Placemaking study to take place along part of Richmond Highway Corridor


The study will involve a four-mile section of Richmond Highway between Jeff Todd Way (pictured here) and Lockheed Boulevard.

Over the years, the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) has partnered with the Community Revitalization Section of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development on various initiatives to build community along, and improve the appearance of, the Richmond Highway Corridor. Now, the organizations are collaborating again — this time in partnership with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Washington — on a two-day workshop in late January in which panelists will create a placemaking strategy for a four-mile section of the corridor.

The segment of Richmond Highway under study is the stretch between Jeff Todd Way and Lockheed Boulevard —all of which is expected to be under some degree of construction later this decade due to the Richmond Highway Corridor Improvements and the Bus Rapid Transit projects. To help promote vibrancy and a sense of community there in the near term, SFDC and the county are interested in exploring equitable placemaking opportunities, said SFDC Executive Director Evan Kaufman. One example of temporary placemaking, he said, might include murals along the construction fencing.

This past summer, SFDC was awarded a grant from ULI Washington and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which qualified it to receive technical assistance from local land use professionals at half the cost of what it usually entails. According to ULI Washington manager Marc Gazda, SFDC was selected as one of the grant recipients due to the potential community impact of its placemaking project and the likelihood of it and the county implementing the Technical Assistance Panel’s (TAP) recommendations.

This isn’t the first time Route 1 in Fairfax County has been the focus of a ULI Washington TAP study. Back in 2005, a TAP report was published on “Revitalizing the Richmond Highway Corridor to Attract Office Development.” At the time, the county was interested in finding out whether the corridor had potential to be developed as a commercial office market, particularly due to the impending growth of Fort Belvoir.

For the latest panel, which will take place Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 at the Hybla Valley Community Center, ULI Washington currently is recruiting volunteers from within its membership, ideally half of whom will be county residents or employees, said Gazda. The application for prospective panelists describes the segment of Richmond Highway under study, including the Hybla Valley, South County and Woodlawn Community Business Centers, as “perhaps the most vulnerable” and lacking a strong sense of community identity.

“Construction and revitalization of the area can yield opportunities and risks for these populations, so it is vital that their voices are authentically represented in the way the built environment evolves,” reads the assignment. “This TAP will focus on creating a placemaking strategy that can be completed in the near-term to help create a sense of place, identity, and character for the affected communities.”

While ULI finalizes its list of panelists, SFDC is working with the county to pull together a briefing book containing a compendium of local work done to date, upcoming projects, maps and other graphics. Panelists will study the materials and meet with ULI twice before the actual workshop in order to get a deep dive into the Richmond Highway community.

On day one of the workshop, panelists will receive a half-day briefing from SFDC, take a tour of the four-mile stretch of highway and meet with key stakeholders invited by SFDC, including business owners, government officials and representatives of homeowners’ associations. On day two, panelists will deliberate on recommendations for the corridor, which will be presented from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Community members are welcome to attend that final segment of the workshop, said Gazda.

About six to eight weeks after the workshop, SFDC will receive its final report, which is designed to inform planning efforts or serve as a planning document.

“We’re looking for ways to make the corridor feel like a place,” said Gazda, citing as examples things that can be done in public right of way or vacant parcels to “contribute to enrichment of public realms.” Some immediately actionable items, he noted, could include dressing up construction sites, creating an outdoor seating area with movable furniture or identifying ways to treat medians to give them character.

At certain time intervals after the TAP, ULI Washington will send surveys to SFDC to find out whether its recommendations are being implemented, said Gazda.

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