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. Read More
The community will soon get a chance to comment on whether a temporary cricket field near the Innovation Center Metro station should be opened up to affordable housing proposals, even as the search for a replacement athletic facility continues.
The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to schedule a public hearing on the proposed transfer of county-owned land at 13500 Dulles Greene Drive for Oct. 24 at 4:30 p.m.
While no specific development proposals have been made public yet, the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority sees the approximately 9.6-acre site as an opportunity to add affordable housing in a growing area close to transit, according to county staff.
The future project would also feature a 10-foot-wide, shared-use trail connecting the Metro station to residential neighborhoods to the east.
“There is a critical need in the Dulles Corridor for the creation of housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income households,” staff said in a memo to the board. “The FCRHA is evaluating measures to leverage this underutilized property for development of affordable multifamily rental housing by partnering with a private developer.”
The property is located in walking distance of the Metro station’s north entrance, and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation plans to add a 10-foot-wide, shared-use asphalt path along its perimeter to connect the neighborhoods to the east to the station.
The site is currently undeveloped except for the Dulles Greene Cricket Ground, a regulation-sized cricket field operated by Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services and maintained by the Capital Cricket Premier League.
County staff are “actively engaged” with the Fairfax County Park Authority to find an alternative site that cricket players can use if the field is redeveloped, but no locations have been identified yet, they told Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who voted against scheduling the public hearing.
The search for a permanent cricket facility in the area is “in a holding pattern” while the park authority solicits proposals for a multi-sports complex, according to Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents the Herndon area.
“Once the responses come in, assuming that we don’t give all that land away, there will be an opportunity to hopefully move the cricket field to these other locations,” Foust said.
Sites suggested in the request for proposals include Mountain Road and Halifax parks in Centreville, Rock Hill Park in Chantilly, and Patriot Park East near George Mason University’s campus. Patriot Park North — a $28 million baseball and softball complex that opened in April — represented the county’s first project under a sports tourism initiative championed by Herrity.
GMU may add a cricket facility of its own. The university has partnered with Major League Cricket to study the possibility of a joint cricket-and-baseball facility, though county leaders expressed concern earlier this year about potential traffic and community impacts.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Foust noted that the Dulles Greene field was always intended to be temporary.
“We spent $6 billion on Dulles rail,” Foust said, referring to the Metro Silver Line extension that opened last November. “This is almost immediately adjacent to the station, perfect opportunity for an affordable housing development.”
An affordable housing community could take over a nearly temporary athletic field on Dulles Green Drive.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on July 25, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust asked the county to begin the initial steps to transfer the board-owned site at 13500 Dulles Greene Drive to the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCHRA) to develop an affordable housing project.
Foust said that inclusionary affordable housing near Herndon’s “amenity-rich area” supports the county’s equity goals.
“The property presents an opportunity for the creation of an affordable housing community as a Transit Oriented Development within 1/3 mile of the Silver Line’s Innovation Metro Station and nearby recreational and commercial amenities,” Foust said.
The site is currently serving as a cricket field and will remain an athletic field until development begins. If FCHRA opts not seek to pursue the project, the property would be conveyed back to the board.
The project would support the county’s goal of providing a minimum of 10,000 new affordable housing units by 2034, Foust said.
Image via Google Maps
Fairfax County is restarting and opting into a statewide program that helps commercial properties with financing for energy efficiency and resiliency improvements.
Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the amending and re-adoption of the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resiliency (C-PACE) program, which aims to assist commercial building owners with energy and water-saving improvements for little to no upfront costs.
The county first established its own program in 2019, the first in the state to include resiliency projects that address high wind, extreme temperature and flood risks. But in the four years since, no contracts have been executed, and no projects have been completed under the program.
C-PACE is intended as a financial tool designed to “provide long-term private funding to [commercial] building owners for energy-saving and water-saving projects,” according to the county website.
A C-PACE loan is intended to be easier for the property owner to pay off, acting director of the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) John Morrill told FFXnow in an email.
“The intent of the energy improvements financed through a C-PACE loan is to reduce the operating costs of a property, thereby putting the property owner in a better financial position to pay off all loans,” Morrill said.
He said C-PACE “has struggled to gain traction” because of a confusing process, lack of understanding of the financial product, and the “reluctance” of first-lien debt holders to give up being first to be paid back.
At the meeting, several supervisors expressed their disappointment in the county program so far, voting unanimously to instead opt into a statewide program created in late 2021.
“It’s obviously disappointing that…we adopted a program that has not been used,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “I think the step that you are taking us on, with aligning us with the state program, is a very positive change that could help make it more popular.”
Opting into Virginia’s version of C-PACE provides the county with two main benefits, the staff report notes. One, it relieves individual localities from procuring, administrating, and managing contracts.
“Under the statewide program, [the Virginia Department of Energy] is solely responsible for the solicitation of bids, selection of a program administrator, and contract administration,” the report says.
Secondly, it standardizes the program across jurisdictions and provides more support for messaging, engagement, and public awareness. It will also expand the types of projects eligible for loans to include stormwater management and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Morrill said the county hopes partnering with the state will help solve the challenges that the program has faced.
By standardizing application documents in the state program, attorney fees and other transaction costs for completing loans will be less expensive through the state program and result in less friction for getting deals completed. In addition, Fairfax County will work with the state energy office and C-PACE program administrator to promote the availability of C-PACE financing in order to help the market better understand this financial product. As for concern about losing first lien status, we hope consistent marketing and promotion of the program with some success stories will help give lenders confidence that C-PACE can be successful in Virginia, just as it has been in several other states.
But the county had similarly high hopes when it launched C-PACE years ago.
Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross recalled a luncheon in 2018 where the county introduced the program to local business owners. The room was full of excitement that appeared to have nothing to do with the free lunch, she said. But when the program was enacted and the application period opened, the excitement seemingly dissipated.
“I thought we’d sit back and watch the applications roll in, and nothing happened,” Gross said. “It was a great disappointment for those who worked on C-PACE.”
The county hopes local commercial business owners will now become aware of the program and its ability to provide financial help to make climate-friendly changes.
“Now there appears there is a pathway to actually make C-PACE work,” Gross said. “I’m glad the Commonwealth has determined that [the program] really needs the state to come in and assist with this.”
Arrowbrook Centre, an anchoring mixed-use neighborhood near the Innovation Center Metro station, is moving one step forward to completion.
Several pieces of the 54-acre development, which is bounded by the Dulles Airport Access Road to the north and Centreville Road to the east, were approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday (June 6) meeting.
Specifically, the proposal swaps a 435-unit residential building called Aura from the eastern corner of the property with an office building directly east to it. Aura will be constructed by Trinsic Residential Group.
The swap pushes a hotel planned at the site further east, leaving space for two office buildings at the corner of the site.
To maintain the terms of the charitable trust that governs the development, the developer is planning a partnership with the Virginia Tech Foundation and Virginia Cooperative Extension, a venture that focuses heavily on sustainable agriculture, culinary arts and urban farming programs.
So far, the development includes Ovation at Arrowbrook, a 274-unit development for lease to tenants earning between 30 and 60% of the area median income (AMI).
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called Arrowbrook a “huge asset” for the county.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust applauded the applicant for installing Arrowbrook Park and the affordable housing component of the project.
“I think you’ve really created something special out there and you keep making it better,” Foust said.
Roughly 75% of 36,000 square feet of retail space is already leased to tenants like grocer Hello2India, Ornery Beer Company Public House and Paris Baguette. Chef Peter Chang has also leased 3,500 square feet at the development for a Mama Chang restaurant.
Overall, roughly 32% of the property is dedicated as open space.
The application is one of several in the county that was affected by the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling that temporarily voided Fairfax County’s newly modernized zoning ordinance. The board re-adopted the zoning code on May 9.
Less than two years after overhauling its plan for the West Falls Church Metro station area in Idylwood to allow more development, Fairfax County needs to make a relatively limited but critical revision.
During its meeting last Tuesday (March 21), the Board of Supervisors authorized a study of an amendment to the comprehensive plan for the West Falls Church Transit Station Area (TSA) that would allow more office on Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center at 7054 Haycock Road.
The amendment would also reduce the amount of institutional space proposed for the 7.5-acre property, reflecting changes to developer Rushmark Properties and the construction company HITT Contracting’s plan to expand the campus.
“The rezoning application by HITT Contracting and Rushmark Properties proposes a decrease in the planned institutional use by 120,000 square feet and an increase in general office use by approximately 62,000 square feet,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said in his motion asking the board to authorize the study.
Plans to redevelop Virginia Tech’s Idylwood campus have been percolating since 2018, when the university received an unsolicited bid from Rushmark. HITT got involved a year later, seeking to relocate its headquarters to the site.
That original pitch also called for a new academic building and a design and construction research center, along with an additional 250,000 square feet of office space, 500 residential units and 50,000 square feet of retail.
However, Virginia Tech announced on Feb. 28, 2021 that it and HITT had agreed not to move forward with the project. Despite that termination, the proposed development was still incorporated into the new West Falls Church TSA plan approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 12, 2021.
The plan allows 1,720 dwelling units, 301,000 square feet of office use, 48,000 square feet of retail, and 160,000 square feet of institutional use across the TSA, including on the adjacent Metro station property.
Rushmark and HITT put forward a new redevelopment plan last fall that would replace the existing Northern Virginia Center with a 283,000-square-foot office building, up to 440 residential units, and a 2,000-square-foot retail pavilion.
The newly requested plan amendment will be considered at the same time as that rezoning application, which is scheduled for a public hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on June 7.
According to Foust, the use changes won’t affect the 2.5 floor area ratio now allowed on the Virginia Tech site or the overall development limits for the TSA.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors isn’t holding a public hearing on its proposed salary increases until Tuesday (March 21), but some county workers have already made their opposition known.
A union representing over 2,000 county government employees criticized the proposal as a blow to workers, whose projected pay raises aren’t expected to be fully funded in the county’s next budget.
“Despite our calls for wage fairness for county employees, it appears the County has another priority — raises for politicians,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong said. “A meager 2% raise combined with the crushing weight of wage compression has left us feeling devalued. When employees have to work multiple jobs to get by or can’t afford to live in the county, it’s clear change is needed.”
With 33 years of work for the county under her belt, Wondong says the disparity between what the board is considering for itself compared to employees illustrates the need for “a union contract to achieve pay fairness.”
Put forward by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust on March 7, the raises would push the salaries for board members up from $95,000 to $124,000-130,000 per year and from $100,000 to $140,000-145,000 a year for the board chair.
The high end of those ranges would amount to pay bumps of nearly 37% for supervisors and 45% for the chair. Both positions last got raises in 2015.
Foust, who’s retiring at the end of December, says higher compensation will encourage candidates to run for supervisor, a position that carries full-time commitments but is treated as a part-time job in Virginia.
As I leave, I know it is critically important that we continue to attract great candidates from all backgrounds and stages of life to serve on the Board. The opportunity to serve is itself very rewarding. However, I believe it is in the best interest of the County that Supervisor compensation be set at a level that will enable anyone to serve regardless of their personal circumstances, and not just those who are wealthy or have other sources of income. I believe that increasing Supervisor pay for the first time in 8 years will advance that goal. I recognize that others have raised concerns and I look forward to the public hearing that will be held on March 21.
“I hope that through my service I have demonstrated that I care very much about the residents and employees of Fairfax County,” he said in a statement to FFXnow.
However, the challenge of affording housing, child care and other living expenses that some supervisors mentioned during their March 7 meeting also poses an obstacle to other county workers, like teachers and police, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President David Walrod said.
About 1 in 7 Fairfax County employees can’t afford to live where they work, according to a 2021 analysis by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), a Richmond-based think tank. Read More
Fairfax County officials have waited a decade now for public school buses to be outfitted with video cameras, and their patience is wearing thin.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday (Feb. 7) asking Fairfax County Public Schools to explain why it has yet to implement a school bus stop-arm camera program that staff started exploring back in 2013.
“It’s inconceivable to me that the school board or school administration has ignored this opportunity to make our children safe,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “…You don’t have to be on the roads very long around here to see people passing school buses. Something bad is going to happen if we don’t implement this program.”
FCPS “is working with a vendor and the contract is in review,” a spokesperson told FFXnow, but it had no further comment on the delays or a possible timeline going forward.
Failing to stop when a school bus is loading or unloading students is prohibited in Virginia, which imposes a civil fine of $250 for violations.
After the state gave localities the authority to let their schools install video-monitoring systems in 2011, Foust led the county board in directing staff on Oct. 29, 2013 to work with FCPS on adding cameras, according Chairman Jeff McKay’s board matter.
What followed, however, was a flurry of legal questions requiring more state legislation to clarify that police departments can mail summons to violators and permit vendors access to Department of Motor Vehicles data.
Once those concerns were resolved, FCPS staff notified Foust’s office in January 2020 that a vendor had been selected and contract negotiations were underway — only for COVID-19 to put those talks on hold.
FCPS procurement staff then learned in April 2021 that their contact for the vendor had left the company, leaving them unsure whether the existing offer was still viable.
In December 2021, McKay sent a letter to then-Fairfax County School Board chair Stella Pekarsky proposing that a camera program be in place by summer 2022, but neither the school board nor FCPS responded.
After getting an “informal” update this past December, McKay says he has “lost my patience with the excuses that seem to come up from the working group repeatedly,” which he reported range from the disruptions of the pandemic to questions about the availability of police resources. Read More
(Updated at 3:45 p.m. on 1/5/2023) The search is still on for a new site to host a cell tower in McLean that has to be removed to make room for the widening Capital Beltway.
The monopole, which is owned by American Cell Towers and supports AT&T and T-Mobile service, was officially decommissioned on Dec. 9, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“Cell providers are working to minimize any potential impacts to existing service, and VDOT is working with the project’s design-build contractor to facilitate a relocated cell tower as soon as possible,” the department told FFXnow.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed concern at a Sept. 30 transportation committee meeting that losing the tower may cause wireless service disruptions, something that AT&T admitted was a possibility.
Fears of disruptions were particularly high after the removal of a cell facility at Lake Anne in Reston resulted in slow, spotty service for residents in that area over the summer, including for 911 calls.
Fortunately, those anticipated issues don’t seem to have come to fruition. Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office, which represents McLean, says it hasn’t gotten any emails from constituents about the decommissioned cell tower, as of Dec. 20.
VDOT had hoped to see the tower relocated by Dec. 31 — an extension from the original deadline of Sept. 30 — but a new location still hasn’t been identified. VDOT didn’t respond by press time when asked if the deadline got extended again.
“[There’s] no timeline yet,” Jane Edmondson, Foust’s chief of staff, said by email. “The County has not yet received an application for a new location.”
Located by the Old Dominion Drive bridge, the 135-foot-tall monopole needs to be moved to make room for the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is adding about three miles of toll lanes on the Beltway from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.
The project will also replace the Old Dominion bridge, which has one lane each for eastbound and westbound traffic. The new bridge will have two lanes and a 14-foot-wide shared-use path on the south side. (Correction: This article initially said two lanes would be added on the bridge in each direction.)
Construction began in mid-2022 and is expected to continue into 2026, with the new express lanes opening in 2025.
Photo via Google Maps
The project to extend the I-495 Express Lanes north toward the American Legion Bridge has been under construction for half a year now, but some McLean residents remain as determined as ever to fight the Beltway’s encroachment into their neighborhoods.
Residents along Live Oak Drive in particular have consistently argued that they will face the most disruptions from the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) without getting the congestion relief benefits touted by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The latest blow came at the sight of workers cutting down trees that serve as a buffer between Live Oak and two existing I-495 (Capital Beltway) and George Washington Memorial Parkway ramps.
VDOT says the tree clearings were necessary to make room for the Beltway widening, a new retaining wall adjacent to I-495, and a planned noise wall adjacent to Live Oak Drive. But residents fear the redesigned interchange will be a new “Mixing Bowl,” the tangle of ramps and overpasses where I-495, I-395 and I-95 meet in Springfield.
“VDOT/Transurban are trying to shove through a new ‘Springfield Mixing Bowl’ right here in McLean,” Northern Virginia Citizens Association President Debra Butler said in a recent email to members. “Future demolition and construction will impact both sides of 495 at Georgetown Pike, Live Oak Drive, Langley Swim Club, Scotts Run Nature Preserve with a new ‘McLean Mixing Bowl’ with ramps as high as 271 feet [above sea level].”
Discussions of potential legislation underway
Organized in opposition to 495 NEXT, the association held a meeting at the Langley Swim & Tennis Club on Friday (Dec. 16) to discuss the tree removals and their issues with the project’s size.
Attendees at the meeting included Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) and state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), who have started talking to Virginia Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller III about options for addressing resident concerns.
The association has suggested allowing commercial trucks in the I-495 Express Lanes, where they’re currently prohibited, and having them get on and off in Tysons instead of McLean, eliminating the need for some flyover ramps.
VDOT says a planned exchange ramp allowing vehicles to exit the toll lanes at the GW Parkway is intended for all vehicles, though one purpose is to give trucks from Maryland access to the general purpose lanes.
Legislators could also introduce a bill with new controls on public-private partnerships like the one between VDOT and express lanes operator Transurban, improving transparency and limiting their ability to substantially change a project’s design after a public hearing, Butler says.
Murphy confirmed she and Favola are having discussions about potential legislation, but no concrete proposals have formed yet, even with a Jan. 1 deadline to submit bills for the 2023 General Assembly session looming.
“Those are certainly things we are going to bring to the attention of the secretary of transportation to see what possibilities are available, and as soon as we finish those conversations, we’ll have a better idea,” she told FFXnow. Read More