Local developer Robert A. Young hopes Fairfax County's proposed redevelopment study of downtown McLean will share his vision of a new, more modern "people-oriented" community.
Young would like to park his car in an underground garage and head for the hardware store, the department store, the grocery store, then dine in a fancy restaurant -- all within walking distance of each other.
"The present McLean is automobile-oriented," Young said. "At the present time, it is not possible to walk anywhere in McLean."
Young, a 16-year McLean resident, and other builders and businessmen want to give the community's sagging central business district a boost and bring in new restaurants, high-end specialty stores and modern shopping malls.
He said the affluent Northern Virginia suburb, with its population of about 55,000, could support expensive restaurants and fashionable upscale department stores such as Garfinckel's.
Some of the changes envisioned by developers and county planners for McLean's downtown would mean increasing the density of buildings along Dolley Madison Boulevard, Old Dominion Drive, Chain Bridge Road and Westmoreland Street.
But residents say greater density also might mean chasing away the community's varied collection of neighborhood shops and services because of likely increases in the rents that merchants would have to pay to stay there.
In an effort to reconcile the differing views on the area's future by residents, developers and commer-cial businessmen, county officials said they will hire a private consultant to study ways to redevelop downtown McLean.
Pat Greason, a land-use planner in the county's office of comprehensive planning, said the consultant will have to draw a plan that has "a middle ground, with urban design amenities acceptable to people who have to get around.
"The community needs to [have] proven to [it] that development is beneficial to McLean and [its residents]."
Lilla Richards, president of the McLean Planning Committee, promises to challenge any redevelopment plans that call for increasing building density or displacing small businesses with commercial offices.
"We want [downtown] McLean to remain the town center for the residential area," Richard said.
"We want it to provide offices for local doctors, dancing teachers and service-type of businesses for the people who live here," she said.
Richards said several developers recently have tried to double the density in McLean's business district by offering residents bigger, more contemporary looking buildings that would combine retail and commercial office space.
"What they're saying is that to get better architecture, you have to get better density. That's not true," she said. "We're not objecting to the new look, we're objecting to sacrificing things in McLean everybody likes."
Local real estate figure William (Kip) Laughlin, whose family has owned valuable property on the busy corner of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road for more than 100 years, said downtown McLean is ripe for rejuvenation.
Laughlin said residents should decide whether they "want to continue on with some aging shopping centers . . . or build something on the order of a Georgetown Park or Mazza Gallerie [in Northwest Washington]. You could attract a lot of pedestrian traffic with a number of different retailers in there and have something that would be very well received by every segment of the population."
Laughlin said he gets calls every week from retailers and "financial institutions" interested in purchasing or leasing space in McLean's central business district.
Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) said she wants to bring McLean's downtown area "up to snuff for the first time ever."
Falck said the key to redevelopment there is to provide better pedestrian access between local businesses and to design aesthetically pleasing office buildings.
"I hear from the citizens that they want McLean to look more elegant," Falck said last week in an interview. "We do not want another Tysons Corner . . . but we want [downtown] to look more pleasant. Let's tidy it up."
Stephen Hubbard, chairman of the McLean Citizen Association's planning and zoning committee, said he was willing to see a "well-defined" redevelopment of McLean, but not at the expense of the retail or service sector.
Developer Young said he also welcomes an independent consultant's study of the downtown area.
"In order to provide more amenities I would like to see more density. But I'm willing to see the problems and I say 'prove it,' " he said. "I can prove economically that I need more density; prove to me I could ruin McLean."