Fairfax County has more than 18 million square feet of vacant office space, with little hope of filling it in the foreseeable future. Having already enacted zoning changes to make it easier to convert empty buildings in industrial and mixed-use areas to other uses, the county now is considering a proposal to do the same for buildings in suburban neighborhoods. Summarizes a county description of the proposed change:
This could give these offices new life as apartments, schools, co-working spaces, maker spaces or food incubators. As an example, a former, five-story brick office building across from the Seven Corners Shopping Center was converted into Bailey’s Upper Elementary, the county’s first “high rise” school. …
More recently, the board approved the conversion of a 10-story office building at 5600 Columbia Pike into flexible live-work units. The building stood empty for about four years, and it will put the 173,000- square foot building back into use in an innovative way that meets market demands.
The county’s Office Building Repositioning and Repurposing Work Group is particularly enamored with the potential for converting office space into “e-lofts” — highly flexible spaces within a building that can be used as apartments or small offices.
Bacon’s bottom line: Rigid, obsolete zoning codes across the state are hindering the ability of the real estate sector to adapt to changing market conditions. Zoning codes arising from the post-World War II era of rapid suburbanization are hopelessly antiquated and self-defeating today. Aging office and industrial parks are emptying out. Unless we want them to resemble the ghost malls of the retail sector, we must give property owners the flexibility to re-purpose their assets in line with market demand.
The Fairfax initiatives represent a positive step forward. If people want to convert an old office or industrial building into apartment housing, why not let them? E-lofts sound like an especially promising idea. A similar evolution is taking place in Scotts Addition in Richmond. That light-industrial district is rapidly transitioning to mixed offices, restaurants, and apartment buildings. People are perfectly happy to live in the neighborhood despite the continued presence of light-manufacturing activity.
The only problem with the Fairfax proposal is that it doesn’t go far enough. The county should encourage the wholesale recycling of antiquated office properties by permitting greater densities and the construction of new buildings, not just the re-purposing of individual buildings. Zoning codes slow the process of adaptation to a snail’s pace. Time to open up the process and turn loose the animal spirits!There are currently no comments highlighted.