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Fairfax board to revisit plans to transform Baileys Crossroads

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010; B04

In the 1960s, a planned Metrorail extension through Baileys Crossroads inspired the development of Skyline, a collection of high-rise office and residential buildings.

But local politicians abandoned the proposed Columbia Pike line through Falls Church, and Skyline became a mini-city rising awkwardly above one-story strip malls, gas stations and restaurants.

Developer Charles E. Smith "built an entire Skyline city to match the Metro plan," said Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), whose district includes Baileys Crossroads. "The line should have been built. It was on the plan. People invested in the plan."

Four decades later, Fairfax officials want to redeem the development potential of Baileys Crossroads. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors plans to consider a blueprint for revitalizing about 530 acres near Leesburg Pike and Columbia Pike.

By 2040, most of the area could be a town center-style neighborhood with tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafes, and clusters of apartments and offices above retail stores. Baileys would have two stops along the route of a planned streetcar connecting the area to Arlington County. The densest development would be in areas near the transit stations.

"The mistake was that Metro was taken off the plan for the Baileys Skyline area, and I'm trying to make up for that," Gross said.

Baileys is one of seven commercial districts that Fairfax has targeted for redevelopment. County officials say they hope to remake the communities into walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods served by mass transit.

It's also where officials plan to concentrate growth in the county, which is home to more than 1 million people. Fairfax is projected to grow by 225,000 residents and about that many employees over the next 30 years.

"It's a fair amount of people, and that's why it's so important to put them where they can be best served by a transportation system. Clearly, the reliance on cars is not the way to go," said Barbara Byron, director of the county's Office of Community Revitalization and Reinvestment.

Most of the growth is expected to occur in Tysons Corner, which is not one of the seven revitalization areas. But the county recently approved a plan permitting the redevelopment of Tysons' 1,700 acres into an urban center.

There is 'nothing new'

Under the Baileys plan, the area could have up to 9 million square feet of mostly retail and office space and 9,000 new residential units. Today, Baileys is home to federal agencies and major employers, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, SAIC and Northrop Grumman. Skyline takes up most of the office space.

The rest of the area is mostly apartments, restaurants and big-box stores separated by empty lots and homes converted into businesses. There is "nothing new, nothing 2010 in style or function. We have a couple of banks," said Frank Sellers, a Realtor and longtime resident who is president of the Bailey's Crossroads/Seven Corner's Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit organization of residents and business owners.

Many of the establishments are ethnic restaurants and mom-and-pop stores with loyal customers. People come and go but rarely stick around.

Carol Turner, who lives about a mile east of Baileys' core, said she and her family occasionally visit a shopping center that has a Panera Bread and a Best Buy. But most of the time, "we just pass through Baileys," she said. "We'd love to see more restaurants where we wouldn't have to go to Falls Church City or up to Gallows Road."

Turner, who is co-president of her neighborhood civic association, said the area has changed very little since she moved there in 1992. "It's been pretty stagnant for years and years," she said. "We're excited about the idea, even though it's many years away, of getting some revitalization going."

The county envisions creating gathering places, such as public parks and an arts center, to turn Baileys into a destination.

"We want people to know they've arrived somewhere," Sellers said.

It could be years before the Baileys project gets started, because many of the stores and offices have long-term property leases. But Fairfax officials said that a handful of families owns the largest tracts, which could help consolidate large parcels and facilitate the transformation.

A changing county

Parts of Fairfax have already experienced that kind of change.

Plans to revitalize Merrifield began in 1998, and within a decade, it became the first county area to redevelop under an urban model. Merrifield has a residential complex above a gym, stores and restaurants on Gallows Road, with plans nearby for a town center-style development on the former site of a movie theater.

In 2006, the Board of Supervisors approved a complex with up to 720 apartments and stores on a parking lot at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station

Last year, the board approved a blueprint for the Springfield area, where it envisions a similar mixed-use town center. When the Baileys plan goes before the board next week, supervisors will also consider a long-term blueprint to allow urban-style retail development in Annandale.

"Smart growth" experts say that reinvesting in these older communities is the best way for Fairfax to prevent more paralyzing traffic and sprawl.

"That's the land that you have available," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "Your opportunities lie in the acres of parking lots we find in our commercial corridors."

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