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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Supervisors streamline process for repurposing office buildings

An apartment in a former office building in Alexandria's West End that has been transformed into a flexible E-loft concept, allowing tenants use their units for living or working.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has made it easier for developers to convert obsolete office buildings and stores to other uses, such as housing, schools, or “urban farms.”

On Dec. 5, the BoS approved an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan recommended by a working group on the repurposing of vacant, mostly vacant, or underutilized office buildings.

Fairfax County has more than 18 million square feet of vacant office space, much of it in older parts of the county, such as Mason District.

The amendment would allow office buildings to be converted to residential, hotel, urban agriculture, institutional public facilities, light industrial, and flexible live-and-work uses.

The original proposal before the board limited the streamlined process for office building conversions to designated “activity centers” – such as Tysons Corner, Reston, Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners.

The BoS approved a motion by Supervisor John Cook (Braddock) to expand the amendment to include areas outside of activity centers. Cook said the flexibility to be innovative should be available countywide, including residential areas.

“Nothing is more dangerous to a residential area than a vacant building,” Cook said. First, there are broken windows, then it becomes “a magnet for everything you don’t want.”

The Cook amendment directs county staff to present to the BoS in March an analysis of the amount of underutilized office space outside activity centers and the potential negative impact on expanding the proposal, along with feedback from developers and homeowner associations. The county executive would present an amendment to the BoS by May 1.

The board then approved an add-on amendment by Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee) to extend the repurposing proposal to include retail space, such as vacant big-box stores.

The BoS has already approved a few office building conversions, including Bailey’s Upper Elementary School and E-loft, a flexible live-work space project at 5600 Columbia Pike, both in Mason District. The E-loft developer, Robert Seldin, CEO of Novus, told the supervisors construction should start in the first quarter of 2018. A similar E-loft project developed by Novus in Alexandria opened just over a year ago.

The amendment approved by the BoS allows the repurposing of office buildings without requiring a site-specific change to the land use plan, which would encourage more developers to undertake innovative projects.

Most buildings proposed to be repurposed will still need to go through a rezoning process, which includes opportunities for public input, public hearings, and BoS approval.

During the public hearing before the BoS vote on the proposal, Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association in Mason District, urged more rigorous review and more citizen engagement in the rezoning process.

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross noted that citizen involvement is already “as rigorous and robust as it could possibly be.”

Those speaking in favor of the amendment included John McBride of the Reston Association, Scott Adams of McGuire Woods and chair of the Northern Virginia Chapter of NAIOP – the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, and Seldin.

The county’s office vacancy rates began to rise in 2010 with the invention of the smartphone, which “liberated all information from buildings,” Seldin said. “People no longer have to physically go somewhere to work. 


Anonymous said...

Great idea, but the BoS is going to have to come up with a better and more luring campaign to get people to want to live here instead of illegals looking for sanctuary. Why is that Arlington, DC and Alexandria don't have our problems to the extent that inside the beltway does? Falls Church City doesn't have these problems. Ill tell you why, we have 9 supervisors that have conflicting agendas and can't get anything done. Poor transit access, Mason got the shaft here thanks to bigots and Connolly who let the this arrogance prevail. Poor performing schools, too many social services and SOLs to take care of, zoning laws that help no one but the so called family members living in the many boarding houses. There is no will to change the status quo. Fairfax is stuck in limbo, some of the BoS are stuck in the 70's show and changing the channel here seems impossible. Its like an old TV, time to throw it out and get a flat screen.

Anonymous said...

It is true that there seems to be little effort made to either enforce the zoning laws or change them when necessary to put a clamp on the illegal boarding houses. Several years ago there was an effort with a special task force the county had, and I believe, Supv. Gross worked on, but apparently it has fallen by the wayside.

David said...

Immigrants are the future of this district and county. If we provide everyone with affordable places to live and decent schools in which to raise their children, and walkable, bikeable places where owning a car is not necessary, we will thrive as a district. Zoning is definitely a problem in this county precisely because NIMBYs use zoning laws to always oppose new apartments, townhouses and condos. Why do they oppose them? Because they assume that everyone will need to have two cars, which will fill the roads with more traffic. What we get are gigantic houses built on huge lots that no reasonable person wants to buy because it's hemmed in by dangerous fast roads with poor bus service and no bike infrastructure. Oh and the place is so big it costs an arm and a leg to heat. Start supporting density, not rejecting it. And realize that cars are the problem, not people.

Anonymous said...

Around so many apartment buildings in Mason you will find neighborhoods that have had to seek permit parking restrictions because of the huge overflow of cars from the apartments.

Anonymous said...

That E-Loft office building conversion in Alexandria has been struggling to lease units. Wonder if the one proposed in Mason will fare any better...

David said...

That doesn’t surprise me. We’ve built a community where it’s unsafe to walk or bike, and taking the bus is a pain in the butt because they take forever, they don’t come enough, and there aren’t enough routes. Also we subsidize driving by providing free parking nearly everywhere, cheap gas, cars on cheap credit, socialized roads and road maintenance, and also a societal prejudice against bicycling as crazy, a recreation, or for poor people.

Anonymous said...

I am immigrant, I do not want a board house next to me and I want my kids to good schools. If immigrants is a future of county then the politicos I see don't care because they let illegals make crime and they no make place a nice place live.

Jeffrey Longo said...

Looking at the pics of that eloft, I can see why. They cut corners like crazy! Bare concrete with orange spray paint on the ceiling is in the model units. That is garbage!

Anonymous said...

The units look pretty cool, the orange is kind of funky. There has not been any activity in Mason at Columbia Pike and Carlin Springs where the blog announced the e-loft future plans. They are probably afraid to take a chance in the "Dump" if they are having problems in a more desirable jurisdiction such as Alexandria.

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