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Planning commission OKs housing in Annandale shopping center, but warns against ‘gentrification of retail’

A developer has proposed redeveloping the Eastgate Shopping Center with a mixed-use apartment building (via Hord Coplan Macht/Fairfax County)

An apartment building is one step closer to construction in Annandale’s Eastgate Shopping Center.

At a public hearing yesterday (Wednesday), the Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve a plan from developer Eastgate JV LLC. The finished building would have up to 280 residential units — 8% of them workforce dwelling units — and up to 11,200 square feet of ground-floor retail.

There were no public comments on the proposal, which also proposes 23,858 square feet of publicly accessible urban park space in the form of a civic plaza and linear park.

The new development would take over space occupied by The Block food hall, and requires rezoning. Scott Adams, a lawyer representing the project developer, said there were plans to retain The Block in some form, in collaboration with Eastgate Shopping Center ownership.

“We’re working with [The Block] on a new concept that’s going to go into the remaining shopping center, so we’re not losing that user,” Adams said.

The planning commission also recommended that the Board of Supervisors permit the developer to build 1.34 parking spaces per apartment unit — fewer than the 1.6 spaces per unit required by the county’s zoning ordinances.

Concerns about parking resulted in a narrow 5-4 approval of the Eastgate development plan by the Mason District Land Use Advisory Committee, according to Mason District Commissioner Daren Shumate.

At that meeting, the committee also discussed Parking Reimagined, which rewrote the county’s parking requirements, Adams noted. The initiative was approved last month and will take effect on Jan. 1.

Adams said the parking request came from looking at a variety of factors, including utilization rates for other projects in Fairfax County and standards from the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The Eastgate Shopping Center features a number of businesses, including grocery store K Market International, thrift store B-thrifty, and restaurants including SB Han’s Korean Food and Dragon Mochi Donuts & Drinks.

Adams said the shopping center is “a pretty vibrant environment,” but he didn’t rule out the possibility that the rest of the center could “eventually” get turned into housing.

“We would anticipate that the remainder of the center would redevelop with probably residential,” he said.

The Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan encourages “appropriate revitalization and selected redevelopment” of the Annandale Community Business Center (CBC), where the proposed development is located. In particular, the plan looks to boost the mostly commercial area’s residential population and pedestrian accessibility.

According to a county staff report, the developer has agreed to provide a trail and remove an existing right-turn lane along John Marr Drive as part of the project.

“Staff believes both improvements will enhance the pedestrian experience along John Marr Drive,” staff wrote.

A nearby bus stop on southbound John Marr Drive south of Columbia Pike will also be upgraded with a bus shelter and ADA-accessible pad.

Even as they supported the project, Franconia District Commissioner Dan Lagana and Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina cautioned against gentrification of the area’s retail and restaurants.

“It has good bones, and it could be something really great, and it is good to get people within the CBC area,” Cortina said, noting that the area remains mostly retail. “But the gentrification of retail and of the restaurants would be a real shame, and we don’t want to lose that in Annandale.”

A Board of Supervisors hearing on the application is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24.

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