Lots of Room for Growth Left in Fairfax County

Fairfax County’s population zoomed past one million residents a couple of years ago, but there’s still plenty of room in the county for more through re-development of underutilized land. Citizens were treated to a new vision for the Merrifield section of the county near the Capital Beltway in an area that, until not long ago, sported little more than a nursery, a Taco Bell, a post office, a movie theatre and a 1950s-style diner.

New construction is picking up in the area, reports Nicholas Benton with the Falls Church News-Press, and a plan due for consideration by the Fairfax County Planning Commission this fall would allow up to 22,000 new residents and 22 million square feet of commercial space. Plans call for a new town center and the realignment of two roads that would create a new main street linking the center to the Dunn Loring Metro station.

Writes Benton: “Gallows Road to the east is being envisioned as a ‘grand boulevard’ widened on all sides with large medians in the middle aimed at becoming “pedestrian refuges.”

I’m hesitant to comment upon the merits of such a grandiose plan in a location that I’m unfamiliar with, but several aspects of the idea augur well. The plan places density where it ought to go: close to the center of the Washington New Urban Region, not on the periphery, and in a location that is served by two Interstate highways, a Metro station athwart Interstate 66 and other existing infrastructure.

Best of all, no overt opposition surfaced at the public hearing, attended by 250 residents, where the plan was presented. Explained Providence District Supervisor Lynda Smith: “There is no groundswell of citizen opposition to this because there’s been a lot of input in the process since 1998 to update the comp plan and move forward.”

(Map courtesy of Google Maps; blue dot shows intersection of Lee Highway and Gallows Road, red dot the location of the Dunn Loring Metro station.)

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16 responses to “Lots of Room for Growth Left in Fairfax County”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s something .. interesting.

    Fire up GOOGLE Maps and then key in Merrifield, Fairfax, Virginia and click on HYBRID.. then look down just below Rt 50 at the parcel of land with 650 to the left and 495 to the right.. a significant amount of treed land with a large complex in the middle entitlted Mobil Oil.

    It looks .. eh.. 5-10 times bigger in area than the Merrifield site.

    Does that mean.. it could be developed into homes for between a 100 thousand and 200 thousand folks?

    Also… Census Quick facts thinks Fairfax grew by about 37K people between 2000 and 2005 – .. 8K or so a year?

    Is this right? How many new jobs in Fairfax in that same 5 years?

  2. The Moble Oil site has a rather large office building and parking garage in the middle of it and hugs the Beltway…not great for housing.

    The Dunn Loring Metro station is actually at the red dot, not the blue dot on your map..it stradles Rt 66 at Gallows Road.

    I live just inside the Beltway off Gallows so know the area well. Construction is already underway on some low-rise residential and commercial space near the diner. A very large Asian market has joined the businesses in the Gold’s Gym shopping center next to Jackson Jr High School. Locals are looking forward to more improvements to a very busy neighborhood…though will miss the Giant when it is closed and replaced by a larger one done the road at Loehman’s Plaza.

    PS: You might recall this is also the neighborhood that successfully fought and defeated the attempt to move the Fairfax City homeless center (connected with Turo Church) here last year. So the community is alive and involved.

    Personally, I can’t wait for the new movie theatre which will replace the very old one near the Merrifield Post Office.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Looking at the Labor Study cited by WaPo back in January…

    looks like Fairfax adds, on average about 7000 new jobs a year.

    Awesome number!

    Another way to look at this.. is whether or not those 7000 new employees can find a place to live in Fairfax .. and ride transit, or bike/walk or have a relatively short Fairfax-to-Fairfax commute

    … or do they move 50 miles away to live in places like Spotsylvania/Culpeper?

    Moving outside of Fairfax.. means adding 7000 new auto trips a year… and over a decade.. that’s a lot of vehicles and most all of them added to rush hour…to boot…
    (remember 1200 vehicles per lane per hour is the theoretically max).

    It’s not this simple, of course, but it does provide some scope/scale to the quandry of getting new jobs.. and then trying to figure out what to do with those who cannot live close to those jobs.

    And I guess I’ll be a stinker.. and ask how.. Alexandria handles this issue… any better?

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Interesting fact, census data shows that, from 2000 to 2006, internal migration to/from Fairfax County was negative 91,350, even as the county gained 40,694. International migration and births accounted for the gain.

    With a negative number that large (bigger than Baltimore City; Washington, D.C.; and Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties combined), not everyone must be happy with the county’s direction.

    I would love to know more about the demographics of both those leaving and coming. While a significant number of the foreign immigrants are probably engineers, technicians, etc., I suspect that many new arrivals are very low skilled.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Going along with that

    There are some issues with trying to sell all the spaces in the condo towers

    Additionally the condo towers are almost a mile from the metro station and to get there you have to cross the busy intersection of Gallows and 29 so most people will use cars.

    With that being said the town center idea is a good one. I just wish the metro was further south so more people could use it.

    Gallows road is pretty busy during the rush so fixing the intersection with 29 will be very helpful. If the planners were smarter they would consider making an over under interchange there

    Making Gallows into a boulevard will improve astectics but do nothing for the additional traffic.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    ok this is so geeky but cool at the same time

    go to google click on maps and in the search part type this in quotes

    “bacons rebellion merrifield map”

    enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Gallows Road and 29 has been a place to avoid as long as I can remember. Nothing in this plan is likely to improve traffic in that area. As it is now, traffic back sup into Merrifield all the way from Tyson’s.

    Do we really need to put more stuff there?

    But, let’s back up. For a long time Merrifield has been a semi-industrial area, with commercial supply houses like Graingers, plumbing and heating specialty warehouses, duct work fabricators, diesel injector repair shops, rental equipment, welders, machine shops, refrigeration shops, body shops, etc. etc.

    In short, it was a place you could get all that stuff you can’t find in the trendy downtown neighborhoods. All those million people are going to need that stuff someday, and if you redevelop the area those shops will move someplace else. So the question is how far will people have to drive to avail themselves of all those resources, not to mention jobs.

    The ugly thing about balance is that all these things and places are needed by somebody, so where are you going to put them?

    I don’t know about the demographics in general but I do know one data point – myself. I have left high paying job assignments in the Fairfax and DC area three times, and three times I got higher paying assignments farther from the center.

    If it works for me, I assume it works for others, which may account for the high exodus. If you are lucky, “Moving outside of Fairfax.. means … ” you never have to go there again which results in zero new trips: at least in Fairfax.

    Anyway, those trips aren’t really new. Don’t houses generate ten trips a day no matter where they are located? And if I’m not mistaken, it is 2300 per hour, not 1200. It isn’t a question of where the houses are that causes congestion, it is a question of where the jobs are.

    Here is how bad it is in Fairfax. I was almost an hour late for a meeting because of a traffic jam. I was mortified, because I thought I had left plenty of time. My client shrugged and said, no problem: it happens.

    If anything, having the houses far away reduces congestion because people tend to straggle in, depending on contingencies along the way. Whereas if they all live and work in one area they will do as I did when I lived close to the office: sleep until ten minutes to eight, leave home at 8:25, and get to work five minutes late. In that case everyone is moving in the same place all at once: congestion.

    And I don’t know how all those people are going to get on the trains, even if they use Metro. Metro is SRO full at rush hour, so no relief there, either.

    The movie theater and a number of other business in Merrifield were pretty shabby, and increasingly so in recent years, there won’t be any harm in seeing them go.

    But the hospital is the major horror show. That monstrosity has been under construction and addition ever since I can remember, and it looks as if it was designed by itinerant homelss architects. It is ugly beyond belief, has no where near enough parking, and it attracts swarms of helicopters.

    Yes, Merrifield needs refurbishing, but it doesn’t necessarily need more of anything. The story of the Giant reflects what is likely to happen: more people driveing to a single large attractor, and creating larrger traffic jams in the area.

    And all those people moving out, why do you suppose that is? Couldn’t be the price of housing or the traffic, so it must be the taxes.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: trips per day

    yup.. single family detached homes in areas without transit – generate 10 trips a day.

    A non-stop trip to work .. by the way is 2 trips – one in each direction.

    But recognize that different kinds of housing generate different numbers of trips. For instance, townhouses, condos, apartments don’t generate as many auto trips as SFDs do.

    ALSO.. ANY land-use GENERATES auto trips and there is a Manual that details them.

    So… the number exists for Home Depots, Hospitals, mortuaries, you name it.

    AND the numbers CAN be validated with existing uses.

    Take any arbitrary land parcel – calculate the theoretical trips per day for each specific use..

    get a grand total… then do traffic counts on the streets that contain the land parcel.

    The problem is .. that planners – as far as I can tell.. do more seat-of-the pants analyses of prospective projects.. rather than taking a hard look at the existing traffic … and adding in the traffic that will result from the new project… and basically understanding what is going to happen to the surrounding transportation network.

    They DO do this with something like a new Stadium… because they must or else mayhem would result on game day

    …but where things go a little sideways.. is with continuing development .. one project over time.. that adds cumulatively to the network…

    I note where I live.. only very recently do they actually consider the CUMULATIVE impacts of multiple ongoing projects… which.. if you think about it… if you didn’t do this.. you get what?

    well.. you essentially allow more development than there is available road capacity…

    does this sound like a chronic problem that we have?


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    That’s the exact argument used by people in Vienna who were against Metro West

    It’s also the argument that shows the Silver Line will do more harm than good

    The bottom line people have to live somewhere so putting people close to transit seems like the best option


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    … and people are not wrong…

    experience proves over and over that traffic generation associated with proposed projection is almost always much higher than initially claimed.

    In fact, a good job for JAB would be to go out and find a project that actually did perform as advertised… traffic-wise.

    but as noted on this project – and intriquing to me – no major opposition… even with 250 folks showing up at the hearing…

    .. that tells me depending on the circumstances, the public can and will support well-conceived and well-explained projects.

    .. I note down here in Spotsy – that a developer did exactly that – and got public support – but the elected officials were so afraid of the traffic impact potential – the difference between what was claimed and what might actually pan out – that they voted it down.

    And that, in turn, left many folks wondering… exactly how high the “smart growth” bar actually had to be – to gain approval.

  11. Freudian Slip Avatar
    Freudian Slip

    The last thing we need is further congestion!

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “But recognize that different kinds of housing generate different numbers of trips. For instance, townhouses, condos, apartments don’t generate as many auto trips as SFDs do.”

    And also recognize that this may have nothing whatsoever to do with the type of housing, but a lot to do with the fact that people who can afford SFH can also afford cars, and they can afford to use them.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “ALSO.. ANY land-use GENERATES auto trips and there is a Manual that details them.”

    Yes there is a manual that details them, and the manual is subject to considerable criticism concerning its accuracy.

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “The bottom line people have to live somewhere so putting people close to transit seems like the best option…”

    That is only true if transit takes them where they need and want to go.

    Given that transit has so few destinations available, that isn’t a very good bet.

    This is one reason that transit trips do not eliminate auto trips on a one to one basis. It turns out that it takes two transit trips to eliminate one rail trip, according to one well documented study. Therefore, even if rail is twice as efficient and half as expensive as autos (which it isn’t), then it is still a break even deal with respect to true social cost.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Therefore, even if rail is twice as efficient and half as expensive as autos (which it isn’t), then it is still a break even deal with respect to true social cost.”

    even if it costs more than 100 million a mile for new auto lanes and they’d only be allowed by EPA if those lanes were HOV/HOT lanes?

    We keep comparing rail to transit like both were being built on undeveloped land.. without air pollution issues…

    when will we actually compare the options .. per the realities?

    yup .. it’s totally true .. transit in Podunk, Miss with a population of 15K will.. without question be a huge financial catasrophe….

    but in Wash DC and NoVa?

    apples, oranges, etc?

    Let’s visit the National Geographic in downtown DC… at 6 p.m. …. wanna drive there?

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