The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the Annandale plan amendment last night, establishing guidelines for future redevelopment and road improvements—with the goal of transforming Annandale into a pedestrian-friendly “urban village.”
Both Janet Hall, the commissioner representing the Mason District, and Braddock Commissioner Suzanne Harsel called the plan “exciting.” The Board of Supervisors will consider the Annandale plan amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan July 13.
In urging the commissioners to approve the plan, Bernie Suchicital of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said it would promote the development of “a walkable, urban, and active mixed-use center.” The land use guidance encourages the use of “innovative urban design streetscape, placemaking, and context-sensitive techniques that will improve multi-modal connectivity throughout the area.” [Multi-modal connectivity encompasses mass transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists, as well as vehicular traffic.]
The existing plan for improving transportation called for an overpass at the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Annandale and Ravensworth Roads. The planners considered several alternatives, including widening Little River to six lanes and making Little River and John Marr Drive one way roads (the one-way pairs option). The planning staff recommended widening Little River by eliminating the service roads, and that is the approach in the final plan approved by the commission. Suchicital said that option “is more conducive to future transit enhancements.”
The plan covers the “community business center (CBC), which encompasses 200 acres around the Little River Turnpike/Columbia Pike intersection and extending from the Evergreen Lane/Columbia Pike intersection to the Hummer Road/Heritage Drive intersection on Little River.
A key element of the Annandale plan amendment is the use of the form-based approach rather than the more traditional FAR (floor area ratio) zoning system. Matt Flis, with the Office of Community Revitalization and Development, told the commissioners the form-based approach gives developers more flexibility to be creative and allows for mixed-use development [such as an office building with retail and housing on some floors].
“The proposed form-based plan does not increase the overall intensity or density of the CBC, but instead provides flexibility so that the available square footage, categorized by land use, can be allocated throughout the CBC,” Flis says. The form-based plan provides guidance on building types, building heights, land use, and urban design. The tallest buildings would be in the center of the CBC and along Little River Turnpike.
The plan includes a “incentive development option” that allows developers to build taller buildings (an additional two to four stories) if they consolidate small land parcels, meet certain levels of energy conservation, or if they provide certain public benefits, such as providing space for a public facility, affording housing, or public art.
While none of the commissioners raised any major objections to the plan, some of them sought clarification on some of the details.
Commissioner Frank de la Fe of Hunter Mill says he likes the form-based concept but questioned whether it might lead to conflicts with the zoning board. Suchital said that’s not likely to be a problem. In response to a question from Providence Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence about how parking might be handled, Flis raised the possibility of creating a parking management entity with authority over new parking structures.
At-large commissioner James Hart questioned why the plan doesn’t set numeric limits on building height and instead talks about the number of stories. A representative of the planning department responded that “the quality of development and character of development is much more important than trying to fit some arbitrary dimension.”
Daniel McKinnon, chair of the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee, urged the commission to support the plan amendment. “The Annandale of today is far more attractive and active than in years past,” McKinnon says. “But we still have challenges. Little River Turnpike cuts our downtown in half. Redevelopment is discouraged by small land parcels. The lack of a full offering of retail opportunities means we have to drive out of town, not into town. Our town center is not pedestrian friendly.” The plan amendment can help overcome these challenges, he says, by promoting a walkable town center where people live, work, shop, and find entertainment.
Gregory McGillicuddy of the Annandale Central Business District Revitalization Committee, also lauded the plan, noting “We want Annandale to be a drive-to, not a drive-through, community. This plan does that.” He said he had preferred the one-way pairs option rather than widening Little River Turnpike, but said the widening option would be acceptable “if we can get a street cars.”
Gavin Dock, an Annandale landowner, who also preferred the one-way pairs option, told the commissioners he is worried that making Little River six lanes would create a north-south divide, like the Route 50 corridor through Seven Corners. “I would hate to see that happen to Annandale,” he says.
Before approving the plan unanimously, the commission added a modification calling for telecommunications structures, such as satellite dishes, to be screened from public view.
The commission also approved plan amendments for Bailey’s Crossroads (more on that soon) and the expansion of the Inova Fairfax Hospital. The plan amendment dealing with the hospital would allow for the construction of a new women’s hospital and two office buildings for physicians on the site now occupied by the Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health on Woodburn Road near the intersection with Gallows Road. The mental health center would be relocated. The plan calls for a new roadway connecting the hospital site—and a proposed transit station—with the Willow Oaks corporate center next to the Prosperity Heights neighborhood. The commission agreed to a modification proposed by commission member Kenneth Lawrence of the Providence District to make sure the new road can accommodate full-size buses.