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Laurel Hill Development Takes Shape

The Board of Supervisors approves motions to begin making the 'new Lorton' a reality.

A task force charged with the job of laying out a plan to reuse the former correctional facility at Lorton has closed up shop, after presenting Fairfax County supervisors with its final report on Monday.

"I think it was an excellent two-year process. We were able to develop and implement a very informed process by which we came to our conclusions," said Tim Sargeant, chairman of the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force.

On Monday, the Task Force made a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors with the results of the two-year process to consider potential uses for three sites within the former D.C. Correctional Facility at Lorton — the Reformatory, The Penitentiary and the Workhouse.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a motion to direct county staff to develop a request for entrance, which will begin to explore the potential viability of development based on the Task Force's recommended scenarios.

"[Their recommendations] are provocative, encouraging, and I think it's an exciting opportunity they have laid on the table, to then put out to the world, to ask for organizations to look at the reformatory and penitentiary facilities as a major opportunity to do some exciting things at Laurel Hill," said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).

Under the proposal from the Task Force, the 80-acre site in question would be divided up into three sites — the "reformatory," "penitentiary" and "village center." Each site would reuse existing structures, with the focus of all three residential and retail space.

"They have looked at the prison buildings, which are really a challenge in terms of reuse, and have come forward with I think a very exciting blueprint for the future development of those buildings," said Hyland. "We have a challenge as to decide what to do with all of them, and this proposal takes a good piece of the Laurel Hill site and says here is what we think you can do with this."

The reformatory site, which contains a quadrangle of buildings, would be transformed into 50-125 condominium-style loft housing units to be placed into the existing structures. These units would cost between $235,000 and $275,000. In addition, 30 magnet housing units are proposed, which could provide affordable housing for people in training programs, such as firefighters, educators and policemen.

The second portion would be turned into a retail center called the “village center,” a mixed-use area with 40,000 to 60,000 square feet of retail, including restaurants and professional office.

"This is not anticipated to be a traditional retail center. It would be high-end, including restaurants and professional office," said Sargeant.

This area could also contain between 10 and 30 second-level housing units.

The penitentiary portion, located in the northwest portion of the area the Task Force was examining, would be transformed under current plans, into an educationally devoted area, with a range of 50,000 to 125,000 square feet.

The total cost of the reuse would be around $75 million.

"This is not an inexpensive proposition," said Board chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At large), noting that the Board would have to change provisions in the county's land-use plan to attract private investment to the redevelopment plan.

"We're going to have to make some accommodations."

With the Task Force's recommendations in hand, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has directed county staff to solicit potential input from developers regarding the proposed scenarios.

Sargeant said that in the meantime, the county has appropriated $4 million to stabilize the area, giving the structures weatherization to prevent further deterioration in the next five years. Hopefully, said Hyland, development would begin within that time window.

"It's a gem on the landscape of Fairfax County, and the commitment by the BOS to start doing the right things at Laurel Hill is a major step forward," he said.

Political reporter David Harrison contributed to this article.