The “downtown” area envisioned for the Stafford County courthouse may someday be so technologically advanced that the amount of garbage in each trash can will be electronically monitored.
Ultra-wide broadband will be abundant, as will smart energy, lighting, water and temperature controls that will be built into energy-efficient housing units and commercial buildings.
“We’re looking to build a secure facility from the ground up,” said David Ihrie, chief technology officer of the Center for Innovative Technology. “Our goal is to make Stafford a model community for all of Virginia.”
The CIT, an extension of the state government, works with early start-up companies, manages grants and focuses on economic development.
The original plan for Downtown Stafford, which featured 673 residential units, a museum, boutiques, restaurants and family-friendly things to do, has been talked about—and kicked down the road—for years.
But the project was reinvigorated when Ihrie met Mike Cannon, Stafford director of information technology, at a symposium in October 2018. Cannon discussed Downtown Stafford with Ihrie and the two saw it as a perfect public–private partnership opportunity.
County supervisors recently were briefed on the project by John Holden, Stafford’s director of economic development. He told supervisors the first step of the process would be to use the area in and around the government center as a proving ground for technology that could someday be incorporated into the larger Downtown Stafford area.
Ihrie said CIT would bring a host of interested partners to Stafford to help boost economic development in the region and realize his vision.
“We want to make Downtown Stafford the state’s first standalone smart community,” Ihrie said.
Supervisors overwhelmingly supported the concept.
Holden told supervisors that the county share of the buildout would be limited to roads and supporting infrastructure, with private partners funding the construction of buildings within the new community.
Holden said construction of Downtown Stafford, which is anticipated to be along Courthouse Road, across from the existing courthouse, will begin in mid-2022.
“This could be a five- to 10-year development process for full completion,” said Holden.
The existing urban zoning in the area must be modified in coming months to accommodate an increase in density and parking.
Supervisors will hold a public hearing to discuss the rezoning in the spring. In the meantime, county staff is fine-tuning the project after receiving direction from supervisors.
Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer said to have pedestrian-friendly communities like this, the zoning in the area must be more dense. He said the proposed downtown area has many advantages, including potential jobs and office space within walking distance of the government center.
“If we can get jobs down here, hopefully people won’t be driving to D.C. all the time,” said Dudenhefer. “The only issue I see with rezoning ahead of construction is builders willing to build to county specifications.”
Ihrie envisions Downtown Stafford as a smart community, where government, businesses and residents use the latest technical innovations.
“The project brings private partners in to develop technologies and other vendors to develop tools to implement smart city applications,” said Holden.
Holden said Downtown Stafford will feature fewer brick-and-mortar retail outlets on its 28 acres. Instead, Holden said, shoppers can expect an experiential retail experience, such as augmented reality clothing stores with holographic technology to allow customers to try on different outfits.
“This is an opportunity for the county to be the showcase for the whole commonwealth and beyond,” said Cannon. “[The technology] will enhance the quality of life and safety of those living, working and shopping in Downtown Stafford.”
CIT has already invested $100,000 to develop a strategy and a vision for Stafford’s downtown area. It has engaged Optimal Solutions and Technologies to test out ideas.
OST, a Tysons Corner-based technology firm, enhances physical assets—such as buildings, roads and lighting—to create efficient infrastructure. The firm completed specifications for Stafford’s downtown area last summer.
This summer, OST and other contractors will install equipment and software in government center, which will serve as the operations center for the endeavor. Even after Downtown Stafford is built, the center will remain in operation, continuing to test and evaluate new technology for the county to consider including in the new town center.
For now, Ihrie said a wide range of equipment and sensors will be tested, and some will tie into existing traffic cameras.
“We’re paying a lot of attention to cameras and their use, and where to use them,” said Ihrie. “There are ways we can improve traffic flow and congestion and improve the community experience, like when’s the best time to leave for work.”
Ihrie said sensors inside buildings could help save energy, while monitoring daily operations. During emergencies, other technology could provide critical information to first responders, monitor pollution along the Interstate 95 corridor, and could keep a watchful eye on the landscape.
“We’ll test if [sensors] can sense and detect a wildfire, if they can distinguish between a barbecue or a fire pit,” said Ihrie.
To sweeten the pot even more, Fredericksburg-based Jarrell Properties Inc., which owns 6 acres at the corner of Courthouse Road and U.S. 1, has agreed to join the public–private partnership. Its property will serve as the gateway for visitors to the county’s new town center.
Holden said Jarrell Properties will start building a mixed-use development around communal open space. The county anticipates 309 apartments will be built on the property, known as Fountain Park. There will also be office space, which thee county plans to occupy, serving as the anchor tenant.
Several old buildings that now sit on the site of the future Fountain Park will be demolished as part of the Courthouse Road widening project that begins this year. Next month, the former law office of Robert Hyman, the bank building next to it, and the Aquia Medical Center building situated directly across the street from the courthouse will come down before attention is turned to structures at the Fountain Park site.
After demolition, a portion of the land will serve as a temporary parking area during the construction of the new $45 million county courthouse. That building, which is in the design phase, will be adjacent to the Chichester Building at 1245 Courthouse Road.
After the new courthouse is open, the existing one will be used by the county’s legal and law enforcement departments.