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Huge, Mixed-Use Project Proposed at Fairfax Center

If all goes well for the developer, a huge new project containing shops, restaurants, homes and offices will someday arise at the northwest intersection of Waples Mill Road and Lee Highway, near Ridge Top Road in Fairfax.

Proposed on an 18-acre site are 200,000 square feet of offices, 54,000 square feet of retail and 448 residential units. Parking for the offices will be in a structure, and residential parking will be under a central plaza, so none of the vehicles will be visible from the outside.

"We really believe it'll be a very big asset to the Fairfax Center/Springfield District area," said Matt Slavin, project manager for Vienna-based KSI Services Inc., developing the project. "It will anchor the area and inject a real, mixed-use community with public space to be enjoyed."

He was addressing the Dec. 7 meeting of the Springfield District/Fairfax Center Land-Use Committee. But first, attorney David Gill, representing KSI, told what Springfield District Supervisor Elaine McConnell did, the day before, at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting.

She made a motion to initiate a study for a Comprehensive Plan change in the Fairfax Center area, and the supervisors approved. Doing so will pave the way for KSI's project — which needs both a Comprehensive Plan amendment and a rezoning.

THE PROPERTY is zoned I-5 (industrial) and contains a self-storage facility. But it would need a rezoning to a "P" (planned) district. And since it's presently earmarked for office and industrial use, it also needs an out-of-turn plan amendment to delete the industrial component and add an option for residential and retail use.

The homes, about 1,300 square feet each, will be high-quality condominiums for purchase. One building will contain 124 condos, and another will house 324. Slavin said one of these buildings will be seven or eight stories high. And one will feature some 20,000 square feet of the retail uses, with condos on the second floor.

"You're asking for double or triple the current density," said land-use Committee chairman Mark Cummings, noting that such a big change "would set a precedent in this area."

KSI has experience developing mixed-use projects, including Trinity Centre in Centreville. For this new project, besides planning a pedestrian-friendly community including convenient work, living, dining, shopping and gathering places, KSI will also build a road connecting Government Center Parkway from Ridge Top Road to Waples Mill Road.

"When we thought about the benefits to the community, we thought in terms of an active, mixed-use community balanced with retail and office," explained Slavin. "And it will have well-landscaped, textured, open space available to the greater community." (On a historical note, committee member Claudette Ward said this site "was where the original, Camp 30 Prisoner of War Camp was)."

Slavin said the project will enable that area to "maintain an office presence," and he said KSI will put in a grid road on the property's eastern boundary so that — if the self-storage facility someday closed down — "we'll have a road ready there."

Panel member Sherry Fisher, of the nearby Ridgetop Commons Homeowners Association, asked how many stories the office buildings would be, and Slavin said they'd be similar to the ones north of the site. She also advised the developer to take the transportation issues into account.

"It's already difficult to get onto Waples Mill from Ridge Top Road," she said. "You may need a light at Government Center Parkway, and there'll already be traffic from 60 new condos on Random Hills Road entering Waples Mill from Ridge Top Road, too."

"Absolutely," replied Slavin. "We'll have a transportation study prepared to guide us in what's needed, but I'll take your comments under advisement."

CUMMINGS ALSO had traffic-control concerns. Stressing that neither the Ridge Top Road/Route 29 nor the Random Hills/Ridge Top Road intersections have stop lights, he said, "You're going to attract more [vehicles] than what the site can accommodate."

Ward said she liked the project's retail component, and Slavin said employers do, as well, because then their employees don't have to travel far at lunchtime. "Employers like having restaurants and retail near them to cut down the transportation impacts," he explained.

Meanwhile, committee member Tom McDonald recommended the Government Center Parkway extension "be completed first so that the project's construction traffic could use it."

Slavin hopes the project could break ground in 2007-08. But he knows that a myriad of details must first be nailed down — and approvals obtained from the county — before anything can proceed. "There's a community to be created here," he told the panel. "We're looking forward to sitting down with [county] staff and with you and having more in-depth discussions about this in the future."