A July 28 Metro article misspelled the name of the Rotonda, a Tysons Corner condominium complex. (Published 8/6/2005)
From their tiny balconies, the residents of Lillian Court look out over eight lanes of traffic whooshing down International Drive before it merges with three highways. Office buildings with giant corporate logos tower across the street: KPMG, International Launch Services, Bearing Point. One of the region's most luxurious malls is steps away -- if you can sprint through the traffic.
Lillian Court at Tysons II in Fairfax County is smack in the middle of the Washington area's biggest office park. And that's just how the people who live there like it.
"It's a lot more peaceful than many places," said Tiwi Martinez, 27, an auditor who moved to Lillian Court two years ago with her husband, Ben. 26. The neighborhood is safe, she says. And when she needs retail therapy, Martinez negotiates a path across Tysons Boulevard to the Tysons Galleria. "I love the mall," she said. "For ladies, it's great."
In a county built on the suburban ideal of reputable schools and spacious single-family homes, the expanding cluster of retail and office buildings in Tysons is attracting a new breed of urban pioneer. The residents are mostly young and professional, snapping up jobs in the region's hottest employment market and eager to live close by to avoid Northern Virginia's notorious traffic snarls. Or they are executives and retirees tired of the upkeep a house demands, with 20 or 30 years of equity to invest in a new, hassle-free luxury home. They bring an international flavor, as many are immigrants lured by the job market.
You can't buy a quart of milk at the corner store in Tysons Corner or throw a Frisbee in the park or even ride a bike -- safely. You can't walk far. But you can eat gratin of lump crab with garlic cream at Colvin Run Tavern, order takeout from China Wok and sip merlot at the Sport and Health Club. You can get to the office in minutes or be driving down the Capital Beltway or Dulles Toll Road in the time it takes most people to park in a downtown office garage.
Many Tysons residents love their city-in-the-suburbs lifestyle, which will become more urban still under Fairfax County's plan to double the development with more condominiums, offices, stores and restaurants. With four Metro stations planned, the area could look more like the dense, suburban downtowns of Arlington, Reston, Silver Spring and Bethesda. That's what people in Tysons say they crave: a "there there" with a supermarket and their favorite clothing store at the sidewalk's edge. But they also fear something else: more people in their cars. County planners expect that in a decade's time, 40,000 people will live in Tysons, almost triple the number there today.
Tysons has always been more job center than neighborhood. But that balance is changing fast, as thousands of luxury condominiums and townhouses are rising, some in towers reaching 30 stories to the sky with $1 million price tags and sweeping views of the Washington skyline.
"A superb location. And the exciting lifestyle that only Tysons Corner can provide," gushes the Web site for the Gates at McLean, a new condominium development off Route 123. "And yet an enclave unto itself; serene and satisfying."
In Silver Spring, the blast of jackhammers outside Bob and Quinn Middleton's townhouse became a daily feature of life for four years. The Middletons moved in 2000 to Cameron Hill, the first residential development to rise in the new downtown. They didn't see a lot around them except empty parking lots and the Metro station, 222 steps away (they've counted).
But it's really a neighborhood now, where they walk to dinner and breakfast at the Tastee Diner and choose among three supermarkets.
"We aren't truly urban, and we weren't really pioneers in the sense most people think of, since everyone knew what Silver Spring was," said Bob Middleton, an administrative law judge. "When we bought here, we said, 'Let's just see what's here.' There wasn't much of anything."
A real downtown for Tysons is years away. Even so, today's off-ramp settlement pulses with life despite the lack of suburban comforts and urban conveniences. Whether Tysons residents work there or not, they say they will happily sacrifice the serenity of a traditional suburb for a quick escape route on the highway.
"Everything revolves around traffic here," said Ringo Lanzetti, 35, an entrepreneur who leaves the gated comfort of the Rotunda, a complex of condominium towers on Greensboro Drive, and gets on the Beltway for his daily commute to Alexandria.
"But if you're living in it, it's not that bad," he said. "You're going out when most people are trying to get in, and vice versa." Seven years ago, Lanzetti moved to Tysons from Centreville in desperation: His commute to a job there was twisting him into a ball of stress. "That was how emotionally damaged I was by traffic."
As a traffic engineer, Kevin Fellin knows from gridlock. He simplified his life three years ago, investing in a one-bedroom condominium in the Fountains, a rental conversion on Jones Branch Drive. Last summer he traded up, for two bedrooms on the 10th floor of the Rotunda, and his commute to Wells & Associates turned into a walk across the street. Fellin, 30, has re-created a ritual of his childhood in southwestern Virginia, where life's a lot simpler: He goes home for lunch.
"I can run home, do errands and still eat lunch," he said. "I'd rather be close to work than be close to a grocery store."
Tysons residents do not have a Tysons mailing address. But they have secret rituals, like morning trips to an empty Nordstrom, tennis matches and jogs after work and the ease of running errands once the office workers and their cars have cleared out. They can cool off in pools in their developments or relax in saunas. And they can hear the birds sing, because although there may not be a park, there are trees.
"On the weekends, you feel like Tysons Corner belongs to you," Fellin said. But when Christmas shoppers invade after Thanksgiving, the residents flee.
And they drive just about everywhere, even two blocks to the video store on Route 7. Their car dependence concerns those who note that more condominiums will arrive way before Metro does, and even then, there's no guarantee that people will get out of their cars.
For now, the roads are too wide, the sidewalks too disconnected, their car habits too ingrained.
"I could walk," said Michael Lewis, a new resident of Avalon Crescent down the street from Lillian Court. "I've never done it."
Lewis, a former president of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, lived in a house in Oakton for 16 years before a divorce led him to smaller quarters in a condominium. He acknowledges that his management consulting office is less than a half-mile away. But he says he won't ride the train when it comes.
Back in the late 1970s, Tysons was a frontier for a small number of buyers who sought apartment living in Fairfax. There wasn't much. As those residents retire, buyers such as Fellin are changing the feel of older communities like the Rotunda, which now schedules pickup basketball games after work.
Newer developers are going after buyers with money. "Elevated Standards. Elevated Status" is the Mayhood Co.'s pitch to buyers in Park Crest, the first of West Group's residential towers to go on the market. The condominiums will be "simply Above All Else in height, service and design." And priced accordingly, from the "$400s" to $2 million. The Reserve off Gallows Road is marketing million-dollar townhouses.
Park Crest's ground floor will feature a Harris Teeter supermarket, county officials say, a welcome addition to the 35-year-old Safeway that is one-third the size across the Beltway toward McLean.
Tysons is becoming more of a 24-hour place where workers crowd into happy hours at Chili's and On the Border. Five restaurants, a food court and a 16-screen movie theater are scheduled to open in Tysons Corner Center in September.
The owner of Tysons II has promised to build a park with an amphitheater as it expands the mall with a complex of condos, offices and stores.
"The most-asked questions I've had are, when is the residential component going to be available and how do I get on the list?" Anthony Calabrese, an attorney for Tysons Corner Center, said of that mall's plans for a massive expansion that will include 1,250 condominiums.
The Sport and Health Club on Greensboro Drive, surrounded by office buildings, counts corporate members as 70 percent of its market. But that's changing, with a Caribbean pool party at the club in June and a barbecue and wine-tasting this month, all advertised through a singles group.
"What we're trying to do is become more of a social center and attract the people who live in the area," manager Mark Pooley said. "It's a young demographic."
Not entirely. Just behind the Shell station, 7-Eleven, Subaru dealership, Staples, Panera bakery and Radio Shack on a strip of Route 7 near the Beltway, Christina Galdames and her husband sip coffee in the rhododendron garden behind their townhouse in Amberwood. They love the convenience of retirement in Tysons.
"It's ugly, but at the same time, we live close to the chaos but we are not there," said Galdames, 60, who retired this year from the Organization of American States. "To tell you the truth, it doesn't bother me."
Before she goes out to run errands, she looks out her bedroom window and assesses the traffic flow on Route 7, then walks down Gosnell Drive to the highway, where there are no sidewalks. "I don't go out until the traffic is clear," she said. "Then I run between the stores."