Two developers are seeking to build separate automobile dealer parks in Northern Virginia in an effort to provide alternatives to the commercial strips of car dealerships so common in the Washington suburbs. The area's one autopark is Montgomery County Autopark on Rte. 29 in Silver Spring.
The proposed projects in Loudoun and western Fairfax counties are part of nationwide efforts by zoning officials, developers and car dealers to find affordable, attractive locations while maintaining convenience for car buyers and adding a little class to the process of purchasing an automobile. In part, autoparks have been necessitated by the high cost of land in close-in commercial zones.
"The concept of strips of commercial land being used for car dealerships is an anachronism as out of date as the horse and buggy," said Marc Bettius, a Fairfax attorney and developer who is a partner in one of the new ventures.
Pete Lukasiak, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said, "In the last 10 to 15 years, the prime locations for dealerships have also become the prime locations for other real estate developments," necessitating the search for other, less costly land.
Lukasiak said the Rte. 7 corridor near Tysons Corner is one of the best examples of an area where prices for land occupied by car dealers have skyrocketed, up to $2 million an acre last year, according to commercial brokers and reported sales figures.
Bettius and his joint venture partners -- the McLean-based Georgelas and Sons development firm and Lantzsch-Andreas Enterprises, owners of the HBL dealerships in Fairfax -- late this week asked Loudoun officials for zoning changes that would allow them to build a $65 million project of office buildings and car dealerships in a campus-like setting along Rte. 7 west of Sterling Park.
The 34-acre, L-shaped site is across from the Loudoun campus of Northern Virginia Community College and wraps around a medical building under construction. Several occupied homes on the site would be purchased and razed.
In Fairfax County, developer William L. Bryant has contracted to buy 72 acres along Rte. 50 south of Washington Dulles International Airport. Huntley, Nyce Associates, an engineering firm, has filed an application to change the Fairfax County land-use plan to permit a "unified development" of car dealers and retail spaces on the site, county records show.
The site is part of the Dulles Airport Noise Corridor. It is zoned for industrial uses, which, in Fairfax, precludes retail uses, including auto sales facilities.
William Keefe, chief of the county's comprehensive-plan branch, said that proponents of the Fairfax Auto Park would have to get the land-use plan changed to accommodate the autopark.
The application filed in Loudoun asks officials to approve the project as a variance from existing planned office park development on the 34 acres, or possibly under a new zoning category for commercial areas that is being studied by Loudoun officials, according to project architect Tom Georgelas.
Public hearing dates have not been set by either jursidiction on either proposal.
"Dealerships carry a high price tag when the costs of real estate, permits and other operations are added to franchise expenses," Lukasiak said. But he said dealerships sometimes can be grouped in novel ways, such as a San Francisco operation that houses eight dealerships at the site of an old grocery store and shopping center. It includes a book store and food operations to cater to customers waiting for service or looking at new cars.
The NADA spokesman described a Jacksonville development apparently similar to the proposed Loudoun project. Lukasiak said Cadillac, Buick and Lincoln-Mercury dealers, all of whom generally compete for the same customers, purchased a 30-acre park-like setting. The complex includes heavy landscaping between three architecturally compatible showrooms.
As proposed, the Loudoun project will include six to eight office buildings ranging from two to four or more stories high, "depending upon what Loudoun County officials want," Georgelas said. Dealerships will be in low-rise, two-story separate buildings in clusters, hidden from the nearby roadways.
"You won't be able to see the dealerships from Rte. 7. We've planned to maintain a 100-foot landscaped buffer along Rte. 7," Georgelas said.
"There will be no banners, bright lights or loudspeakers," Bettius said.