A Merrifield strip mall could be replaced by apartment buildings, parks and stores within walking distance of the Dunn Loring Metro, if the Board of Supervisors approves a rezoning application from developer Uniwest. Last Wednesday, the Planning Commission signed off on the plan after it was endorsed by neighboring communities.
The plan would rezone 7 1/2 acres of land near the intersection of Route 29 and Gallows Road to build two U-shaped apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor. An elevated walkway over Strawberry Lane would link the two buildings and give residents access to a park on one side and a swimming pool on the other. The project would provide 265 new units with underground parking, including nine to be set aside as affordable housing.
Right now, the area is developed as a suburban strip mall with chain stores and fast-food restaurants. Mobil and Mattress Discounters are on the north side and a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant is south of the property.
Neighbors at the Planning Commission meeting hailed the project as the first pedestrian-friendly proposal in Merrifield that would revive downtown Merrifield and make better use of the nearby Metro station.
For Emery Tate, of the Providence Park Homeowners Association, one of the project's main selling points was the new retail it would bring into the neighborhood. A quarter of the project would be devoted to retail, he said. By contrast, an application approved last year for developer DSF/Long Metro would devote a mere 1 percent to retail.
"We're seeing a project that fulfills the promise of the Merrifield plan," he said, adding that this project could finally provide his neighborhood with a grocery store.
In 2001 neighborhoods and local officials including then-Supervisor Gerry Connolly (D) worked out a land-use plan for the neighborhood that envisioned a vibrant street scene with retail, office and residential construction. The idea was to give suburban centers such as Merrifield a downtown, pedestrian-friendly feel within easy access to public transportation.
But residents said previous development applications in Merrifield that were approved by the county had not lived up to the plan, making the Uniwest proposal that much more favorably received.
TIM REED, of the Dunn Loring Woods Civic Association, called the Uniwest proposal "a quality project that ought to shame previous Merrifield applications."
"First, the applicant didn't treat us like dirt," he said.
Earlier developers such as DSF/Long Metro and LCOR, which received approval to build a Marriott hotel nearby, did not listen to local concerns, said residents. They also designed their projects in a way that would not help create a lively street atmosphere, they said.
"Just up the street you let people get away with murder," said Tate, referring to the DSF/Long Metro project that will add 400,000 square feet of residential development to the neighborhood.
Michael Collier, a Uniwest executive who worked on the proposal, said the company sought out citizen input before it approached the county with an application.
"The citizens of the county, not us, had the vision to designate this as the town center," he said.
William Lawson, an attorney for Uniwest, said the project was intended to revive an old planning concept that allowed people to conduct their daily lives without using their cars. "You go back into time when people lived, worked, shopped and played in a certain area," he said.
Uniwest also proffered $210,000 to public schools in the area to offset the impact new residents would have on the schools. Also, although the developer was not legally required to offer affordable housing, nine units will be reserved as moderately priced units.
The neighborhood's enthusiastic endorsement of the project was not lost on planning commissioners.
"Mr. Collier, you're on the road to sainthood," joked Chairman Peter Murphy (Springfield).
The Board of Supervisors will consider the application Feb. 23.