A Tysons Corner developer has won the support of McLean Citizen Association leaders and the Fairfax County planning staff to build three high-rise office buildings at a site where the county last year approved plans for only two.
The plan, which goes before the Fairfax County Planning Commission tomorrow, calls for three 17-story buildings that would be higher than any buildings now at Tysons Corner. The developer promises to make major road improvements to Rte. 7, one of the county's most congested roads, to accommodate traffic generated by the development.
The project, called Tycon Beltway, is to be on a 17-acre site behind the Tysons Marriott Hotel, between Tysons Corner Shopping Center and the Capital Beltway.
McLean Citizens Association leaders, who reviewed the project last week, called it "probably the best deal the county can cut" to receive transportation improvements in exchange for development rights.
Residents of Pimmit Hills, the subdivision closest to the proposed project, also pledged their support for the new plan. The developer has convinced them the new project would be less intrusive than the original two-building plan.
Last year, the county approved a plan by the same developer to build two three-tiered buildings on 11 acres at the same site. But because area residents had objected so strongly to the height of the buildings, the supervisors' approval required the developer to scale them down by several stories (from 300 feet to 204 feet) and to build a bridge from the development over Rte. 7 to handle traffic from the site.
Since then the Tycon Developers Limited Partnership, which has built several smaller projects including the Tycon Courthouse Building at Tysons Corner, acquired about six more acres of land. The larger site will permit a more expansive project, housing 1,500 more office workers (for a total of 5,000) and about 1,000 more cars (for a total of 5,000). The county would have to extend commercial zoning to the additional acreage.
"I didn't particularly like the way the buildings were shaping up once we were forced to keep it at 204 feet," said James T. Lewis, Tycon's managing partner, in explaining the firm's purchase of the additional land.
"Once we had the whole site assembled . . . we decided to maximize the opportunity . . . by hiring Philip Johnson," the architect of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater and other contemporary landmarks around the country.
Johnson has designed three buildings each with stone and brick facade, Roman columns and a 30-foot arch above the roof line.
Lewis has told residents of Pimmit Hills, which is directly across the Beltway from the site, that the arrangement of buildings side by side along a curved access road would hide parts of the project from their view.
Not everyone in McLean supports the new design, however.
"I don't care who designed it, it's a joke," said Howard Ball, a McLean Citizens Association board member and outspoken critic of the first proposal. "As far as I am concerned, it's a complex of fake Roman columns topped off with a modified McDonald's arch."
"I don't particularly like the design, but . . . Virginia law doesn't permit us to have a say in that anyway," said Lilla Richards, former president of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and current chairman of the McLean Citizens Association's transportation committee.
Richards said the community has the right to demand that the developer provide for the additional traffic of the bigger project. "And right now he Lewis is offering to make more transportation improvements than we have ever asked of any developer at Tysons," Richards said.
In addition to a four-lane, 40-foot bridge with pedestrian walkway over Rte. 7, priced at $3 million, Lewis is promising a $1 million road alignment scheme to provide easier access to and from Rte. 7.
The county planning staff, as well as the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation, maintains the proposed road improvements will alleviate traffic problems in the area, according to Sidney R. Steele, county director of zoning evaluations. Rte. 7 also is being widened in the area.
"Of course, in these things there are no guarantees," said Maya Huber, planning and zoning committee chairman of the citizens association.
Other residents think the project represents another encroachment by the Tysons commercial area on the residential neighborhoods of McLean.
"There are some of us who say, who needs it?" Ball said. "There is a high concentration of restaurants, and offices buildings and shopping centers here already, and I just say we have enough."
"The real problem is that the area wasn't planned carefully enough before it happened," said Ted Gray, president of the McLean Citizens Association board. "Now we have to react. Sure, we may be accepting things we might not have accepted if there was any other way to solve this traffic problem."