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Quest underway to reimagine Lorton as a go-to destination

Jean R. Packard Center at Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Nearly 22 years after Lorton Prison closed in 2000, Fairfax County planners and developers are in the thick of reimagining what the sleepy spot along I-95 will look like in 2040.

Staff are currently evaluating feedback from a second round of community engagement in March on what the community envisions for Lorton. The meetings followed an initial round of feedback in 2019.

Barbara Byron, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, says conceptual frameworks are being developed along Lorton Road between Silverbrook Road and Richmond Highway.

“The maps will help visualize potential improvements to the public realm, such transportation and parks improvements to better serve the area, and potential alternatives to the planned mix of land uses and development within the area — primarily at the three commercial centers of Gunston Plaza, Lorton Marketplace and the Lorton Station Town Center,” Byron said.

Mt. Vernon District Supervisor Dan Stork notes that significant transformation is already underway.

“In 2000 as the Lorton Prison was closing, the community came together to plan for the future of Lorton,” he told FFXnow. “Today, I am particularly proud of the role we have all had in bringing much of that vision to fruition, with three new schools, several new residential developments, and many new businesses and commercial centers.”

Ultimately, the county hopes Lorton will become a destination for residents and regional visitors that is anchored by the Workhouse Arts Center, the new Lorton Community Center and library, the Liberty mixed-use community, parks, and the creation of a new downtown east of I-95 along Lorton Road.

But the challenges of transforming a largely suburban area with commercial centers and large swaths of parking lots remain.

“Development patterns in the Lorton area are heavily suburban in character with commercial centers and large parking lots,” Byron said. “However, there is an opportunity to identify and attract unique, niche commercial uses that could turn it into a go-to destination in Northern Virginia.”

Stork says the recent reinvigoration of feedback on the future of Lorton will help guide the process of bringing the community’s “vision for the next 20 years to life.”

For the coming decades, property owners and private investors’ willingness to share that vision will be a key to realizing it.

In 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the consideration of a comprehensive plan amendment to recommend a town center concept near the Virginia Railway Express station, along with gateway locations and residential areas at a mix of densities. A community task force has collaborated with the county to begin work on the study, which will wrap up in the winter.

Next steps include drafting a comprehensive plan amendment on the topic.

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