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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Annandale Demonstration Project shows benefit of consolidation

Since the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan a year ago setting forth a vision for redeveloping Annandale, there hasn’t exactly been a rush of proposals from developers.

In fact, no one has stepped forward with a plan to create the kind of mixed-use projects envisioned by the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee. The plan amendment offers developers more flexibility to build mixed-use projects, stresses the form of buildings over strict zoning requirements, and encourages a pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

Most local business owners, however, didn’t understand those changes or how they would affect revitalization, says Vicki Burman, executive director of the Annandale Chamber of Commerce. A major stumbling block is the fact that central Annandale is mostly carved up into small parcels of land - the average lot is three-quarters of an acre - so a major project would require owners of adjacent properties to agree to consolidate their lots.

The chamber directed a team of consultants to draft an “Annandale Demonstration Project” to illustrate what the new plan for Annandale could do for the community and show land owners the benefits of consolidation.

The team, chaired by Jeffrey Levine of Levine Design Studio, analyzed the community’s demographics and the leasable space available and determined that there is a need here for housing for young professionals.
They designed a hypothetical 4.5-acre mixed-use project for the area along Little River Turnpike on land currently occupied by Pep Boys, Café Chocolate, ARA Fusion Restaurant, Palace, and Dolce Bakery and Café.

The five-story project would have 83,000 square feet of shops and restaurants on the first floor and 210,960 square feet of housing units on the upper floors, says Levine, who is on the Annandale chamber’s board of directors.

Parking would be at the rear of the building. It would have a visually interesting façade, while Little River Turnpike would be transformed into a tree-lined boulevard, making the area more pleasant for pedestrians. The team estimated the total cost of the project to be about $75 to $85 million. Levine says the cost of building higher-end residential units in Annandale, about $180 per square foot, is less than comparable units in Tysons Corner.

The proposed development takes advantage of several factors, Levine says. The Annandale plan amendment allows a form-based code, which means the county can approve higher density or taller buildings if developers agree to provide certain amenities. But, he stressed, only the developers first in line will be able to take advantage of this flexibility. The transportation infrastructure doesn’t have the capacity for the entire Annandale business district to be urbanized.

“The Chamber of Commerce and the Korean American business community are starting to work together a lot more,” he added, and some of the small property owners are beginning to see the benefits of consolidation, although “nobody is rushing to do this.”

Several larger projects had been proposed a few years ago for the properties now occupied by Kmart and the bowling alley, but the poor real estate market has quashed those plans.

Unless visionary developers step up with large-scale projects for Annandale and land owners find a way to consolidate their properties, we could end up with new development consisting of a series of small projects, like the new TD Bank, which although is nicely designed, doesn’t take Annandale to the next level.


  1. I would love a fresher look for Annandale, and I wish all the time that it was more walkable, but what about the impact on the schools? Annandale schools are overcrowded now.

  2. Having been a resident for 50-plus years, the changes to Annandale are quite obvious. Anonymous mentioned schools, I wont rant about the fact my grandchildren can't go to my AHS. I believe the larger problem is traffic.
    Multi-use buildings are the future and more energy efficient. The increased retail and office space won't employ that many more residents. So traffic will be the determining factor. Another lane on 236, what does that do to the new development footprint?