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Merrifield recommended as priority for redevelopment, but one proposal raises displacement concerns

A concept plan to redevelop the Merrifield at Dunn Loring Station apartments (via Fairfax County)

Redevelopment proposals in the Merrifield area will likely get high-priority consideration by Fairfax County planners, as the county nears the finish line of its reconfigured site-specific plan amendment (SSPA) process.

After a nearly four-hour-long workshop on Thursday (March 23), the Fairfax County Planning Commission gave its support to staff’s recommendation that the pitches for Merrifield and an AT&T office site in Oakton be designated as “Tier 1” in the SSPA work program.

That means they would get top priority in terms of resources and scheduling. County staff are reviewing 68 Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan amendment nominations and have recommended about 50 for inclusion in the work program, which will be finalized by the Board of Supervisors on April 11.

The Merrifield proposals all replace older, mostly commercial properties with mixed-use housing, leading a couple of commissioners to warn against leaning too heavily on current market trends when determining what development to pursue.

“Things go in cycles, and we have to be attuned to how those cycles change, when they change and why they’re changing,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “Sometimes, we’re not very good at that.”

Community members who testified last week generally supported the Merrifield nominations, describing the area around the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station as ideal for housing that supports modes of travel other than private cars.

Prosperity Business Campus

The response to a proposed transformation of the 41-acre Prosperity Business Campus into seven blocks of mid-rise, multifamily residential buildings and townhouses was particularly enthusiastic.

Representatives of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) and YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said their groups ranked this nomination at the top when reviewing the SSPA submissions.

“The increase in parks actually reduces the impervious surfaces that are in this area as well, so it’s good for the environment,” YIMBYs member Aaron Wilkowitz said. “It’s good from the transit perspective, it’s good from the housing perspective. Across all the things that the county cares about, this proposal is critical to meeting those needs.”

The proposal adds an estimated 1,273 units of housing and 183,000 square feet of nonresidential uses, including some ground-floor retail. It also provides over 12 acres of publicly accessible park space, preserves the adjacent Long Branch stream valley and updates a pedestrian crossing over the stream.

Two residents of Dunn Loring Village, a townhouse complex west of the stream, said they’re “excited” about the potential project, though one advocated for better stormwater management in light of the recent I-66 widening.

The resident noted that Long Branch flows into Accotink Creek and, eventually, Lake Accotink, which is at risk of disappearing due to sediment build-up.

“Please consider…anything that can be done to reduce the impervious footprint, experimental ways to reduce that footprint,” he said.

Dunn Loring at Merrifield Station

Malkin Properties has proposed replacing the 35-acre garden apartment community at 8130 Prescott Drive with eight blocks of mixed-use development, including 2,300 residential units and up to 700,000 square feet of nonresidential uses.

Wilkowitz and some other supporters of the Prosperity redevelopment backed this one as well — with the caveat that it must deliver enough housing to compensate for the loss of the 706 existing apartments.

“This is an opportunity, since we are still very early in the process, to truly address concerns by working to ensure no net loss of affordable housing and providing current residents the right to return and relocation assistance,” CSG Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager Sonya Breehey said, encouraging the county to consider seeking more workforce dwelling units.

That push for as much housing as possible may clash with the desires of some existing area residents. A resident of Manhattan Place to the north said her neighborhood feels “the scale and density of what is being proposed is too large for the land that’s available.”

Vienna Crossing is “happy” the 1960s-era Dunn Loring at Merrifield apartments will get an upgrade, but the 54-townhome community is also worried about a planned two-lane “ring road” connecting Pleasantdale/Hartland Road and Park Tower Drive, the president of its homeowners’ association said.

“We’re the part on Gallows that it would ring through,” Ryan Watkins said. “…We have currently about seven to eight buses that stop there each morning, picking up kids for different schools, so traffic along that road cuts right through our community. We have concerns about that.”

Watkins also said the Providence Park Homeowners’ Association, which represents townhomes to the south, was wondering if the developer would consider acquiring an apartment building on the southeast corner of the property.

“It would be hard for them to ever redevelop because of their location, so they wanted to encourage the redevelopers to try to acquire that property or get them on board so they don’t get boxed in and that property goes downhill going forward,” Watkins said.

Antonio Calabrese, an attorney representing Malkin, said the developer has tried to contact the apartment building owner, but “they’ve been evasive.”

After three weeks of workshops on land use changes across the county, including at the Innovation Center Metro station and in McLean, the planning commission will take vote on its SSPA recommendations for the Board of Supervisors tomorrow night (Wednesday).