In 2019, the private school Paul VI will move to Loudoun County from its Fairfax City campus. Plans for what to do with the land are starting to take shape, and there’s a big opportunity to make the space walkable and transit-friendly.
The 18-acre Paul VI campus is located along Fairfax Boulevard (Route 50/29), where the City of Fairfax wants new commercial development. It’s across the street from a shopping center anchored by H-Mart, a popular Asian grocery store. Immediately east and west of the campus are detached houses and garden apartments, and immediately south are Pat Rodio Park and the Chilcott baseball field.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington owns the land Paul VI sits on. It has hired a developer, the IDI Group, to come up with a plan for developing it and to work with Fairfax City through the rezoning and special use permit process. The Archdiocese will ultimately sell the land, presumably to a buyer who wants to carry out the approved plan (that could be the IDI Group).
Paul VI is a chance to make Fairfax Boulevard walkable, inclusive, and sustainable
Most of Fairfax Boulevard consists of large commercial lots dominated by surface parking, but Paul VI’s redevelopment could mean a more compact and walkable street grid. A private drive and parking lot on the Paul VI property currently separate two segments of Cedar Lane, a residential street that extends to Chain Bridge Road. The redevelopment could connect these segments of Cedar to one another and to new internal streets.
While Fairfax Boulevard has not traditionally been a place to build new housing, a 2007 master plan for the street says more residential units would make the area more vibrant and economically successful. The plan also envisions a mix of stores and offices along Fairfax Boulevard.
A nearby piece of land increases the chance for a smart growth plan
Coincidentally, last month Fairfax City also received an application for the redevelopment of the Breezeway Motel and adjacent garden apartments, located on a five-acre site just 300 yards from Paul VI. AvalonBay Communities has filed an application to redevelop the Breezeway and adjacent Fairfax Gardens apartments, as well as several smaller properties, as a 351-unit apartment building, and 11 townhomes.
As it stands, that apartment building would span two blocks and break up the street grid that currently exists, as well as replace relatively affordable housing with what are likely to be far more expensive units.
If the city reviews the Paul VI and the Breezeway projects in the absence of a comprehensive framework for redevelopment, it could miss opportunities to create better transportation connections and plan the right mix of uses. Fairfax City will update its comprehensive plan over the next year and a half, and that could be an opportunity to better coordinate the redevelopment of these two areas.
Community members recently chimed in
Last week, IDI Group held a community meeting to gather ideas about the property’s future use. Neighbors, local officials, city staff, and others in the community called for the development to consider the “big picture,” including the proposed Breezeway development as well as other nearby sites.
Participants also raised concerns about how redevelopment could affect transportation, particularly the risk of significant cut-through traffic in adjacent neighborhoods that don’t have sidewalks. They also voiced a desire for the development to “fit in” with what’s already in the area and for planning to account for walking and biking, along with hope that the existing building could be (at least partially) reused and that the site could potentially be home to a youth center, park, and open space.
At a follow-up meeting on March 10, IDI Group will report back to the community on the information gathered at the February 11 meeting and present its initial concept for redeveloping the site.
The Paul VI site has the potential to begin the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard into a well-designed, walkable street with sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking along local lanes, and street-oriented buildings. It is time for the city to implement its master plan and revitalize Fairfax Boulevard, a primary economic engine.