Metrorail Opts to Sell Parcel in Vienna
Friday, November 18, 2005
Metrorail's board of directors agreed yesterday to sell land at the Vienna station for a mini-city of homes, offices and stores, moving forward a project at the center of Fairfax County's debate over growth.
The long-negotiated $6.5 million sale will transfer 3.75 acres south of the station to Pulte Homes, the developer of MetroWest. But the string bean-shaped property is a critical link between the station and 56 acres where Pulte is seeking county approval for 13 residential, retail and office towers, including 2,250 homes. Without the land, Pulte has said, buildings would have to be shifted too far from the station, discouraging commuters from walking to shops and offices and forcing them into their cars.
MetroWest, which would be one of the densest developments in Fairfax, has come to symbolize the county's effort to concentrate homes, offices and shops around Metro stations. Called "smart growth" by its supporters, the planning philosophy has also drawn fierce opposition from neighbors who never dreamed anything so urban would rise near their leafy subdivisions.
The sale was held up for months by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va), who threatened to withdraw federal transit funding if it went through. Davis and opponents saw the delay as leverage to push county supervisors to demand that Pulte scale back the project, which is scheduled for a vote by the county board early next year.
The Metro board prepared to vote on the land sale last month. But under pressure from Davis, Chairman T. Dana Kauffman postponed action until yesterday so that Metro could hold an unusual public hearing on the sale.
Dozens of people, from neighbors to business leaders to members of environmental groups, weighed in on both sides at Oakton High School on Nov. 1.
Kauffman, also a Fairfax County supervisor, said the decision to sell came down to the sale's windfall for Metro and Pulte's commitment to make $17 million in improvements at the station, including a wider access road.
"Every now and then you come down to an issue of people having to agree to disagree," he said before the unanimous vote.
"We have delayed final action . . . to ensure that questions raised by everyone from neighbors to Congress could be addressed."
Concerns have included whether MetroWest's density would overwhelm nearby roads with cars, even if some workers and residents ride trains and buses.
As for the trains, some have asked how the already-strained Orange line could handle any increase in ridership.
Before yesterday's vote, a handful of opponents pleaded with Metro to lease the property rather than sell it.