The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to rule tonight on a controversial proposal for a major development near the Vienna Metro station that would replace a neighborhood of single-family homes with a cluster of office mid-rises, some shops and about 2,000 apartments and townhouses.
A decision either way tonight would trigger a public hearing on the project Monday before the Board of Supervisors.
Advocates of the project, including the developer and some "smart growth" organizers, argue that building lots of homes near Metro stops makes sense because Fairfax needs new dwellings to accommodate its burgeoning workforce and because the project's proximity to the station means that many of the residents could travel to work by rail instead of car.
But some who live near the proposed development site, which is just south of the Vienna station, say that the project doesn't fit in the quiet neighborhood and that the smart growth label has been misused by developers. They counter that the proposal, and others like it, represents "a potentially grim vision."
"This and the other development proposals in the area add up to as many as 4,000 new households," said William S. Elliott, one of the neighbors leading the opposition. "We don't feel that a comprehensive analysis has been done. . . . There is a broad citizen preference for something with fewer impacts on our roads and schools."
The so-called Fairlee-MetroWest project, as presented by Pulte Homes, would include two office mid-rises of about 12 stories, roughly 2,000 apartments and townhouses, and possibly a grocery store. The project would be built on land west of Fairlee Drive and north of Route 29. Many of the homes that once stood there have already been knocked down.
By the standards of the surrounding area, the project would be relatively dense and, because of its height, would make a significant mark on the skyline.
The proposal comes as the county continues to grapple with growth.
During the 1990s, the number of jobs in Fairfax rose from 404,000 to 533,000, according to county figures, for an increase of 129,000.
The new jobs were welcomed. At the same time, however, the supply of dwellings rose by only 51,000, and assuming the county average of 1.5 workers per home, this left a housing shortfall of 35,000 dwellings.
Some planners have criticized the county for not permitting more apartments near Metro stops, where commuters would have the option of riding to work on the train instead of creating more congestion.
"We wanted to create that urban core," said Jon Lindgren, a land acquisition manager for Pulte Homes. "In this region, we are blessed with a lot of job opportunities. People need a place to live."
"The project demonstrates that Fairfax is able to grow smartly -- accommodating great demand for housing, retail and office uses at a location that gives people transportation choices," said Cheryl Cort, executive director of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities, a nonprofit group that supports smart growth.
Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who represents the area, would not say how she was leaning.
"I think it's going to be a very long public hearing," she said of the meeting that would take place Monday if the commission acts tonight.
Other supervisors have indicated that the political stakes are high.
"Of all the things we consider, development issues are what drive boards in and out during an election," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee.) "This may prove to be one of those bellwethers."