future housing, land uses and transportation improvements around Old Town with the update of the city’s comprehensive plan. It was great to see so many residents in and around Fairfax City brave the rain to learn more about new developments in the city, and the opportunities to make the city an even better place to live, work and enjoy.


Participants learn about opportunities to make Courthouse Plaza a more vibrant destination.

Participants learn about opportunities to make Courthouse Plaza a more vibrant destination.

Hardin and participants discuss the development of Old Town Plaza.

Hardin and participants discuss the development of Old Town Plaza.

Say “Yes” to a forward-looking vision for Fairfax City

Now is the time to say “yes” to a forward-looking vision for Fairfax City’s future.

We ask the City Council and Mayor to take actions that promote the economic vitality of the City of Fairfax so that we may preserve and improve our quality of life. The City depends on an expanded tax base to include new commercial developments supported by nearby higher density residential developments. In accordance with this goal we ask that initiatives that incorporate and promote the following goals be supported:

  • the preservation of our neighborhoods, historic heritage, and existing open space;
  • a range of transportation options to include biking, walking, and improvements to the street network for vehicular traffic;
  • a variety of housing options that enable people who work here to live here;
  • the continued preservation and improvement of parks, recreation, and arts;
  • the protection and restoration of habitat space and the underlying ecosystems;
  • improved connections with George Mason University students, faculty, and staff.

 These goals were echoed during the #VisionFairfaxMason,  a 2014 community-wide planning workshop that produced an ambitious plan to strengthen the economic ties between the City and the University. We urge the Mayor and Council to move forward with the recommendations in this plan to ensure the continued improvement of the quality of life for all Fairfax City residents.

Support our vision! Email us at smartergrowthfairfaxcity[at] and provide your full name. Or, leave a comment with your name. We won’t put you on any mailing lists.


Shaping the Future of Fairfax Boulevard – Paul VI and Breezeway Motel area

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington (diocese) decided to relocate Paul VI High School from its current location on Fairfax Boulevard to South Riding, Loudon County. They currently plan to vacate the school after graduation in 2019. They plan to sell the school site and two adjacent residential lots on Cedar Avenue (total 18½ acres) for private use. Meanwhile, in a separate proposal, the Avalon Bay Company has proposed to redevelop the area just west of Paul VI at the Breezeway Motel and several adjacent properties.

Aerial view of Paul VI campus, courtesty of googlemaps.

Aerial view of Paul VI campus, courtesy of googlemaps.

The diocese recently hired IDI Group to act as the Master Developer. IDI will develop plans for the site and see the plans through necessary rezoning and special use permits. They may purchase some or all of the site and see it through development, but they do not currently own the site. IDI Group will be working with StreetSense, the research group that studied the Fairfax Boulevard retail potential for Fairfax City in 2013.

The diocese would like the redevelopment of the site to align with its mission-oriented goals and anticipates that affordable senior housing will be an element of the plan. In a recent meeting with Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth, IDI’s Enrico Cecchi explained that the goals for the site are mixed use, with a mix of residential types, retail, and public open space. The project will be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan for Fairfax Boulevard. They expect the residential density to be 20 to less than 40 units/acre. Important features are pedestrian connectivity, and transition to existing single family homes along McLean and Cedar. Cecchi also mentioned that the diocese is interested in mission uses such as affordable and senior living uses.

Because of the building location and age, they expect to demolish the existing school and other buildings on the site. Recognizing the historic significance of the school, they plan to preserve something of the look of the school in the new project. They also will demolish the John C. Wood house and plan some feature to recognize his contributions to the city. There are also opportunities to further extend the area for redevelopment, through acquisition of lots currently on the market or other means. The entrance to the project will be from the existing stop light across from the school. IDI does not currently plan to connect the sections of Cedar Avenue for motorized traffic.

IDI has already met with the mayor and each council member. They will also be meeting with the American Legion, HFCI, and Historic Fairfax Neighborhood Association. They expect to have public meetings in January, and to have a preliminary plan in the spring.

Breezeway Motel Proposal

Near Paul VI, Avalon Bay Companies has proposed a redevelopment of the Breezeway Motel site and adjacent properties to the south and east extending to near Chilcott Field. The City Council was recently briefed on the proposal. The staff report on the proposal can be found at the City’s October 6 meeting agenda.

Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth has several concerns with the Avalon Bay proposal. With planning beginning to get underway in earnest about the future uses of the Paul VI property, we believe the City needs to take a very deliberate approach to redevelopment of the Breezeway and adjacent lots. We as a community have an opportunity to look at redevelopment more comprehensively through integrating all of these sites that are now in play.

More detailed concerns with the actual proposal include:

1) Effect on the walkable street grid: The Master Plan recommends creating a more compact street grid with walkable blocks. In addition, with discussions about the future use of the Paul VI property, there may be opportunities to align Oak Street with Meredith and connect the two segments of Cedar Avenue across the current Paul VI parking lot, in order to extend the street grid. By massing a large apartment building over the current Cedar Street, the proposal would curtail this opportunity. In addition, the proposal would create a much longer block size. When blocks are more than 400 feet long, they greatly discourage walking and pedestrian-friendly community design.

2) Lack of retail: The current proposal has no stores or businesses, only housing. It should include retail uses, especially on the ground floor of the buildings facing Fairfax Boulevard. This would help enliven Fairfax Boulevard and improve the retail environment for nearby residents, including not only the residents of this potential redevelopment but also those of existing neighborhoods.

3) Inappropriate scale and massing: The proposed buildings are vastly out of scale with the existing neighborhood to the south. The buildings seem introverted, without any clear relationship to the existing neighborhood. Such a proposal could result essentially in two different neighborhoods, rather than integrating within the existing neighborhood and strengthening community bonds.

Transportation and housing decisions coming before Council

The Mayor and Council will be voting on several important transportation and housing issues at their meeting on September 29. These include:

  • Housing affordability: The city will consider an affordable housing resolution that will provide a stronger framework for including affordable housing units as part of new development.
  • University Drive “road diet”: The Council will vote on whether to implement a “road diet” on a section of University Drive near downtown. The proposal being considered is to convert the section of University Drive between Armstrong Drive and South Street from four travel lanes to three with a 5′ bicycle lane on either side.
  • Extensions of University Drive and Government Center Parkway: The city will vote on approving the submission of two street extensions for state transportation funding: the extension of University Drive from Chain Bridge Road to Eaton Place, and the extension of Government Center Parkway from Stevenson Drive to Jermantown Road. Both projects would help build out a more walkable and bike-friendly street grid and improve connections between housing, offices and retail destinations.
  • Sidewalks on Cobbs Grove: A developer is proposing to develop five residential lots in an area bounded by Chain Bridge Road and Norman Avenue currently zoned for two residential lots. The developer is asking for a waiver of the requirement to build sidewalks along Chain Bridge and Norman Roads. Pedestrians use this area and sidewalk improvements would greatly improve safety and access.

Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth has provided the following comments on the housing affordability and road diet items.

Housing affordability

On behalf of Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth (FCCSG), I am providing comments on the draft Affordable Housing resolution that the council will be addressing at its September 29, 2015 meeting.

  • We recognize that the Fairfax City Council has worked diligently for the last two years to develop policies that will ensure that Fairfax City continues to welcome residents of all incomes – low, middle and high.
  • We note that on November 12, 2013 the council amended the City Comprehensive Plan to add strategies to encourage the provision of affordable housing units in the development approval process for new residential units(HOU-1.4) and to articulate a Housing Affordability Strategy (HOU-1.5). The draft affordable housing resolution and the templates for development conditions and contribution continue the implementation of these strategies.
  • We support the City Council’s affordable housing resolution and supporting development conditions and contribution templates. We urge you to join your colleagues and vote in support of the resolution and its supporting templates.
  • We recommend edits to the draft resolution and supporting templates to ensure they are consist with the Comprehensive Plan. We recommend the following edits:
  1. Wording in the resolution reads:

“allowances for cash in lieu of providing affordable units through a voluntary development contribution … may be appropriate in certain circumstances, particularly in instances in which units are being developed for individual ownership;”

This should be revised to read:

“allowances for cash in lieu of providing affordable units through a voluntary development contribution … may be appropriate in certain circumstances, particularly in instances in which units are being developed for individual ownership;”

This revision strengthens the expectations that rental developments will provide UNITS not cash.

  1. Wording in the contribution template reads:

“The City of Fairfax places a priority on the provision of affordable units, but acknowledges that a monetary contribution in lieu of providing affordable units may be appropriate in certain circumstances, particularly in instances in which units are being developed for individual ownership (such as condominiums).”

This should be revised to read:

“The City of Fairfax places a priority on the provision of affordable units, but acknowledges that a monetary contribution in lieu of providing affordable units may be appropriate in certain circumstances, particularly in instances in which units are being developed for individual ownership (such as condominiums).”

The call out of condominiums suggests that those are the only types of projects for which monetary contributions are expected. Removing the reference to condominiums removes the perceived limitation. The Comprehensive Plan Strategy HOU-1.4 calls for encouraging the provision of affordable housing “… when the City considers land use actions for significant new residential development.” These developments were explicitly not limited to multifamily developments. Removing the call out of condominiums would ensure the template is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

  • We note that council endorsement of the templates provides developers with a clear statementof the city’s expectations. The templates set out how the city expects the proffers to be calculated. The templates also provide benchmarks for city staff and residents to judge if proposed proffers meet the city’s expectations.
  • Because of the clear statement of the city’s expectations for the provision of affordable housing proffers, the resolution and supporting templates will expedite the development process. Negotiation and back-and-for can be reduced when developers understand what the city expects.
  • We believe that “Smart Growth”means that people who work in our city can afford to live here. People living closer to their jobs means less congestion, less automobile pollution, and less time spent commuting. Ensuring the availability of affordable housing is Smart Growth.  

Road diet

The University Drive corridor between Old Town Fairfax and George Mason University contains a high concentration of residents and city employees, and a growing number of on-campus students who would benefit from improved bicycle and pedestrian connections to Old Town. In turn, Old Town businesses would benefit from improvements that make it easier and safer for these nearby residents to get into Old Town.

For these reasons, the 2014 Vision FairfaxMason charrette included a major emphasis on multimodal improvements to University Drive. As the charrette pointed out, the distance between the Mason campus and Old Town is longer than most people would typically walk, but it is a 5-7 minute bike ride. George Mason has invested significantly in recent years in making bicycling a more viable option for its students and staff.

The current traffic pattern in and around Old Town is not conducive to getting people to come to Old Town and patronize our businesses. When they are not stopped in traffic, motorists tend to drive at high speeds. This stop-and-rapid start traffic pattern makes walking in the area less pleasant and deters bicycling on city streets. It also makes it difficult for motorists to slow down, appreciate what Old Town has to offer and find parking.

Road diets have been done in communities throughout the United States, and they’ve succeeded in improving safety, expanding travel choices and managing traffic flow. In Reston, VDOT installed a road diet on a 2-mile segment of Lawyers Road in 2009.  Since then, crashes in the corridor have been reduced by two-thirds. In a VDOT survey of Lawyers Road users, 69 percent said travel times have not increased, and 47 percent of respondents said they bicycle on Lawyers more often than before.

In addition to improving bicycling into Old Town, the proposed road diet would fill in a small but critical missing link in the Mason to Metro bike trail, between Armstrong Drive and Breckinridge Avenue. The city and George Mason University convened the Mason-Metro bicycle task group, which created a 2012 report recommending a preferred bicycle trail connecting to Old Lee Highway via trails that connect directly to Breckinridge Avenue.

Ultimately, Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth supports extending transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements through Old Town and all the way to Layton Hall Drive. While we recognize right-of-way constraints on some parts of this section, the focus should be on traffic calming and improving access into Old Town. The city has made tremendous strides during the past ten years in making Old Town a more attractive destination. One important way to leverage these improvements is to make our road network more oriented toward short trips, walking and bicycling rather than overly focusing on facilitating through traffic.

The proposed road diet is an important step in this direction. We fully support it.