Plan to redevelop languishing office site in Springfield rejected

The Versar Center owner was seeking to revitalize the property in Springfield (via Fairfax County)

A plan to reinvigorate a 15-acre site in Springfield that was the pinnacle of the local market four decades ago has been derailed.

At a July 11 meeting, the Fairfax County Planning Commission rejected a proposal seeking a special exception to redevelop Versar Center — a site with two office buildings that sits on a floodplain between the Virginia Railway Express and the I-95/I-495 interchange.

While the property owner said the proposal would not change the floodplain boundaries, commissioners criticized it for a lack of specificity on what is planned on the site.

The applicant hopes to either demolish the buildings or redevelop the site with other industrial uses. Proposed uses could vary from self-storage facilities to a financing institution to a recycling center.

“There’s no development plan here,” Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina said. “It’s all sort of speculation.

David Schneider, the applicant’s legal representative and an attorney with Holland & Knight, said that flexibility was necessary to move forward with the proposal. The plan pitches no specific uses and simply states the specific exception would allow the site to be redeveloped “per the underlying zoning designation.”

“There is no market for office on this site,” Schneider said.

He said the property owner has tried but failed to make the existing office buildings work, including with interior renovations and marketing campaigns. Both buildings are mostly vacant because the site is sandwiched between VRE railroads tracks and the highway interchange known as the Mixing Bowl.

But other commissioners like Mason District’s Daren Schumate said they sympathized with the applicant’s need for flexibility, given the challenging nature of the site.

Schumate said the “orphaned” site likely should have never been an office use, and the applicant’s proposal would yield a “net benefit.”

County staff have recommended approval of the project, noting that any by-right use would be further examined at the site plan stage.

“They would be held to a very high standard of scrutiny,” said Sharon Williams of the Department of Planning and Development.

Schneider said he acknowledged the proposal was a “request for flexibility.”