Planners Back Vienna Project

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

The contentious proposal to build 2,250 homes near the Vienna Metro station is headed to its final reckoning before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this month, after the county Planning Commission voted last night to recommend its approval.

Before their vote, which was unanimous with two abstentions, commissioners said the proposal had been improved over the course of two years of debate. At the same time, they discounted some long-standing criticisms that the project would overwhelm schools and roads.

"This proposal is demonstrably better, thanks to citizen efforts," said Kenneth Lawrence, a planning commissioner representing the affected district.

The plan, dubbed MetroWest, has become the centerpiece -- and lightning rod -- of the county's effort to concentrate development around transit stops. In addition to the more than 2,000 townhouses, condominiums and apartments, the proposal by Pulte Homes calls for 300,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail on about 60 acres just south of the Vienna stop.

Proponents say the project and others like it represent Fairfax's best hope to absorb thousands of new residents without exacerbating sprawl and traffic.

Critics, including many neighbors, say the plan is too dense and falls short of the smart growth ideal.

They say the project lacks sufficient incentives to encourage residents to use Metro rather than take to the area's clogged roads. They also say that the retail component won't be built large enough or open soon enough to keep residents from driving elsewhere for their errands and that the office component won't be built early enough to allow people to live and work at the development.

Pulte has sought to allay some of those concerns by agreeing, for instance, to be fined up to $500,000 if it is unable to reduce car use by about half from the level considered the norm for residential developments. More recently, the company promised to tweak its construction schedule to build more retail and office space earlier in the project's development, and pledged $750,000 toward improving playing fields in the area.

But the changes have not satisfied many opponents.

"There has been some movement on it, but when you get down to it, they can still get close to build-out and barely have an office building standing," said William Elliott, spokesman for Fairgrowth, a citizen group that opposes the project.

County supervisors are expected to vote on MetroWest after a public hearing March 27.

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