Public raises questions, concerns on Tysons Corner redevelopment plans

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010

When it comes to the future of Tysons Corner, residents, landowners and local officials all agree that it's time to transform the congested office park into a transit-oriented city. But they disagree on how to make it happen.

At a Fairfax Planning Commission hearing on Wednesday, 56 people weighed in on the county's proposal to redevelop Tysons over the next 40 years.

The blueprint would permit the transformation of office parks and aging apartment buildings into commercial and residential towers with manicured courtyards, sidewalk cafes and outdoor boutiques. The densest development would be within a few blocks of four Metro stations being built as part of the Metrorail extension to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Residents raised concerns about how growth will affect roads and public facilities, while landowners complained that the proposal is loaded with development conditions that offer no economic incentive to redevelop their properties.

Under the proposal, developers would have to consolidate 20 acres of land before they could redevelop projects in areas closest to the Metro stations. But several landowners opposed the requirement, saying it was a one-size-fits-all approach that failed to understand individual ownership patterns.

The owner of the Comfort Inn on Spring Hill Road said the company did not have adjacent neighbors to consolidate with on a redevelopment proposal. Consolidation requirements "should consider more than just parcel size and location," said Neil Sullivan, a director with Silver Spring-based Sunburst Hospitality, the hotel's owner.

Residential developers also took issue with the plan's sweeping affordable housing guidelines, which they said would be too costly to adhere to and would hamper residential growth.

The guidelines would result in making "housing outside of Tysons Corner more appealing," said Lynne Strobel, a land-use lawyer for a firm representing several apartment complex owners.

Residents expressed concern that growth might cripple the road system or outpace public facilities, such as parks, schools and libraries. Homeowners near Old Courthouse Road, where traffic has multiplied over the years, raised safety concerns and asked for a traffic impact study. Other residents argued for the preservation of trees that buffer their neighborhoods from nearby office parks and busy roads.

The Sierra Club and several individuals supported a new option that removes density maximums in areas near Metro stations and slashes the planning horizon to 20 years.

There is less uncertainty with a shorter planning period, "which hopefully lowers the risk of error," said Sierra Club member Phillip Ellis.

Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman also supported the new option, saying it would focus growth around the Metro stations and away from her town.

"The Town of Vienna is not prepared to sacrifice our quality of life for this redevelopment," she said. "We are an independent town -- we are not a suburb of Tysons."

The Planning Commission can recommend changes to the proposal, recommend approval as is or recommend denial. The commission then sends it to the Board of Supervisors, which is tentatively scheduled to hold its public hearing May 25.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company