Inova Health System’s former administrative headquarters in Merrifield will soon be transformed into a combination of workforce housing and live/work units — a kind of development that’s still relatively novel for Fairfax County.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-0 to approve the project from developer Madison Highland after a public hearing on June 27. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross and Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw recused themselves because they respectively serve on Inova’s board of trustees and quality and reliability committee.
The developer — a joint venture by Madison Marquette and Highland Square Holdings — now anticipates breaking ground on the office building conversions at 8110 Gatehouse Road and 2990 Telestar Court by the end of the first quarter of 2024, Highland Square Holdings CEO Robert Seldin told FFXnow by email.
“I think this definitely shows quite a bit of opportunity and repurposing as we look…to build additional affordable and workforce units and try to address an area that’s becoming much, much more urban, to have it be accessible and address the multimodal needs in that community,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.
Vacant since last fall, the six-story Gatehouse building will be converted into up 240 live/work units that tenants can utilize as a residence, office or both. An existing five-story parking garage on the site will be left intact.
The four-story Telestar building will be turned into 82 workforce dwelling units (WDUs) for residents earning up to 60% of the area median income.
In its proposal, Madison Highland highlighted plans to provide sizable open spaces for both future residents and the general public, including:
- Game Table Community Park: a 20,300-square-foot publicly accessible park adjacent to Gatehouse Road with seating, walking paths, game tables, and a mist fountain
- Woof Park: a 13,600-square-foot publicly accessible park west of the Gatehouse building with seating, a gathering space, and a fenced dog park that will include waste stations and a drinking fountain
- Community Play Zone: a 20,800-square-foot park along Telestar Court frontage with open seating, walking paths, and four children’s play areas
- Resident-only common areas, including a courtyard, an “amenity zone” with grilling stations and table games, and a space on the garage’s top deck with pickleball courts, gardens and other amenities
To make room for the new open spaces and additional landscaping, the developer will eliminate “excess” parking spaces, but it will still meet the 768 spaces required by the county’s zoning ordinance, according to a staff report.
“I’m excited about turning some of the parking lot space that is currently impervious into some community use space, while knowing that there are large garages there that will be able to meet the majority, if not more than the majority of the needs for parking,” Palchik said.
No one at the public hearing voiced opposition to the development, but some area residents expressed concern about the potential impact on parking and traffic.
Insufficient parking is “the only issue that has come up over and over again” at board meetings for the High Pointe at Jefferson Park townhomes, according to resident and board member Ann Sweetser.
“Certainly there’s no need to add any parking, but it seems that there’s an emphasis on moving toward a minimization without any connection or consideration of the neighborhood,” Sweetser said, requesting that the developer consult residents before pursuing any parking reductions.
McGuireWoods Managing Partner Greg Riegle, who represented the developer at the hearing, noted that the live/work building will use office parking standards, which are higher than those for residential developments.
Though no commitment has been made, he indicated that Madison Highland is open to discussing the possibility of providing overflow parking for nearby residents.
“There are other instances in this county where uses like ours have been able to share parking with the community on an as-needed basis,” Riegle said. “As the history evolves and we can find those opportunities, there’s no reason not to do that if we have the ability.”
While the developer will deliver some sidewalks and crosswalks, more substantial traffic safety and road improvements will be handled by the county, which has buffered bicycle lanes planned for Gatehouse and initiated a study of Gallows Road earlier this year.
A Fairfax County Department of Transportation staffer confirmed that the study will include the Gallows and Gatehouse intersection, which is already “pretty heavily backed up,” one resident said.
Charles Rimbach, who identified himself as a resident of Gatehouse, said the road is used as a cut-through around Gallows, and westbound cars in particular “have been speeding up and down.”
Riegle suggested that repurposing the office buildings could help improve safety.
“Right now, there’s no activity there. There’s no reason to slow or be careful,” he said. “So, I think it’s a combination of that on-site package and then the collaboration with what you’re doing at a county-wide level, it starts to be a really good solution.”
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