Dense Development Sought Near Transit

The Board of Supervisors again resolved to tell Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) that it prefers a tunnel under Tysons Corner rather than an elevated track.
The Board of Supervisors again resolved to tell Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) that it prefers a tunnel under Tysons Corner rather than an elevated track. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)

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By Amy Gardner and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fairfax County embraced a new policy yesterday encouraging dense, pedestrian-friendly development near current and future transit stations, continuing the transformation of car-friendly suburban neighborhoods.

The policy, approved unanimously by the county Board of Supervisors, will promote "compact" development with a mix of housing, office space and retail stores within a half-mile of rail stations. The most intensive development would lie within a quarter-mile of stations. Fairfax is home to 10 transit stations, five for Metro and five for Virginia Railway Express.

The point, supervisors and the new policy say, is to create communities that encourage walking, biking and transit use to reduce sprawl and automobile travel.

Another purpose is to create a clear definition of so-called transit-oriented development -- a term that means different things to different people.

Last June, for example, the county approved MetroWest, a development of 2,250 homes as well as office and retail space at the Vienna Metro station, over the objections of residents who said the proposal lacked the mix of uses and neighborhood input needed for successful transit-oriented development. Previously, the county blocked a nearby neighborhood from selling to a developer who planned to build a high-rise project, on the grounds that the community was too far from the Metro station to qualify for the label.

Another proposal for 1,800 homes near Hunter Mill Road and the Dulles Toll Road -- more than a mile from a planned Metro station -- also was blocked.

"This makes very good progress in defining what transit-oriented development is and where it should be," said Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock).

The county's new policy will clarify the term primarily by setting a geographic boundary for transit-oriented development. It creates a radius roughly equal to about a 10-minute walk -- generally the limit of how far people can be expected to walk to a station rather than drive.

The policy also gives neighborhoods the opportunity to help frame plans for development around nearby transit stations, promising "a broadly inclusive, collaborative, community participation process." And it requires adaptability to the unique characteristics of particular neighborhoods. The radius of high-density development, for instance, could be expanded in neighborhoods that are already walkable, and shortened in places filled with wide, hard-to-cross highways.

Requiring input from existing neighborhoods was a key goal of residents who helped develop the policy, many of whom worried about the possibility of dense developments.

"They're paying a price for having transit-oriented development next door," said Deborah Reyher of Vienna, a representative of the Oakdale Park Civic Association. "They shouldn't be the next domino in the chain."

In other business, the board resolved, for the third time and second in two months, to tell Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) that it prefers a tunnel under Tysons Corner rather than an elevated track as part of a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport.

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