Fairfax County plans 154 acres of urban parks for Tysons

By 2050 Tysons Corner is expected to have 204,944 employees and 88,900 residents. There  is 26 million square feet of office space there and another 45 million square feet — the equivalent of downtown Austin, Texas — being planned.

And yet there is only one playing field, behind Westgate Elementary School, in Falls Church.


The only playing field in Tysons. (Jonathan O’Connell/Capital Business)

This despite the fact that 10 percent of Fairfax County land remains parkland. Even Tysons, which outwardly is a muddle of office buildings, malls and congested roads, is still home to 89 acres of parkland, largely in stream valleys like Scotts Run and Old Courthouse Spring Branch.

But Old Courthouse Spring Branch is under threat by a planned exit ramp from the Dulles Toll Road and most of the other existing green areas aren’t very central to Tysons.

With an eye on building Tysons into an actual city, the county is pushing to add one-and-a-half acres of parkland per 1,000 residents  and one acre for every 10,000 employees, totaling about 154 acres of new urban parkland. As William G. Bouie, chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority Board, said Wednesday, some of the most distinct and memorable places in popular cities are public parks. 

“Great cities are defined by great parks,” Bouie said. 

The challenge for county officials and landowners is how to create a series of usable parks while the area is simultaneously being torn apart with new Silver Line rail connections, roads, development and infrastructure improvements.

Last week the county published its first concrete vision for introducing parks to Tysons, a 113-page document that proposes more than two dozen civic plazas, playing fields and recreation areas as well as a nearly five-mile-long recreational trail loop.


A proposed series of parks in Tysons. (Courtesy Fairfax County)

Some of the plans are decades off. The recreational trail for instance, requires the construction of two bridges over the Capital Beltway.  You couldn’t walk or bike it today if you tried.

But others are already in the works, sometimes because developers agreed to build them as a condition for re-zoning of their properties. Sandra Stallman, who oversees the Tysons parks plan for the parks authority, said the private sector to this point had been a worthy partner. “I think the development community recognizes the value of parks because they’ve stepped up in terms of their re-zoning applications,” she said.

One of the first new spaces in Tysons will be temporary it will open this summer on the property of the SAIC headquarters, future site of a major mixed-use project that could include a Whole Foods grocery store.

The site, owned by the Meridian Group, is not big enough to allow for a game of softball or a hike, but the intersection is already a hub for food trucks. Meridian hired LandDesign to create a pop-up park — a public plaza where a lunchtime concert or at least a bit of sunshine could be had.

“Our goal is to create a public space at the corner of Greensboro Drive and Solutions Drive that will help define the parks system that will come to Tysons,” said Khristine Giangrandi, of LandDesign. 


Rendering of the proposed pop-up park at Greensboro and Solutions Drive (Courtesy Meridian Group/LandDesign)

A permanent and far more extensive, 8.5-acre park is being built by Cityline Partners, the largest property owner in Tysons, as part of its Arbor Row project. As part of re-zoning agreements with the county, Cityline is restoring the Scotts Run stream valley, building a winding walking path, a full-size soccer field and another half-size field. (All the new fields envisioned for Tysons will be artificial turf.)

(Courtesy Cityline Partners)
(Courtesy Cityline Partners)

Thomas D. Fleury, Cityline executive vice president, said although building the parks is a requirement for his company he viewed them as central to the places it is trying to create.

“We look at it as the emerald gem of our 6.7 million-square-foot development,” Fleury said. He noted that Gerald T. Halpin, the preeminent landowner in Tysons for a generation, helped found the Grand Teton National Park Foundation. “We think it brings a vibrancy to the development,” Fleury said.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

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