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Battle of the Buildings

Examining residential development along the Fairfax Boulevard corridor.

Although the Lee Highway corridor in Fairfax City (now called Fairfax Blvd.) was envisioned as an almost solely commercial area, a recent bid by Rocky Gorge Homes, LLC challenges that idea.

At June 28’s City Council meeting, Rocky Gorge Homes proposed developing the Stafford property, which sits along Fairfax Boulevard just south of the Mosby Woods subdivision, into two multi-family condominium buildings.

Stephen Fuller of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University supported a bid with a report he had prepared outlining the economic impact of the planned development on Fairfax Boulevard

"People are predisposed to believing that residential development generates more demand on local budget than revenue. This is true for some kind of housing, but not all," said Fuller, discussing his findings. "Sometimes local jurisdictions have to be reminded, but then they ‘fess up that because of rapid growth in housing prices, housing might cover all its own costs."

The most significant cost is schools, said Fuller: "Education is 50 percent of the budget in the County. It’s a big item. Everybody looks at that and worries."

But for the condominiums proposed, he says, education would not be a problem, because high-end condominium-type housing tends to attract young couples without children or people whose children have moved out.

"We looked at a rental project in Falls Church. They didn’t believe us, but we studied it and had a hard time finding kids at all," said Fuller.

"People who live closer to the city either haven’t had children, or have had them and [they] moved out. Loudoun [County] is more likely to have kids, with yards and a more suburban living environment."

OTHER PARTS of the city budget, such as public safety, social services, the health department, and public works, would potentially be affected by residential development along the Fairfax Blvd. corridor. Fuller argues that the strain on these resources would be balanced out by spending done by the residents of the Rocky Gorge development.

But there are concerns outside the budget, said Fairfax City mayor Rob Lederer: "There’s congestion, density, all the things that come with it. Those are things we’re really going to have to look at."

The Comprehensive Plan for Fairfax, developed by the Planning Commission and adopted in July 2004 by the City Council, labeled the Fairfax Blvd. corridor "the backbone of the City’s economy." The plan does call for "urban village"-type redevelopment with a mix of residential, office and retail uses of parts of the corridor, namely, the section near Kamp Washington.

But residential building is a small part of Fairfax Boulevard’s future, said Jack Blevins, planning and design review chief for the City of Fairfax.

"I don’t think there were ever any discussions about residential just as new development," Blevins said. "The discussion was always, ‘What can we do to promote the redevelopment of these older properties that don’t seem to work well, or don’t look good?’"

"We put in the comprehensive plan the use of residential construction only to help blighted property, and the first thing out of the box is a new property," said Lederer.

Another issue for properties along the Fairfax Boulevard is the Business Improvement District (BID) surcharge, which is applied to the tax on commercial properties. Residential properties do not have the surcharge.

"We were very, very sensitive to make sure that all residential components were eliminated when we made the BID boundaries," said Geoff Durham, Economic Development manager of the City of Fairfax. "It was easy to do at the time, since the only residential property was the Foxcroft Colony, and we just made an indent when we were drawing the tax assessment area."

With residential properties popping up along the corridor, Durham said, it would be more difficult to keep BID boundaries intact.

"If we were to put the condos in, how do we address that? If we make a mixed-use development, then how do we do it? You can’t zone horizontally," said Durham.

Building a set of condominiums along Lee Highway was the idea of Mosby Woods residents, said Jack Anderson, principal at Rocky Gorge Homes. The Fairfax County and Fairfax City areas are experiencing a housing shortage, he said. "There is a need for this product. We need to get people living closer to where they work."

"[A condominium building] is the highest and best use for that property," said Anderson.