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The future may be unpredictable, but it can be planned | Community Spirit

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The future may be unpredictable, but it can be planned

By Dan McKinnon, chair, Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee

Last month the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved a Comprehensive Plan amendment for downtown Annandale, or what is called the Annandale “Community Business Center” (CBC).

As a result of concerns about the lack of downtown renewal by the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee, the BOS directed county planning and transportation staffs to perform a study of the area seeking, first, plan language that might encourage redevelopment, and second, language that would address the traffic issues of Little River Turnpike. Study results were briefed to community focus groups and endorsed by the Planning Commission. The product is unique and a first for Fairfax County.

Nine transportation options for getting traffic through Annandale were subject to computer simulation. Two were identified as best options. One would have been to make part of Little River Turnpike one way going west, and parts of McWhorter and John Marr as one way going east. The option approved was to make Little River Turnpike six lanes and eliminate the service drives, turning the whole thoroughfare into a tree lined “boulevard” using the old rights of way for amenities, such as sidewalks, landscaping, bike lanes, and other features. Adoption eliminated the old plan which would have created a six-lane highway plus service drives and an overpass at Annandale Road, an option many in the community felt would have created an eight-lane asphalt scar dividing Annandale’s downtown. The new plan also facilitates future light rail.

In land-use planning, Annandale is the first commercial center of Fairfax County to apply the concept of a “Form-based Plan.” Recognizing that FAR (floor-to-area ratio) may not be appropriate in all redevelopment, the form-based approach allows property owners and developers flexibility in proposing projects with specific land uses and intensities. The new plan language sets out a range of building types, heights, and uses, encourages mixed-use development and a wide range of retail options, encourages parcel consolidation and utilities underground, and includes urban design guidelines with amenities such as urban parks, pedestrian walkways, landscaping, etc. Provision is also made for development incentives such as an art or community center and a future transit center. The entire new plan can be read on the county revitalization website.

The Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan is only a plan. It takes people and the right economic environment to make it work and see change take affect. But the Annandale downtown plan is sound. The future may be unpredictable, but it can be planned. Perhaps some day, families in the wonderful surrounding neighborhoods of the greater Annandale area will be able to walk, bike, or take a short drive into what could become an “urban village,” to shop or just hang out. A place to go to, not through. The vision is in place.