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Why Holmes Heights could be the next big neighborhood in Downtown Manassas

Manassas City leaders are now looking redeveloping area along Grant Avenue, across from the Grant Avenue Shopping Center where a new police station will replace an old Safeway store.

The area encompasses the land between Buckner Road to Prince William Street, a mixed historical district with single family homes and condos. The property also includes the site of the Manassas Museum and public green space, the most significant green space in Downtown Manassas.

Torti Gallas + Partners, architects of Lyon Place at Clarendon in Arlington, has agreed to design a master plan for the area for $25,000 to be paid by the city, should it be approved. The new development would serve as a bridge between downtown and the area to the south known today as Holmes Heights. It’s named for landowner Holmes Smith, who currently sits on the city’s Economic Development Authority.

“I thought it would be a good idea to have a world-class planner in Washington, D.C. take a look at this, and throw what I consider to be chump change in the city budget, to look at this,” said Coleman Rector, developer of the city’s new Messenger Place apartment complex that has replaced the old Manassas Journal Messenger newspaper building on Church Street. “If we build single-family homes on this site, the opportunity is gone.”

City leaders are focused on increasing the density of the downtown area by adding new homes, as well as expanding its footprint beyond the shops and restaurants that line Main, Center, and West streets. Messenger Place and Manassas Station on Prince William Street, the site of the old ABC Photo, make up some of the 573 planned homes in the downtown area in the last nine years.

A total of 1,850 homes were planned back when the city’s downtown sector plan was adopted in 2008 as a way to create a place where people could live, work, and play. The city has grown since then, and now city leaders plan to examine and update the old downtown sector plan next year.

“At the time the plan was passed, the community was concerned about density, that was ’08, and that was almost 10 years ago,” said Elizabeth Via-Gossman, community development director for Manassas.

Three proposals previously submitted to city leaders show Holmes Heights lined with “small lot singles,” or single family homes with garages and alleyways behind them. Another shows a plan for a high-density mixed use development.

Developers are also producing and submitting to city hall concept drawings of other spaces in the city’s downtown, like a plan for constructing new homes and a parking deck on an existing commuter lot on Prince William Street, behind Baldwin Intermediate School.

“Any surface parking lot in a city is considered an underused space,” said Via-Gossman.

“Including the parking lot out outside [City Hall],” added Patrick Small, the city’s economic development director.

All told, there are about 700 new units on the books in the city. Until Messenger Place and Manassas Station fill up, it will be a waiting game to see if developers will move forward with the new housing units.

The peer into what to do with the land south of the city’s downtown area comes as city leaders prepare to spend $700,000 on improving Grant Avenue by reducing the number of vehicle lanes by two, turning it into a two-lane thoroughfare. By project completion in 2022, a bike path will be added from Wellington Road to Prince William Street, electric lines relocated, water mains upgraded, and aesthetic streetside improvements like a tree-lined median constructed.

City Councilman Mark Wolfe urged councilmembers to play a role in the design of a new Holmes Heights development.

“A planner is going make this the way we tell them to,” he said. “If we tell them to make this look like Clarendon, they’re going to come back and make it look like Clarendon.”

Also, a focus of the property is the city’s museum on Prince William Street. The open green space in front of the building serves as a central park for downtown.

City leaders this summer envisioned what it would look like if Central Library was relocated from its home on Route 28 just across the city line in Prince William County to the museum property, creating a combination building.

Manassas City Manager Patrick Pate said the Prince William County Library System, which operates Central, is weighing its options and has not come up with a final plan on what to do with its current building. It could choose to renovate the space, making it more modern like libraries recently opened in Montclair and Gainesville.

Leaders in Manassas Park, whose residents also use Central, has yet to weigh in on the plan, he added.

A library in the downtown area would bring more foot traffic as well as benefit students who attend nearby schools, including the city’s only high school — Osbourn.

“This combination building makes all the sense in the world on paper, but it hasn’t caught on in the public’s mind,” said Manassas Councilman Ian Lovejoy. “I have yet to have an outpouring of support for it from the public.”

In addition to a library, people have told city leaders they want open rooms to hold meetings and event gatherings, added Via-Gossman.

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