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Proposed redevelopment of Oakton’s AT&T campus set to advance, despite resident concerns

The proposed redevelopment plan for the 33-acre AT&T site in Oakton (via Fairfax County Planning Commission)

(Updated at noon on 3/31/2023) The Fairfax County Planning Commission has indicated it will support the possibility of redeveloping the AT&T campus in Oakton, but many residents remain concerned about increased density and traffic.

At a meeting last Thursday (March 23), the commissioners took a unanimous, preliminary vote to prioritize a review of the redevelopment of a 33-acre tree-lined site right off Chain Bridge Road in Oakton.

This comes as the county considers dozens of nominations submitted last fall for land use changes as part of its ongoing Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process.

The current proposal for 3033 Chain Bridge Road would convert it into “residential mixed-use development” with a mix of market-rate, affordable, and senior housing, along with office space and “community-serving” retail, restaurants and grocery stores.

The campus and 440,000-square-foot main building on the site were first constructed in 1981 to act as AT&T’s corporate offices. While the building was once nearly fully occupied, the workforce assigned to the campus had dwindled even before 2020, but the pandemic accelerated the trend.

The building is now less than 10% occupied and there are about 1,150 unused parking spots taking up close to 50% of the site, Cooley LLP lawyer Mark Looney told the commission on behalf of EYA, the development partner of the property owner.

(Correction: The article previously identified EYA as the property owner as well as the developer. County records identify the owner as Oakton NLA LLC.)

AT&T sold the site in 2013, but still leases the building. The campus also has a large open space, a central lawn, and “stands of mature trees.”

The property’s current underuse, deteriorating physical condition, the neighborhood’s need for amenities, and location near I-66 makes it appealing for redevelopment, the developer argues.

The proposal calls for an “appropriately-scaled mixed-use neighborhood destination” with townhomes, several mid-rise multifamily residential developments, parking garages, and space for office and retail uses. It also seeks to maintain open, park, and tree-lined spaces.

The county’s comprehensive plan currently says any further development on the site “should be within the approved intensity and compatible with existing development,” meaning the AT&T building, though the area to the immediate south has an option for mid-rise multifamily housing.

While EYA’s proposal aligns with the county’s goal of increasing housing, a number of residents who spoke at the meeting shared their concerns that adding such a large development would overwhelm the neighborhood.

Increased traffic, pedestrian safety, overcrowding of schools, and the continuing loss of open space and trees were repeatedly brought up.

“[This] proposal will bring unimaginable traffic congestion and an increased risk of tragic pedestrian car accidents already to an overburdened infrastructure,” one resident said.

Several argued the development would clash with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, which is primarily made up of townhouses and single-family homes.

Others specifically noted how nearby Blake Lane has been the focus of several safety measures after an allegedly speeding driver killed two high school students last summer.

“I’ve been working with Fairfax County officials for more than a year on efforts to address the dangerous high-speed traffic along Blake Lane,” another resident said. “But this development threatens all the hard work that our community has been doing and already devoted to pedestrian safety.”

While Looney said the proposed development’s density “be something that’s identified during the planning study,” several residents expressed angst that more people in the corridor might strain local resources.

“A significant amount of social science research shows that such developments negatively impact local residents, increase neighborhood levels of crime, and negatively impact the environment,” said a local resident. “High-density housing developments literally tax local communities by creating a demand for public services.”

The same resident said parking garages, which are included in this proposal, are often settings for high crime rates.

Several locals did say adding amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail uses to the development would be advantageous for the entire neighborhood.

At the end of the public comments, both Looney and Planning Commission Chairman Phil Niedzielski-Eichner made clear that this is just the beginning of the process. The proposal is not set in stone and many of the concerns raised by residents can be addressed as planning moves along, Niedzielski-Eichner said.

“My predecessor as chair — our good colleague and [Springfield District] Commissioner Pete Murphy — elegantly speaks to the comp plan as the people’s plan. So, for it to be the people’s plan, we have to hear from the people,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “Until you have that conversation, until we have feedback about the community’s concerns and interests, it’s not a viable project…You have my commitment to keep faith with that core principle as this process moves forward.”

The commission will take a final vote tonight (Wednesday) on the SSPA nominations it recommends advancing to the Board of Supervisors, which will finalize the work program on April 11.