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Inside Fairfax County's Plan To Spur Over 15M SF Of Development On Richmond Highway

Fairfax County last month passed a new transportation and land-use plan for Richmond Highway that envisions at least 15M SF of new development along the 7.5-mile stretch of Route 1, and developers are already gearing up to build new projects on the corridor. 

A rendering of Fairfax County's plan for the Penn Daw Community Business Center, part of the Embark Richmond Highway land-use plan

The Embark Richmond Highway plan calls for widening a stretch of the road, improving pedestrian and bicycle access, building a new bus rapid transit system and eventually adding two new Metro stops to extend the Yellow Line. These new transportation modes would create hubs for development around what the county calls "Community Business Centers."

Some of those transit-oriented centers already have development plans in the works, while others have large, low-rise shopping centers with expansive parking lots owned by developers who see potential for adding density in the future. 

The corridor begins at the Huntington Metro station, the current terminus of the Yellow Line, where multiple developments are already in the works. IDI Group plans to break ground next year on a mixed-use development on the 19-acre site of the Huntington Club Condominiums. The project will replace 364 garden-style condos with over 1,500 multifamily units, 446K SF of office space, a 119K SF hotel and 17K SF of retail. Also at the Huntington station, Washington REIT plans to add over 500 new units to the 1,222-unit Riverside apartment complex it acquired in 2016. 

From Huntington, the plan calls for building a bus rapid transit system with its first stop at the intersection of North Kings Highway and Richmond Highway. Around that BRT station, the Penn Daw community business center would have buildings rising up to 15 stories with 2,910 housing units and 915K SF of nonresidential development. 

A rendering of Combined Properties' Aldi-anchored South Alex development

Three developments are already in the planning stages around the Penn Daw BRT stop. Combined Properties recently landed Aldi as an anchor for its South Alex mixed-use project, which will bring 400 apartments, 41 townhouses and 44K SF of retail to the site of the former Penn Daw Plaza shopping center. Combined is working to secure financing and aims to break ground by Oct. 1.

Combined Development Director Justin Johnson, who is spearheading the South Alex project, said the corridor's growth plan and new transit options played a role in Aldi's decision to come to Richmond Highway. 

"Aldi saw three things they liked: the demographics, a well-designed mixed-use project and the growth around the neighborhood," Johnson said. "They saw it as a submarket that's in the beginning of becoming stronger, and BRT absolutely added to that." 

Across from the South Alex project, Cafritz Interests subsidiary Novus plans to build 340 units on a 5-acre site with a Wendy's and other one-story businesses. It received county approval in July but has not announced a construction timeline. 

Also at the North Kings Highway-Richmond Highway intersection, the owners of the low-rise Adler Shopping Center formed a partnership in 2012 with Capital Investment Advisors to build 275 multifamily units with 25K SF of retail. The project received county approval in June 2013 but has been postponed indefinitely. 

The Beacon Center shopping plaza, owned by B.F. Saul, on Richmond Highway

The next development hub, dubbed Beacon/Groveton, would be the corridor's densest urban center. The plan envisions a future Metro station and a BRT stop at the intersection of Richmond Highway and Beacon Hill Road. The surrounding area would feature 4,200 housing units and 3.1M SF of nonresidential development if the Metro station is built, with that number shrinking to 1.3M SF without a Metro station. 

Local stakeholders see the opening of a new Metro station as a long-term goal, though they realize the challenges in building the expansion. The construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station, which is an infill stop rather than a line expansion, has experienced multiple delays and had its budget increase by tens of millions of dollars. 

"It will be many years in the future," said Southeast Fairfax Development Corp. Executive Director Edythe Kelleher, who was closely involved in the crafting of the Embark Richmond Highway plan. "Metro has to resolve its core capacity issues before any expansions. But hopefully the bus-rapid transit will be built within the next 10 years." 

Today, much of the land around the Beacon/Groveton hub is occupied by Beacon Center, a 32-acre suburban-style shopping center. The plaza is anchored by Lowe's Home Improvement, Giant Food, Marshalls and Home Goods. The property is owned by Saul Centers-affiliate B.F. Saul, which has major mixed-use projects underway in Twinbrook and Ballston

The Embark Richmond Highway plan envisions 22-story buildings on the edge of the Beacon Center property fronting the street, with additional 16- and 14-story buildings behind that.

B.F. Saul's acquisitions head, Carlos Heard, sits on SFDC's board and was involved with the planning process. He could not be reached for comment, but Kelleher said B.F. Saul is on board for adding density to its site, although existing leases with tenants could make it a lengthy process. 

"They're absolutely interested in redeveloping," Kelleher said. 

A map of the Embark Richmond Highway plan

A similar suburban-style shopping center owned by another well-known mixed-use developer sits at the center of the next development hub, Hybla Valley/Gum Springs. This community business center would be centered around the final Yellow Line stop if the system is extended and would have three BRT stations.  

The plan calls for 3,400 dwelling units and 3.3M SF of nonresidential development if a Metro station is built, with that number reduced to 2.4M SF without Metro. It envisions eight- and nine-story buildings at the center of this hub on a site currently occupied by the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center. 

Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developer behind Bethesda Row and Pike & Rose, owns Mount Vernon Plaza, a low-rise shopping center anchored by Home Depot, Shoppers, Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels and PetSmart. Federal Realty Director of Asset Management Kari Glinski said the developer has no immediate redevelopment plans, but sees opportunity down the road once new transit options are added. 

"Getting infrastructure in place is an important step to enable more density in the future and to provide the ground work for a mixed-use development to be successful," Glinski said. 

The corridor's planned density decreases further down the corridor with the final development hub, Woodlawn, slated for buildings up to six stories. That planned BRT stop also sits next to a low-rise retail plaza, the Woodlawn Shopping Center. The property, anchored by a Dollar General and 2nd Ave Value Store, is owned by Woodmont Properties. The Bethesda-based firm owns several retail centers across the region. 

The BRT system would extend to Fort Belvoir, an army base with over 40,000 employees. The Base Realignment and Closure Act brought an influx of service members to Fort Belvoir, sparking new development around the outpost. Johnson, whose South Alex project sits about 8 miles up Richmond Highway from Fort Belvoir, sees the transit connection to the base as a critical investment. 

"This is, in my mind, one of the more important transit infrastructure projects in Northern Virginia, Maryland or D.C., because of the connections between Fort Belvoir, with the folks who have been relocated there after BRAC, and the population centers connecting back up the Beltway," Johnson said. "It's an opportune route to create this type of development, and the transportation piece is absolutely needed."