Residents of the Tysons Corner/McLean area have sharply criticized Fairfax County officials for apparently running at least two years behind in preparing a height study for construction in the Tysons Corner area.
Ted Wessel, director of comprehensive planning for Fairfax County, told a joint meeting of the Planning and Zoning and Transportation committees of the McLean Citizens Association that the study is in a preliminary stage, "not even a draft stage," although it will be finished in November. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, however, is expected to vote this fall on controversial high-rise buildings contained in current Tysons II proposals and other high-rise buildings now on the drawing boards.
Area residents said the study is long overdue and complained that the fact that the study is, in Wessel's words, "still in a conceptual stage" is "poor planning."
McLean residents showed Wessel a memo from County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert dated March 8, 1982, reporting that most of the data needed for the study had already been collected.
"There is nothing in there that is inaccurate," Wessel said after looking at the memo.
"In 2 1/2 years you could have built the Taj Mahal," former MCA President Ted Gray said.
"If you were only working on the Taj Mahal, you could," Wessel shot back.
Gray's comment reflected the feelings of many Tysons area residents, who say major rezoning decisions are being made without benefit of what they see as a badly needed study. They claim that the report was supposed to have been finished at least two years ago and that it should have examined the entire Tysons area and reviewed an existing height limit of 590 feet above sea level -- approximately 12 stories. The board of supervisors repeatedly has approved buildings exceeding that limit, residents complain.
Construction is now beginning on a 22-story Sheraton Hotel on the south side of the Leesburg Pike at the Dulles Airport Access Road interchange. Nearby, another high-rise hotel is planned, and an application for rezoning by the Hadid Investment Group is pending.
"We have done the initial data-gathering," Wessel said. "It is not that we have not been working on it since 1982."
Lilla Richards, chairwoman of the MCA's transportation committee, said the planning staff had put the study aside "temporarily" two years ago. She said work on the study resumed after constituents complained to Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck's office.
Richards asked what the county is "doing to protect residential areas from high-rises."
"You would not want to live in the shadow of a 12-story building," Richards said. Nobody wants to go out in their yard and have "1,000 eyes looking at you."
"Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," Wessel answered.
"Aren't we about to have all the rezonings before we have the plan?" asked Louis Kunzig of the McLean Hamlet subdivision.
"What kind of guidelines were given to Tysons II developers?" asked MCA President Gloria Adams.
Lew Cheng, a Fairfax County staff member, detailed the progress of the county's study. He said the first step was to define the boundaries of the area and then collect and analyze data. "We looked at existing land uses. We looked at planned land uses and current and past recent zoning cases and special exceptions. We also surveyed vacant land," he said. "After all the data was collected, we started to develop an urban design concept."
Richards and Wessel debated the definition of the word "gateways" to describe entrances to the Tysons area. "You really frighten me when you talk about gateways," Richards said.
Wessel said he "did not say gateways were to be identified by high buildings."
Wessel agreed with residents that the focal point of the Tysons Corner area will be the Tysons II site. That site is on what is known as Gant Hill and is one of the highest areas in Fairfax County.
Wessel and residents agreed that the Dulles Airport Access Road interchange at the Leesburg Pike should be the western boundary for commercial development.