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Brick by Brick

Redevelopment aims to maintain city's historic feel.

<bt>How to preserve that small-town atmosphere? In the City of Fairfax, this question resonates, as Fairfax County expands, and now, with the redevelopment of Old Town Fairfax.

"While we move the city forward, as part of the exploding Northern Virginia region, how do you keep that small town flair?" said Mayor Robert Lederer. "You don’t want to become just another community."

When it comes to rebuilding a significant section of the downtown Fairfax area, where many of the buildings have historic significance, "that small-town flair" becomes even more important.

"This is, essentially, a project more in the tradition and style and keeping of the downtown historic district," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne. "[It has to be] something that complements the historic city, not takes away from it."

"It’s a dramatic issue of why downtown redevelopment failed for so many years and is now successful," said Lederer. "This was a major issue not that long ago, to complement the downtown, not compete against it."

Keeping with the historical look while remaining friendly to modern tenants was a challenge, said Stephen Shelesky, managing director of developer Trammell Crow Company. For one thing, the four buildings on the site of the old post office (also known as the Logan-Sipan site) surround a parking garage, and must conceal it from the outside. For another, said Shelesky, the topography drops 20 feet from Chain Bridge Road to University Drive along North Street.

"We were trying to honor the historic fabric as much as we could in Fairfax and still make it work in a mixed-use fashion," said Shelesky.

To make this work, he said, the development team of Trammel Crow, CMSS Architects, J. Donegan Co. and Walnut Street Development designed a plan of four smaller buildings surrounding a plaza on North Street and a parking garage toward the back. The area will be called Old Town Village.

The buildings on the Logan-Sipan site will be two or three stories each, depending on the slope of the land, said Tim Carl, project manager with CMSS Architects.

The first floor will feature a mix of restaurants and retail, and the top floors will contain office retail space, said Bobby Montagne, president of Walnut Street Development.

Old Town Village will include 143,000 square feet of retail space, with 91,000 square feet of it going to office space and 52,000 square feet of it to retail, said Shelesky. A capital partner will own the retail space, while the office spaces will be sold to tenants.

Retail uses for the building are still up in the air, but Shelesky said that Trammell Crow has received a lot of interest from restaurants and banks.

"My sense is that we're going to have a very strong restaurant pull," said Montagne. "The courtyard is going to lend itself to restaurants of all varieties."

THE GOAL is for the new buildings to look old. "You could bring somebody who's never been into Fairfax before and you could convince them that the buildings have been there for 75 to 100 years," said Montagne. "That's really the goal."

"There is kind of an old-town feel to Fairfax," said Carl. "(The City Council) was very aware and up on making sure that we maintained the historic buildings. There is a wealth of examples to choose from."

The City Council worked closely with the development team to refine the drawings.

"I think it was just a process of discarding what we didn’t like, embracing what we did, and tweaking it from that standpoint on," said city manager Bob Sisson. "We just kept going through iteration after iteration until all groups seemed to be satisfied."

CMSS Architects incorporated different architectural aspects of Old Town Fairfax into the design for Old Town Village, said Carl.

"The architects were very careful in looking at the existing environment and trying to bring in those architectural details of the buildings in the downtown area," said Sisson.

The city offers plenty of historical architecture for inspiration, he said. "It’s a pretty eclectic series of architectural styles downtown, and [the developers] tried to pick up on some of those components."

"We might pull a cornice detail from one building, or a roof detail from another building, or these windows might have come from a third building," said Carl. Some of the early-1900s buildings along Main Street provided examples, he said.

The Fairfax Court House and the Moore House, on the corner of Chain Bridge Road and North Street, were two major inspirations, said Montagne.

Architecture on these buildings and others will be echoed in many of the design elements of the buildings, said Carl. The building on the corner of North Street and Chain Bridge Road will have an octagon-shaped glass cupola on its roof, emulating the one atop Fairfax Court House.

Materials used in the building's finish are historically appropriate, said Shelesky. The top levels will be all brick, said Carl, but the entire lower level will have a precast concrete finish (concrete poured into molds and shipped to the building site). This design element is a cost-effective version of the precast stone used in historic buildings in Washington, D.C., he said.

The windows on the first floor will be regular large storefront windows, but the second level will have more historic-looking multi-paned, arched windows, said Carl.

The developers also varied the roof lines, with some flat roofs and some pitched roofs, said Shelesky. "Both have place in time, you can see both if you look around town," he said. "Above the retail line, the project looks like it could have been built 200 years ago."