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Friday, January 16, 2015

By-right projects are impeding Annandale redevelopment



A bank is planned for the vacant lot on the right of the Palace.

The Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee (ACBDPC) is exploring ways to discourage by-right development, which committee members see as a major obstacle to redevelopment.

Rather than piecemeal development in Annandale, the ACBDP would like to see larger, mixed-use projects in accordance with the Annandale revitalization plan approved in 2010, but that would require landowners to consolidate small properties – and that isn’t happening.

By-right projects don’t need a change in zoning and thus don’t have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors or Board of Zoning Appeals or be subject to public hearings. 

The latest example of a by-right project is a one-story bank planned for the vacant space next to the Palace restaurant at 7131 Little River Turnpike. The owner, Steve Lee, a member of the ACBDPC, says he can’t disclose the name of the bank until the deal is finalized.

Other examples of by-right projects in central Annandale include Walgreens on Little River Turnpike, the Middle Eastern restaurant under construction on Columbia Pike where the Sunset Grille used to be, and Hanna Plaza, the office building renovation planned for 7409 Little River Turnpike.

“By right development is killing Annandale,” said ACBDPC chair Greg McGillicuddy. Every time a property owner proceeds with a by-right project, that property is taken off the table as a site for a larger, more cohesive project that would better fit in with the Annandale revitalization plan. 

McGillicuddy plans to bring up the problems with by-right development with the county’s Office of Community Revitalization, which oversees redevelopment in Annandale and the other revitalization areas.

“What’s the point of having a revitalization plan if you can’t restrict by-right development? Nothing will be changed for 20 years,” he said.

Virginia law protects the rights of property owners, so it isn’t clear what, if anything, the county government or ACBDPC can do to limit by-right projects. McGillicuddy suggests that, at the least, there could be stricter building code restrictions on facades.

Dan McKinnon, the former chair of the ACBDPC, said the committee had tried to make the design guidelines approved for Annandale enforceable but was told by county officials that it couldn’t be done.

“The community has developed a vision for revitalization that is intended to increase the economic prospects for the area,” McKinnon said. “Design guidelines were established to promote that vision, and what’s needed now is a way to bring by-right development into line with that vision.”

25 comments:

  1. If you feel so strongly about central planning taking priority over personal property rights, perhaps you should consider China or some other totalitarian state that shares your vision for how the world should work?

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    1. It's not so much about loss of personal property rights. The Chambr of Commerce, the Planning Commission, and other organizations need to do a MUCH better job convincing the Annandale business community and property owners, that a consolidated plan is in their (businessmen and owners) best interest. There would have to be incentives.

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    2. No one in this article is talking about persuasion and incentives. That would be a great idea to pursue, and one which I would whole-heartedly support.

      Instead, Mr. McGillicuddy talks about "restrict[ing]" by-right development and Mr. McKinnon says he wanted the voluntary design guidelines made "enforceable" by the county. That's classic totalitarian thinking -- I know better than you do how best to use your property, and if you don't agree with me, by golly, I'll use the force of government to get my way.

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    3. I agree fully with "Anonymous 9:50 AM".

      Next thing you know Comrade McGillicuddy will be advocating for Fairfax County to take all the land he thinks is being underutilized through eminent domain so it can be used for his preferred "higher uses."

      In the meantime Comrade McGillicuddy, we live in the Commonwealth of Virginia where private property rights are still largely respected.

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    4. The most prosperous communities in the US are those that have planning and planning master plan guidelines. These are successful models for development preventing abuses from developers, and provide community based amenities. Anyone who thinks that planning is bad for our community should move to Iraq and live in the squalor of chaos and shoddy construction.

      As for China, let me remind you that they are now the number one economy in the world outpacing the US this past year.

      Smart planning is good for our economy our environment and our children's future.

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    5. Thank you for at least being honest that you believe the US should be more like China. We can all draw our own conclusions from that.

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    6. Anonymous at 10:43: The conclusion I'll draw is that you're the reason why this comment section needs an ignore option. My grandmother would say "I won't even dignify that with a response," but she was wiser than me.

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    7. I totally agree with Anonymous 10:51. Do a better job selling the master plan and how it makes better business sense and many property owners will be on board. If every one gives a lot everyone will have a lot to gain!

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  2. If by-right is such a challenge, why not consider a form-based code within CBD boundary? Not sure on Frfx Cnty's or OCR's stance on such a strategy.

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    1. The Annandale revitalization plan includes a form-based approach, which gives developers more flexibility if they provide certain amenities.

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  3. Of course ACBDPC opposes by-right development : their game is to try and pulverize Annandale into another Ballston, Merrifield, or Fairfax. Annandale is presently central, walkable, and a pleasant place to spend time. I've lived in NoVA my whole adult life, and I've yet to see a single instance where "revitalization" wasn't code for "make useless to anyone not pulling in $100k a year". The long-term plan seems to be to turn the entire county into some kind of gross bureaucratic Beverly Hills playground and shovel what remains of the middle class out into the 66/95 dregs.

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    1. You're too late. Fairfax has already been overrun by the upper middle class and their ceaseless demands for more amenities. However, projects like turning the school system into a gigantic prep school are pricey and no one wants to pay the escalating taxes necessary to cover the tab. One way to raise more cash is through massive, carefully co-ordinated development. Annandale sure doesn't need another bank or ethnic restaurant. So, while I understand your nostalgia, I'd prefer not to underwrite it.

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    2. > nostalgia

      Huh? I think the point was that Annandale has mercifully avoided the kind of baldfaced stratification that sees entire neighborhoods filled either with payday loan shops and fast food on one hand or $20-a-sandwich bistros and dog bakeries on the other.

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    3. Oh wait now! I love those dog bakeries. Nothing is too good for my Mr. Woofy.

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    4. I totally disagree with Anonymous 12:15 - Annandale is a waste land in terms of a commercial district that anyone wants to stroll through. As soon as our daughter graduates from Stuart, we're outta here - to someplace this is walkable, newer and has better amenities - the things that make for a better quality of life. And it has nothing to do with income - if affordable housing is part of the master plan, redevelopment is a major driver to individual economic development. Wouldn't it be nice to have shops and restaurants where the people working at them could also live in the neighborhood?! There are ways to make redevelopment work - for both the developer and the residents! Don't give up!

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    5. New, New New. Not all areas can be new, all the time. If you just keep fleeing to the newer corners of the area, good luck with that.

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  4. I am happy to see continued development of small local businesses. A new Middle Eastern restaurant sounds great! Let's focus of sprucing up what we have, providing some free parking like they have in Falls Church so you can walk from one store to another without getting your car towed (or better yet, get the businesses to be a bit more flexible on the parking issue), and provide a central location for the Artisan's United Gallery (maybe add some work spaces like the Torpedo Factory) so we can promote Annandale as an arts destination. The long-vacant Magruders/Bloom store would be perfect for this.

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  5. > promote Annandale as an arts destination

    God love ya, kiddo.

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  6. Sigh. Arts always bring new people, make an area more vibrant and wonderful, and once the artists have worked their butts off making something work we quadruple the rents and kick them out. I would love to see something in the old Bloom space and it's too bad Maxx Fitness is now another vacant hole. Another restaurant with live music would be a nice addition. And another non-Korean restaurant would increase our dining out opoptions, so yay to the Middle Eastern place.

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  7. Pam B, instead of dreaming about what you want to see happen, why don't you get serious and start taking action to start a business in Annandale for which you see a need. That is how successful businesses start.

    Be The Change!

    We Are The Ones We Have Been Looking For!

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  8. Money talks. If a property owner is going to buy in, what is in it for them? Hope you get a return? A computer based model showing future planned infrastructure could help visualize the expected future.

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  9. What we really need is a plan to revitalize the Department of Code Compliance. The problem with Annandale and Mason District is that $6 billion in adjusted gross income has left Fairfax County in the last 20 years while the rest of Virginia has gained AGI.
    Some would argue that the higher income families left because of higher taxes but there is little evidence that high taxes are the reason. What seems very obvious is that the Department of Code Compliance left the field starting 20 years ago creating zoning compliance disaster areas in most of Mason District.
    The DCC claims to have a 90% success rate but anyone who lives in the disenfranchised areas knows very well that the true success rate is something well under 20%. Our enforcement officials under, Jeff Blackford, have turned a once functional compliance system into a largely ignored voluntary system. It is extremely rare that fines are ever levied and paid. There is no incentive to respect our laws, customs and communities. The main reasons: a County Attorney’s office that shields the DCC and violators from citizen complaints and the fact that in Fairfax County we only have 1/5 of the Commonwealth Attorneys we need for a functional legal system.
    What is the difference between County Attorneys and Commonwealth Attorneys? County Attorneys represent the county staff and Board and shield them from our questions and pleas for enforcement. Commonwealth Attorneys defend us, the citizens, from illegal activity. They prosecute the bad guys instead of us. When there are too few Commonwealth Attorneys to go around and too few and too underpaid police to represent us, we lose protection under the law, our property values don’t keep up with surrounding counties and our schools, neighborhoods and quality of life decay. Even if we had twice the number of police we would still have only 20% of the prosecutors needed to bring them to court so fines could be levied to disincentivize the disrespectful.
    Is the problem that taxes in Fairfax County are too high? I don’t think so. I know that I for one would be very happy to have my property taxes raised 25% if we could once again have the outstanding schools, compliance, jobs and Board representation we enjoyed 20 years ago, and we could do it. It is not a Democrat/Republican thing. It is about corruption, underfunded basic government functions and two parties that haven’t represented any of us for a long, long time.

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    1. Dear Jon Clark, thank you for the details of the relationships in the County. You are well-versed in the little-know working of the dark-side of the Fairfax Government Building! My experience matches what U describe about the DCC, it is understaffed and as in MOST of the County government - they have NO capacity for being pro-active! At best their actions are a sad catch-up affair with property violations going on for years.
      I visualize the County as grandmother on a skateboard rolling down a steep hill - out of balance and the skateboard rolling out from under those old tried feet!!
      The current BOS for the most part are performing a care-taker function rather than a leadership role. These times require superior leadership NOT what we have today which is at best a part-time appearance by the BOS.
      MAYBE the pay increase and Frey quitting will provide the residents with some NEW and energetic candidates this November!!!

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    2. How can we start a movement?

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  10. Say what you want but Annandale is going to be a food destination. Supervisor Gross plans on bringing mass transit to the district. We are going to be a 20 minute 'hood.

    Penny's exact quote from http://fcnp.com/2015/01/22/a-penny-for-your-thoughts-news-of-greater-falls-church-185/
    Of specific interest to Mason District residents might be the idea of 20 Minute Neighborhoods, a concept outlined in the draft plan that would bring housing options and jobs together with high capacity transit. You could get from home to work in 20 minutes or less, dining and shopping in the same time frame, etc. The draft plan also noted that neighborhoods could be highlighted for their existing charms – Annandale as a “foodie” hub; Mosaic and Reston as arts hubs, for example.

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