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Thursday, November 11, 2010

County officials outline vision for Annandale redevelopment

Members of Annandale’s service organizations gathered for their annual luncheon yesterday, where they heard about the new “vision for Annandale” from Matt Flis of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization and Reinvestment and Daniel Southworth of the county’s Transportation Department.


Flis and Southworth described the Annandale amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in July. The plan is aimed at both relieving traffic congestion in central Annandale and encouraging redevelopment by adopting an innovative “form-based” approach that would give developers more flexibility and promote the creation of a pedestrian-friendly “urban village.”

“Our community is something special,” Annandale Chamber of Commerce President Gavin Dock told the audience. “We’ve been working hard over the past few years with the county to make Annandale a little bit better.” In addition to members of the Chamber, attendees at the luncheon at Falls Church High School included members of the Rotary Club of Annandale, American Legion Bicentennial Post 1976, the Annandale Boys and Girls Club, and the Annandale Kiwanis Club.

Flis said redevelopment should be seen in the context of future trends:
  • The county population is expected to increase by 35 percent by 2030.
  • People are more interested in seeing “authenticity and local brands” rather than national chains.
  • Shoppers are turning away from malls and prefer to shop in an urban, pedestrian-friendly setting where there’s “a sense of experience” with outdoor cafes and entertainment.
“How do we position Annandale to capitalize on these trends?” Flis says. “We have to make sure the appropriate land use and transportation framework is in place.” While having the plan amendment approved doesn’t mean anything will happen right away, it does offer a framework to guide future growth.

Before the transportation amendment was adopted, the county’s comprehensive plan called for Little River Turnpike (Route 236) to be widened to six lanes, with the service roads retained, and an overpass at Ravensworth Road.

The new plan does away with the overpass and calls for Little River to be transformed into a “context-sensitive” six-lane boulevard with wide sidewalks and bike lanes instead of service roads. That means Little River would need to be expanded by about 11 feet on either side, Southworth says. He acknowledges the space is tight between Ravensworth Road and Backlick Road, which means some businesses might have to be relocated.

Not everyone favors that option. Vicki Burman, executive director of the Annandale Chamber, says some members of the community advisory committee that worked on transportation options believe widening 235 would be divisive and preferred an alternative plan rejected by the planning commission: making Little River, John Marr Drive, and McWhorter place one-way streets, which would direct traffic in a circular route through Annandale.

The plan also calls for extending Tom Davis to Poplar Street, which means some buildings might have to come down on Columbia Pike, such as the Annandale fire station or the building that houses Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA), which was the former site of Annandale Elementary School.

The transportation plan also would connect Markham Street to McWhorter Place. The county bought land at that intersection in preparation for improvements, and houses on that corner are already boarded up. And it suggests improving the Columbia Pike-Backlick Road intersection, possibly with a traffic circle.

While it could take many years for the county to come up with the money to actually implement the plan, it does provide guidance for developers to start planning new projects, Southworth says. He estimates that all the transportation improvements proposed for Annandale would cost about $75 million. Now that the plan has been amended, he says, “we’re in a better position to compete for the money.”

He noted that the recent letter from Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova to the Virginia Department of Transportation seeking $5 million for the design phase of the Annandale transportation plan “puts Annandale in the forefront of the county’s revitalization efforts.”

Flis says the component of the plan amendment addressing redevelopment discourages suburban sprawl and encourages a more urban experience by requiring buildings to be oriented to the street. It also encourages the aggregation of property, which is essential because Annandale’s commercial core is made up of many small parcels of land. It also includes guidelines for streetscape amenities, such as lighting and landscaping.

Typically, governmental approval for development is based on quantitative numbers on density, focusing on the number of units and square feet. The form-based approach does away with that, Flis says, allowing “significant flexibility for future growth in Annandale.”

Developers will determine what to build—offices, multifamily housing, restaurants, shops, or mixed-use projects—based on their research on market conditions. “We’re not going to dictate what goes where,” Flis says. The plan is “prescriptive, not restrictive. It states what we want to happen.” There are restrictions on height in the plan, though, with the tallest buildings centered along the main roads and shorter buildings close to single-family neighborhoods.

As an incentive to developers, the plan allows increases in building height or density if they provide community amenities, such as public art, public parking, transit facilities, a park, or affordable housing, or provide “green” buildings with sustainable architecture. “It’s not a plan the county implements,” Flis says. “It is up to private property owners to implement. But it provides a framework to facilitate that.”

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