Developer hopes to energize Spring Hill Metro area by swapping office for housing

The proposed City House residential high-rise from across Spring Hill Road in Tysons (via DCS Design/Fairfax County)

While new buildings continue to transform the Tysons skyline further east, the Spring Hill Metro station area has yet to see the same frenzy of development.

Developer American Real Estate Partners hopes to change that with City House, pitching the high-rise apartments to the Fairfax County Planning Commission last week as a way to revitalize its Highline at Greensboro District office complex at 8401 Greensboro Drive.

“As we all know, office is not feasible in many locations, and not in this location either,” Walsh Colucci land use lawyer Lynne Strobel told the commission on July 12, reporting double-digit vacancy rates at the development’s two existing office buildings. “…I appreciate that that is the state of the market right now, but we think this conversion might help revitalize this corner of Tysons.”

Recommending approval of the application, the commissioners agreed that housing seems like a more promising match for the 2.65-acre site than the 20-story office building anticipated by a development plan the county greenlit in 2013.

City House will feature up to 410 multifamily rental units and three publicly accessible parks:

  • A 4,009-square-foot Highline Plaza outside its main entrance, with benches, landscaping and an art installation
  • A 6,708-square-foot pocket park dubbed Highline Square with seating
  • A 32,778-square foot urban park with recreational amenities on top of the existing, 1,500-space parking garage that City House will share with the offices

It’s just one piece of the 31.5-acre Spring Hill Station demonstration project, which was approved in 2011 and envisioned 7.5 million square feet of mixed-use, transit-oriented development north of the Spring Hill Road and Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) intersection.

The Spring Hill project was supposed to be at the forefront of the county’s efforts to turn Tysons into a vibrant downtown, but construction in Tysons West as a whole has largely ground to a halt since the Adaire apartments opened in 2016.

Bounded by Spring Hill Road, Greensboro Drive and Broad Street, the Highline portion will have five buildings, including the two office towers and City House. A possible residential or hotel building and a residential building with retail are approved but unbuilt.

“When you come around from Route 7 onto Spring Hill Road and look at the site right now, I mean it’s eh,” Dranesville District Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “It really does need something, and it needs something that ties it back to the rest of Tysons and looks like the new Tysons, the modern Tysons. I think this is a good step in that direction.”

While hopeful that the building will be “a catalyst for redevelopment,” Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner raised concerns about its accessibility to residents, workers and members of the surrounding community, stressing the need to make clear that the parks are there and open to the public.

The developer will provide signage, pedestrian walkways and landscaping “thoughtfully designed to draw people into these spaces,” Strobel said. The elevated park will have a stage that’s visible from the ground, and access will be provided with an ADA-complaint ramp, an elevator and staircases.

American Real Estate Partners has also committed improving the streetscape with mostly 8-foot-wide sidewalks, landscape amenity panels , streetlights, benches, bicycle racks and trash cans.

On Spring Hill Road, the developer will add a raised median featuring two travel lanes, a designated left turn lane into the Spring Hill Business Center, a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane and a parking lane in place of an existing right-turn lane.

It will also reconfigure Broad Street from Spring Hill to the intersection with a future Logan Street, adding bicycle lanes up to West Street and a crosswalk near East Street. However, the road will still have just two travel lanes for cars, rather than the four it’s slated to get when fully built out.

In search of congestion relief, residents of the nearby Rotonda Condominiums have become anxious to see Broad Street extended to Westpark Drive, as dictated by the Tysons Grid of Streets.

“It’s an important part of the grid system, and it would give an alternate route for traffic to get from Spring Hill to Westpark and not have to use Greensboro,” William Lawson Jr., representing the Rotunda Condominiums Association board, said at the public hearing.

In response to Lawson’s request that the county consider monitoring the situation and potentially helping fund the road’s construction, Niedzielski-Eichner said City House could help attract the “continued investment” in Spring Hill necessary to fill out the street grid.

“As the development continues to evolve in this area, it will provide the incentive and resources for the construction in its totality of Broad Street,” he said. “If the county were the last investor needed to make it happen, I suspect a case will be made for that.”

The application will go to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing and final vote on July 25.