Eleven Oaks, a 6.5-acre strip of property located on School Street in Fairfax, is an attractive piece of real estate with several significant hurdles for any prospective developer wishing to buy it. Chief among these concerns are an unfinished section of road leading up to the property and the approximately 50 buses parked on site that are owned by the Fairfax County parks and recreation department.
The site, owned by the City, also crosses very briefly across city and county lines, providing jurisdictional issues that have yet to be worked out legally. According to Mayor Robert Lederer, any company looking to build on the property at Eleven Oaks would have to convince the City Council that their buildings would blend visually and aesthetically into the surrounding community. To that end, Lederer and the City Council conducted a Special Meeting and Work Session on Tuesday, July 1, to hear proposals from two groups seeking to buy the property.
"It was our intent all along to purchase the property and put it back on the market with the sole goal of making sure development on the property was consistent with the surrounding community," said Lederer, in his introductory comment before inviting the two groups to present their plans.
Both proposals were for residential buildings, though they differed significantly in price and housing quality. The choices were narrowed down to an ownership group representing George Mason University and Walnut Street Development.
Tom Calhoun, vice president of facilities at GMU and David Roe, president of the George Mason University Foundation laid out their plans to incorporate the Eleven Oaks property with the 100 feet of space leading up to it, also owned by the University. Calhoun said the foundation is also negotiating with Inova Hospitals, which owns an acre and a half of land adjacent to the Eleven Oaks property, to buy the property from them in exchange for letting Inova employees buy and rent in parts of the complex as well. The complex would house approximately 80 units, 60 of which would be built on the Eleven Oaks property itself.
The units would be built primarily to house George Mason University faculty and staff at 65-70 percent of whatever the market rate is at the time they’re sold.
Calhoun, representing the school at the session, emphasized the need for the university to start providing affordable housing for its personnel.
"As part of recruitment there are many potential recruits who can’t work at GMU because the cost of entry into the housing market [in Fairfax] is so high," said Calhoun, while being questioned by the council. "We’re losing a lot of faculty members that we would like to hire."
Whoever wins the bid for the property will have to find an alternative site to house the approximately 50 County buses that are currently parked at Eleven Oaks. The foundation presented a George Mason-owned property off Braddock Road near Shirley Gate as a viable site for the buses.
Robert "Bobby" Montagne, President of Walnut St. Development, later in the hearing questioned why the university couldn’t use that property to build workforce housing instead. Calhoun responded to that statement in a phone interview later.
"That would require an awful lot of infrastructure," he said. "The site doesn’t have water service or sewage service. Using it for buses would be simple. Using it for workforce housing would not," he said.
Montagne unveiled his company’s own plans for Eleven Oaks and the surrounding area, quoting from the city’s own 2005 Comprehensive Plan stressing the need for more upscale or "move-up" housing in and around the City of Fairfax.
"Lack of high-end housing has placed the city at a competitive disadvantage in the regional housing market," read Montagne, before laying out Walnut St.’s bid to build rows 3-1/2-story townhouses composed of 63 high-end, for-sale units available for around $750,000.
Montagne also pointed out that Walnut St.’s $6.93 million bid for the property was significantly higher than the $4 million price GMU was seeking. This was at least partly due to the fact that Montagne’s proposal did not include a plan to deal with the buses.
"In my scenario, the additional cash [we’re offering] would go to the city and the city would use that cash to solve the parking problem," Montagne said.
Calhoun addressed that point during his proposal, stating that the university’s goal for the property is to provide workforce housing, not make a profit.
"$4 million for 80 units would essentially be a wash financially at an affordable level for staff," said Calhoun, though he did acknowledge that fitting more units in might be workable.
Some council members expressed concern that the housing complex might be used for GMU students. Calhoun and Roe brushed aside those concerns.
"One, they won’t be units the student can afford, and two, we won’t allow them to [buy or rent at Eleven Oaks]," Calhoun said.
The Council has no timetable as of yet for when it announce the winning bid.