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Live in a prison: Plans for Laurel Hill get rave reviews

Friday - 2/21/2014, 12:27pm  ET

More than 13 years after the last inmates were removed from Lorton Prison, Fairfax County is poised to approve a plan to convert the central penitentiary and reformatory complex into an 80-acre mixed-use community.

Fairfax planning staff is recommending that the Board of Supervisors adopt a plan crafted by county and The Alexander Co. Inc. of Madison, Wis. that will transform the heart of the sprawling prison campus, including the cell blocks, guard towers, gymnasium, dining hall and chapel, into a new neighborhood of as many as 400 residential units, 50,000 square feet of office and 60,000 square feet of retail.

Yes, you too can live in a historic prison.

Laurel Hill "represents a unique opportunity for redevelopment that re-purposes the former prison dorms, workshops, and facilities for needed housing, retail and commercial uses and revitalizes the area for the greater community good," planning staff wrote in their report released Thursday.

The county has high hopes for what is now called the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Area, that it will "serve as a model redevelopment project of a unique historic property," will stand as "one of the best examples of historic adaptive reuse" in the Washington area," and will create a "one-of-a-kind historic sense of place, and generate tax revenue for the county."

The site is located north of Lorton Road and Laurel Hill Park, west of Silverbrook Road, south of White Spruce Way and east of the Laurel Hill Golf Course.

Fairfax officials tapped Alexander for the Laurel Hill work in August 2011, a decade after the Lorton Prison was shuttered. The county acquired the 2,323-acre property from the General Services Administration in July 2002 for $4.2 million.

The complex has since been carved up. Some was sold off to become what is now the Laurel Hill subdivision and the Spring Hill Senior Campus. Another piece became the Workhouse Arts Center. Still more parts of Lorton were turned over to county's public schools, the park authority and the Board of Supervisors, for a future government facility.

But it is the 79-acre central prison — the 41-building reformatory complex and the 15-structure penitentiary — that will shape Laurel Hill going forward.

The Alexander Co. proposes to split the campus into eight land bays. Development will take place in two phases.

  • Land Bay 6, Phase 2: This parcel includes the former penitentiary, consisting of six, two-story brick cellblocks and a two-story brick dining hall, all of which will remain on site, as will the guard towers and 15-foot tall penitentiary wall. Development here, split between adaptive reuse and new construction, will include 50,000 square feet of office and 60,000 square feet of retail, and possibly some residential.
  • Land Bay 1, Phase 1: On the site's western portion, this parcel is home to the former reformatory dormitories and shop buildings. The reformatory will be converted to 165 apartments, and space will be made for a pool, a large courtyard and nearly 300 parking spaces.
  • Land Bay 7, Phase 2: The former guard quarters on the northeast portion of the site will be converted into six multifamily residences.
  • Land Bay 2: Located on the southeastern and southwestern portions of the area, this land bay will contain 157 new townhomes -- 53 in Land Bay 2A (Phase 2) and 104 in Land Bay 2B (Phase 1).
  • Land Bay 3, Phase 1: Directly south of the reformatory dormitories, this parcel contains the 20,000-square-foot prison chapel, which may be reused for child care or a school.
  • Land Bay 4, Phase 1: Just east of the dormitories is the former 8,000-square-foot power plant, which is plan for non-residential use, though Alexander has pitched 12 multifamily units just in case.
  • Land Bays 5 and 8: Neither will be developed. One contains the existing Lindsay/Laurel Hill House, and the other a stormwater management pond.

This all comes at a price, of course. The $148 million project is expected to run a financial gap of roughly $12 million that Fairfax County and The Alexander Co. must tackle in a final, still-to-be-completed master development agreement.

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