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Votes

Three Proposals To Increase Residential Density

APR task force defers two decisions and rejects one.

Traffic was one of the major factors in Eric Meiers' decision. "I drive that stretch between the Dunn Loring Metro, and the Beltway is a freaking nightmare," he said.

Meiers represents the Cedar Crossing Community Association on the Providence District Area Plan Review Task Force. The Task Force, made up of representatives of approximately 40 civic and homeowners associations, is reviewing an assortment of proposed changes to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, the document that governs land use throughout the county.

The task force review of the various parcels is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year. After that, the recommendations are passed on to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and then to the Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decision.

The task force made one decision during its Oct. 20 meeting, when it rejected a proposal to increase density on a property in Merrifield on Gallows Road south of I-66.

The 38-acre parcel is currently developed as a residential area with 20 units per acre.

The proposal called for increasing the density to 65-80 units per acre and included an option of adding a retail and office component with an overall site density of 2.0 floor-to-area ratio [See What Is FAR?].

The new development would result in 3,069 residential units and 500,000 square feet of retail and office combined, estimated Charlene Fuhrman-Schulz of the Fairfax County Planning Commission. If the plan were approved, "An average day in traffic would still more than double," she said.

The land is within one mile of the Dunn Loring Metro station, and the developer suggested that the additional density would be desirable there. "It would make sense to maximize the development on this property," said Jonathan Rak, attorney for Fairfax Merrifield Associates, the property owner.

The task force was not swayed, noting that the increased density would go against the Merrifield Plan adopted in 2001 that calls for the highest density to be closer to the Metro than the property is. The task force recommended against changing the plan to allow for more density.

A PROPOSAL to give the option of developing an area that had been zoned for office space into residential use was deferred, pending more information.

The 3.5-acre parcel is located at the intersection of Route 50 and Waples Mill Road, and is currently zoned for office use at a 0.5 FAR. An approved development of an office park is already on the property. "The property owner can still choose to build the offices that were approved," said Fuhrman-Schulz.

The proposed change would add the option of building residential units at a density of 20-25 units per acre — low-rise or garden apartments, which would result in approximately 88 one- or two-bedroom apartments.

Art Walsh, attorney for Trammel Crowe Residential, the developer, explained what he saw as the benefits of the proposal. The change from office to residential would result in less traffic, according to standard methods of analysis.

Additionally, Trammel Crowe may be willing to help the county with a planned intersection improvement. "We could proffer the land that would be required for a grade-separated interchange [at Waples Mill Road and Route 50]," Walsh said.

Complicating the proposal is the fact that a large portion of the land includes a Resource Protection Area (RPA). "A portion of the Difficult Run headwaters runs through the property," said Fuhrman-Schulz.

The already approved office complex encroaches into the protected area. However, the approval predates the establishment of RPAs, so it is still allowed to continue.

The residential proposal would also be grandfathered in and could encroach into the protected area, which it does.

Task force members requested a kind of compromise. They voted to defer a decision until their Nov. 30 meeting, with the understanding that the developer return with a plan that does not encroach into the protected area.

Walsh said he would be willing to return with such a plan.

ANOTHER PLAN was deferred because of confusion about what was being requested.

At issue is an area under construction in the Merrifield area, near the Beltway, Route 50 and Fairview Park Drive. The property is currently planned for 1.7 million square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail. Some of the area has been developed by a Verizon office building and another office building that houses the restaurant 2941.

The way the proposal was written, it seemed to ask that 1.4 million square feet be changed to allow for a hotel, residential and retail.

Walsh, also attorney for this developer, Fairview Property Investments, said that they really only wanted about 400,000 square feet to be changed.

He said that they would have a few hotel rooms to allow businesspeople who might be going to meetings at local offices to have a place to stay.

The retail component would allow them to have a place to eat. "The retail will principally be restaurants that we would put around [Fairview] lake," Walsh said.

Adding a residential component would help to make the area more lively after the offices close. "I think it's a neat idea," said Frances Miller of the L&M Homeowners Association.

The discrepancy between the written proposal of changing 1.4 million and Walsh's stated desire of only changing 400,000 concerned task force members, who wanted to be certain of what they were voting for or against.

The decision was deferred, and Walsh was asked to come back with a revised proposal that more clearly describes what his client wants.