Project safety and economy questioned
Tom Roussey, ABC 7, with permission
FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WJLA/ABC7) – It was a highly anticipated massive development project that residents near Route 1 in Fairfax County had been excited about. But on Saturday, the South Alex construction project went up in flames.
Not only did the weekend’s massive fire in the Penn Daw area raise concerns for the local economy, but it also raised concerns about how vulnerable such construction projects are to potential fires.
In a press conference Sunday, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Chief John Butler pointed out the dangers of wood-based construction projects. He indicated code changes need to be made to protect construction sites during a vulnerable period when sprinkler systems are not activated yet.
“Fire protection systems should be a mandate,” Chief Butler said. “Sprinklers, and permitting, with regard to building construction.”
ABC7 reached out to the Home Builders Association of Virginia, who says a lot of research and deliberation from experts led to today’s building and fire codes.
“They also reflect the lessons learned by building and fire officials in the wake of events like this weekend’s fire in Fairfax,” a statement by the association said. “As the fire services officials in Fairfax conduct their review of the cause of the fire, we look forward to working with them to identify potential code amendments to make projects less vulnerable to fires as they are under construction.”
The South Alex project joins a growing list of large mixed-use construction projects that have gone up in flames throughout the country. A large apartment building that was being built in College Park experienced a similar fire in the spring of 2017.
The company behind the South Alex development has indicated it will still finish the project. However, the planned opening date of summer 2021 now seems very much in doubt.
“It’s an unfortunate setback,” said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. “I think this was one of the most highly anticipated developments [in the Route 1 corridor].”
For years, the area around Route 1 in Fairfax County struggled to attract new development, but Kaufman says that is changing.
“Business owners and developers are looking at this area and seeing that this is going to be the next big emerging market in the region,” Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of money already going in and committed to the corridor over the next 20 to 30 years.”
Kaufman says zoning changes by the county allowing for higher density development, along with plans for dedicated bus-only lanes from Ft. Belvoir to the Huntington Metro station, have helped attract more interest along Route 1.
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