Fairfax County, in what officials said could be a signal to developers, has approved guidelines allowing modest levels of commercial development around the West Falls Church Metro station.
The proposal, approved by the county Board of Supervisors late Monday after two hours of debate, brought complaints from builders that the plan will sharply curtail use of the Orange Line to Vienna and charges from area residents that the approved level of construction will disrupt their neighborhoods. The line is scheduled to open next summer.
Developers who own land near the station, located on the I-66 median strip, had pressed the supervisors for twice as much commercial and residential building as the board endorsed, arguing that Metro stops should be focal points for intense development.
But the county board rejected that argument by a unanimous vote, endorsing instead the position of Chairman John F. Herrity, who has been regarded as a frequent ally of developers in the past.
"I do not believe that Metro stations will be the economic capitals of Fairfax County," he said. Herrity said intense development at Metro stations would be a "traffic nightmare" and a "planning disaster."
The board voted to place a ceiling of 1,547 residences and 289,900 square feet of low-rise office space in the area south of the West Falls Church station. In addition, the guidelines limit all buildings to six stories and include no provision for enlarging the 1,000-car parking lot at the site.
The board's position may signal that prominent developer John T. (Til) Hazel, who owns land near the Vienna station on Nutley Street, faces major obstacles in his plan to build 4 million square feet of commercial space, including a 36-story skyscraper and two hotels on 61 acres there.
"The county wants to make these [stations] look like the rural milk runs," Hazel complained yesterday. "They send so many smoke signals and drum beats . . . . But I don't intimidate easily."
The plan also drew fire from citizen groups along Haycock Road, a main access route to the West Falls Church station that the county plans to widen from two lanes to four to accommodate commuters.
The groups said that widening the road is unnecessary and will flood their neighborhoods with commuters during the morning and evening rush hours.
"Our neighborhood is a very old one," said Rita W. Laccetti. "We ask for your protection. Please don't let the tyranny of the commuter run roughshod over the rights of individual residents to protect the quality of life in their community."
Despite the protests, the county board voted to include the widening of Haycock Road in its master plan.
The board bowed to citizen complaints about another proposal, to widen Great Falls Street west of the station, rejecting that idea.
County officials said that the action, proposed by Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, could lead to severe traffic tie-ups for commuters.
Developers say that the county's policy of preventing large-scale commercial office and retail space around Metro stations could deprive the subway of many off-peak riders.
Without shopping centers and office parks at stations, they say, no one will travel to or from the stations between the morning and evening rush hours, or at night.
"It's economically unfeasible," said Robert A. Lawrence, a land use attorney who represented developers Miller & Smith at the West Falls Church site.
"They've got a [transit] system that's in deep financial trouble," said Hazel, "and single-family ridership is not going to salvage this system."
The county policy "reflects transit thinking a half-century old," said Marc A. Bettius, a land use attorney who represented a joint venture known as Hooper-Marriot. Bettius said he was considering speaking at the meeting, but walked out after Herrity spoke against dense development at Metro stations.