The plan for Tysons is too important to get wrong

By Stu Mendelsohn
Sunday, June 20, 2010; C06

During the last few decades of the 20th century, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce recognized that Fairfax was facing serious challenges in meeting infrastructure demands as it grew from a rural community of dairy farms to one of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation. Attracting business to Fairfax required a visionary plan that provided incentives for companies to relocate or expand. As a result, the county has developed into one of the finest communities in the nation. We are proud that our community has a strong economy, high income levels, low crime, abundant parks, quality arts and culture, and a top-notch school system.

Today, we find ourselves at a similar crossroads as we plan to transition from a suburb of office parks to a world-class, high-tech urban center. But the plan for the redevelopment for Tysons Corner that is up for public comment before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is not visionary, but cautionary. Let me lay out the Chamber of Commerce's concerns.

Tysons Corner is planned to be the "downtown" of Fairfax and is already home to several of the largest corporations in the county. If planned properly, the extension of Metrorail through Tysons will significantly increase capacity in the region and create more opportunities to attract and expand businesses in Fairfax.

Simply stated, however, the chamber believes the plan as currently proposed, while improved in some aspects from the planning staff's original draft, will lead to a once-in-a-generation missed opportunity that significantly discourages the redevelopment of Tysons.

There is a fundamental understanding that strong economic development practices can aid a local government's ability to meet its infrastructure needs and serve the community. To meet financial demands, it is important to maintain a reasonable balance of business and residential tax revenue, because businesses require significantly less county spending. Businesses provide an essential revenue stream, particularly through real estate taxes, that contributes to the funding of county services and infrastructure.

By restricting growth, the county's plan will actually impede Tysons Corner's prosperity and exacerbate infrastructure deficiencies.

Over the past few months the chamber has reiterated the detrimental effects of the plan's development criteria. One of the most critical recommendations we have made has been allowing unlimited residential development within one-half mile of Metro stations (up from the proposed plan's one-quarter mile). As a basic tenet of the new Tysons vision, it is imperative that residential development be encouraged, not discouraged.

If this condition, among others, is not significantly adjusted, the vision for Tysons will not be met or, worse, redevelopment will no longer be economically feasible. The result will mean continued by-right development and no grid of streets, which the planning staff has acknowledged is the most critical improvement needed. Further, these conditions could push development to other parts of the county, including outside the transit-oriented-development corridor.

Developers and businesses contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the redevelopment of Tysons by funding the extension of the Metrorail system. In addition, many businesses have contributed significant transportation improvements through proffers, and all businesses contribute to transportation through the special commercial and industrial tax.

Sadly, the county has not contributed to this major infrastructure improvement and has altered a plan that had the potential to be creative and innovative. While we patiently wait for correct, bold and forward-thinking direction on the future of Tysons, the Chamber of Commerce will continue to promote the area as a great place to live, play, shop and do business.

The writer is chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

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