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Mosaic’s Evolution from Industrial Lot to Thriving Community

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As published in The Washington Post by Jessica Wolfrom // View Article.

Before the Mosaic District in Merrifield, Va., was redeveloped about 10 years ago, it was an expanse of parking lots, fast-food joints and industrial warehouses.

Other than the old multiplex theater, which stood next to United Rentals, a construction supply chain, there wasn’t much to see or do here.

“The joke used to be, in Merrifield, you can go to the movies and rent a Bobcat on the way home,” said former Fairfax County supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who oversaw the redevelopment of Mosaic.

But now, the Mosaic District is a bustling town center, complete with restaurants and retailers, luxury apartment buildings, townhouses and a hip new place to catch a flick, the Angelika Film Center. It is bounded by Lee Highway to the north, Merrifield Cinema Drive to the south, Gallows Road to the east and Eskridge Road to the west. This modern mixed-use neighborhood has sprung up in the middle of Asian grocers and aging strip malls but offers something unexpected: a sense of community.

“The really great thing about Merrifield and Mosaic as the town center is that it really did start off with the community discussion,” said Smyth. “That’s one of the things that has made it what it is today. It was a community plan. It was a good plan. And we stuck to it.”

Merrifield has always been a place to gather. In the 1950s, Merrifield’s multiplex was a drive-in theater that drew people from across Fairfax County.

“I have people all the time who tell me, ‘Oh, I remember when I came here, I came here on my first date,’ ” said Jodie McLean, chief executive of EDENS, the firm that redeveloped the district.

Now, there’s a reason for many to return.

Whether it’s to shop, eat or live, the Mosaic District combines 2 million square feet of retail, office, hotel and residential space with restaurants such as True Food Kitchen, Sisters Thai and a newcomer, Parc de Ville, which opened in November.

National retailers such as Anthropologie, Madewell and Target share the sidewalk with small clothing boutiques like Scout & Molly’s and Undeniable Boutique, and a wine shop, Sip and Swirl. There’s an artisanal juice bar, a barbershop, and even a place to drink beer and throw axes.

“In just two decades, it went from being this industrial place that people drove by, to this kind of town center that’s thriving and walkable — really a destination. But it’s also a neighborhood,” said Douglas Loescher, a program manager overseeing the Merrifield Revitalization Area.

According to Loescher, the entire neighborhood is LEED-certified — one of the first in the country to earn the designation for its environmentally friendly features.

Strawberry Park, named after a famous Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” is the epicenter of Mosaic. It’s what connects the commercial to the community.

“If you’re a Beatles aficionado, you’ll notice there’s a very subtle Beatles theme throughout,” said McLean.

The centerpiece of the one-acre park is a 22-by 38-foot LED screen named “Lucy,” which is mounted on the front of the Angelika theater. This Lucy in the sky offers seasonal programming, including family movie night.

Kaitlin McLendon, a real estate agent with Buck & Associates, said that on weekends, Strawberry Park is the place to be. Farmers markets and craft fairs such as URBN Market take over the streets. McLendon’s tip: On weekends, don’t drive. Take Metro.

McLendon, who lives in Mosaic, said the district’s mix of urban and suburban appeals mostly to young professionals, but she sees residents of all ages here.

“We love the millennials,” said McLean. “But we love to design places where the millennials want to bring their parents and where their parents want to bring their friends.”

Mosaic is a place where McLean hopes people feel permission to slow down. “What we want is people that think, wow, this feels great — like if I bumped into you, we could sit down . . . and share a cup of coffee and it would feel okay to take that five or 10 minutes to catch up.”

Living there: Upscale apartment buildings managed by AvalonBay and Mill Creek line the streets, while townhouses managed by EYA hem the district’s perimeter. When EYA first listed townhouses in 2012, homes started in the $600,000s. Now, a four-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse is listed for $899,900. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,900.

According to McLendon, home sale prices last year ranged from $770,000 for a three-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse to $1,051,580 for a four-bedroom, five-bathroom house.

There are five active listings on the market, including a three-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse for $795,000 and a three-bedroom, five-bathroom townhouse for just above $1 million.

Sekas Homes is building 40 townhouses on Eskridge Road starting at $957,000. These four and five-bedroom, five-bathroom homes have rooftop access, elevator capability and a two-car garage. Some homes are available now, and Sekas expects to finish the project by November 2020. Next door, a five-story, 127-unit condo building with a day-care center is being planned for the end of 2020.

Schools: Fairhill Elementary, Jackson Middle, Falls Church High.

Transit: The Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station is less than one mile from the town center. A free shuttle from the station to the Mosaic District runs from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The shuttle makes three stops in Mosaic: at Penny Lane, at Strawberry Lane, and at the Town Center. Several Fairfax Connector and Metrobus routes serve the neighborhood. Route 66, Route 29, Route 50 and the Beltway are the closest major thoroughfares.

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