Traffic and Density Worries Drive Debate on MetroWest

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Fairfax County's signature growth plan -- the building of thousands of condominiums, townhouses, stores and offices at the Vienna Metro station -- generated more emotional debate last night as planning commissioners weighed what the development will look like.

As many as 60 people had signed up to speak at a public hearing on MetroWest, a project that has consumed Fairfax leaders, planners and civic activists for nearly three years.

The 2,250 homes Pulte Home Corp. would build just south of the Metro would become one of Fairfax's densest developments and test the county's vision of what officials call transit-oriented development -- the concentration of homes, jobs, shopping and entertainment around train stations. Similar growth is planned for Tysons Corner when Metrorail comes to that area of the county.

Several speakers, including supportive environmental groups, hailed MetroWest as "smart growth" that would focus the county's overflowing demand for homes on a small site within walking distance of trains and buses.

"It will provide a much-needed focal point for the community," neighbor Richard Bochner said.

Pulte attorney Tim Sampson called the proposed mini-city a "trailblazing project." He assured planners that Pulte would pay millions of dollars for road improvements to alleviate any additional traffic generated by the development.

But the vast majority of speakers said the 13 towers and up to 6,000 workers and residents in MetroWest would overwhelm their suburban life in neighborhoods of single-family houses. They decried additional traffic -- not everyone at MetroWest would take the train, they argued.

"MetroWest will lower our quality of life in many, many ways," said Mark Tipton, a neighbor and member of FairGrowth, a group fighting for fewer homes in the development. Tipton predicted that MetroWest would add a minimum of 6,000 car trips a day to the Vienna area's bottlenecked roads.

Opponents also said they were skeptical of an agreement between Pulte and county leaders to fine the developers hundreds of thousands of dollars if they cannot persuade enough residents and workers to walk or take mass transit. Sampson said the company has set aside $4 million for marketing and incentives to reduce car trips by almost half, but fines would kick in if a series of carrots and sticks did not succeed.

Members of the Vienna Town Council also registered their objections, saying their small community down the street from the station already is paralyzed by traffic.

"People are concerned about the direction Fairfax County is headed," Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman said. "There seems to be an insatiable appetite for growth, growth and more growth."

The Planning Commission did not plan to vote last night on whether to recommend the project to the Board of Supervisors. That vote is scheduled for March, with a hearing and final decision by the supervisors expected in the spring.

But MetroWest has had considerable momentum in the 14 months since the supervisors approved a change to the county's land-use plan to allow dense development next to the Vienna Station. Pulte's specific rezoning application, addressing the details of that broad vision, is on the table now.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) has said his board may require Pulte to add more retail space to encourage foot traffic and more condominiums than the 368 now planned for retirees because older people who have left the workforce are less reliant on their cars.

The proposal comes as Fairfax continues to grapple with growth, adding thousands of jobs a year.

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