Following two years of intense effort, on March 20 the Board of Supervisors approved a sweeping new land-use plan that supports walking, biking and a bus rapid transit system on Richmond Highway.
Called Embark Richmond Highway, the update to the 7.5-mile corridor’s land-use plan is the first step needed to build a future bus rapid transit, or BRT, system. The future bus rapid transit system will run primarily in the median from the Huntington Metro Station to Fort Belvoir. Eventually it will extend to the county border at the Occoquan River. Buses are expected to run every six to 10 minutes between the nine BRT stations planned along the corridor.
The revised land-use plan also supports two future Metro stations along the highway, extending the rail system’s Yellow Line to Hybla Valley.
Overall, the plan calls for concentrating more mixed-use development, especially residential, within a half mile around the nine BRT stations. It also imagines new ways to get around, providing continuous walking and bike paths along the corridor in addition to the bus system.
While the total amount of new development isn’t significantly more than the previous land-use plan, the new plan calls for more residential development. In total, it foresees a maximum of 18,000 housing units and 8.5 million square feet in nonresidential development.
New, interconnected park spaces are also planned along the corridor. The parks will be strategically located at each of the BRT stations and distributed throughout the station areas, providing places for people to enjoy the outdoors and learn more about the area’s history.
The plan also features two new, innovative concepts for open space called livability and ecological spines. These spines are continuous park spaces that are integrated with streets and buildings.
Livability spines act as alternative main streets to Richmond Highway, creating destinations for shopping, recreation and gathering outdoors. These spines integrate local streets with pedestrian and bike paths, linear parks, plazas, retail and restaurants.
Ecological spines highlight the streams that were diverted into channels or underground tunnels before modern environmental regulations. Many of these currently hidden streams will be “daylighted,” incorporating them into the street design. These spines could offer boardwalks, seating, gathering areas, trails, fitness equipment and other recreation spaces, as well as help make connections to existing residential neighborhoods.
The Richmond Highway corridor is home to six community business centers, areas planned for future development. The plan concentrates most of the future growth into four of these centers: Penn Daw, Beacon/Groveton, Hybla Valley/Gum Springs and Woodlawn. The densest development will be focused in Beacon/Groveton and Hybla Valley, the locations for the two future Metro stations.
Today, the four centers are dominated by suburban retail and strip malls. Under the plan, they would be transformed into places with distinct characters and identities:
- Penn Daw: Encompassing the crossroads where North and South Kings Highways meet Richmond Highway, this center is conceived as a transit gateway due to its proximity to the Huntington Metro Station. It is planned for 2,910 housing units, 2,663 jobs and 915,000 square feet in nonresidential development. Buildings will reach up to 15 stories along the highway closest to the BRT station. This center will feature a livability spine on the east side of the highway.
- Beacon/Groveton: It is the urban town center and focal point of the entire corridor. Beacon/Groveton is planned for approximately 1.3 million square feet in nonresidential development, 4,200 housing units and 3,560 jobs. With a Metro station, the plan allows for an additional 1.8 million square feet in nonresidential development. Because it is a town center, Beacon/Groveton is planned to have the tallest buildings along the corridor, reaching up to 22 stories closest to the BRT station. These buildings will take advantage of the potential views to Old Town Alexandria and Washington D.C. On the west side of the Richmond Highway, a central civic plaza will connect to the BRT station, and this plaza is intended to host large community events like festivals, farmers markets and outdoor performances. The plaza also will link to a livability spine.
- Hybla Valley/Gum Springs: This center contains ecological resources, including streams that connect to Huntley Meadows Park and a rich historical legacy, including the Gum Springs community. At more than 1.25 miles long, it’s also the longest center in the corridor and it is planned for three BRT stations and a future Metro station. The center will feature three ecological spines. Two will incorporate local roads and the third will not, designed primarily as a waterway and walking and biking path located between residential uses. In total, Hybla Valley/Gum Springs is planned for 2.4 million square feet of nonresidential development, 3,400 dwelling units and 6,460 jobs. With the construction of a Metro station, the plan permits an additional 910,000 square feet in nonresidential development.
- Woodlawn: Because it located near major historic sites, including Mount Vernon, Washington’s Grist Mill, Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House, this center is reimagined as a mixed-use neighborhood and tourist hub. A central feature is a network of shared walking and biking paths that lead from this center to the area’s historic attractions. To support tourism, the plans envisions a hotel with conference center to be located near the BRT station and the center’s livability spine. The plan calls for a maximum of 786,000 square feet in nonresidential development, 1,020 housing units and 2,281 jobs.
Review Plans for the Future Business Centers:
The county began its efforts to update this plan in May 2015, following the Board of Supervisors’ authorization to look at land uses within half a mile of proposed BRT stations. The planning efforts were aided by a 13-member advisory group and six major community meetings and numerous neighborhood meetings over two years to help gather public feedback.