With eye on traffic concerns, county planning commission advances Route 1 affordable housing for seniors

A project set to place affordable housing for seniors along Richmond Highway (Route 1) has cleared another hurdle.

At its final meeting of the year on Dec. 7, the Fairfax County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a plan amendment to allow a six-story, 70,000-square-foot affordable, independent senior living facility with a “community-serving” ground floor at 6858 Richmond Highway.

The development will be next to the Beacon of Groveton apartment building and about a half block from the Beacon Center, a retail area with a Giant, Lowe’s, and other stores. It will be also about a half-mile from a Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit station, which could begin operating around 2030.

The roughly half-acre site in Groveton was previously approved for “office and retail uses” in 2004, per the staff report. Right now, it sits essentially undeveloped as an “interim park space” with a sign out front noting its availability.

The proposed plan amendment won’t change the previously approved density or height of any possible development, only the allowed use.

With this go-ahead from the planning commisision, the plans to build this affordable, senior living facility along Richmond Highway will now go to the Board of Supervisors. A public hearing is set for Jan. 24, 2023, with rezoning consideration likely not until May.

The facility is not expected to be open to residents until at least 2027.

The plans didn’t get much pushback from commissioners, who noted the need for more of this type of facility in the county.

“There’s a significant shortage of independent, senior, affordable [housing] throughout the county,” said At-Large Commissioner Candice Bennett. “For folks who are trying to stay in their community and near family…preserving enough options so folks can stay in their community, I think, is going to be important. I’m excited to see this plan amendment come forward.”

Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie recalled how important it was to her family to live nearby when her grandma, at 102 years old, needed a facility of this nature.

“It’s really important to have many of these types of facilities for families in as many communities as possible,” Strandlie said. “Because with traffic and the time commitment, it’s really difficult to get to that facility to see your loved one as often as one would like…I hope there will be more facilities like this throughout the county.”

However, during the public hearing, one member of the community shared concerns about building another development along the already congested Richmond Highway.

An area resident for three decades, the neighbor said he’s a caregiver for his elderly parents, and the traffic is so bad, he does not feel safe letting his dad walk along Richmond Highway in the evening.

It would be dangerous to build a senior living facility along the road because it’s not pedestrian-friendly, the neighbor stated.

Several commissioners agreed that Richmond Highway has a “very poor design,” as Franconia District Commissioner Dan Lagana put it.

“It’s treated like a highway by many people who drive it. I mean, it’s called Richmond Highway,” Lagana said. “The speed limit is 45 mph…It’s going to be lowered to 35. What effect that’s going to have…is a point of discussion, but you have long stretches of asphalt oceans with hard right turns. It’s fundamentally hostile to pedestrians.”

Still, county staff say the new development will actually reduce vehicle traffic on Route 1 more than the previous plan since it would not have retail.

“The proposed alternative would produce fewer weekday vehicle trips, overall (-1,371), and during the morning (AM) (-89) and evening (PM) peak hours, relative to the currently planned land uses,” the staff report said.

Additionally, while the plan amendment does allow the use, the actual development plans need to get separate approvals.

The commission expressed hope that the developer will add more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and safety “pieces” in accordance with county-wide best practices.

Image via Google Maps