A mixed-use development with 900 apartments where the Belle View Shopping Center now stands. Low- and mid-rise apartments and a grid of streets where the Beacon Hill Apartments are. New apartments and townhouses at the corner of Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane.
Those are just a few of the ideas included in the nominations accepted by Fairfax County as part of the South County Site-Specific Plan Amendment process.
The South County Site-Specific Plan Amendment Process — or South County SSPA — allows anyone to submit potential changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, which is what guides land use decisions and planning in the county. The nomination period for the South County SSPA ran between last October and December, and now the process is in the early stages of determining which, if any, of the proposed changes make it into the comprehensive plan.
The nominations, posted on the county’s website in January, caught some residents off guard — particularly the images depicting a redeveloped Belle View Shopping Center. That proposal was shared with residents of the Belle View area earlier this month, leading to vigorous discussions online and some calls to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck’s office.
Storck responded with a letter to the community assuring them that the comprehensive plan amendment process was still in its early stages, and that no decisions had been made yet. He also said the community would be involved in the discussion, saying that “citizen input and transparency are key to the process.”
“I appreciate hearing from many of you over the last few days and I encourage you to become familiar with the SSPA process, as this review process has just started,” Storck wrote. “There will be several opportunities for citizen engagement and public hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, and I will be listening to the community task force recommendations and your input over the next several months.”
Storck and Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk have created task forces to review the nominations made for properties in their respective districts. Community meetings on the applications are expected to be held in March and April, according to the Fairfax County Department of Land Use and Development.
At the earliest, none of the comprehensive plan changes would be approved until June 2021, according to a guide on the county’s website. And that approval would not green light the specific projects outlined for any site — those would still need to go through the rezoning process, as well as the funding and planning hurdles typical for large projects.
Some nominations contain more details and images than others, but they all provide an idea what individual land owners and developers envision for the various sites. Here’s a look at a handful of the most ambitious South County SSPA applications for properties in the Richmond Highway area:
Beacon Hill Apartments
With 727 units, the Beacon Hill Apartments are the second-largest apartment complex in the Richmond Highway Corridor (first are the Mount Vernon Square Apartments). They were built in 1966 and 1973 and, as of 2019, were considered affordable primarily for persons or families earning between 60-70 percent of the area median income (AMI).
The Beacon Hill Apartments are also situated just outside of the Groveton Community Business Center (CBC), which is zoned to allow for mid- and high-rise development, per Embark Richmond Highway. Eventually — probably a long time from now — the Beacon Center will be history, making way for new mixed-use buildings and a grid of streets.
The owner of the Beacon Hill Apartments has nominated the property through the South County SSPA proceess to be reclassified as part of the CBC. That would allow for the complex to be replaced by approximately 2,700 low- and mid-rise apartments.
The CBC will have its own bus rapid transit (BRT) station, and possibly its own Metro station if the Yellow Line is extended. The owners of the Beacon Hill Apartments say that as these changes come to Groveton, a new development makes more sense than the current sprawling garden apartment complex.
“Given the Property’s adjacency to the Beacon/Groveton CBC and proximity to the potential BRT station at Richmond Highway (less than a quarter mile at its closest boundary), we request that the Property be incorporated into the CBC,” the nomination states. “Incorporating the Property into the CBC will allow for future redevelopment consistent with the mid- and high-rise development planned immediately east of the Property.”
The proposed apartment buildings would vary from seven stories to three stories, with the tallest buildings on blocks closest to the future BRT station. The nomination also sees the development being built in phases in order to “not outpace” the coming BRT and Metro options that would support it.
Replacing the Beacon Hill Apartments would also enhance the connectivity of the area, with a street grid envisioned as part of the Groveton CBC.
“Redevelopment of the Property will allow for the logical extension of the planned street grid all the way from Richmond Highway to South Kings Highway. This will provide better connectivity to the future BRT station and potential Metrorail station,” the nomination says.
Belle View Shopping Center
One-floor strip shopping centers with large surface parking lots are relics of the past, a South County SSPA nomination to redevelop the Belle View Shopping Center argues. A new mixed-use development featuring approximately 900 apartments on top of modern retail spaces, as well as a small townhouse development, are a more practical use for the property in the future, according to the nomination.
The Belle View nomination outlines the threats to traditional shopping centers, including the changing retail environment and the evolving demands of consumers.
“[T]he Shopping Center ls facing a fundamental challenge in that the nature of retail has significantly evolved over the last decade in response to technological changes such as online retailing, ridesharing, co-working, etc.,” the nomination says. “This critical change has caused a challenge to many suburban traditional shopping centers as they seek to transform themselves from auto-oriented, single-use shopping centers into vibrant mixed-use neighborhood centers with an atmosphere of experienced-based activities, dining, services, and even co-working services all within walking of residences and amenities.”
The Belle View nomination is probably the most detailed of any submitted as part of the South County SSPA, and it includes three potential designs for the property.
The nomination letter also acknowledges the special place the shopping center has been for the community since it opened in 1959, and says the best way to keep it that way is to allow for a more modern redevelopment.
“In effect, this Shopping Center has been the community gathering place since its construction,” the application states. “Simply put, the goal is to ensure the Shopping Center remains the ‘living room’ for the community for decades to come.”
Gum Springs development
A nomination that calls for rezoning a pair of commercial properties and allowing more density for 10 single-family parcels in Gum Springs did not include any renderings, and looks to be a long-shot at this point.
The nomination envisions approximately 190 new residential units, primarily in a low-rise apartment building, along with 30 townhouses and five new single-family homes. The properties would be at the corner of Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane.
“The increased density of the nominated area is consistent with the surrounding area and improves opportunities for affordable housing,” the nomination states.
The New Gum Springs Civic Association heard a proposal from the nominator in December, and at a follow-up in January. Afterward the NGSCA passed a resolution opposing the nomination, according to a resolution on the group’s website.
The NGSCA objected to the increase in density, among other things.
“[G]rowth is expected with a certain level of density,” the civic association says in its resolution. “[H]owever, the density level proposed for [in this nomination] is strongly opposed by Gum Springs.”
Trailer park replacement
Like the Beacon Hill Apartments nomination, this nomination for the Engleside Trailer Park and Ray’s Mobile Homes property on Richmond Highway has potential implications on affordable housing along the corridor.
The proposed changes would substantially increase density on the properties to potentially allow for 240 low-rise apartment units, 224 mid-rise apartment units and 120 townhomes. Currently the two trailer lots have 120 units on them, according to the county’s website.
The nominator, a developer named Joe Francone, says a higher density development on the properties could help the county better achieve goals related to affordable housing and revitalization of Richmond Highway.
“Most significantly [the nomination] addresses the County’s major policy objective with respect to affordability,” Francone said. “The nomination also addresses an emerging community concern to revitalize deteriorated areas within the Richmond Highway corridor and provides an initiative towards meeting the county wide goal to provide incentives for public and private investments within revitalization designated areas.”
Some of the nominations call for relatively small changes, including one that proposes that Verizon be allowed to subdivide a property they own on Popkins Lane in the Groveton area.
The 5.57 acre property is home to a switching station, and Verizon would like to sell off 4.2 acres they don’t need. That property could be rezoned as residential and used for up to 33 townhouses, the application states.
“The Nominator believes this part of Fairfax County would benefit from having a variety of housing types that will serve a greater number of residents,” the nomination states. “It will also serve to provide much needed housing stock and price appropriate housing for the area.”
Another nomination essentially calls for a strip of older single-family homes along Mount Vernon Highway to be replaced by a mix of townhouses and smaller-lot single family homes.
“The intent of this nomination is to propose a density which will encourage smaller homes on lots with less square footage which will provide more affordable units and attract a move down population as well as first time homebuyers,” the nomination states. “This type of development will meet the need for diversified housing, particularly as the work base demographic shifts into the Richmond Highway Corridor from Amazon to the north and Fort Belvoir expansion to the south.”