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Board Approves Laurel Hill Plan Amendment

Out-Of-Turn Amendment sets regulations for redevelopment of former prison site in Lorton.

With a quick nod from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the out-of-turn plan amendment for the former Lorton prison area has been approved, finalizing what the future holds for more than 3,000 acres in the southern part of Fairfax County.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the all-important prison site,” said Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At large) before the unanimous vote to approve the amendment Monday afternoon, May 1.

The amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan outlines how the 3,200 acre site will be redeveloped, a plan consisting of three major areas: The Occoquan Workhouse project with the Lorton Arts Foundation which will consist of a theater, studio space, restaurants and some residential areas; the creation of a Village Center that will feature loft-style residential units and between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet of retail and small professional office space; and some education-related uses in the former penitentiary area.

“This plan amendment addresses the phasing in of development and stresses sensitivity to the historic structures,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). The amendment, at the same time, calls for any future construction to be “complementary to the characteristic of the historic district” which has been established on the site.

BEFORE ANY CHANGES will be made to the site, or any of the structures remaining from the prison era, the request for proposals (RFP) must first be approved and sent out to developers for suggestions. In March, the Board of Supervisors approved a draft RFP which was released on the Fairfax County Web site to allow residents of the Laurel Hill area to review the document and offer suggestions before it was released to developers.

During the debate last fall over the creation of a historic district on the former prison site, many residents had expressed concern that the distinction would reduce the interest of developers from submitting proposals to redevelop part of the site.

Hyland said that if response to the RFP is less than expected, the guidelines of the redevelopment, or adaptive reuse, of some of the buildings may be revised.

“This plan amendment gives us the opportunity to create an even more exciting place in the heart of Lorton,” Hyland said.

Chris Caperton, the Laurel Hill coordinator at the Department of Planning and Zoning, has worked on the Lorton site for the past year. He's confident the RFP will be ready for approval by the Board of Supervisors soon.

“The RFP is out in draft form. We have comments from the Architectural Review Board, the Virginia Department of Historical Resources and the Lorton Heritage Society,” Caperton said. Those comments will be taken into consideration when the final version of the RFP is written and submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

“We want to take some time to look at the comments and see if we need to make any changes,” Caperton said. “I’m very encouraged by the reactions so far.”

Having worked closely with the South County Federation, a group of homeowner’s associations in the Lorton area, Caperton said he’s received some good feedback from the residents of the Lorton area.

“None of the comments have been negative. People seem to want to see a success out there,” he said.