Tysons makeover is underway in a big way


Construction on Tysons Tower takes place near a new Metro station. Tysons, which dropped ‘Corner’ from its name, has undergone a transformation since 2010 when Fairfax County officials approved a plan to urbanize the area. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

Three years after Fairfax County approved a dynamic plan to urbanize Tysons Corner, the Silver Line is a few months from completion, a 25-story high-rise apartment building is under construction and officials have decided to drop the “corner” from the name of their burgeoning suburban city and just call it “Tysons.”

The vision, laid out in the 230-plus-page plan, is taking shape, and now officials are considering how to keep the transformation on course.

In the coming weeks, Fairfax County officials will hold a series of public forums to consider amendments to the 2010 plan. In recent years, the county agreed to a 40-year transportation funding plan, approved zoning for six massive mixed-use developments, studied how best to add Circulator bus service and created the Tysons Partnership, an association of commercial property owners that organizes festivals, shows and an annual bicycle race to bring people into Tysons outside of the typical workday.

All of those changes need to be worked into the existing plan as the county continues to move toward adding 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs by 2050.

Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova (D), a major proponent of overhauling Tysons, said that since passage of the 2010 plan, concerns that developing high-rise projects in Tysons would be too expensive or burdensome have largely proven unfounded.

An urban, walkable Tysons, she said, is “absolutely achievable,” and she pointed to the county-approved proposals for major new private development that will also finance new fire stations, playing fields, recreation centers, parks and affordable housing.

“In the land uses that we’ve had come to the board of supervisors, the developers and the property owners are complying with the expectations,” Bulova said. “So the affordable housing is something that indeed is being achieved. Also there was a time in the beginning when the developers and the landowners scratched their heads about how we would be providing the athletic fields and the storm water improvements, but we’re actually following the plan.”

Bulova is such a big believer in Tysons that she said she would like to buy a condo there, although most of the projects envisioned over the next few years call for rental apartments. “I seriously am hoping that someone will be building some condos. I’m waiting for that,” she said.

Matt Ladd, senior planner with the county’s department of planning and zoning, said the amendments being considered offer residents the chance to weigh in on Tysons’s progress. The first forum took place Oct. 7 at Spring Hill Elementary School.

“We’re moving in a direction of more walking, more biking, maybe not less cars, but more people. We will grow tremendously in Tysons, and there may be more cars, but in the future, there will much, much more walking or biking,” Ladd said.

Many Washington-area residents continue to view Tysons as a traffic- and construction-riddled canyon, and one of the only buildings to actually be completed since the 2010 plan is a Wal-Mart.

But with the Silver Line set to open early next year, Michael Caplin, executive director of the Tysons Partnership, is planning a series of events aimed at attracting new visitors. Most of them will take place on undeveloped land provided by Lerner Enterprises and are supported by corporate sponsors.

In the past few years, Caplin said, “the principal stakeholders have gotten better at sharing strategies and collaborating on common issues, so that there is really a wonderful sense of community starting to emerge.”

“Now they share a sense that they are doing something really big and important, that they are launching a new city,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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