Dunn Loring Development Would Blend Uses by Metro

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fairfax County's newest effort to concentrate development around public transit would transform a 15-acre parking lot at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station into 720 apartments and a parking garage stacked over stores.

If the county board endorses the project this fall, it would follow the massive development of homes, offices and stores the supervisors approved this year at the Vienna Metro station. That project, called MetroWest, initiated a three-year battle among civic activists, business leaders and politicians over how Fairfax should grow now that most of its land is used up and its population keeps growing.

The developer of the Dunn Loring project, Trammell Crow Residential, hopes to create a community of walkers, shoppers and train riders in three towers, one reaching 13 stories and the others six stories, set around trees, trails and a plaza. Some residents would walk to jobs in office buildings across the street from the Metro station, which is on the Orange Line in central Fairfax, just south of Interstate 66.

"It's going to be very animated, very lively," said Ashvani Chuchra, senior managing director of the Rockville-based division of Trammell Crow. The Dunn Loring project is scheduled to go before the county Planning Commission in November.

Although thousands of parking spaces would be built aboveground and below, the county has told the developer to provide incentives to residents to leave their cars at home -- a strategy that neighboring civic groups have greeted with skepticism.

A transformed Metro station would help reshape a business district with a prime location near four highways but one that has a reputation as a hodgepodge of storage companies, car washes and auto body shops. Residents, political leaders and planners are working hard to change that image, starting with a sweeping new blueprint for more upscale development in Merrifield that the supervisors approved five years ago. It calls for a mix of retail, residences and offices at the station.

Big changes are in progress, including a new Marriott hotel, apartment tower and condominium units across from the station on Prosperity Avenue and the Town Center under construction on Gallows Road, south of Lee Highway. Hundreds more new apartments, condominium units and townhouses line Gallows and surrounding streets. And the second phase of the Merrifield Town Center, a mixed-use development and new multiplex cinema, also is scheduled to go before county officials this fall.

"The idea is to make it a much more functional, diverse and multipurpose place," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who represented Merrifield when he was the Providence District supervisor. "In 10 years, the Metro will be a thriving retail center."

Fairfax leaders have opened the door to urban-style living at most of the county's five Metro stations, although the softening housing market could delay that development. High-rise apartments and an office building approved at the Huntington station are on hold, although a small number of townhouses recently went up, and other condominiums are planned. At Franconia-Springfield, four office buildings next to the station have been approved to join condominiums and a hotel. The neighborhoods near the West Falls Church Metro station have added townhouses, although the area is dominated by single-family homes.

At Dunn Loring, Trammell Crow bought eight of the 15 acres owned by Metro from the transit agency. The station parking lot, now with 1,320 spaces and a Kiss and Ride area, would become a six-story parking garage on the I-66 side, with 1,855 spaces and stores on the bottom. About 1,150 additional underground parking spaces would be built beneath the apartments.

Trammell Crow officials said the softening condominium market will be likely to prompt them to build apartments instead, a mix of studios, efficiencies and one- and two-bedroom units. Monthly rents would range from $1,500 to $2,200, Chuchra said.

This is good news to officials concerned that the county's stock of housing is weighted too heavily toward luxury properties.

"The market changing is helpful for us," said Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who represents Merrifield. "They're looking at smaller units. They've realized the market isn't going to be at the million-dollar condo level."

Neighboring civic groups praise the project but question whether, as planned, it includes enough space for stores, which are viewed as a catalyst to encourage walking. Trammell Crow is proposing as much as 100,000 square feet of retail space, which would be occupied by restaurants, coffee shops and other neighborhood stores.

"There has been insufficient retail in that area," said Mike Cavin, a board member of the Dunn Loring Gardens Civic Association. "The Town Center is a mile away, and the condos that have been built are 99 percent residential."

Neighbors also question the assumption that the project will subtract rather than add traffic to an area in perpetual gridlock and desperate for more lanes to carry the 32,500 cars that travel Gallows Road between I-66 and Lee Highway every day. Trammell Crow pledged to reduce rush-hour trips by 40 percent, but county officials are pushing for 50 percent, Smyth said.

"We're saying, 'We think you can do better.' We're talking about [a project] that's right at the Metro station," she said.

But others point out that not all those who move in will be able to take the train to work, although they might like the location.

"A lot of people do take the Metro, but a lot of them work in Tysons Corner or near Dulles [International Airport]," said Denise Rodgers, who serves on the board of Dunn Loring Village, a townhouse complex southwest of the station.

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