Fairfax: Home of the Town Center

I came across an Associated Press dispatch that might be of interest.

By HEATHER GREENFIELD, Associated Press Writer


It started on the drawing board two decades ago as an office park. Today it features townhouses and condos. And somewhere along the line, Reston Town Center became a national model for creating an attractive suburban place for people to live, work and play.

It is a model that is about to be recreated across northern Virginia.

Town centers are planned at Lorton near the Virginia Railway Express station, and at Dulles Station near Route 28 and the Dulles Toll Road. Others are planned as far west as Leesburg and Gainesville, and south near Potomac Mills. Eastern Prince William County has proposals to build a mixed use waterfront development with a conference center and nearly 4,000 homes.

Debbie Rosenstein of Rosenstein Research Associates described the reason behind the appeal of the town centers at a recent real estate summit. She said they are upscale modern versions of small town main streets.

"It's a safe environment in the 'burbs, but they don't want to feel like they're on the edge of nowhere," Rosenstein said.

Future town centers are being proposed to redevelop Merrifield, Falls Church and the area just southwest of the Springfield Mixing Bowl.

"Every master plan today usually includes a town center," said Dean Schwanke of the Urban Land Institute. He calls it critical to design a town center with an appealing focal point like a fountain or park. They all need parking, but arranging it well is an important challenge.

"How do you make it not a big wall around the town center and how do you make it not be ugly?" Schwanke said.

Falls Church is following this advice as it develops plans to convert one-story retail space at Routes 7 and 29 into a town center. Planner Gary Fuller said the aim is to build two block-long parks called Democracy Square and Freedom Square ahead of the planned 400 to 500 residential units and retail space.

"The idea is to build a public portion of it and then the developers would be excited about building in that vicinity," Fuller said.

Falls Church is an area that is expected to absorb more residents as the region grows. Fuller said this type of construction helps grow the tax base to provide services.

Done right, Schwanke said town centers may be a way to overcome resistance as the region seeks ways to add 1.6 million new jobs and 2 million more residents by 2030.

"That's the way to solve the problem of density. It's not just density, it's cool," Schwanke said.

He said multi-use centers also are a better way to manage traffic than single-use projects like office buildings or housing, which create traffic jams at specific hours.

In some cases, residents may be able to park their cars for days at a time.

Kate Hanley, the former chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said she loves living in her Reston Town Center condo because she can walk to her job at the Greater Reston Arts Center.

Hanley, who serves on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, agrees town centers can be one tool to add density and affordable housing and to reduce vehicle trips. She welcomes the new neighbors she will have when Reston adds even more residential units around its growing town center.

"There are going to be a lot more people living at Market Center. I think that's exciting. It means it's sustainable," Hanley said.

By Steve Fehr |  October 11, 2005; 3:54 PM ET  | Category:  Development, Growth
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