Plans fall through for multifamily housing project at Brookside Motel site
Residents of the northern-most section of the Richmond Highway Corridor will have to continue waiting for potential redevelopment of the Brookside Motel property at 6001 Richmond Highway due to the recent cancellation of plans by a developer.
Back in December 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors had approved a request for staff to evaluate an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan for a multifamily residential development on the site’s 2.57 acres, following the developer’s completion and county approval of a floodplain study and Resource Protection Area boundary delineation study.
The floodplain study and RPA plan were deemed necessary due to the presence of a stream and environmentally sensitive areas behind the motel. Upon obtaining county approval for the studies, the developer, previously identified in county documents as Evergreen Investment Company, was required to submit the Comprehensive Plan amendment and an application to rezone the property.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the requisite studies were submitted to the county and approved early this past spring. Afterwards, multiple requests were made to county staff for a processing schedule and for the Comprehensive Plan amendment to be presented at pre-staffing, so the developer would have some feedback to begin preparation of a rezoning application. No written comments were provided to the developer until July 21, however, following a meeting coordinated by a deputy county executive. That feedback led the developer to believe its proposed plans for the site wouldn’t be supported, so — given the uncertain outcome — they chose not to proceed with the project despite strong community support, said the source.
One of those supporters was the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations, which has been advocating since at least early 2016 for the revitalization of the Brookside Motel property in alignment with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. A previous proposal by a developer for a storage facility fell through in 2017 and “wasn’t in sync with getting better housing and redoing the Northern Gateway” to the Richmond Highway Corridor, according to MVCCA co-chairman Lynn Pascoe. But the newer multifamily housing proposal was in line with county plans, he said.
Pascoe and other association leaders and members expressed frustration with the delays that led to the developer’s withdrawal of the project, partly attributing them to a lack of county prioritization for the corridor’s redevelopment.
“It’s infuriating because the county came up with all these pretty plans for Route 1, but they simply have not been following through,” said Pascoe, a resident of the Montebello condominium complex across from the Brookside Motel site. “We need to break through the bureaucratic barriers, but no one is championing this … No one is saying what we need to do; this is how it should work. After making all these promises about revitalization, they focused on other flavors of the month or priorities.”
Pascoe’s sentiments were echoed by other community leaders at Montebello — Jon Kandel, president of the Montebello Condominium Unit Owners Association, and Peter Aliferis, co-chair of the Montebello Neighborhood Improvement Committee.
Noting that one of the condo’s buildings overlooks the Brookside Motel’s dumpster, abandoned swimming pool and boarded up rooms impacted by an earlier fire, Kandel said they regretted the loss of a developer who was going to make “a really nice community.”
“From our point of view, staff just didn’t work very hard or dropped the ball on a project that was approved a few years ago and should have made it through,” he said.
Aliferis attributed the delays to “indifference,” describing the developer’s plans as a “small project on the wrong side of the county.” He cited other examples of development projects that never got off the ground, such as Elme Communities’ (formerly Washington REIT’s) plans to open up Cameron Run and put in canoe ramps.
For its part, the county confirmed the dates of its recent interactions with the developer on the Brookside Motel project. Fairfax County’s director of planning and development, Tracy Strunk, said in a written statement that the floodplain study was approved March 15 and the RPA Delineation April 13.
“This approval marked a significant step forward in ensuring the environmentally responsible and sustainable development of the designated area,” said Strunk. “In July, our county staff engaged with the applicant to discuss potential adjustments to their proposal in light of the findings from the floodplain study and the RPA Delineation. These discussions aimed to ensure that the project aligned with the established guidelines and accounted for any environmental considerations.”
It's the three-month gap that bothers Kandel. Since the floodplain and RPA studies were approved in March and April, “why come back in July to suggest adjustments?” he asked. “Or, if staff ‘approval’ means ‘well, we might want some changes,’ then why did that take three to four months – because it’s that block of time delay that essentially doomed the project,” he said.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, whose office helped coordinate some recent meetings among the stakeholders, said he was “truly disappointed that our county process did not move faster,” but also regretted that “the applicant was unwilling to continue working to address and mitigate the floodplain and resource protections necessary.”
“In coordination with my office, county staff did provide the developer with potential options to adjust their plan in an effort to make the plan work in light of these challenges,” said Storck in a written statement. “We look forward to working with others who remain interested in achieving this balance.”
Just who that next developer might be remains to be seen. According to Pascoe and Kandel, there were rumors of a new offer by a hotelier. That type of project likely could be done by right — not requiring public hearings or legislative action, and with “few hoops to jump through,” said Pascoe.
Adding another hotel to the northern end of the corridor might mean “an improvement in looks” at the Brookside Motel site, said Pascoe, but was “hardly in the county plans to get more housing.”