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County board approves first projects under McLean downtown revitalization plan

The adjacent Astoria mixed-use residential development and Mars headquarters expansion on Old Dominion Drive and Elm Street in McLean (via Fairfax County)

On their own, the first developments approved by Fairfax County since it overhauled its plan to revitalize downtown McLean seem modest.

One is a corporate headquarters expansion, while the other is a seven-story, mostly residential building, promising 130 new units of housing but not exactly rivaling the scale of the high-rises going up in Tysons.

However, the developers and county leaders anticipate that, when considered together, the Mars and Astoria projects will be transformative, a first step in the McLean Community Business Center’s evolution from car-centric strip malls and “superblocks” to a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood village.

“This has been a long process. It’s not just this application. It’s the whole CBC plan, the design guidelines, really reshaping McLean in a way that’s going to be amazing and permanent,” Holland & Knight partner Michelle Rosati told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an Oct. 24 public hearing, where she represented Astoria developer JAG Partners LLC.

Approved by the board with back-to-back unanimous votes, the Astoria and Mars projects will redevelop adjacent commercial lots bounded by Old Dominion Drive and Elm Street. Those two streets will get a much-needed connection along the shared property line in the form of a linear park with an 8-foot-wide pedestrian walkway provided by JAG Partners.

The Mars expansion

Based in McLean since 1984, Mars filed a proposal in April 2022 that would double the size of its headquarters building at 6860 Old Dominion Drive to 126,974 square feet — the first rezoning application in downtown McLean since the Board of Supervisors adopted the new comprehensive plan in June 2021.

Under the development plan, the candy manufacturer will demolish a second office building on the site at 6867 Elm Street and shift parking to a 205-space underground garage. The existing surface parking will mostly be replaced by a 1,850-square-foot, publicly accessible park with seating and a pergola along Old Dominion Drive.

Mars has also agreed to upgrade a Metrobus stop on Old Dominion with a new bus shelter. A private amenity space for employees at the property’s rear will be renovated with walking paths and terraces for entertainment.

Cozen O’Connor land use attorney Evan Pritchard, representing Mars, noted that the new headquarters will add a loading dock with a mechanical turntable to avoid creating traffic issues on Moyer Place.

“The truck will be able to come front-end into the loading dock and be rotated 180 degrees,” Pritchard said. “It can do its unloading and drive right back out, which is not something I’ve seen before, so I want to toot Mars’ horn and the architects’ efforts.”

He also highlighted a relocation of exterior backup generators inside the two-story building as “a big improvement for the community” and architectural changes that will let in more natural light.

Astoria of McLean

The first mixed-use residential project to come out of the revitalization plan, the mid-rise, multi-family building will replace two office buildings at 6858 Old Dominion Drive and 6861 Elm Street and a standalone restaurant currently home to Moby Dick at 6854 Old Dominion Drive.

Reiterating comments made to the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Oct. 18, Rosati emphasized the development team’s prioritization of “the pedestrian realm” when designing Astoria.

Along with the aforementioned 0.34-acre linear park, JAG Partners will provide the streetscape recommended by the design guidelines that the Board of Supervisors approved for the McLean Commercial Revitalization District in September. That includes 8-foot-wide sidewalks with 6-foot-wide landscape panels along Elm Street, and a 12-foot-wide shared-use path along Old Dominion.

Mars has also agreed to the same commitments. Pritchard told the board that the Old Dominion pedestrian and bicycle path will be lined on both sides with two rows of trees. In addition, both projects will move all overhead utilities underground.

Noting that they’re are located in the 75-acre “Center Zone,” where the CBC plan envisions the highest-intensity development, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents McLean, lauded both proposals.

The Mars project will give the company a “stunning corporate office,” while bringing the property up to “today’s high development and environmental standards,” he said. Astoria, meanwhile, will “provide much needed housing, including affordable workforce housing.”

According to a county staff report, JAG Partners initially proposed 12 workforce dwelling units (WDU), which would exceed county requirements for rental housing but not for for-sale units. The developer hasn’t indicated yet whether the building will have apartments or condominiums.

Staff also took issue with the locations and sizes of the WDUs. The developer later agreed to meet the county’s workforce housing policy, regardless of what kind of units will be constructed, and explained that the provided floor plans “are conceptual,” which alleviated staff’s concerns.

“It’ll also help diversify the mix of uses in McLean and provide a customer base, which has been missing for our small businesses, that will support existing and future commercial uses,” Foust said. “In my opinion, the design and layout of the building, along with the on-site park spaces and critical mid-block connection, will set a high bar for all future multifamily applications.”

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