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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Issues for the Lincolnia Task Force to consider

Landmark Plaza on Little River Turnpike and Beauregard Street. 
By Nazir Bhagat

The charge before the Lincolnia Planning District Study Task Force is to create a vision of a more distant future that will guide development of the area in the next decade or two.

I expect the task force to eventually produce some broad recommendations that are far removed from anything controversial, specific, immediate, or detrimental to any community.  Moreover, since the task force recommendations will be nonbinding and only a guide, which should be revised as the future enfolds, they are less likely to be controversial.

I would, therefore, like to invite all community members to contribute actively and cooperatively to the task force process with thoughtful written commentary.  I for one, will be actively listening to and learning from the concerns, suggestions, and ideas from all.  And I am confident that my fellow colleagues on the task force feel the same.

In the interest of sharing some of my optimism about the work of the task force, I decided to think out aloud and share some preliminary, half-baked thoughts, which are most likely going to change or be refined, as I learn more about the subject:

While the Little River Turnpike/Beauregard intersection seems to be a logical site to assess the concept promoting revitalization through the creation of a commercial business center (CBC), in my opinion, the task force should be neither committed to no limited to that location. Indeed, another area that might be just as attractive for a CBC, and perhaps more so from a traffic standpoint, would be the Interstate 395 and Edsall Road intersection.

Among the strengths of Lincolnia is its location close to Washington, D.C., with easy access to I-395 and its interconnection to the Capital Beltway.  It’s a fully developed suburb, with a population density twice that of the rest of Fairfax County and has a good mix of residential housing, neighborhood retail centers, and office buildings.

However, it is not near Metro, doesn’t have a vibrant, walkable downtown with retail amenities to attract modern businesses and the younger generation, which prefers to live and work in high-density, pedestrian-friendly, amenity-rich neighborhoods.

It is no wonder that Lincolnia is a relic for the younger generation, which is increasingly opting to move to D.C. and Arlington and the growth businesses (both employers and modern retail) those areas are attracting.

As a consequence, it is also no wonder that housing and property values are far higher in D.C., Arlington, and even more distant areas with Metro stops, and the disparity keeps increasing.  As a result, there is less new construction in Lincolnia, and almost half the homes here are over 50 years old.

Moreover, the commercial real estate in Lincolnia is increasingly obsolete, as well. With the onslaught of online retail causing more stores to go dark, and a growing office vacancy rate due to the growing popularity of shared work space, telecommuting, and the use of temporary office space, older suburbs like Lincolnia run the risk of further decline over the next decade.

I am, therefore, excited to work with the task force, the community and county staff to explore  the prospect of a dense, amenity-rich, walkable neighborhood with a synergistic mix of modern offices, retail, and housing that will improve the quality of life, increase property values, and make the entire Lincolnia community better off.

Transforming Lincolnia into a vibrant, walkable community would not only be desirable for millennials, but active adults as well. As a former member of the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging, I found many seniors living a lonely existence on fixed incomes in large houses they could not afford to fix up and that were increasingly obsolete and unsuitable due to accessibility issues.

These seniors, in my opinion, would also be better off and less lonely if they had options to downsize and move to modern high-density housing in walkable neighborhoods with more opportunities to interact with their neighbors. The development of such communities with accessible housing would enable seniors to “age in place” and have richer, happier, and healthier lives.

A similar case can be made for families with children desiring to live in a friendly, crime-free, walkable community with recreational facilities for youths and within easy access to the nation’s capital.

The challenge, however, is that purchasing properties to assemble large tracts of land, vacating and tearing down the existing buildings that are in use, and rebuilding modern ones takes a lot of capital.  Such a consolidation and redevelopment has been only justified in the past in downtown D.C., at key Metro stops, and select crossroads, where the location and density can support higher property values.

Clearly Lincolnia, with its suburban density and lack of a Metro stop, has not attracted major inflows of real estate investment to date, and it is unlikely to do so in the near future without some creative ideas and a bold vision.

Indeed, the successful redevelopment of the Mosaic District in Merrifield and other areas, and the county’s December 2016 report, Office Building Repositioning and Repurposing, provides some good examples and ideas for the task force to study.

Some of the questions that I would, therefore, like to research with the task force are:
  • What are the major trends in business, technology, and demographics that will affect where we live, work, shop, and play a decade or two from now? How will these trends impact the demand for housing, retail stores, and office space?
  • How will Lincolnia communities, which are at infill locations, but away from Metro, be competitive as desirable places to work, live, and play a decade or two from now? 
  • Is the LRT/Beauregard intersection the most attractive location in Lincolnia for planning a walkable, high-density community? Does it have the critical size needed for amenities and to attract capital for revitalization? Would redevelopment if that area be more feasible and successful if it was integrated with the redevelopment of Landmark Mall?
  • Should the task force also consider the I-395 and Edsall Road intersection as an alternate or additional CBC, particularly because of its easy access to I-395, mix of old commercial buildings and the current redevelopment of the adjacent Shirley Industrial Park and the approval of a world-class sports complex there?
  • What will be the dominant modes and patterns of travel, both local and long distance, in the future?  How will existing traffic problems be resolved at the LRT/Beauregard intersection (one of the most congested in Fairfax County), and how will more congestion be prevented in the future at that intersection and elsewhere in Lincolnia?
  • What will be the impact on property values in Lincolnia if the task force recommendations are implemented? 
  • How will the interests of the current homeowners and businesses be protected, and how will they benefit from redevelopment and the creation of a CBC?
  • What mix of incentives and plan amendments will be needed to attract the sizable capital investments needed to transform Lincolnia?  
Hopefully, working together with county staff, the Urban Land Institute, the community, and the task force, all of us can come up with interesting and creative ideas and a vision for the future of Lincolnia.

Nazir Bhagat is a member of the Lincolnia Planning District Study Task Force. Task force meetings are open the public. The next meeting is March 7, 7 p.m., at the Lincolnia Senior Center, 4710 N Chambliss St., Alexandria.

7 comments:

  1. what developer does this person work for?

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    1. The author/task force member is a Top Donor to Supervisor Gross only slightly behind Top Donor John Thillmann, who Gross appointed to chair the Seven Corners Task Force which produced a comprehensive plan amendment not supported by the community.
      http://www.vpap.org/candidates/22267/top_donors/?page=2

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  2. yawn, yet another homogenous town center will occupy this space as another attempt to create a false "vibrant, walkable downtown with retail amenities to attract modern businesses and the younger generation." There cannot be a genuine town or walkability in an area hemmed in by an interstate highway and primary roads like 236, Van Dorn, & Beauregard. Redevelop it for another 30 year lifespan, then when the millennials are in their 50's, they'll pine for the indoor mall that's already there. Just remember that commercial space generates more car traffic than anything else. Of course there is no mention of the fabulous 29K and 29N bus service in this area - because there is no public transit unless it's on rails?? One last though: Valentino's quality has also declined even though it's still attracting customers - a reflection of this areas woes. Only 19 more days until Rita's opens.

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    1. "There cannot be a genuine town or walkability in an area hemmed in by an interstate highway and primary roads like 236, Van Dorn, & Beauregard."

      There is already walkability in place adjacent to highways and arterials, for example in Shirlington. The City of Alexandria is already creating walkability in that area, and will not be deterred by negativity in Fairfax (and yes, rte 236 will need to be addressed). BTW, I am in my 50s and do not pine for indoor malls, I love to walk and bike outdoors.

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    2. How preposterously ageist. If the millions of baby boomers could keep indoor malls thriving, they would not be redeveloped left and right. Older folks appreciate the aesthetics and walkability of mixed-use development.

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  3. I'm an foreigner and even I think it's too ghetto there!!! They need to clean it up badly!

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  4. I'm in my 20's and even I want an inside mall!

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