Community members review plans for new colocated facilities in Penn Daw


Nearly 100 community members reviewed plans June 8 for a combination emergency shelter, affordable housing and firehouse being planned for the corner of Beacon Hill Road and Richmond Highway in the Penn Daw section of Alexandria.

Contracted architects, the BKV Group, presented three concepts for the multipurpose building and asked residents and stakeholders to evaluate them, mainly on how the building will be sited and the use of green space. Audience members filled out questionnaires on each concept, discussed the merits and drawbacks of each, and asked a few questions at the end of the meeting.

Meeting participants reviewed the plans in small groups at Bryant High School.

The architects said suggestions will be considered as the final design is completed in July with the goal of producing a schematic by October. The building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy in about four years.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck kicked off the meeting at Bryant High School by saying that density is coming to the Richmond Highway corridor, especially around the planned bus rapid transit stations like the one targeted for Beacon Hill, across the highway from the new facility. He said density is needed for “economic development to provide opportunities for our children.”

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck presents at the community meeting.

Both the new fire station and the homeless shelter are financed from bonds approved during a 2016 ballot. The affordable housing will be financed through multiple sources. County staff had been searching for locations for both the firehouse and the shelter when the 3.5-acre Hybla Valley Nursery came up for sale. The county purchased it for both projects, as well as up to 65 units of affordable housing, in alignment with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' (BoS) desire to colocate public facilities in a single site.

Matthew Tamillow, battalion chief with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, described the history of the current Penn Daw fire station, which was built in 1967 and is now the busiest station in the county, answering an average of 41 calls per day. The station lacks facilities for female firefighters, he said, and the bays are too small for modern, larger equipment. The new station is being built to accommodate an increase in calls as density increases along Richmond Highway. Tamillow said the new facility will be 22,000 square feet with 22 bunks and a larger gym, five apparatus drive-through bays and parking for two shifts of 17 people each.

Tom Barnett, head of Fairfax County's Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, said the mechanical systems are worn out at the Eleanor U. Kennedy Shelter, a 100-year-old water pump house on Fort Belvoir, which is currently used to house 50 homeless men and women. It is not ADA compliant and has bunk beds in large dorm rooms, which are difficult for older residents to access. He said most shelter occupants move into permanent housing after a few months. The new facility will include one floor with 20 units of permanent supportive housing for individuals who are older or disabled and unlikely to find market-rate housing. The shelter and supportive housing will occupy 29,000 square feet.

Tom Fleetwood, director of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development, said that to meet the BoS' goal of building 10,000 new affordable units by 2034, his office must look at every opportunity to create affordable housing throughout the county. He said the affordable housing section of the facility would include about 65 units — 80% one-bedroom units and 20% two-bedroom units — within 75,000 square feet. The units, Fleetwood noted, are for tenants of any age earning up to 60% area median income — about $63,000 for an individual — and would likely include children in the two-bedroom units.

BKV designer Mark Mannetti presents the "urban edge" concept.

Architects said the final design will be certified as LEED Gold and Earth Craft Gold, and the facility probably will have solar panels on the roof if they can be funded through new federal programs. All of the concepts include tree buffers along the property lines facing neighborhoods.

The three designs presented were:

  • Courtyard: featuring a large open space in front of the building facing Beacon Hill Road
  • Urban Edge: moving the building closer to the road like most of the new apartments being built in the area and allowing more open space in the back
  • Hybrid: placing the building in the center of the property with green space in front and back

The residential and firehouse sections of the facility had several options that could be mixed and matched. Firefighters favored one of the firehouse concepts, so that matter was settled, but the housing component still includes several options.

One interesting challenge for architects was that the plot of land slopes about 30 feet from the northwest corner to the southeast corner and about 20 feet from the Beacon Hill Road frontage to the rear. Architects took advantage of this slope to divide the site into three elevation steps to differentiate the three uses and to allow parking from the rear under the affordable housing section.

Participants review the "courtyard concept."

At the end of the meeting, audience members commented that the amount of impervious parking space should be reduced, perhaps by more underground or first floor parking; a green roof should be considered to absorb rainwater; generators for the three sections should be quieted; shelter residents should have more separate outdoor space; and runoff should be contained.

Past meetings about the proposed county facility had been more contentious with local residents speaking out against the colocation plans, while faith communities and homeless advocates spoke out in favor. An advisory committee of firefighters, community members, homeless shelter experts and stakeholders has met 16 times over the past two years to discuss the siting and uses of the building.

Written comments about the design concepts will be compiled by Stork’s office and presented to the architects and Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services staff for consideration. More information about the project can be found here. Previous slides showing the three design concepts can be found under the March 30 meeting.

Mary Paden represents the South County Task Force on the Penn Daw Fire Station and Supportive Housing Advisory Committee.

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