Although most travelers driving through Northern Virginia now use Interstate 95, they once used what was termed "Virginia's Main Street." The technical name is Richmond Highway or Route 1; to locals, it is just "The Highway."
But whatever the designation, it is the primary North/South local artery of the Mount Vernon and Lee magisterial districts which it divides. Mount Vernon District is on the eastern side, and Lee District is on the west.
Prior to the opening of Interstate 95 in 1971, Richmond Highway was the economic core of southeastern Fairfax County. As the interstate system became the prime conveyor of traffic, Richmond Highway, like others throughout the United States began to deteriorate -- physically, economically and sociologically. Businesses began to close and buildings were abandoned. The physical condition of the roadway itself fell into disrepair. The lower end of economic enterprise replaced the once profitable motels, hotels and restaurants. It became an oasis for adult book stores, go-go joints, and cheap eateries.
That all began to change again in the 1980's with the commencement of the Richmond Highway revitalization program. Through a joint political and business leadership effort, investments along Route 1, both commercial and residential, are now approaching the $1 billion mark.
Total private investments in 2003 and 2004 alone amounted to $433.5 million, according to the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, a private/public partnership to promote the area's economic redevelopment/revitalization. Total private investment since 1990 has been $816.7 million not including the $29 million South County Government Center or $8.2 million Gum Springs Glen.
Some of the residential development activity along "The Highway" from 2002 to 2004 includes:
* Huntington Avenue Project: Located across from Huntington Metro Station on Huntington Avenue. Plans call for a 400-unit highrise apartment complex. There is a 40 unit, three-story townhouse development on an adjacent parcel now under construction.
* Huntington Station Development: Located adjacent to the Huntington Metro Station, between North Kings Highway and Fort Drive. A mixed-use project, it contains 650 residential units, divided between 400 mid to high-rise apartments and 250 townhouses, combined with 226,000 square feet office, 30,000 square feet retail, 10 to 12 acres of parkland and 2.5 acres of Metro parking.
* The Grove at Huntley Meadows, located behind Mount Vernon Plaza/South Valley Shopping Center bordering Huntley Meadows Park, the project contains 286 units; 70 single family homes and 216 townhouses with garages.
* Gum Springs Glen, located between Kramer Equipment and Gum Springs Village Shopping Center, at the intersection of Route 1 and Sherwood Hall Lane. It is a 60 unit independent living facility under the aegis of Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The lower level provides 12,000 square feet of office and classroom space for the Head Start Program.
OTHER PROJECTS either under construction or completed include Huntington Chase Townhouses on Kings Highway, Mount Zephyr Commons, SkyView Park, "Wyngate" by Carr Homes, The Talbot Farm Property, and Grist Mill Woods. A number of others are in various stages of the plan review/approval process.
At this juncture in 2004, there have been 719 units constructed, 1,390 site plans submitted, and 724 units in the planning and zoning process for a grand total of 2,833. By area they break down as follows: Huntington - 1130; Hybla Valley - 1313; South End - 390.
Over the past year ,there has been an 8.5 percent increase in the average residential sales price throughout the Alexandria mailing address area of Fairfax County, which encompasses the Richmond Highway corridor of the Mount Vernon and Lee districts as well as the Kingstowne area of Lee District, according to statistics from McEnearey Associates' Northern Virginia Market Watch.
The average home price in this area in 2004 was $388,891 compared to $328,831 in 2003. The median price rose for residential properties from $305,000 to $369,950 in the same time period, McEnearey's David Howell reported.
Commercial/retail activity has been equally, if not more, pronounced along the Richmond Highway corridor from its northern Capital Beltway connection to its southern juncture with I-95. This has included everything from a site plan for two new hotels at a projected cost of $15 million to the total renovation of Jane's Antiques retail center pegged at $1 million.
Two major additions planned for the area are the mixed-use developments at Groveton Corporate Center and Kings Crossing. Both sites have been promoted to encompass a mix of retail endeavors and residential options.
Residents in the Mount Vernon area enjoy the convenience of a wide variety of national service establishments such as Wal-Mart, Home and Office Depots, Staples, Lowes, a variety of garden centers, and vehicle, home and commercial repair shops. There are also several shopping centers ranging from the Belle Haven area on the north to Gunston Plaza on the south.
As for restaurants, there is something for every palate. One of the newest additions to the list is the Green Olive Restaurant at the site of the old Captain John's Seafood Restaurant just south of the Lockheed Boulevard intersection with Route 1.
Others include a wide variety of ethnic cuisines to down home country cooking. Choices abound from fast food national chains to local bistros and family eateries.
WITH THE OPENING of the South County Government Center at the intersection of Mohawk Lane and Route 1, Fairfax County brought government to the residents of the Mount Vernon and Lee Districts. It houses a variety of County services, ranging from elder care to health services to employment networking/search capabilities.
The Center also provides space for functions of community groups and public meetings. One of its most used features is the e-government center, located on the first floor. It centralizes government information and programs at the touch of a computer keyboard.
Other easily accessible facilities include the regional library on Sherwood Hall Lane, at the intersection with Parkers Lane. Each Tuesday morning, from Spring through Fall, the library parking lot is home to the Mount Vernon District Farmer's Market which offers a wide selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cut flowers and other items.
Just off Parker's Lane is the 232-bed Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. A full service medical facility, IMVH houses a nationally recognized Rehabilitation and Joint Replacement Center. It provides all acute-care medical and surgical services except obstetrics.
For long term care, Mount Vernon District is home to several facilities such as Mount Vernon Nursing Center and two assisted living establishments. The former offers skilled and intermediate care, while the latter are geared to providing more independent living capabilities in neighborhood settings.
Hollin Hall Senior Center, 1500 Shenandoah Road, offers many activities to seniors on a daily basis. Operated under the County's Community and Recreational Services, there are programs ranging from its Military History Committee to dance lessons to crafts.
Recreational enthusiasts moving to the area will find an array of facilities. They range from Pohick Regional Park, with its picnic and boating offerings on the Potomac River to Lee District Park, with athletic venues, both indoor and outdoor, summer concerts and antique shows.
Opportunities abound for participation in community outreach activities through such organizations as United Community Ministries, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, Sacramento Neighborhood Center's Children At Risk and others. An ecumenical effort in this category exists through Ventures In Community, a 25-year-old coalition of churches in the area.
The Mount Vernon District Station of the Fairfax County Police is located in the Mount Vernon Government Center on Parkers Lane. It also houses the offices of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland.
Mount Vernon and Lee districts are served by ten stations of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. They are Mount Vernon, Penn Daw, Lorton, Gunston, Springfield, Woodlawn, West Springfield, Pohick, Franconia, and Kingstowne.
Finally, active and retired military personnel can enjoy a variety of amenities offered within the bounds of Fort Belvoir. Complimenting the medical services offered by IMVH there is the DeWitt Army Hospital on base. There are also recreational, commissary, and club facilities.
Fort Belvoir has been growing in status since the events of 9/11. It has recently become home to the U.S. Army Materiel Command and will be the site of the planned U.S. Army National Museum.
A major new housing complex is now underway on the base known as Residential Community Initiative. It will change the complexion of base housing to bring it more in line with civilian residences based on community centers and neighborhoods.
Belvoir's Master Plan is projecting a possible increase of three to six million square feet of administrative space being constructed in the next 20 years. This could increase Belvoir's population, both on and off base, based on the military planners' formula of 15,000 people per three million square foot of administrative space.
All this growth and development has impacted the transportation system that serves not only the immediate Route 1 corridor but also the residents and businesses off the main thoroughfare. In answer to some of this need, a new express bus service known as REX, Richmond Highway Express, will begin operating in late September. It is designed to move passengers more quickly and efficiently between Fort Belvoir and the Huntington Metro Station.
Other plans on the drawing board call for widening portions of Route 1 to accommodate mass transit services and ease the flow of traffic. There is also increased emphasis on providing additional and safer facilities for pedestrians throughout the area.
Residents moving to Southeastern Fairfax County are provided with a variety of means to engage in shaping the region's future and having a voice in its daily operations. These opportunities run the gauntlet from Mount Vernon and Lee district supervisors Hyland's and Dana Kauffman's Annual Town Meetings to becoming active in the many and varied community organizations.
Although steeped in the nation's history, Mount Vernon and Lee districts have their sights and activism set on the future. That
tradition stretches from George Washington to today and tomorrow.