Plans for large-scale development around the Vienna Metro station, widely considered to be one of the most valuable sites in Northern Virginia, moved a step closer to approval early yesterday with action by the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
The commissioners recommended an 11th-hour compromise plan that would set lower building limits than three other proposals that were before the commission.
If adopted by the County Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to consider the matter Monday, the plan could transform 186 acres of wooded land surrounding existing neighborhoods into a center of employment marked by 19-story towers and more than 2,000 parking spaces.
The recommendation calls for 1,750 town houses and apartments, two 300-room hotels and 2.4 million square feet of office and retail space -- about two-thirds as much as in the Pentagon.
The focal point for the projects would be the Vienna Metrorail station, located just south of the Vienna town limits in the median strip of I-66, about 12 miles west of the District. The station is to open June 7 as the Virginia terminus of the Orange Line subway.
Richard T. Wagaman, leader of the Vienna Metro Area Citizens Coalition, which represents about 20 civic groups, said his organization supports the proposal. "It's the future of western Fairfax County that's at stake," he said.
But county planners voiced skepticism about the proposal after the meeting and warned it could produce chaotic traffic in the area. They said the level of development permitted might be too low to offer builders incentives to make adequate road improvements.
The most prominent of the developers planning projects at the site is John T. (Til) Hazel, whose firm, Hazel-Peterson Cos., owns 61 acres north of the station.
Hazel's proposal calls for about 1.9 million square feet of office and retail space, but the commission's recommendation would allow him 860,000 square feet.
The proposal approved early yesterday generated considerable confusion when it was presented after midnight by Rosemarie Annunziata, the planning commissioner whose Providence District includes the Metrorail station. She described it as "on the side of being conservative, lesser density instead of greater."
Some planning commissioners were less enthusiastic.
"Whoever said you should not see sausages and laws be made probably had this evening in mind," said Robert P. Sparks Jr., the Mason District planning commissioner, who abstained from the final vote. "I don't want to be a part of it," he said, complaining that the proposal was arbitrary and its ramifications unknown.
Martha V. Pennino, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who watched the Planning Commission meeting from the audience, also said the proposal baffled her. "Maybe [Annunziata] understands it, but it's not understandable to the general public."
Yesterday afternoon she changed her assessment, saying she had decided to support the proposal.
Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), an opponent of rapid growth, said she would oppose any plan to increase the development ceiling around the station, which already allows about 2.1 million square feet of office and retail space. "It's just crazy," she said. "People in this county have got this love affair with development. Somewhere along the line you've got to say stop."
Annunziata portrayed her proposal as an attempt to reconcile the competing interests of developers, area residents and county officials.