Centennial Development Corp. this week asked Fairfax County to approve a $48 million, 51-acre office and hotel complex on South Van Dorn Street near the Capital Beltway.
The site is immediately south of Alexandria but completely within Fairfax County, according to Alan Fink, Centennial's project development manager.
After more than a year of meeting with area residents and county officials, Centennial cut the size of the project almost in half and has promised major road improvements to relieve traffic congestion on South Van Dorn Street.
To be known as Van Dorn Business Park, the complex will include seven buildings. Fink said plans call for a six-story, 150 room limited-service suite-style hotel and a six-story office building facing South Van Dorn. Also included are three four-story office buildings and two five-story office buildings.
"These will provide many options for high-technology tenants. We think the market is there for high-tech tenants who want a Beltway location," Fink said.
The 51.5 acres includes property owned by 21 individuals and is now under contract to Centennial. It is considered a major land consolidation by county officials. Fink said he hopes to get quick action from the county because negotiations with adjacent landowners and the county staff to work out development details already have generated delays that have put pressure on those who have agreed to sell. Loss of a key parcel could create major problems, Fink said.
The site, in the southwest corner of the Beltway and South Van Dorn, is convenient to a future Van Dorn Metro station. It is considered a prime property by commercial real estate brokers because it is one of the few large undeveloped tracts near a Beltway exit.
"What we have been trying to get is a first-class development there for many years," said Fairfax Supervisor Joseph Alexander. The site is in his district.
Centennial officials and Alexander agreed that the area faces major traffic problems and that the site has environmental problems.
"Residential growth along South Van Dorn has come faster than we expected. Centennial has made a major effort by agreeing to do a good many traffic improvements," Alexander said.
According to Fink, the Beltway interchange and traffic along South Van Dorn have produced "a gridlock." Gridlock is rapidly becoming a common description for traffic congestion all over Fairfax.
Centennial is offering to widen a 1.5 mile stretch of South Van Dorn from Crown Royal Drive to an existing Comfort Inn hotel at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.
That amount is quickly reaching the $2 million Centennial originally offered to put into major improvements to the Beltway interchange during preliminary discussions with residents and the county about the proposed project. Centennial originally wanted to build 1 million square feet of space. The plan submitted this week is an amended version of that old plan and calls for approximately 560,900 square feet.
"The reduced size of the project resulted from negotiations with the Lee District Land Use Committee and residents of nearby neighborhoods," Fink said. "Last fall this was a controversial project. We spent most of last fall working with a higher density project. We were offering $2 million in off-site at-grade improvements to the Beltway interchange. That would have been a global improvement for the area," Fink said.
But Fink is not unhappy with the compromise proposal, which asks Fairfax to rezone the site from residential to industrial/office use.
He said the project will include a hotel and office space designed to attract high-technology companies. He predicted some tenants will be spillover companies now operating in Alexandria that want to expand but can't find the space there to do so. Those potential tenants can keep their main office in Alexandria and expand to the South Van Dorn site, Fink said. He said he thinks the site eventually also will attract tenants from the Rosslyn and Crystal City areas.
Centennial officials and county staff members said the site is hard to work with.
"It is a tough site, but we have chosen tough sites all over Fairfax to work with," Fink said. Centennial plans to build a six-acre wooded park to help preserve existing steep slopes and a stream valley. In addition, plans call for a 100-foot-wide wooded buffer between the commercial development and an adjacent residential area.