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Despite major construction, home buyers still finding way to Tysons Corner

By Susan Straight,

“What a mess,” longtime Tysons Corner resident Marie Davis said of the construction pervading the area. Davis, originally from Brooklyn, moved to Tysons in 1963 when “this was absolutely country. There was nothing at Tysons but a feed store.”

Now, construction of Metro’s Silver line, Beltway HOT lanes and other projects have made regularly traveled routes unpredictable and driving much more difficult. There have been nighttime pile-driving marathons, lane closures on I-495 and overnight closures of I-66, ramp closings, lane reroutings, and a temporary shutdown of Metro rail service between the East and West Falls Church stations.

But somehow, it seems, home buyers are still finding their way to area listings. The two Zip codes that overlap the central retail area of Tysons Corner are 22182, which includes homes around Wolf Trap, and 22102, which includes neighborhoods to the north of Route 7, toward Dranesville.

The number of homes sold in the 22182 Zip code fell just 1 percent from 2009 to 2010, while the median sales price rose 3 percent, to $715,000. In 22102, the number of homes sold increased 22 percent and the median sales price was up by 17 percent, to $1.1 million, according to The Washington Post’s interactive home sale data map. In 22043, which abuts the southeastern side of the Tysons Corner retail area and includes Pimmit Hills and Idylwood, sales decreased 2 percent.

When stacked up against Zip codes for comparable suburban commercial hubs such as White Flint Mall or Largo Town Center, home sales around Tysons are faring no worse, and in some respects, better. The Zip code overlapping White Flint Mall, 20852, had a 15 percent drop in the number of sales but a 6 percent gain in median sales price last year. Largo Town Center’s Zip code, 20774, saw a 15 percent increase in the number of sales, but the median price fell 11 percent.

Mark Melikan, an associate broker with Long & Foster’s Tysons Corner office, says he thinks the development project is appealing to buyers. “It’s a definitely a sellers’ market for properties under $1 mil,” he said. “There are a lot of things under contract.” He said the area’s eventual convenience — and speculation on the part of investors — will lead home prices to appreciate.

“You’re not going to see a dramatic increase; it will be slow steps up,” he said.

The construction projects don’t appear to be affecting spring home-buyer activity on a $670,000 three-bedroom, 3 ½-bath listing near the Beltway/Route 7 interchange, according to Long & Foster agent Lee Scalzott.

“In only a week, we had 20 showings, and 19 people viewed it online,” before it went under contract, he said. The seller, whose job was moved overseas, accepted an offer from a buyer who already lives in Tysons Corner, Scalzott said.

The seller, Anu Yerukola, who lived in the home for two years, said she wouldn’t be selling if she were not leaving the country. “I’m not bothered by the construction,” she said. “I’m used to living in busy places.”

For some longtime Tysons Corner residents, however, it has been more of an adjustment living through multiple construction projects.

Homeowner Cindy Kwitchoff experienced the disorientation of driving along a road she has driven for 20 years and suddenly encountering a new traffic pattern. “It’s a weird feeling: ‘There’s a new exit lane. I don’t know where the cars are coming from,’ ” she said. “I can’t just keep going like I normally would.”

Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said that although “they’ve done an excellent job of providing notification to people,” the normally heavy traffic has become worse because of lane closures. “Tysons doesn’t have the capacity for the workers it has, and then you couple that with road closures,” he said.

Even sleep has been disrupted. Tysons area homeowner Mary Ellen Dick remembers last summer’s pile driving. “Those pilings,” she said. “They did that any time, day or night. You’d lie in bed listening to those go. We could hear it like it was right on our road. It was terrible,” she said.

Dick’s current difficulty is entering traffic on Route 7. “We’ve had a hell of a time getting out of our neighborhood,” she said. “The entrances are narrowed, and they’ve torn up the road many times.”

But like many residents, she said the pain is worth it. “The change is for the good. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else,” she said. “It’s going to be gorgeous when it’s done.”

Not all of the changes are painful. Some are small projects that don’t make much noise or cause many delays, but that make a lot of sense in returning Tysons to a more friendly place to live.

For example, Pimmit Hills, on the southeast side of Tysons Corners and one of the area’s largest subdivisions, is soon to become much more convenient to the West Falls Church Metro via new pedestrian path. The path will connect Pimmit Hills directly to the Metro, more than halving the previous walking time and distance. The station is half a mile away as the crow flies, but it takes 25 minutes to walk because of an indirect route out of the neighborhood and along Route 7, “across a lot of bad traffic. You have to cross the ramps to I-66,” said Carol Martz, president of the Pimmit Hills Citizens Association.

The new walking path involves restoring a path that children used years ago, she said. “My kids used the path to go to Lemon Road Elementary school,” she said.

Although buses serve the Tysons rea, they aren’t widely used; the Tysons Connector bus discontinued service several months ago because of low ridership. Few options exist for walking on the pedestrian-unfriendly six-lane roads. As a result, traffic slows to a standstill in peak commuting hours and even at lunchtime.

“My sister lives five miles away and sometimes it took me 1 ½ hours to get there,” Yerukola said. “I live 300 to 400 yards from the [Tysons Corner Center] mall and it used to be impossible to get there,” she added. Yerukola said she thinks the traffic police she sees at peak traffic times help with the flow, especially in turning lanes. “It’s gotten much better — last year it was miserable,” she said.

One side effect of lane closures and detours is increased traffic in surrounding neighborhoods, Jackson said. “We see a lot of people cutting through McLean streets to get on the Beltway,” he said. After breaking free from stalled traffic, they’re half-crazed and making poor driving decisions like running stop signs. “That causes a lot of concern,” he said.

Holiday-season delays are legendary, as traffic grinds to a nearly perpetual halt as shoppers make tracks for the more than 250 retail establishments of Tysons Corner Center or more than 120 retailers across Route 123 at Tysons Galleria, not to mention the other stores along Route 7 and International Drive.

Kwitchoff, who teleworks, says that because of the traffic and construction she avoids going out during rush hour. And although she theoretically lives within walking distance of Tysons Corner Center, she avoids it. “The traffic is such that I don’t ever even go to Tysons” to shop, she said. “I’d personally like to walk to Tysons Corner [Center]. It would be nice if there were walking [paths].”

Kwitchoff and Martz are unusual at this point in Tysons Corner history — people who live and work in the area. But with major plans for Tysons underway, that soon may not be so unusual.

According to Fairfax County’s approved land use plan, by 2050 Tysons will become home to up to 100,000 residents and will be a 24-hour urban center where people can shop, work and play. Seventy-five percent of the growth will be within half a mile of the four metro stations now under construction and slated to open in 2013.

The land use plan calls for an initial development of 45 million square feet of office space and no limit on residential development.

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