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Friday, October 21, 2011

Annandale chamber pushes benefits of property consolidation

Several developers, local business owners, and commercial realtors expressed interest in the Annandale Demonstration Project at a recent Annandale Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, but no one seemed to be ready to commit to any major building efforts.

The chamber had put a team together to come up with a plan for a hypothetical mixed-use project in central Annandale that would only be possible if several landowners would agree to consolidate their properties.

The Annandale Demonstration Project helps developers and property owners visualize the benefits of the more flexible, form-based approach to zoning, which was approved for Annandale by the Board of Supervisors last year. That approach allows taller buildings if developers provide certain amenities, such as a park, art center, or more parking.

Jeffrey Levine, of Levine Design Studios, led the team, which included business owners, bankers, construction consultants, architects, and a representative from the Fairfax County Office of Revitalization and Reinvestment.

In a presentation at the chamber meeting, Levine said the only way to make a project like that profitable is to “assemble at least four or more properties to get a sizable enough lot.” The development would need to be at least four acres, while the average property in central Annandale is only three-eighths of an acre.

The five-story project would have bistros and shops on the first floor, with rental units on the upper floors targeted to young professionals, which Levine said is the one type of demographic Annandale doesn’t have enough of. The development would have services—such as a gym, drycleaner, and concierge—aimed at that population, and the apartments would have high ceilings, granite counters, and nice views.

The site chosen for the hypothetical project is on the intersection of Little River Turnpike and John Marr Drive, which is occupied by Pep Boys, ARA, Dolce, and Palace. A transportation plan approved for Annandale a year ago calls for Little River Turnpike to become a tree-lined boulevard, although there is no funding to do this any time soon.

The big challenge now to convince property owners, many of them immigrants, to get on board. The group is reaching out to local businesspeople to explain the plan amendment to them and encourage them to consider the benefits of consolidation, such as the potential for more rental income.

Noting that immigrants work hard to provide for their children, Levine hopes to convince property owners that getting involved in a project like this “will secure your child’s financial future.” He said any discussion about consolidation needs to “take into account the spiritual and family values” involved with owning a piece of land.

Levine estimates it would take two or three years to put a deal together. He said the team is looking at the legal ways to promote consolidation through a land assembly district, which he says “is like a condo for land.”

Vicki Burman, executive director of the Annandale Chamber of Commerce, noted that the comprehensive plan for Annandale allows for only so much development, so “it’s better to get involved earlier, rather than later.” Property owners who hold out hoping to get a better deal could be left behind, as their businesses get surrounded by bigger projects.

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