A developer's vision for a mini-city of more than 5,000 office workers and residents near the Vienna Metro station won unanimous approval from Fairfax supervisors yesterday, signaling a shift toward more urban living in a county best known as a sprawling suburb.
Fairlee-MetroWest, to rise at the end of Metro's Orange Line in central Fairfax, would be the densest development within reach of Metro in the county's prosperous enclaves outside the Capital Beltway. Ranches and colonials with towering trees on half-acre lots are more familiar sights there than condominiums clustered above supermarkets and dry cleaners.
William S. Elliott of Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth works the phone against the development.
(Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)
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Yesterday's vote, which changes the county's land-use plan to allow offices, stores and a mix of residential uses, opens the door to the kind of neighborhood transformation from suburban to urban long planned for Vienna but blocked by residents. The developers hope to replace what had once been a neighborhood of 61 single-family homes on 56 acres, which they purchased and razed, with offices, stores and 2,250 homes in a dozen buildings up to 14 stories tall and luxury townhouses. Condominiums would sell for $400,000 to $800,000.
The project sets a precedent for a redevelopment in neighboring Poplar Terrace, a subdivision of 70 houses whose owners are negotiating with builder Centex Homes to cash in and make way for a similar transit-oriented project a half-mile west of the Vienna station.
The supervisors, joining some planners and environmentalists, praised the Fairlee-MetroWest plan from Pulte Homes Inc. and Clark Realty Capital as a case study in "smart growth," the land-use movement that encourages dense building around train and bus stations and focuses the demand for homes on a relatively small amount of land. As buildable land disappears and roadways jam, the board showed its intention to approve development that builds up rather than out -- even if the shift means disrupting the ambiance of neighborhoods that were there first.
Dozens of neighbors in Vienna flocked to a public hearing this fall and campaigned against the project, complaining that so many newcomers would overwhelm nearby roads. With room for 4,400 cars, the development would offer people little incentive to take the train to work or for social life, they said.
"Smart growth is an orphan when it comes to having a constituency," said Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who until last year represented the Vienna area. "It's something many people can support" until it comes to their neighborhood. He called his yes vote "not an easy call," as a protester yelled "Condo Connolly!" in the hearing room at the Government Center. The project, in negotiations for three years, was so sensitive that Connolly tabled a vote on it during his campaign for chairman last fall.
Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D), Connolly's successor in the Providence District, noted before the vote that most of the parking will be underground or in garages attached to townhouses. She called the project a "synergy of uses" that will allow new and longtime residents to walk to shopping for the first time. "In some ways, we're playing catch-up," she said.
But members of Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth, a countywide group formed in response to the Fairlee project, expressed frustration after lobbying their supervisors for months.
"Citizens countywide are not being fooled," said William S. Elliott, who lives next to the planned project. "At every step, our leaders have kowtowed to the developer while ignoring legitimate concerns."
Elliott questioned whether the project is "a true transit-oriented development," saying it is unlikely the developers will be required to limit parking to one space per family to discourage driving.
Unlike Arlington County, Fairfax has taken limited steps to cluster development around its Orange Line stations, largely deferring to the wishes of residents who prefer fewer neighbors.
Pulte Vice President Stan Settle predicted that Fairlee will appeal to single people and married couples "that want to live in a luxurious condo with maintenance." The plan predicts that about 260 children will attend nearby schools. And Settle estimated that close to half the workers, shoppers and residents will ride Metro.
"We're taking half of 5,000 people off the roads," he said. "You won't get them all, but you'll get a good percentage of them."
Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports the Fairlee project, said its biggest benefit will be that it will take development pressure off other land in the region.
"The community needs to be more concerned about the single-use projects, where there's no choice but to drive for every single trip," he said.