No Pushovers at Tysons Hearing

Representatives from Tysons Corner Center outlined a proposal to surround the megamall with condominium and office towers. Jim Robertson of the McLean Citizens Association thanks attendees. In Fairfax County, it is common for citizens groups to have input on development.
Representatives from Tysons Corner Center outlined a proposal to surround the megamall with condominium and office towers. Jim Robertson of the McLean Citizens Association thanks attendees. In Fairfax County, it is common for citizens groups to have input on development. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 2, 2005

Leaders of the McLean Citizens Association sat stoically unconvinced.

The civic group was being lobbied at a community center Tuesday night by representatives of the Tysons Corner Center, the capital region's largest mall, who were seeking support for their proposal to ring the retailing behemoth with office and condominium towers. As watercolor images of stylish mid-rises flashed on a screen, the mall's attorney extolled the plan as "spectacular."

But neither the pictures nor the rhetoric seemed to move the audience, which numbered about 30. The group interrupted the presentation more than a dozen times with no-nonsense questions that betrayed a familiarity with planners' argot. There were references to "floor-area ratio," parking requirements and the comprehensive plan. At least a few times, the statements verged on hostile.

"We're not that naive," Susan Turner, association president, told attorney Antonio J. Calabrese, in disputing the project's tax benefits. "Please don't use that [figure] again."

As Fairfax County politicians, developers and business leaders push to transform the Tysons Corner area into a more traditional downtown, dozens of such meetings with well-organized civic groups, many of them experienced in sparring with developers, are likely to play a critical role.

To win approval for large-scale projects, county leaders often require developers to seek the favor of surrounding communities, an approach that amounts to the developer engaging in something like a political campaign.

It is unclear whether developers can create a traditional downtown at Tysons Corner, as county leaders want, while also heeding neighborhood demands.

But the mall representatives, whose proposal is one of the first to move to capitalize on the anticipated arrival of Metrorail to Tysons, are trying to shape public opinion in advance of county hearings planned for October.

They have prepared a Web site, http://www.tysonsfuture.com/ , to tout the project; donated $10,000 in April to the campaign fund of Fairfax Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D); and set up meetings with condo associations and other neighborhood groups.

The McLean Citizens Association was the third such meeting. The project would increase the amount of floor space on the property to more than 5 million square feet -- more than twice as much as in the Empire State Building.

"I expected to be on the hot seat," Calabrese said afterward, shrugging off some of the tough moments. "It was a healthy repartee."

Since 1994, the county land plan has called for creating a "downtown" at Tysons Corner, the capital region's second-largest job center, and as the rail plan advances, many developers have proposed bigger, more urban projects.


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