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Candy maker Mars entices county planning commission with HQ expansion proposal

Mars Inc. is seeking to expand its headquarters in McLean (via VIKA/Fairfax County)

Fairfax County’s planning commissioners weren’t quite as giddy as kids in a candy store when presented with Mars Inc.’s plan to expand its McLean headquarters last week, but the general level of enthusiasm wasn’t too far off.

The only note of disappointment sounded during the public hearing last Wednesday (Oct. 11) came when Sully District Commissioner Evelyn Spain joked that she had hoped to get some early Halloween treats.

“I appreciate the fact that Mars is making these changes not because of anything other than they wanted to,” Spain said. “…Apparently their employees come into the office, so I want to commend them on the fact that they are making all these beautiful changes. The green area, the parking, the covered bus stop — all of that is excellent as a draw for people who have to come into the office.”

The commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning application, which seeks to double the square footage of the candy manufacturer’s office building at 6860 Old Dominion Drive.

Serving as the global headquarters for Mars since 1984, the two-story, 52,970-square-foot building could expand to 126,974 square feet with a maximum height of three stories or 63 feet under the proposed redevelopment.

For now, the corporation doesn’t intend to build a third floor, but if it does in the future, the addition would provide more space for conference rooms, according to Cozen O’Connor land use attorney Evan Pritchard, who represented Mars at the public hearing.

The expansion will require a demolition of the neighboring office building at 6867 Elm Street, which was built in 1981.

In addition to having a glass, metal, terracotta and brick exterior that lets in more natural light, the new headquarters will follow an open-floor plan concept that supports face-to-face interactions with lots of conference rooms, while also accommodating more flexible work schedules, Pritchard told the planning commission.

“The new facility is not only going to be a much more pleasant place to work, but it’s just going to better serve the way that the company works and how people organize themselves and their time,” Pritchard said, noting that Mars has about 150 employees at its headquarters.

Occupancy typically peaks at around 190 people when the company has board meetings, he said.

Employees will also get access to a redesigned green space at the corner of Ingleside Avenue and Moyer Place with walking paths, an event lawn and improved stormwater management facilities.

Proposed public benefits of the project will mostly be along Old Dominion Drive, including a 1,850-square-foot pocket park at the site’s southern corner, a new bus shelter and a 12-foot-wide shared-use path. Mars has also offered to upgrade the sidewalks and add street trees around the rest of the property and underground all utilities.

Featuring landscaping, seating and a pergola, the park will supplement open space planned for the Astoria, a residential development proposed to replace the adjacent Moby Dick restaurant and McLean Medical Center office building.

Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner commended the applicant for agreeing to outfit at least 3% of parking spaces with electric vehicle charging stations. Another 2% of spaces will get conduits to allow for more EV charging in the future.

The site will have 205 parking spaces, most of them in an underground garage. On-street spots will also be available in 8-foot-wide parking lanes on Elm Street, Moyer Place and Ingleside Drive.

Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder called the proposal “a vast improvement of the site,” noting that he appreciates Mars staying in McLean, even if it’s going to temporarily set up in Tysons during construction.

“They’re highly successful,” Ulfelder said of Mars. “This is an opportunity for them to stay where they are and improve their building and their site and everything for their current employees and future employees, and to stay in Fairfax County and McLean. I appreciate that, and I know the people in McLean do.”

A final vote on the application will come from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors after a public hearing on Oct. 24.