County planners are continuing to retool Innovation@Prince William, the struggling county office park that has not become the hub of high-tech companies that local leaders envisioned. They are pushing to include housing at the development to give George Mason University students a choice of living near the Prince William campus.
Students and faculty members at George Mason and employees of the companies at Innovation are somewhat isolated on the 1,500-acre, triangle-shaped site bounded by Route 28 and Wellington and Hornbaker roads. They would like to have amenities such as restaurants and retail stores to enjoy during a lunch hour or right after work, said Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large), chairman of the Board of County Supervisors.
"What we'd love to see out there is a town center," Connaughton said.
A town center could include restaurants and shops, and a residential component marketed to George Mason students could help fill those restaurants and shops at night and on the weekends, when office parks become ghost towns, he said.
During business hours, the town center would be used by office workers, Connaughton said.
The university has 4,063 beds on its Fairfax County campus but has no dormitories or other housing at the Prince William and Arlington campuses, said Daniel Walsch, a university spokesman.
Overall university enrollment is about 29,000, and the Prince William campus has grown significantly in recent years, he said. More than 2,000 students were enrolled at the campus last year, a jump from about 1,400 in 2003 and a little more than 900 in 2002.
Lawrence D. Czarda, the George Mason vice president who runs the Prince William campus, said the rising enrollment will make housing on or near campus a necessity. "We're really going to see a demonstrated need for housing in three years," he said.
The university has 700 housing units incorporated into its master plan for the campus, Czarda said. But housing in a town center would be just what the university needs, he said.
"We think there's some synergy there that can be really exciting," he said.
Planning is too preliminary for anyone to be able to say whether the university would develop the housing or lease it from a developer, Czarda said.
Retail stores and restaurants could be tailored to attract students, said John Schofield, marketing and research director for the county's economic development department. "A bookstore and food service are some things that would be part of a student union," he said.
In May, the General Services Administration announced that it would buy 15 acres at Innovation for an FBI facility that would employ more than 300 people by 2007. Eli Lilly and Co., the pharmaceutical corporation, has scaled back plans for an insulin plant but is still on track to be fully operational at the business park by 2009 with 350 workers.
Innovation already features the popular Freedom Aquatics and Fitness Center, a joint venture between the county, the city of Manassas and George Mason, and the two jurisdictions and the university are planning to build a $56 million performing arts center there.
To prepare for future housing, the Board of County Supervisors would need to approve changes to a master plan for the office park that would move housing already designated for Hornbaker Road to the center of Innovation, Schofield said.
The master plan calls for 400 units, and the zoning changes would allow 16 units per acre.
The changes, which also include increasing density for office buildings, must first be approved by the planning commission, where a vote on the amendments is expected Wednesday.
Supervisor W.S. Wally Covington (R-Brentsville) said he is concerned that approving housing would not be in keeping with the county's goal of creating a first-rate business park.
"Staff has assured me that we're just shifting the housing, but it opens the door for more housing," Covington said.
Despite his reservations, he will support the changes so that Innovation can continue to draw tenants, Covington said.