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Monday, April 5, 2021

Mason Task Force questions impact of Public Storage expansion project in Annandale

The entrance to Public Storage on Ravensworth Road, with the 3 United gas station behind it.
The task force formed to review site-specific plan amendments for proposed projects in Mason District is back in action. The task force is considering the three proposals the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved for the 2021 Comprehensive Plan work program.

The group spent most of its first two meetings, in March, considering a proposal to replace the Public Storage facility on Ravensworth Road in Annandale with a much bigger storage building. They did not reach a conclusion.

The key question for the task force members and the Fairfax County planning staff is whether that proposal fits in with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The Mason Task Force is part of the South County Site-Specific Plan Amendment process. Other task forces are considering proposals in the Lee and Mount Vernon districts.  

Three projects under review

During 2020, the Mason Task Force reviewed six proposals by landowners that would require an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. They determined five of them should go forward to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Mason Supervisor Penny Gross withdrew the nomination calling for a major mixed-use development in Annandale’s west end due to overwhelming community opposition.

Related story: Board of Supervisors rejects huge mixed-use proposal for western Annandale

The Board of Supervisors agreed to add the remaining three projects in Mason District to the 2021 work program for amending the Comprehensive Plan. In addition to the Public Storage proposal, the Mason Task Force will consider these projects:

  • A proposal for an affordable multifamily apartment building for seniors on the grounds of First Christian Church on Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners.
  • A proposal for up to eight housing units on a private lot and an expansion and community center proposal by Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center on Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners. Those projects were submitted separately but the Board of Supervisors recommended they be considered together.

Related story: More details emerge on affordable senior housing project on church property in Seven Corners

During the Mason Task Force’s 2021 meetings, the group and the planning staff will take a deeper dive into whether those projects conform to the county’s recommendations for future redevelopment; the existing conditions in the target areas; and the proposed projects’ potential impact on transportation, land use, the environment, housing, schools, parks, and stormwater.

At the end of this process, the Board of Supervisors will determine whether the proposals should go forward. A Planning Commission hearing is expected to be held in March 2022, and the Board of Supervisors hearing would be set for April 2022.

Public Storage
The Public Storage proposal is on a fast track, however, said Michael Burton of the Planning and Zoning Department, because it’s less complicated and doesn’t require the same level of analysis as the other projects. The Planning Commission hearing for the storage proposal would be June 23, 2021, and the Board hearing would be July 27.

Storage uses discouraged

This Public Storage proposal calls for replacing the 37,000 square-foot self-storage center with a four-story 153,000 square-foot structure. The 2.2-acre property is in the interior of a block bordered by Ravensworth Road, Little River Turnpike, Markham Street, and McWhorter Place. There’s a narrow entrance on Ravensworth.

The Comprehensive Plan is a guideline for future development over the next 20 to 30 years. The task force is also reviewing whether proposed projects are in line with the redevelopment vision in the Annandale Commercial Business Center (CBC) plan and the Annandale Design Guidelines.

Related story: Public urged to comment on revised Annandale design guidelines

The Annandale CBC, adopted in 2010, encourages more housing, mixed-use development, community-serving commercial uses, and pedestrian-oriented development. It promotes the consolidation of small parcels to achieve this vision.

It also recommends roadway improvements that reflect context-sensitive design principles and include elements of “complete streets” that have a variety of transportation modes for vehicles and pedestrians.

Storage and distribution, auto-oriented uses, outdoor sales, and industrial uses are discouraged in the Annandale CBC.

Storage uses, however, could be allowed if they are part of a mixed-use development and are not the primary use in a particular structure, said Bryan Botello, a planner with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning.

Public Storage is in the middle of a block.
The urban design guidelines for Annandale, currently being revised, lay out recommendations for building facades, street furnishings, parking, and other elements.

Members of the task force and planning staff said they would like to see the 3 United gas station next door to Public Storage be torn down so that property could be included in Public Storage’s expansion plans. That would allow for more frontage along Ravensworth Road and thus more amenities for pedestrians and a more engaging facade.

Road improvements

Mark Viani, of Public Storage, said the gas station owner is not interested in selling that property.

Viani is proposing an internal roadway within the block connecting Ravensworth Road to Markham Street. That road could be restricted to bicyclists and pedestrians or could allow vehicles.

His plans also call for the new storage facility to be designed so it could accommodate ground-floor retail at some unspecified point in the future.

Having retail on the inside of the block would not be desirable, said Elizabeth Hagg, deputy director of the county’s Office of Community Revitalization. It is more difficult to find tenants for stores that aren’t visible from the street.

Related story: Mason District task force agrees two plan amendments in Seven Corners should move forward

The transportation plan for the Annandale CBC recommends Ravensworth Road be widened, with a wide sidewalk, bike lane, and two traffic lanes in each direction and a median with trees in the center. There are no funds and no timeline for that to happen, however; it would be dependent on redevelopment.

Task force members questioned Viani’s assertion that the expansion project would lead to more mixed-use development and more pedestrian traffic in Annandale.

The vision for Annandale

The main question for the Mason Task Force to consider, Botello said, is: “Can this proposed storage facility be implemented in a way that realizes the vision for the Annandale CBC and sets a pattern for future development?”

It would not promote pedestrian engagement and would not lead to more residential development,  mixed-use development, or community-serving retail, he said, especially if the gas station property is not included.   

“There is an inherent tension between the plan for a community and the interests of individual parcel holders,” said Mason Task Force chair Marty Machowsky. “That is a tension at times tough to balance.”

There has not been a lot of revitalization in Annandale, Machowsky said. Allowing one parcel to develop without consolidation and without conforming to the plan for Annandale will lead to the piecemeal development of other parcels. As a result, there will be fewer opportunities for large mixed-use projects.  

Members of the public can speak at task force meetings and can submit statements in advance. The next meeting is expected to be in mid-April. Check the Plan Amendment website for details. 

3 comments:

  1. Just what we need more crap retail in the hood,.

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    1. I'm not sure what this means, its relevance to this article, or its addition of anything substantial to anything, but as far this goes I think that Mr. Viani could be onto something here. As long as the retail floor is accommodated for, why not?

      The problem is that the task force wants to compartmentalize the landscape into what they deem as "suitable". The tension between individual parcel holders and the committee is certainly hard to balance...just remember that both parties are equally at fault.

      "Task force members questioned Viani’s assertion that the expansion project would lead to more mixed-use development and more pedestrian traffic in Annandale."

      And who is to say that it won't? Just because it doesn't fit into the clear cut idea you have of Annandale's future aesthetic doesn't mean that it won't be a functional part of our CBD. The "realized vision" of the pattern of development seems so pre-decided that it proposes a manufactured future for Annandale. This just says to me that county bureaucrats are so caught up in what the landscape will look like that they are ignoring the functionality of the space itself.

      We need to acknowledge the organic development of our CBD as much as whatever predisposition the county has about number of street trees and bike lanes. I am all for a more walkable, pedestrian, and overall human-scale future for "downtown" Annandale, but we need to get a grip on the impact of stifling guidelines. The outcome can not be exactly what was planned.

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  2. There will not be more pedestrian traffic in that area! Nor is there bike traffic in their lanes! Waste of money and increased traffic problems by narrowing the lanes. This area is an industrial area - and unless totally revamped - arguing about shades of gray is a waste of time. Annandale needs a real makeover - but the goal of making Annandale a waking zone is unrealistic. The only way that can be done is how European towns have done it - no parking lots in town - all lots on the outskirts so distances from store to store are not the length of the massive parking lot!

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