Tysons panel to weigh density maximums, 40-year span for planning

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

Fairfax County officials will consider a proposal that removes density maximums but limits development and slashes the planning horizon in the county's draft blueprint to remake Tysons Corner.

The proposal suggested by Planning Commissioner Walter L. Alcorn is a significant departure from the blueprint, which lays out a 40-year plan and recommends densities for buildings based on their distances from future Metro stations.

"It's not easy to see that far into the future, particularly when we're trying to project mobility and transportation system usage," said Alcorn, who leads the Planning Commission's Tysons Committee. "How much ridership are we going to see on the Metro at that point? How much other transit will we have in place?"

Instead, Alcorn is suggesting planning for the next 20 years only. Growth would be capped at 84 million square feet, almost double the size of Tysons today but less than the 113 million square feet proposed in the 40-year plan.

Specific densities would also be lifted, allowing landowners to request densities for their redevelopment projects. But it's through the rezoning process -- where landowners would have to defend their proposals -- that the county could net funding for roads, transit, parks and other public facilities in the form of development conditions. This approach, Alcorn said, would help ensure that growth does not overwhelm public infrastructure, particularly the transportation network.

Only after the first 20 years of development is approved would the county begin planning for the next 20 years. The overall development cap could be raised once an updated transportation plan and road financing plan are approved.

Alcorn's proposal underscores a key concern of residents, who worry that the proposed land-use plan would produce massive growth that would cripple the road network.

"It's a huge validation for what citizens have been saying for two years," said Charles Hall, a founding member of the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition. "Trying to plan for 30, 40 years into the future, it's really guesswork and fantasy. It's also a way to juice up the [density] numbers" in ways that would guarantee gridlock.

Clark Tyler, chair of the Tysons Land Use Task Force, said that putting caps on development until road improvements are in place is counterproductive.

And without specific guidelines that ensure more density, Tyler said, a landowner might have no incentive to redevelop his property in exchange for funding some public facilities.

The Planning Commission will hold a workshop Wednesday on the proposed land-use plan, which will include Alcorn's proposal as one of several options.

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