Update to Tysons Corner land-use plan approved by Fairfax Planning Commission

Above, from a parking garage at Tysons Corner, a view of the construction around the Beltway and Route 123, near the tree line. Drivers on the Chain Bridge, left, will probably get their third lane back in February. (Richard A. Lipski/The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 29, 2010

For five years, Fairfax officials have struggled to find a balanced approach to redeveloping Tysons Corner, the nation's 12th largest employment center and the county's economic engine.

The challenge: crafting a plan that would give developers incentive to rebuild prime real estate while ensuring that public facilities could keep up with growth. The county planning commission early Friday endorsed a proposal meant to strike that balance.

Growth during the next two decades would initially be focused near the four Silver Line Metro stations being built as part of the rail extension to Dulles International Airport.

Commissioners voted 10 to 1 in support of a land-use plan, permitting the auto-dependent office park to transform into an urban, walkable city. The Board of Supervisors must approve the plan, which would permit the densest development within a quarter mile of rail stations. At least 75 percent of all development would be located within half a mile.

"We sure wouldn't want to see areas far from the stations be the focal points of activity, at least in the short term, because it wouldn't take advantage of the large investment in Metro," said Walter L. Alcorn, a member of the planning commission.

Clark Tyler, chairman of the Tysons Land Use Task Force, said that more density should be considered for properties beyond a quarter of a mile of a station. That way, he said, landowners would have an incentive to redevelop, contributing to the overall street grid and public amenities.

"My main problem is that concentrating on the immediate area around the Metro stations is fine, to a point, but it writes off a lot of the rest of Tysons. It should be a half mile," Tyler said.

Commissioners said planning for 20 years is more realistic than the 40-year timeline in previous proposals.

"Here we have a lot of development that has already occurred," said Commissioner Frank A. de la Fe, whose district includes Tysons. "You can plan for 40 years when you have a cow field."

The commission's vote came after a public hearing last month at which residents said they were worried about growth overwhelming roads and public facilities. The shorter planning period helped calm some of those fears.

"It always bothered me that we were going to decide here in 2010 things that are going to affect people, some of whom are not born, some who don't live here" yet, said Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association. "They need a chance to make some decisions."

The land-use proposal would allow Tysons to become a city of high-rises with sidewalk cafes, boutiques and manicured courtyards. It also calls for energy-efficient buildings, affordable housing, park space and a street grid. A circulator would ferry riders among rail stations, offices and shopping malls.

The challenge now is choosing a way to stagger development and fund the public's share of about $1.5 billion in road and transit improvements needed through 2030.

"The two most important pieces we're dealing here with are phasing and financing," Alcorn said.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on June 22 and vote on a proposal later this summer.

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