Changes Set to Start in Spring '07

A rendering of the MetroWest development near the Vienna Metro station. The developer will provide incentives to residents to use transit.
A rendering of the MetroWest development near the Vienna Metro station. The developer will provide incentives to residents to use transit. (Edaw)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It will be at least eight years before the massive MetroWest project at the Vienna Metro station is fully built, officials said yesterday, but commuters and neighbors will see improvements to the station and nearby roads starting next spring.

A day after the controversial complex of 2,250 homes, shops and offices won approval from Fairfax officials, county leaders, civic activists and the developer looked forward to a smoother path to construction.

Developer Pulte Homes laid out a rough construction timetable yesterday that will start with a year of paperwork for site permits, engineering and the grading of the 56 acres south of the station where the complex will be located.

Then, before the first townhouse or condominium is built, the developer will complete work on about $17 million worth of changes it promised at and around the Metro station. The improvements include renovated bus shelters and Kiss & Ride lots; a wider, upgraded internal road running through the station; and an extension of Vaden Road to Route 29. Vaden crosses Interstate 66 and dead-ends at the station.

"A lot of benefits for the surrounding community are what you're going to see first," said Jon Lindgren, Pulte's director of land acquisition.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the project 8 to 1 Monday night, calling MetroWest a bold step toward dense development near public transit that could encourage residents to walk and to ride trains instead of driving. Critics, who mobilized against the project's scale, saying it will overwhelm their neighborhoods with thousands of new cars, seemed resigned to the project's approval. But they said they would hold Pulte to its promises to coax residents from their cars.

"The citizens will need to be vigilant watchdogs," said Will Elliott, a founder of FairGrowth, which formed largely to push for fewer homes in MetroWest. "We hope all the promises in the project are kept.

"We will need to continue to make sure this doesn't become the Clarksburg of Fairfax County," Elliott said, referring to the community of 1,300 homes in upper Montgomery County where lax enforcement of building plans was discovered.

MetroWest is scheduled to break ground in spring 2007, Lindgren said, and within two years, the first townhouses and condominiums should go on the market. They will vary in price, size and location, with some closer to the train station than others, he said. To ensure that the 100,000 square feet of stores and up to 300,000 feet of offices are not built at the end, Pulte must build them as the homes are finished. For example, once 1,100 homes are built, the columns and beams of one of the office buildings must be completed within 18 months. Lindgren said the company is "actively looking" for retailers, including supermarkets and dry cleaners, to fill the ground-floor space.

And as the company ramps up to market the first homes, Pulte will invest in an incentive program to encourage buyers to use public transit -- with free train fares, for example.

If the developer cannot reduce car use by about half the number of new trips MetroWest is expected to generate, it must spend up to $500,000 to come up with a more aggressive incentive plan. If that fails, Pulte would have to pay the county $2 million.

Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), whose district includes the MetroWest site, said she will focus on parking needs at the crowded station, which is served by limited street parking, two garages and a temporary surface lot that holds 680 cars. That lot will be razed to make way for the development, and commuters who park there have expressed concern about the loss because they anticipate thousands of new neighbors. Metro has agreed to fund a third garage on the site, adding a net 800 spaces, officials said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company