County responds to Embark comments submitted by public

overhead illustration of Richmond Highway CBCs

(Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning image)

Fairfax County has posted comments submitted by the public regarding the Embark Richmond Highway comprehensive plan draft amendment, as well as the county’s responses and revised text to the amendment.

The comments cover a wide spectrum of concerns and suggestions related to the Embark amendment, which outlines the long-term vision for land use and transportation the Richmond Highway area. At its core, Embark envisions six community business centers (CBCs) between the Beltway and Fort Belvoir that are linked by bus rapid transit (BRT) down the center of a widened Route 1. Higher density mixed-use development will be clustered in the CBCs. New cycling and pedestrian infrastructure will be developed throughout the corridor, and environmental improvements such as dedicated green areas and modern stormwater management techniques will be incorporated. 

The public comments and the county’s responses can be viewed here. The comments were submitted between late November, when the draft Embark Richmond Highway amendment to Fairfax County comprehensive plan was posted, through the planning commission’s public hearing on Jan. 25. The next planning commission hearing on Embark will be Feb. 22, and will be a decision-only hearing, not a public hearing.

42 of the 70 Embark comments posted on the county’s website were submitted by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations or members of the group’s leadership. Other commenters include The South County Task Force, representatives from local developers, the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation and local environmental groups. 

Among the biggest issues addressed were multiple requests to underground the utilities on Richmond Highway during the widening of that road. County staff said it could not commit to undergrounding, saying that funding isn’t there yet and that mandating underground utilities could add delays to the current timeline for widening the road.

“The undergrounding of utilities in the Richmond Highway corridor would potentially, if not likely, delay the completion of the roadway
widening and BRT projects, as additional time would need to be allocated to design, plan, and physically underground the utilities,” the county said. “The right-of-way acquisition process could also be delayed, as to allow extra time to secure, if needed, additional right-of-way and utility easements from adjacent property owners/stakeholders. Further, undergrounding of utilities, as part of the Richmond Highway
widening and/or BRT projects, would be significantly cost prohibitive.”

The county also declined request from the South County Task force to mandate 15 percent of units in the Beacon/Groveton and Hybla Valley CBCs be set aside for affordable housing since those sites would be the location of future Metro stations if the Yellow Line is extended. The county said further study will likely be done on the issue of affordable housing in the corridor as redevelopment moves forward.

“The Plan calls for 12% of new development in the CBCs to be affordable, which complies with existing county policy,” county staff wrote in response. “It is anticipated that further study will be conducted … to ensure that the policies meet the needs of the community, preserve and enhance the quality of the market affordable units and support the objective to create new affordable housing. ”

A number of public suggestions did lead to revisions of the amendment’s draft text. The proposed revisions can be viewed in this document on the county’s website.

The entire section about discouraged uses in the Embark amendment will be re-written at the suggestion of the SFDC and MVCCA. The text will now include direct references to pawn shops and alternative lending institutions, as well as guidelines for where self-storage facilities and drive-thru businesses will be accepted.

“Establishments that are not consistent with quality revitalization, including … pawn shops and alternative lending institutions are strongly discouraged,” the revised text reads. “Freestanding uses with drive-through facilities and uses that create high traffic volumes … are discouraged in the CBCs; these uses may be acceptable outside the CBCs [if they meet various requirements].”

The county said it would revise the amendment’s text in response to multiple comments requesting the Gum Springs community be included as an historic feature of the corridor. However, a request from Gum Springs resident Ron Chase to have the long-proposed — and long opposed by Gum Springs residents –realignment of Fordson Road removed from consideration was not accepted, with county staff noting the Fordson Road realignment was already in the comprehensive plan and subject to further study.