A notice from the Fairfax County Water Authority to the owner of a commercial property facing onto Lee Highway near the booming Mosaic District announced suddenly on Oct. 29 the authority’s intent to “acquire the property by condemnation or other means,” and providing only three weeks before a public hearing on Nov. 19 will mark the final opportunity for the owner’s or anyone else’s input on the decision.
The move by Fairfax Water to impose “eminent domain” over the land will, according to the commercial real estate broker who arranged its sale to his client just over a year ago, require the owner to accept a price far below its market value, and especially below its potential in a Lee Highway corridor that, with the Mosaic so nearby, is ripe for major new development.
A leader of the Merrifield Business Association has been in touch with the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce to see if some kind of coordinated response to this development could be organized by the time of the Nov. 19 hearing. According to the Water Authority notification, written responses will need to be received by next Wednesday, Nov. 18. No response from the Falls Church Chamber, just notified of this Wednesday, was available by press time.
Ironically, the public hearing will be held at the Water Authority’s facilities at 8570 Executive Park Ave. in Fairfax, “to receive and consider public comments” on the proposed acquisition, but it is not clear whether any independent entity will be involved in the final decision. News-Press calls to Jamie Hedges, director of the Water Authority’s Planning and Engineering Division went unanswered Wednesday.
But according to Peter Mechlin, the commercial real estate broker for Milestone Properties of Merrifield LLC, which now owns the four acres in question, Fairfax County’s Providence Supervisor expressed her opposition to the move in a meeting with Mechlin and his client on August 7. (The News-Press was unable to confirm Smyth’s position because her office was closed for Veterans Day).
Last spring, the Water Authority first approached the owner about buying the land, and when the owner said “no,” that was the end of the conversation until the notice to “condemn” the property was received on Oct. 29.
At 8515 Lee Highway, the land now is home to four small businesses and fronts onto the main corridor with a Penske Truck Rental business. A lease for a new tenant had been signed on Oct. 28, the day before the notice of condemnation was received, and that move is now on hold. All the leases, according to Mechlin, have been “for intermediate positioning, leaving flexibility for future long-term redevelopment.”
He said the owner, who acquired the land just over a year ago, “is committed to do substantial cosmetic exterior renovations to the existing building there, creating a far more pleasing and attractive entity facing Lee Highway.” The owner had also been in discussions with the owner of an adjacent 2.34 acre property for potential future consolidation and “ultimate higher quality redevelopment.”
The rear one acre of the land is made up of all mature trees that serve as a buffer between the commercial corridor and a residential neighborhood behind them.
According to the Fairfax Water notification, the site is sought for acquisition “for public use to serve as the site for a new central maintenance facility that Fairfax Water must construct and operate to meet the existing and future public water service requirements of its customers.”
After the Nov. 19 hearing, the notification says, “Fairfax’s Water Board may vote on or after the hearing date to adopt a resolution approving the proposed public use and authorizing and directing the acquisition of the property for the public use by condemnation or other means.”
Persons who wish to speak at the hearing, which will begin at 6:30 p.m., are advised to contact Eva Catlin at 703- 289-6017. Written comments should be directed to [email protected]