On Oct. 15, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors approved for construction 2,350 apartment or condominium units — part of some 4,000 planned or built in Merrifield since 2001 — which will completely transform the Virginia crossroads community.
The development of Merrifield and Dunn Loring has been steady since a land-use revision begun some six years ago envisioned transforming the area to a place where people could "live, work and play," with offices, stores, restaurants and theaters. It was to encourage pedestrian traffic, take cars off the road, reduce the use of gasoline and relieve the critical traffic crowding which has paralyzed much of Northern Virginia.
The concept was pushed through by Board of Supervisor Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D-At-large), who recently won reelection. Connolly lives in the Providence District and was the Providence member of the Board of Supervisors.
When he moved up to chairman, Linda Q. Smyth, a Connolly ally and the Providence Planning Commissioner, took his seat on the board.
The key to the most recent approvals by the board is the further development of the Merrifield Town Center, which when completed will run west of Gallows Road to
the Merrifield Regional Post Office and south of Lee Highway to within several blocks of Route 50.
Edens & Avant, a South Carolina-based firm that develops projects all over the country, won approval for a project at Merrifield’s "Town Center" on Oct. 15. This project will sit on 31.37 acres of land with 800,000 square feet of residential space, 600,000 square feet of retail space and a 150,000 square-foot hotel. The office space was approved at 175,000 square feet. By way of comparison, the Pentagon is 6.6 million square feet. If built, the "town center" project would be 1.72 million square feet.
The plan approvals are not commitments to build and with the housing and finance industry slowing down, the projects may not go forward for some time.
Edens & Avant will also build a new National Amusements Inc. theater as the first installment of their project. Two retail and office buildings, the Vantage, built by Falls Church developer UniWest, were just completed on the west side of Gallows Road and will open for occupancy soon. The buildings include 270 condominiums and 100,000 square feet of office and retail space.
Some of what will disappear is generally considered to be unsightly. A giant rental equipment yard owned by United and various shops and repair facilities along Route 29 will be removed.
THE DEVELOPER has sweetened its offer with a promise to rent land for a public library at a reduced rate and, for its residents, to build a 15,000 square-foot recreation center with racquetball and basketball courts and two decks of underground parking.
DSF Halstead 2, also won approval on the 15th for a 1,150 unit residential development a half mile north of the town center near the Dunn Loring Metro Station. This will be the third and fourth buildings they have built there since 2004. The first, Halstead 1, has 445 residential units.
Trammell-Crow Residential is planning to build 720 residential units and 125,000 square feet of retail space to the Dunn Loring Metro parking site, three-quarters of a mile from the town center. The county has approved the project and Trammell-Crow is now negotiating with Metro. It will build a multi-story parking garage to accommodate the cars of Metro commuters.
South of the Metro Station, Dunn Loring Marriott Hotel recently opened a hotel with 206 rooms facing the station. LCOR, the worldwide developers, announced that it had sold 259 condominium units in the Wilton House high rise next to the hotel for $96 million. The condos sold for $175,000 to $500,000 and were advertised as being 10 minutes from downtown Washington by Metro.
AT A PUBLIC meeting in April 2007, Merrifield Residents were told that a "new main street" would be formed connecting the Dunn Loring Metro Station and the town center. The link would connect Merrilee on the north side of Route 29 and Eskridge on the south side. They are supposed to be "pedestrian-friendly," according to Denise Rodgers, a Merrifield resident.
Gallows Road would be widened as a "grand boulevard," with large medians in the middle aimed at becoming "pedestrian refuges."
But Rodgers and others said that it will mean pedestrians have to cross heavily trafficked roads widened to eight and 12 lanes at the intersections.
She and Becky Cate, chair of the Providence District Council’s Land Use Committee, believe that the hope of a walk-able community may be doomed by the way the projects have been laid out. The Dunn Loring Metro Station and buildings clustered around there are too far from the "town center" to make it a convenient and comfortable walk on all but the nicest days. So the pedestrian traffic will only be people living within town center.
The private houses in Merrifield and Dunn Loring are even farther away from the town center and residents are not likely to walk.
Residents had been told at early planning meetings that the plan was to have offices, retail and residential so that Merrifield would be, in a sense, self-contained with people able to live near their work. But the office space allotted in the plans to date do not contemplate major office construction and Rodgers saw it as "housing for people who work in Tysons, not a place to live work and play which we were told."
Both Cate and Rodgers see no traffic relief.
The county planners and many of the advertisements of developers talk about the rising population expected to be attracted to the Merrifield to fill the new buildings. At the April meeting, county officials said it could add upwards of 22,000 people to the area.