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A new apartment building proposal marks another setback for Fairfax County officials who support building offices. Fairfax-based Peterson Cos. is sketching out plans to build a 650,000-sf complex of four- to six-story apartment buildings on a site near the Vienna Metro station where the developer already has permission to build two 14-story office towers. “We have interest from a major apartment developer to do mid-rise apartments there,” says Jim Todd, president of Peterson Cos.

County officials want offices instead. They have zoned land for them because they believe they would encourage Metro usage and unclog roads in traffic-choked Northern Virginia. But county wishes have been stymied by a real estate market that hasn’t seen the suburban locale as a good office site, and by protesting residents who say that tall office buildings will overwhelm their neighborhood.

“The Vienna site has been a troubled site,” says Fairfax County supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, who represents the neighborhood but supports office development there. “The market simply hasn’t responded.”

New apartment plans would still have to be approved by the county. But while residents have hotly opposed intense development of the site for commercial purposes, including a hotel, an apartment project may be acceptable politically.

“We have good support from the local community,” based on meetings with residents, Todd said. Local politicians tended to agree the prospects looked better for multifamily uses than offices. “After the experience we had, I would guess that residential would be preferable,” says Bob McCormick, a Town Council member.

It could also mollify county officials who are disappointed at the prospect of losing commercial development there, but believe that the apartment cluster may still encourage Metro use. A similar neighborhood in Hunters Branch uses the Metro heavily, Connolly says. In addition, he would also like to see retail in the plan, which hasn’t been finalized.

Peterson Cos. must obtain a change in the master plan, a rezoning and approval for a new site plan before it can proceed. Public hearings are expected this fall.

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