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Merrifield sewer upgrade inches closer to construction, despite land rights holdout

Fairfax County plans to install a 20-inch sewer pipe under seven properties at the corner of Route 29 and Eskridge Road in Merrifield (via Fairfax County)

The value of an office building just outside the Mosaic District will determine whether Fairfax County has to go to court to boost a Merrifield sewer’s capacity.

The owner of 8315 Lee Highway is the lone remaining holdout in land rights negotiations with the county, which has reached agreements for six of the seven properties that will be affected by the project, land acquisition staff reported to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last week.

While hopeful that a resolution can be achieved without a court visit, the board voted 8-2 last Tuesday (Sept. 12) to authorize staff to complete the land acquisitions — including by exercising the county’s eminent domain powers if necessary.

“A lot of times, this is the impetus to get to the finish line,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said before the vote. “…This has been a long process, and to make sure we’re continuing to make progress on this, hopefully, we reach an agreement before it has to go to court.”

The sewer capacity upgrade will replace a 12-inch-wide line with a 20-inch PVC pipe wrapped in 30-inch steel casing. The new pipe will extend 563 linear feet between the corner of Route 29 and Eskridge Road and the U.S. Postal Service’s Merrifield facility.

The project will also add three new manholes. The existing sewer line will be abandoned in place.

The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services determined that existing pipes were “at risk” of overflows that could affect nearby buildings and the environment “due to the current average daily flows and the current pipe size,” according to a staff report in the board meeting package.

“The goal of the project is to alleviate this public health risk concern and provide additional capacity to account for the growing population size upstream of the pipes in the Merrifield area,” staff wrote.

DPWES says it hopes to begin construction on the project in January to avoid disrupting post office operations during the busy winter holiday shopping season.

However, the county and CJC Associates LP, which owns the building at 8315 Lee Highway, are still “very far apart” in their assessments of the site’s redevelopment potential and the project’s impact on its value, Land Acquisition Division Director Dennis Cade admitted at last week’s public hearing.

Negotiations for sewer and temporary access and construction easements needed to allow construction and equipment staging on the property have been underway since spring 2022, according to Jocelyn Campbell, a right-of-way agent for the county.

Confirming that his company recently presented a counteroffer to the county, CJC Associates partner Jim Coakley said “outside parties” have estimated that the building could lose about $325,000 in income from leasing during the construction period.

“People will not want to move to the building with all the construction that’s happening and all those other elements that are there,” Coakley told the Board of Supervisors.

There has also been disagreement about the value of the land. Coakley said an appraisal from the county had compared it to industrial properties in Lorton and the Alexandria area that are “nowhere near a Metro station” or prime development sites.

He noted that the county recently signaled support for a proposal to redevelop a nearby commercial property at 2929 Eskridge Road with mixed-use housing.

“We’re very excited to see you’re looking at potentially approving 3.0 [floor area ratio] right across the street from us, right next to the Mosaic District, so I think that’s really been helpful,” Coakley said. “That also speaks to the valuation of our land, which we think is very valuable.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck voted against authorizing the land acquistions, asking why the county hasn’t considered Coakley’s suggestion that construction access be provided via the post office instead of his property.

“I don’t think the property owner’s concerns have been addressed. I don’t have enough information to support this,” Storck said.

An engineering team found the proposed alternative would be too disruptive to the post office and require additional construction, since the parking lots for the two properties currently aren’t connected, DPWES staff said.

Cade emphasized that negotiations can continue even after certificates for the land rights are filed with the state, and the county still hopes to reach a voluntary agreement without having to go to court.

“Knowing that we do have six of the seven gives me more hope that we’re moving in the right direction,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “…It’s unfortunate that we’re not fully there yet, but I am hopeful that we’ll continue in that direction.”

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