Residents Learn of Big Plans to Grow Merrifield

For a long time, the Merrifield section of Fairfax County west on Rt. 29 from Falls Church was little more than a nice nursery, a busy Taco Bell, a big post office, a multiplex movie theatre and a 1950s-style diner. Lately, a lot of big buildings have been rising up out of the ground, and this is only the beginning.

Picture, if you will, 22,000 new people living there and 22 million square feet of new office space, a new town center and a new main street linking that town center to the Dunn Loring Metro station. Picture the busy intersection at Rt. 29 (also known as Lee Highway) and Gallows Road, where 78,000 cars now pass daily, having three left turn lanes in all four directions.

This is the vision of the now-emerging new Merrifield that over 250 area residents learned about at a town meeting called by Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth Tuesday night.

Gathered at the Luther Jackson Middle School, they heard representatives of the newly-formed Merrifield Citizens Association and the Virginia Department of Transportation describe the planned dense development of the tight area circumscribed by Gallows Road on the east, Prosperity Avenue on the west, Route 66 on the north and Route 50 on the south.

When asked at one point to raise their hands if they moved into the Merrifield area since the 2001 adoption of a new comprehensive plan for the area, almost half in the audience did. Most of the concerns were about the Gallows-Lee Highway intersection and otherwise questions were informational in nature.

No one stood up to protest or denounce the overall plans.

“I was surprised at the strong turnout for this event,” Smyth told the News-Press yesterday. “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.”

She said that the plan devised by Edens and Avant for the town center on 30 acres in the middle of the development area has already been submitted to the county. The firm already has contracts on all the land in question, 20 acres of which is owned by the Multiplex Cinema.

That plan will come before the Fairfax Planning Commission in the early fall, and after a series of public hearings and reviews, may be approved by December, she said.

A centerpiece of the overall development will be the straightening out and aligning of two roads which, linked into one will become the area’s “new main street” connecting the Dunn Loring Metro area to the new town center project. The streets are Merrilee on the north side of Rt. 29 and Estridge on the south side. They will combine to form a new street with significant streetscape and pedestrian-friendly components.

By contrast, 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,” according to VDOT’s Bud Segal, speaking at the Tuesday meeting.

He said that VDOT is now engaged in “right-of-way acquisitioning,” completing appraisals on eight of 56 land parcels it hopes to build the expanded intersection on. The acquisitions, under pressure of eminent domain, could be completed quickly, he said, with demolition of certain buildings by the spring of 2008. But actual construction on the site may not commence until March of 2011.

Overall, Merrifield is a much bigger area than the tight segment targeted for the dense development. It extends to the Inova Fairfax Hospital and Fairview Park areas on the south and east.

Speaking at the meeting Tuesday, Smyth said the development plan process was kicked off at the initiative of the Merrifield Business Association

If built out to its full capacity, the project would accommodate a total of 33 million square feet of new construction, 22 million commercial and 11 million residential. From that, a rough estimate was made that it could add upwards of 22,000 new people to the area.