|Columbia Pike and Tom Davis Drive: Picture a "pop-up" plaza here.|
Those are some of the recommendations of a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) convened by the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
The panel spent two days in Annandale last month to explore challenges to redevelopment in the Annandale Commercial Revitalization District (CRD) and met with community stakeholders and staff from the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization. They came up with solutions that can be accomplished in the short term, three to five years, and medium term, up to 10 years.
Members of the Annandale TAP included an urban designer, planner, architect, landscape architect, real estate developer, and project manager. It’s chaired by Nat Bottigheimer, a transportation planner at Fehr & Peers, DC.
The group presented its findings at a public meeting July 21 and plans to publish a report within the next few weeks.
The panel believes Annandale has the potential to become more of a town center, like Shirlington in Arlington or central Rockville, Md.
They outlined several assets – including Annandale’s diversity, large number of popular restaurants, high homeownership rates, strong arterial road access, and good bus service – and identified the following challenges that are discouraging redevelopment:
- Limited links between the commercial center and surrounding neighborhoods.
- The lack of community gathering places.
- Too much through-traffic.
- Insufficient public parking in the commercial center.
- A “fragmented pedestrian environment,” such as sidewalks that start and stop.
- A need for broader business stakeholder engagement.
- A need for branding and promoting the image of Annandale.
- Multiple property owners and small property sizes.
The panel focused on improvements in one area – Columbia Pike between John Marr Drive and Little River Turnpike – and proposed some solutions that could be done relatively quickly and inexpensively.
The goal of the TAP is to move Annandale toward the vision in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. That means high-quality design, a walkable community-serving commercial and mixed-use area, new residential development, a strategy for business retention and enhancement, green spaces, civic gathering places, and transportation improvements.
Because government agencies “aren’t the best fit” for providing such services, the panel recommended establishing a non-governmental, nonprofit “main street or business improvement district” to promote businesses and the Annandale CRD, organize activities and events, encourage business engagement, support public art, and coordinate with the county on maintaining and improving public facilities.
Examples of these kinds of entities include the Main Street America network operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the D.C. government’s Main Streets Program aimed at revitalizing 10 traditional retail corridors, such as Barracks Row on Capitol Hill.
To bring the community together, the TAP recommends creating a temporary, “pop-up” plaza on part of the parking lot at the corner of Columbia Pike and Tom Davis Drive, the existing site of the Taste of Annandale.
It could be done as a community project with artificial turf and temporary furniture and planters and could be used as a public gathering place and for special events and a farmers market. In fact, the panel recommended moving the Annandale Farmers Market from Mason District Park to the Annandale CRD.
Eventually, the temporary plaza could be become permanent when more redevelopment occurs. “If we can make an environment that’s cool and fun,” people will want to live there and will pay higher rents, said one of the panelists.
The group called for creating a central, walkable area along Columbia Pike west of John Marr. Traffic volume and speed could be reduced by cutting the number of lanes from four to two and adding on-street parking and bike lanes. That could be easily accomplished by striping within the existing curbs.
Another recommendation calls for the county to assign or hire a staff person to be an “Annandale ambassador” to help organize festivals and facilitate business permitting and development processes.
The panel was also asked to come up with a longer-term “catalytic idea” that could overcome some of the challenges that are discouraging redevelopment.
The panel’s answer: Formation of a public/private partnership to spearhead a mixed-use redevelopment project on the eight-acre site of the Annandale Volunteer Department and Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) building on Columbia Pike.
The new project could incorporate ACCA, a new community center, 500 units of housing, ground-floor retail, and a county-owned parking facility. The fire station could be relocated or could be part of the new project.