Following in the footsteps of Fairfax County's other major shopping malls, the owners of Fair Oaks Mall are seeking land use authority that will someday allow them to transform the retail property into an urban-style community centered around a transit station.
Last week, the Fairfax County Planning Commission signed off on a comprehensive plan amendment for the Fair Oaks Mall area that, eventually, would allow as much as 4.8 million square feet of development on 130 acres, including the mall, a hotel, high-rise apartment buildings and offices.
By comparison, the existing mall is about 1.6 million square feet.
The highest development levels would not be allowed unless Metrorail service is extended to the mall -- something that is conceptual at this point.
Decades ago, when Metrorail service reached Vienna, "we sort of envisioned that the barricade at Vienna Metro would come down someday and Metro would extend further west," said Planning Commission Chairman Peter F. Murphy Jr. (Springfield). Extended transit service in the Interstate 66 corridor remains a county goal, but it has no construction funding and is not reflected on near-term transportation plans.
If a less costly bus rapid transit system were used to extend transit service further west on I-66 to the mall area, the proposed new comprehensive plan language would allow as much as 3.8 million square feet of development, including a similar mix of elements but on a slightly smaller scale. There also are not any current plans to implement bus rapid transit, a system that creates dedicated lane networks and stations for buses.
In the interim before transit service comes online, the mall could be expanded and office space could be constructed.
"We have no immediate expansion plans; rather we felt it was the appropriate time to submit an area plan review application given the typical cycle [every few years]," said Ferris Kaplan, marketing director for Fair Oaks Mall. "As a company, we regularly prepare ourselves for any future opportunities should they present themselves. Our application provides one possible long-term vision with flexibility for multiple uses."
Fair Oaks, which is owned by the Taubman company, is the third area shopping mall to plan to remake itself as a new transit-oriented community hub.
The owners of Tysons Corner Center and Springfield Mall have both received zoning approval for similar concepts -- incorporating offices and apartments into existing retail hubs. Those redevelopment plans are more imminent, however, as a new Metrorail station is under construction near Tysons Corner Center and one already exists close to Springfield Mall.
"Fair Oaks Mall has always been a prominent part of the community," Murphy said. "I'm excited that it's going to take on this new dimension and I look forward to the rezonings coming in."
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will have a public hearing on the comprehensive plan amendment Tuesday.