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A conceptual rendering of redevelopment set to take place at the Huntington Metro station (image via Fairfax County)

Trees, steep hills, pedestrian paths, building heights, and townhomes were the most talked-about elements during last week’s discussion about the redevelopment of the Huntington Transit Station Area.

At the Oct. 19 Planning Commission meeting, commissioners and the public weighed in with their thoughts and concerns on the proposed revamp of the Huntington Transit Station Area (TSA).

The staff’s comprehensive plan amendment calls for mixed-use development including 382,000 square feet of office, retail, and community-use space, the possibility of a hotel with conference facilities, and 1,500 residential units. 15% of those units at “minimum” should be affordable, the report notes.

A bus rapid transit station is also being called for with a “large, publicly accessible civic plaza” above the station. Plus, more urban park space and “a network of high-quality pedestrian and bicycle paths” connecting to the transit stations and other amenities are also being recommended.

To make room for the redevelopment, it’s being asked that the northern parking garage be torn down.

While a decision was delayed until Nov. 16 on if to approve the comprehensive plan, a lengthy discussion ensued at last week’s meeting. The conversation included the commissioners, county staff, the Mount Vernon Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) Task Force, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and the public.

The discussion focused prominently on the site’s challenging topography, the possible addition of townhomes on the northeastern side of the project, preserving a tree buffer, the potentially costly addition of one particular pedestrian path, and building heights.

There are a number of engineering challenges associated with the project mostly due to the Huntington Metro station being located on a steep hill.

“The most significant and defining feature of this site is the grade, from north to south. The highest point of the site is in the southern end on N. Kings Highway and it’s approximately 160 above sea level,” said Graham Owen from the county’s Dept. of Planning and Development. “In contrast, the lowest point of the site is on the northern portion along Huntington Ave and that’s at approximately 30 feet above sea level. So, there are about 130 feet of grade change along the site.”

This extra layer requires adaptation, both in terms of engineering and user experience, particularly when it comes to the building of roads, pedestrian pathways, and buildings.

“That is a hill like you’ve never seen…if you want to work out, run up and down North Kings Highway,” Franconia District Commissioner Dan Lagana noted with a laugh in midst of a discussion about how best to build paths for pedestrians.

A conceptual rendering of the southern portion of the redeveloped Huntington Metro station (via Fairfax County)

This challenge also relates to building height. If buildings on the southern end of the site are allowed to go up to the maximum allowable height of 200 feet, they could look a lot taller to those seeing the buildings from the north. This was a point of concern for several residents that spoke during the public hearing portion.

“I’d like them to really think about the height of a [200-foot] building. We can already see the parking garage over the tops of the trees,” said one resident. “If they are going to put something that’s two or three times taller than what’s already there, we will have a loss of complete privacy. I’m not opposed to development, but I don’t think that’s great development for people who have bought homes [there].”

Also, in the northeastern portion of the site, there’s currently a tract of trees that has become the subject of perhaps the most significant disagreement about the comprehensive plan.

The tract of trees near the intersection of Huntington Ave and Biscayne Drive acts as essentially a buffer between the townhomes along Biscayne Drive and the Metro station. It’s also where WMATA has proposed selling the land to a developer to build more townhomes.

Steven Segerlin, WMATA’s director of real estate and station area planning, noted that the major barriers to this project – at least from WMATA’s perspective – are financial.

“Based on initial estimates, construction costs… will be significantly greater than the revenue generated by the private developers that could possibly help pay for them,” he said.

Because of this, WMATA wants to sell the land where the trees are to developers for the building of townhomes. Both the staff report and the Mount Vernon SSPA Task Force proposed keeping the trees.

“Giving the high cost for public infrastructure needed to address the area’s lack of connectivity, the Huntington Metro site needs to generate as much revenue as possible to help pay for them,” said Segerlin. “The loss of the townhome development potential significantly reduces that revenue potential and will increase the gap funding request to the county, state, and federal government.”

He further noted that not only does Metro not have the funds to make up this gap, but the agency’s “policy does not allow it.”

Ellen Young of the Mount Vernon SSPA Task Force expressed surprise at this WMATA request. She noted, along with several residents and staff, how the trees are an important buffer between the homes already there and the Metro station. In addition, they are needed to help ease stormwater concerns in a part of the county that does have flooding.

“We had all agreed to the fact that the trees were going to stay there. And that agreement included WMATA,” said Young. “So, I think we were all caught a little off guard tonight.”

Also, a subject of concern from WMATA was a certain pedestrian path that would lead from the condo community Huntington Club to the southern portion of the development. The agency asked it not to be a “requirement” for the entire plan to move forward.

Between dealing with the steep hill and the need to potentially also build also through a grove of trees, the expense could end up being great noted Segerlin. Both staff and the task force appeared to agree that the one path was likely to be more difficult to develop and seemed open to moving forward without it.

Overall, there was considerable agreement on the goals of the comprehensive plan, which is to redevelop the area near the Huntington Metro station to make it denser, more accessible, safer, more inviting, and full of amenities available to the entire Huntington community.

“Development in this area will enhance the character of the community, increase patronage for existing local businesses and lead to reinvestment in the surrounding neighborhoods,” reads the staff report. “The area will become a place where county residents can live, work and shop without excessive dependence upon the automobile, thus realizing some of the county’s key policy objectives.”

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Mount Vernon Woods Park sign (via Fairfax County Parks Authority)

Mount Vernon Woods Park is set to add a playground, picnic shelter, multisport court, a field, and a skate park.

Design work is underway on the county-owned, 7-acre park on the southeast side of Huntley Meadows Park in Hybla Valley. The proposed improvements are based on the park’s 2015 master plan, which calls for a number of additions including a playground, a half-court, a skate park, on-site parking, a pavilion, and an open playing field.

The project is set to cost $2.5 million, which will come from the 2020 park bond, Fairfax County Parks Authority (FCPA) spokesperson Judith Pedersen told FFXnow in an email.

More detailed designs will be presented at a public meeting set for Sept. 8 at Mount Vernon Elementary School just south of the park.

The community will have a chance to comment on the designs both at the meeting and via email until Oct. 10.

The master plan was developed seven years ago to upgrade the 1960s-era park. The goal was to build “new, active facilities to be located in the park closer to Fielding Street to help create a more active and family-friendly park.”

A “neighborhood-scale skate park” is proposed in the southeast corner of the park with features for “both experienced and less-experienced users,” per the plan. This would be only the third county-maintained skate park.

Also proposed is a multi-use half court that could be used for activities like “basketball practice, one-on-one games, four square, hopscotch, or as an area for young children to practice riding a scooter or bike.” A fitness cluster, interpretive signs, and an open playing field are also part of the 2015 plan.

The master plan notes the need to upgrade access to the park as well, which currently doesn’t have easy pedestrian access, on-site parking, and out-of-date facilities.

FCPA has hired the engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which has experience in the county, to assist with the development of the plans.

The designs that will be proposed next month to the public “generally follow” the approved 2015 Master Plan and any differences are “very minor,” Pedersen said.

A construction timeline and schedule will also be presented at the meeting in September.

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County leaders walk past building W13 on their way to break ground on the latest renovation at the Workhouse Arts Center (via Supervisor Dan Storck/Facebook)

Construction is underway on Fairfax County’s latest effort to remake the former Lorton Reformatory grounds into a destination for local residents and tourists.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, and other local officials broke ground Friday (June 24) on a renovation of two buildings — designated W13 and W15 — that once housed prison inmates.

Located along Ox Road on the west side of the 52-acre site, now known as the Workhouse Arts Center, the 4,500-square-foot buildings will get their brick exteriors restored, while their interiors are overhauled for future commercial tenants. The county has its fingers crossed for a restaurant or brewery.

“We hope that it provides food and beverage opportunities and places for people to come here and spend more time, not just to stop off, but spend the better part of the day exploring the Workhouse,” McKay said. “These buildings will go a long way to doing that.”

Funded by a $6.3 million county investment, the project will also transform the open space between the buildings into a plaza with a boardwalk, raised walkways, seating areas, trees, and new paved paths along Ox Road.

It’s part of a larger plan to redevelop the former prison complex that has been in place since July 2004.

Opened to the public in September 2008, the Workhouse Arts Center now consists of 11 restored buildings that feature art galleries, studios, classrooms, facilities for ceramics and other crafts, and the Lucy Burns Museum, which delves into the Lorton prison’s history.

Additional amenities envisioned for the campus include housing for resident artists and performers, an amphitheater or music hall, a 450-seat theater, a 300-seat performing arts center, a 600-seat events center, and an outdoor garden with a greenhouse.

A map of the planned Workhouse Campus in Lorton, with buildings W13 and W15 in red (via DPWES)

The W13 and W15 buildings have been approved for eating establishments with a total of 400 seats. Read More

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Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar talks outside George Washington’s Mount Vernon for a tourism event (staff photo by David Taube)

Visit Fairfax is exploring the idea of a tourism improvement district, which could mean an added fee to hotel stays and other amenities.

The tourism organization’s president and CEO, Barry Biggar, said the proposal could go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a vote this September. The fee would go toward marketing the region, in accordance with a General Assembly law passed last year.

Biggar says southern Fairfax County will be targeted for the district, which would act on its own authority and set fees that could vary for different business types. It would mark a first for the county and could be a model for other areas, he said.

“That money then is collected, accumulated and used purely for the purpose of marketing, promoting the area…which collects the money, but also capital development and capital improvement,” Biggar told FFXnow.

The move could generate an estimated $1 million per year from hotels and restaurants, Biggar said.

It comes amid a county effort to revitalize and rebrand the Route 1 corridor. So far, that push has brought promises of bus rapid transit and a “Potomac Banks: Explore Fairfax South” tourism campaign with a discount pass for historic sites, partnering businesses and more.

“Only the hotels here in the area would be included, so that wouldn’t be added to a Tysons hotel,” Biggar said of the possible fee. “For a hotel, they may go, ‘We’ll do a dollar a room per night.’ For a restaurant, they may go…a half a percent of the total bill. For an attraction, you know, maybe 50 cents per admission.”

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Cyclists on the Mount Vernon Trail (via National Park Service)

An iconic resource along the Potomac River is turning 50.

The Mount Vernon Trail first opened on April 15, 1972. Half a century later, elected officials and others will gather to celebrate its storied history with activities for all ages.

Scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday (April 16), the 50th anniversary event at Daingerfield Island (1 Marina Drive) in Alexandria will feature giveaways, work demos, the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program, and more, according to an event page.

“The creation of the Mount Vernon Trail exemplifies how determined community members can help foster partnerships with government and the private sector to create a community asset that benefits all of us,” Mount Vernon Supervisor Daniel Storck said during a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday (Tuesday).

The Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail credits volunteers as instrumental in creating the multi-use path, which now spans more than 18 miles across Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria City:

On April 15, 1972, the first 4.5-mile stretch of the Mount Vernon Trail opened to the public. The gravel path ran from Belle Haven in Alexandria to the Memorial Bridge in Arlington and was the brainchild of two Alexandria women, Ellen Pickering and Barbara Lynch. In 1971, the two gathered over 700 signatures on a petition to create a trail alongside the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The National Park Service was sympathetic to the plea and agreed to provide the right-of-way, gravel, and tools if Pickering and Lynch could provide volunteers to do the work. So Pickering and Lynch organized 40 volunteers, and every Saturday that winter they spread gravel. In total, 400 recruits spread 4,200 tons of gravel, contributing 5,300 hours of labor to start the trail that would become a vital recreational and transportation corridor in the region.

Storck said the trail serves as an essential artery for the Mount Vernon District, an 18.5-mile anchor for the region’s trail network with approximately 1 million annual users.

In addition to Storck, speakers at the celebration will include:

  • George Washington Memorial Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier
  • Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail President Judd Isbell
  • Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol
  • Alexandria City Councilmember Sarah Bagley

Several community, transportation, and governmental groups are also expected to attend, including BikeArlington, WalkArlington, Capital Bikeshare, GO Alex, East Coast Greenway, Capital Trails Coalition, Friends of Dyke Marsh, and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

The event is free and open to the public.

Photo via National Park Service

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