A few years ago a friend who was looking to buy a house asked me where I thought the best places to invest in Northern Virginia were. Not being a real estate expert, I just mentioned a few areas that I knew could see some near-term redevelopment, which usually translates to increasing home values in surrounding neighborhoods. So I rattled off a few areas; Falls Church, Reston, Fairfax City, Merrifield.
“Merrifield?” he said. “Really?”
Yes, really. Merrifield has a reputation for being a cluttered mess of old autoshops and fast food restaurants, but thanks to an effort by the county to revitalize the area, this is quickly changing. Even as the crossroads sits in the shadow of Tysons Corner, which is undergoing a renovation on a more massive scale, we will begin to see a new Merrifield much sooner.
The most notorious project is Mosaic District, which will bring an urban Target, a movie theater, additional retail space, homes and offices to the old movie theater site. Less noticeable are the multiple smaller projects taking place closer to the Dunn Loring Metro, including the Halstead development, Square 1400, and redevelopment of the metro station parking lot.
What is impressive about the development taking place in Merrifield is that it is composed of several smaller project that link together. This will make it a truly urban place with the capacity to continue the evolve and connect seamlessly with surrounding neighborhoods. Mosaic District, which is the one big project, has been designed to allow for connections to adjacent parcels should they redevelop in the future. In contrast, single large developments like Fairfax Corner and Reston Town Center have a pleasant atmosphere internally, but tend to turn their backs on their neighbors.
Still, the future of Merrifield has its pitfalls. The widening of Gallows Road and Lee Highway, which will each be up to nine lanes at some intersections, will make them more difficult for pedestrians to cross and create barriers to a continuous and cohesive urban community.
As we look to redevelop portions of Fairfax Boulevard within the city into more pedestrian-friendly environments we should take two things away from the Merrifield experience: 1) A series of smaller and interconnected developments can function better than a single large re-development, 2) Be cautious about road improvements that can hamper pedestrian accessibility and isolate redevelopment areas.