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Fairfax activist works to protect Tysons from development

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010; B01

On a recent sunny afternoon, Amy Tozzi stepped onto her 15th-floor balcony, with its views of the Tysons Corner skyline.

She focused her gaze on the Capital Beltway, surrounded by a ring of towers, including the corporate headquarters of Hilton Hotels and Capital One. During the past 32 years, she has witnessed Tysons's transformation from a semi-rural industrial park into one of the country's most successful business districts.

When she bought her McLean condo in the 1970s, "none of that existed," Tozzi said, waving her hand at the high-rise office buildings.

And much less would exist, if she had had her way. Tozzi, a 70-year-old retiree, works relentlessly to buffer her neighborhood from encroaching development. She has gone toe-to-toe with developers, urging them to limit the size and scope of their projects. She has prodded Fairfax County officials to consider the interests of residents at the eleventh-hour of a major rezoning case.

Tozzi guards her community from what she calls the "nature of unfettered development" that has led Tysons to become a sprawling expanse of malls, office towers and wide, congested roads. "We used to be able to walk across the street," she said. "All that has been taken away as the buildings have gotten bigger and taller."

She is bracing herself now for Tysons's future, which will be ushered in with a remarkable new development pattern. The advent of a Metro extension to Tysons and then to Dulles International Airport spurred Fairfax County to create a new blueprint to redevelop the entire area. The 40-year plan calls for redeveloping the job hub into a city with clustered office, retail and apartment towers connected by a walkable street grid.

Almost five years ago, she joined the Tysons Land Use Task Force, a 37-member panel of residents, business leaders and other stakeholders who helped lay the basis for the plan. She disagreed with the task force, concerned that its proposal didn't call for enough parks, schools or road improvements to accommodate Tysons's projected growth. She has continued to be vocal about her concerns for Tysons's future, attending public meetings and submitting comments about the proposal's effects on the community.

"They talk density; they talk heights. I'm talking infrastructure," she said. "Where are the community needs going to be taken care of? I kept raising this."

Tozzi is feisty and outspoken, with cropped silver hair, arched eyebrows and a fit frame, the result of daily exercise. She moved to McLean in 1977 after spending 14 years working for the CIA in Latin America and Europe. When she moved to the Tysons area, single and in her 30s, she discovered the Regency at McLean, one of two high-rises nestled atop a curvy tree-lined road.

The condos, which included a health club, were being billed as an active community targeted at singles and young couples. Each was being sold for an additional $1,000 per tier, and so Tozzi plopped down an extra $15,000 for an end unit on the 15th floor. She said she was drawn to its wooded views and tennis courts. The seven-minute commute to Langley was an added bonus. "I said, 'Amy: You. Are. Home,' " she recalled.

Tozzi eventually joined the board of her homeowners association, where she began researching and tracking development proposals around the community. Her efforts began more than 20 years ago, when landowners were seeking county approval for many of the projects that would fuel the Tysons building boom.

She has routinely negotiated with developers, pressuring them to protect a nearby creek, lower building heights and fund road improvements to mitigate the traffic impact of their projects. In 2001, she was part of a group of residents who blocked a businessman's plan to build a helicopter pad across the Beltway from her building.

Her tenacity and firm approach to negotiation has left a lasting impression with developers and county officials.

Thomas Fleury first met Tozzi in the late 1980s when he worked for WestGroup, one of Tysons's early office developers. In his nearly 34 years with WestGroup, Fleury has interacted with many residents. But he said Tozzi stood out as the ultimate citizen activist, one he described as a persistent and "worthy adversary."

"She is relentless and sometimes overly committed to her position in light of other information," Fleury said.

County supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), whose district includes most of Tysons, said Tozzi's historical knowledge of the area has been invaluable. Tysons's small residential population is largely transient, she said, and Tozzi is one of a few homeowners who have been around a long time and have participated in the public process.

"To have that kind of continuity there is remarkable," Smyth said. "I have always known that Amy could be relied on, to not only participate but to follow the information and to be very, very well-informed."

Tozzi's neighbors rely on her to update them about nearby developments, from which landowner plans to rezone a property to what company is moving into an office building next door. She also reaches out to residents in other communities, encouraging them to attend public hearings on proposed developments in Tysons.

"She explains the issues," said Carolyn Moss, president of the condo board. "What she does a masterful job in is lobbying. She knows how to pull the community together and make sure we're fighting for a common interest."

Tozzi acknowledges that keeping up with Tysons's growth is a challenge.

"I think developers count on the fact that the citizenry isn't up to speed," she said. "We can't be up to speed. We all have our personal lives. They can come and talk sweet and hope you don't know what the heck is going on."

She has no plans to slow down, either. Having outlasted many businesses and two county supervisors, Tozzi chuckled at the realization that she is "still here as a thorn in everybody's side."

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