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County Picks Project for Wiehle Avenue Site

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fairfax County has selected a company's proposal for a large, mixed-use development at the planned Wiehle Avenue Metro stop in Reston, a project that officials say heralds the transformation coming to the Dulles corridor with the expected arrival of rail.

A county selection committee has chosen a proposal by Reston-based Comstock Partners over that of Bethesda-based Clark Realty to build on a nine-acre county-owned park-and-ride lot adjacent to the planned station, say several people familiar with the decision. The selection will not be considered by the Board of Supervisors until the county completes negotiations with Comstock, and the project will still have to win zoning approval.

The exact outlines of the project depend on the outcome of a long-running petition drive that would lift private covenants restricting residential construction at the site and along the Dulles Toll Road. Proponents of lifting the covenants argue that the restrictions would keep the county from realizing the full potential of the Metro extension to Dulles International Airport, the first phase of which is set to end at Wiehle Avenue and be completed in 2011.

If owners of 90 percent of the land along the corridor agree to lift the covenants, Comstock will be able to include residential units among the nearly 1 million square feet of building that would be permitted on the nine acres. Owners of 73 percent of the land have signed so far.

If the covenants are not lifted, the developers will probably limit the residential component of the project to an adjoining parcel owned by Charles A. Veatch, a commercial real estate manager with whom the developers have been negotiating, say those familiar with the project. As it stands, plans call for at least 400 homes on that site, which is not covered by the covenants.

Beau Schweikert, Comstock's chief financial officer, was scheduled to meet yesterday with county officials to discuss the plan.

Doug Carter, an architect working on the project, said the project was a "great opportunity to create transit-oriented development" and a "unique contribution to the Reston environment." Particularly exciting, he said, was the potential for building part of the project over the toll road, though thorny issues regarding air rights remain to be hashed out with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which owns the highway.

"That would be a terrific opportunity to do something really innovative," Carter said.

Those following the selection process say a defining feature of the proposals was how they dealt with the requirement that the project include 2,300 parking spots for commuters using the rail station, in addition to whatever parking would be needed for the development itself. Comstock's plan calls for putting much of the parking in a below-ground garage.

A third proposal was eliminated earlier by the selection committee partly because it scattered much of the parking on lots adjoining the nine-acre site, which Metro officials opposed.

Joe Stowers, a Reston transportation consultant who served on a task force convened by Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) to create guidelines for the proposals, said he was sorry that the off-site parking idea was discarded, since it would have given developers more latitude in making best use of the county parcel. That said, he added, underground parking on the site would be better than an above-ground garage.

Stowers also expressed concern that the residential component of the project might end up limited to the Veatch parcel, whether or not the covenants are lifted. Such segmentation, he said, would keep the project from being a truly integrated mixed-use development.

To get the petition to the 90 percent threshold, proponents are focusing on a handful of key landowners, including the Peter Lawrence Co., owner of the Isaac Newton Square office building. Patty Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, a group promoting the Metro extension, said she has been making the case to landowners that allowing residential building will make their land more valuable once rail arrives.

The selection of a proposal for the Wiehle Avenue site serves as a reminder that the corridor's transformation is for real, she said. Construction is scheduled to begin late this year on the first phase of the rail line.

"It's a big step forward, no doubt about it," she said.


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