After years of hodgepodge development, McLean is forging ahead with a revitalization plan that envisions a new Main Street with broad sidewalks, outdoor cafes and a European-style flavor in the heart of its business district.
The concept, part of an ambitious "vision plan" conceived by local leaders, is aimed at transforming the community of 66,000 people from a conglomeration of in-fill construction and speeding cars into something more cohesive, pedestrian-friendly and attractive for residents and business owners.
"We're trying to totally change the look of McLean and encourage people to walk around and not drive around," said Fairfax County Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville), whose district includes the prosperous suburb. The revitalization will give McLean "a greater sense of place," he said.
"We're one of the passed-over community business centers -- passed over by time," said Jack Wilbern, an architect and chairman of McLean Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit civic group. As one of the Washington suburbs developed in the 1950s and '60s, he said, McLean faces challenges -- jumbled development, ubiquitous overhead utility lines, inadequate parking and small parcels, for instance -- that newer commercial areas do not.
That is why McLean has been designated as one of Fairfax County's seven revitalization zones, along with areas in Springfield, Baileys Crossroads, Annandale, the Route 1 corridor, Merrifield and Reston's Lake Anne area.
Parts of the five-year-old revitalization plan are in place, notably the construction of an extended-stay hotel, the five-story Staybridge Suites, at Beverly Road and Old Dominion Drive.
Another main component, a $50 million luxury condominium project to be built on a 2.3-acre property on Laughlin Avenue, received a major boost last month when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a zoning modification sought by the developers.
The change allows the builders to drop their original plans for office space in the mixed-use project and devote more square footage to 70 upscale condos, which will range from 1,335 square feet to more than 3,000 and cost from $600,000 to more than $1 million. The project, called "The Palladium at McLean" and scheduled for construction starting next spring, also includes retail space and what community leaders say will be a "civic plaza."
Between the hotel and the condos, McLean's planners want to build the new Main Street, part of it traversing what is now a supermarket parking lot. Toward that end, the Palladium's developers, a U.S.-Dutch consortium called Waterford of McLean, have proffered $1 million for the Main Street project, envisioned as a public-private partnership.
While open to traffic, the new street is designed to favor pedestrians. The plans call for tree-lined sidewalks bordering the Giant supermarket on one side and a new row of shops on the other, with a median large enough for kiosks in the middle.
Far more modest -- but integral to the revitalization concept -- are "streetscape" projects that are intended to tie into the new pedestrian-friendly business district. The first of these, along a stretch of Chain Bridge Road, is underway thanks to a $150,000 federal grant. It involves installing five brick crosswalks near the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Westmoreland Street as part of an effort to beautify the busy thoroughfare and slow down its traffic.
Ultimately, the new streetscape, stretching for about a mile to Chain Bridge and Route 123, is expected to cost about $6 million. In addition to crosswalks, intended in part to serve as rumble strips, the plan includes the burying of utility lines, construction of broad sidewalks separated from the street by new trees and installation of "street furniture" such as benches.
Placing trees along the roadside is meant to dissuade speeders and provide a measure of safety for pedestrians, encouraging more walking along that road.
To gain permission for the plantings from the Virginia Department of Transportation, McLean first had to ask VDOT to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph. Still, cars routinely zip along Chain Bridge at nearly twice that speed.
"People in cars respect trees more than pedestrians," Wilbern said. "We're trying to come up with as many reasonable traffic-calming elements as we can."
However, one of these elements -- a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Chain Bridge and Old Dominion -- is all but dead because of public opposition, McLean officials said.
"People don't want to be inconvenienced," said George Lilly, executive director of the Revitalization Corp. "They see nontraditional intersections as a game of bumper cars."