Heritage Mall Redevelopment
Good Growth is Good for Annandale.
It's also good for your pocketbook.
By: M. Callahan
Representatives of both the Webb Companies and Madison Homes recently unveiled their plans to build 68 townhouses behind Heritage Mall.
Originally a mixed-use development with two hundred apartments had been planned (see Fig. 3, to the right) and approved in the 10 year old Comprehensive Plan. The developers have now revised their vision seeking a rezoning of the 11 acre property, which currently calls for neighborhood-serving retail. Braddock Supervisor John Cook supports the rezoning, commenting on the current zoning, “The higher density of development is no longer feasible.” A full impact on traffic, schools, and public facilities was closely examined during the comprehensive review. The studies were well researched and confirm that neighborhood concerns are more than adequately being addressed.
The Planning Commission approved the project in May, and the County Board of Supervisors gave their approval for the necessary Comprehensive Plan Amendment on June 21st.
This new development will offer lush landscaping, comfortable walkability, safe lighting and storm water management; which are all long-term benefits to the larger community and being provided through proffers from the developers.
Elizabeth Baker, land use planner with Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh PC explained that the large parking lot, the sites where both 7-11 and a Citgo station have been (and will be demolished), and a scrub field behind the shopping center is vastly underutilized. Part of this area will be sold to Madison Homes for appropriate development and part used for recreation and leisure space. Sufficient parking will remain both in front and behind the shopping center to service the needs of retail. Additionally, a community resource center is called for in the comprehensive plan, which could serve many uses and will be located in the shopping center.
Madison Homes is a quality, community oriented builder, operating in the metro region since 1997. Often they have been asked to consider Annandale for a project, such as this, but the right fit had not been found. Madison Homes is known to successfully focus on, “in-fill development to create communities and living opportunities within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, parks and other recreational spaces” as seen in projects such as The Reserve at Tysons, Ballston Green in Arlington, and Hearthstone Mews in Alexandria.
These new Annandale homes would range from 1,600 to 2,000 square feet selling at market rate. In Annandale that would mean somewhere in the $400,000.00 and up range. Two car garages will be built situated in the front of some homes, and in the rear for others in order to allow green space both front and rear. Eight slightly smaller units with single garages will be set aside to meet the county’s affordability requirements.
Over the past few years, the Webb Companies have invested $4 million in updating the existing shopping center adding a general face-lift & colorful awnings, along with a complete renovation of the once small office spaces in front of H Mart. Further investment will be made in creating an outdoor dining area, new paving & seating, and updated lighting. As seen in Figure 2, Heritage Mall will develop a pocket park in their front plaza. The front parking lot will also be reconfigured to improve capacity.
Questions were raised about parking and traffic congestion. However, according to a recent traffic analysis, the proposed new development would only generate 43 cars per hour during peak times, as opposed to the 350 cars projected with the 200 unit development that could be built by-right. This traffic analysis is a prime example to show that the developers and the County are working closely to ensure that the needs of the greater community are being addressed. Two new crosswalks will be added on Heritage Drive to accommodate additional foot traffic crossing to access bus stops, the high school, or the park.
Although on-street parking exists, residents of the mews will be asked as part of their homeowner rules to park in their garages rather than using them exclusively for storage. These homes are ideal for individuals who don’t want to contend with grass but want the interior space and feel of a home rather than an apartment, along with a secure garage. It is anticipated they will be snapped-up quickly.
On December 6, 2016, The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning application which was the final hurdle to permit this project to move forward.
ANTI PROFFER LEGISLATION:
Because of an anti-proffer bill passed at this year’s General Assembly, county officials are analyzing the impact this legislation might have. Essentially, developers are not going to be forced to bankroll whatever capital improvements counties want for some building projects. The law will not simply apply to cash proffers, it will also apply to land. In the past, developers have proffered land for libraries, courts, parks or schools in exchange for a favorable rezoning application under this system that was institutionalized statewide in the late 1970’s during a building boom. Developers and business leaders believe that the system represents little more than extortion, regardless of the project size.
In some jurisdictions, debilitating and excessive over-reaching has been demanded in the form of these proffers, causing developers to walk away from projects that would have contributed greatly to communities, especially those such as Annandale where revitalization is at a stalemate.
There is a case to be made that reasonable restrictions had to be enacted or sensible and needed development will come to a halt. After all, the dramatic increase in property value reflected in a new building project, whether residential or commercial, brings annually hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars of additional revenue to the county coffers. And for those who are ONLY interested in supporting the county school system, this means that over half of that enormous increase goes to the schools. A separate proffer for the schools is simply greedy and a blatant example of fiscal over-reaching. The increase collection of real estate tax will be ongoing, year after year after year, not a one time offer.
The ramifications of this legislation are still being studied, but a letter released by Fred Selden, Director of the Department of Planning and Zoning indicated that the Annandale CBD will be exempt because it is a designated revitalization area, is covered by an approved small area plan that encompasses mass transit, includes mixed use development and allows density of 3.0 FAR and above in a portion of the area. It is this FAR that is most noteworthy.
Developers of commercial property and mixed use-residential are not exempt, even if within a revitalization district, and may be HAMMERED for proffers. These are the developments all revitalization districts need most. Consequently, developers will simply pass them over, and develop elsewhere as they have been. It is not coincidence that both Loudoun and Prince William Counties are developing at an admirable rate while Fairfax sees little in any of their revitalization zones. Other than the star in the county’s crown, Tysons, & the Mosaic District (a fluke because of single property ownership), what of significance has happened in the past ten years?
Frequent discussion can be heard around Annandale that if revitalization is to take place, the county needs to budget without proffers, utilizing the vast increase of real estate tax income instead. Each new development brings colossal sums that should be utilized to pay the freight on infrastructure rather than laying it on the backs of developers, or hanging increasingly weighty millstones of real estate taxes on the citizenry. The county can also start looking at why the county school system receives a massively disproportionate share of the county budget, while standing up to the school board and other out-of-control groups.
The redevelopment of Heritage Mall and construction of a residential mews, on what is currently a frightful eyesore of disused property, could also inject other interest in well-considered, but absolutely needed development in Annandale. By Year 2030, the next wave of economic development is projected for the Washington area; and now is the time to start gearing-up.
As to the future, new businesses may not open or relocate to Fairfax County (or Annandale) if their workers are forced to live far from the company premises, and new workers may not apply for the same reason. Consequently, smart growth advocates drive the message that new housing units need to be multi-family, in mixed-use developments, and located close to areas of employment, shopping, and transportation. In order to keep the traffic manageable, older communities need to revitalize their business core to accommodate the mixed use, or even a town center concept, something that has been cited in every report and study ever conducted on Annandale straight back to the 1950’s. It is not that this is a new concept; but never has a public-private partnership been formed to accomplish the task. Annandale, all too often, has had to take a back seat to every other jurisdiction and pet project of the day.
Unlike other parts of Fairfax County, Annandale’s residential boom (64% of current inventory) was built prior to 1970. In the past twenty years it grew by only 9% compared with an 84% housing growth for the county. The 2010 census shows a graying and declining population in Fairfax County with younger residents fleeing to more trendy spots such as Arlington. If Annandale is to remain relevant in the future, high end mixed-use spaces, suitable for young professionals, and young couples must be built. The Heritage Mews is a great start, and good growth is good for your pocketbook.
On a lighter note: Nelsonite — the titanium-laced igneous rock mined in Nelson County will become the state rock.
SUMMARY AS PASSED
Conditional zoning. Provides that no locality shall (i) request or accept any unreasonable proffer in connection with a rezoning or a proffer condition amendment as a condition of approval of a new residential development or new residential use or (ii) deny any rezoning application, including an application for amendment to an existing proffer, for a new residential development or new residential use where such denial is based on an applicant’s failure or refusal to submit, or remain subject to, an unreasonable proffer.
A proffer shall be deemed unreasonable unless it addresses an impact that is specifically attributable to a proposed new residential development or other new residential use applied for. An offsite proffer shall be deemed unreasonable pursuant to the above unless it addresses an impact to an off-site public facility such that (a) the new residential development or new residential use creates a need, or an identifiable portion of a need, for one or more public facility improvements in excess of existing public facility capacity at the time of the rezoning or proffer condition amendment and (b) each such new residential development or new residential use applied for receives a direct and material benefit from a proffer made with respect to any such public facility improvements.
In any action in which a locality has denied a rezoning or an amendment to an existing proffer and the aggrieved applicant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that it refused or failed to submit, or remain subject to, an unreasonable proffer that it has proven was suggested, requested, or required, formally or informally, by the locality, the court shall presume, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, that such refusal or failure was the controlling basis for the denial.
(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, requires the written permission of the author. Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.
(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)