The new Chevy Chase Bank on Fairfax Boulevard and Warwick Avenue was approved by Fairfax City shortly after completion of the excellent Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan in 2007. The new building, on the site of one of the Boulevard’s many foundering or former furniture showrooms, has several good features. There’s a pocket park. A nice wide sidewalk with a bench and trees will, over time, provide shade. A well-designed wall buffer pedestrians from the front parking lot. And the building sports a handsome Neoclassical front.
But these “human scale” features are just a tease. They make the site more welcome to someone who is actually present there rather than behind a windshield, but there is no pedestrian access from the sidewalk. A parking lot separates the building from the street. The building’s two entrances front the parking lot and larger shopping plaza on one side, and the drive-through area on the other.
The recently approved Fairfax Pointe project has similar hints at human-scale, pedestrian-oriented design, but also falls short in some important ways. This planned one-story retail building at the confluence of Fairfax Boulevard, Route 29, and Route 236, whose expected tenants include a restaurant and small grocery, will present a false front at Route 236 and have entrances on this street, but the main entrance will be from the parking lot on Fairfax Boulevard. Most of the site is taken up by surface parking.
Will people walk there? The planned uses are neighborhood-oriented, and the Fairchester and Warren Woods neighborhoods are within easy walking distance. But the design, as well as conditions on 236 and Fairfax Boulevard, are much less conducive to walking, bicycling, and shopping than they could be. The architects could have designed the prioject more intentionally to encourage walking trips and reduce traffic on these extremely clogged arterials.
Let’s hope future projects on the Boulevard are more closely aligned with the creative vision of the master plan.