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Residential conversion of office building near Freedom Hill Elementary advances

The owner of 8221 Old Courthouse Road is seeking to repurpose the office building as multi-family apartments (via Walter L. Phillips Inc./Fairfax County)

The owner of 8221 Old Courthouse Road has received the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s support for its plan to convert the 1980s-era Tysons office building into multi-family housing.

The proposal filed by 8221 Old Courthouse Road LC — an affiliate of residential developer Dittmar Company — seeks to repurpose the existing, three-story building as one and two-bedroom rental apartments. Up to 55 units are planned, including six workforce dwelling units.

While the conversion won’t alter the building’s exterior, it will replace approximately 90 surface parking spaces with a publicly accessible, 7,840 square-foot pocket park along Old Courthouse Road and a private, 8,400-square-foot outdoor amenity space for residents on the property’s eastern side, which abuts an Extended Stay America hotel.

The developer has also agreed to update Old Courthouse and Lord Fairfax Road to the west with expanded sidewalks and landscaping panels, along with high-visibility crosswalks and new curb ramps at the intersection.

“The applicant — again the long-term owner of this building — is very excited to be looking forward, turning the page, turning to the next chapter in this building’s life cycle,” said Robert Brandt, the applicant’s representative at the planning commission’s Dec. 6 public hearing. “We think this is an excellent opportunity to convert it and add some additional housing here on this site and in Tysons.”

The elimination of more than half of the 2-acre site’s parking took center stage at the hearing, which concluded with the commission unanimously recommending that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approve the application.

Though no public speakers attended the hearing, several community members sent written comments to express concern that the project will create parking and traffic issues, particularly for Freedom Hill Elementary School to the south, according to Providence District Commissioner Jeremy Hancock.

Reserved for residents and their guests, the 66 parking spots that will be provided meet the county’s current minimum requirements for the Planned Tysons Corner (PTC) Urban District, which the developer has opted into, Brandt told the commission. New, generally reduced off-street parking standards that the Board of Supervisors adopted in September won’t take effect until Jan. 1.

“We are not requesting a parking reduction, and the applicant and staff, I believe, are comfortable with the amount of parking that we are providing,” Brandt said.

He noted that the property owner intends to deliver the 66 parking spaces even if the number of apartment units decreases as the design gets refined. An additional eight spots will be added off-site through striping on Lord Fairfax Road.

According to Brandt, converting the office building into housing will decrease traffic around the site by 207 daily trips on average. Parents will also no longer have to compete with commuting workers when driving their kids to and from school.

Hancock, however, suggested more could be done to try to mitigate traffic during those pick-up and drop-off times, especially while the apartment building is under construction.

“There really is only that one entrance there [to Freedom Hill Elementary],” he said. “I hope it’s acceptable to you that we continue to work on that and maybe address some of the concerns that were raised so we’re increasing the impact on those particular times in school.”

Brandt agreed that there’s “an opportunity to continue that discussion” before the application goes before the Board of Supervisors, which doesn’t have a public hearing scheduled yet.

Planning Commission Chairman Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, an at-large member who previously represented Providence District, called the application “a remarkable improvement” over what the developer initially brought to the county in February.

“The reduction in the impervious surface and expansion of the open space, particularly along the roadway…will add to the value of the neighborhood,” Niedzielski-Eichner said, “because it’s an amenity that will likely be replicated if other buildings in the area have the same ability to be converted. I suspect that’s going to happen, and I think that can only benefit the area.”

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