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County board allows housing at Merrifield’s Pan Am Shopping Center

Apartments have been proposed to replace the retail buildings that currently house MicroCenter and Michael’s at the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has opened the door for mixed-use development at the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield.

The county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to its comprehensive plan yesterday (Tuesday) that will allow housing and additional retail to supplement the existing strip mall at 3089 Nutley Street SW.

Endorsed last month by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, the amended plan will permit up to 585 multifamily residential units and 140,000 to 187,000 square feet of retail uses on the 25-acre site, paving the way for a redevelopment proposed by property owner Federal Realty.

“It is not Mosaic. It is not a large development,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said of the envisioned changes. “But it is…thinking very thoughtfully about how you make that place that benefits residents who are there, those who will be moving there and those who will continue to work in this area.”

Federal Realty still needs to get separate county approvals for its submitted development plan, which calls for three multifamily apartment buildings supported by ground-floor retail and parking garages. The buildings will be located on the southern side of the lot and range in height from four stories, or 70 feet, to five stories, or 85 feet.

The apartments would replace the building that currently houses MicroCenter and Michael’s, though the developer has indicated that it hopes to relocate those popular tenants.

Pan Am Shopping Center owner Federal Realty’s proposed redevelopment plan, as of May 5 (via Fairfax County)

In addition to incorporating retail space in the residential buildings, the application proposes expanding the existing, Safeway-anchored shopping center by 10,900 square feet, including 400 square feet to accommodate a drive-thru pharmacy window.

The Safeway gas station and a drive-through bank currently filled by Wells Fargo will also be retained, according to the application.

“The Applicant’s objective is to work with the County and the community to evolve the center into a more vibrant mixed-use space that will prevent further decline and ensure the Center can remain a source of convenient retail for the community, and also serve as a place for gathering and general community identity,” McGuireWoods land use lawyer Greg Riegle wrote in a May 5 statement of justification on Federal Realty’s behalf.

To make the shopping center more accessible, Federal Realty has proposed adding a 10-foot-wide shared-use path on the east side of Nutley Street.

The approved plan amendment also recommends an internal “network of parks and plazas” to draw people into the property and break up the expansive parking lot, as well as improvements to Nutley and Route 29, including future road widenings and new pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

Despite those recommendations, some community members remain skeptical of the county and developer’s vision of a less car-dependent Pan Am Shopping Center, fearing that adding housing will only create more traffic and lead to overflow parking in their neighborhoods.

“Nutley is a nightmare for traffic. I don’t care what time of day it is. It’s a nightmare,” a resident representing the neighboring Hampton Court Homeowners Association said at a public hearing before the board’s vote yesterday.

While the proposed redevelopment is projected to generate 803 more vehicle trips per day than what the shopping center sees today, that will still be 4,271 fewer trips than what was previously allowed under the comprehensive plan, according to county transportation staff.

FCDOT senior transportation planner Thomas Burke noted that a district limiting parking on Covington Street to residents could be explored if “there’s truly an issue where people living in Covington are having issues parking on Covington.”

Federal Realty’s rezoning application is slated to go to the planning commission for a public hearing on Feb. 28, 2024.

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