The proposed Tysons II development has stirred a range of sentiments in the community -- from adamant opposition to reluctant acceptance to enthusiasm for the project and its long-range impact on Northern Virginia.
Opponents, however, are by far the most vocal, and many supporters are reluctant to go "on the record" in favor of the development. Several commercial real estate brokers said that if the project is properly done, it definitely will enhance the commercial value of real estate in the Tysons area. Some residential real estate agents, all of whom asked not to be quoted, said the project could have a positive impact on the value of nearby single-family and town-house developments.
Residents differ strongly on whether civic associations should endorse the project if a list of conditions are met or oppose it unless certain conditions are met. One civic association leader said some of the conversations sound like double talk and "mumbo jumbo."
Ironically, many of the conditions wanted by the positive and the negative thinkers are the same. At the top of both lists are major traffic improvements that would benefit the entire Tysons Corner area. During a series of community meetings spanning the past few months, residents of the McLean/Tysons/Vienna areas have pushed for improvements to Dolley Madison Boulevard, West Park Drive and International Drive. They have asked for additional ramps leading to or from I-495, although such ramps could not be built by the Tysons II developers, H-L Land Improvements Venture, without federal approval. Federal transportation officials generally have frowned upon requests to allow interstate highways to exit into private developments, a county official said.
Standing-room-only crowds have jammed meetings focusing on Tysons II. Audiences have included residents of the area as well as those who live many miles away and commute either through or to Tysons daily. Representatives of various merchants at the Tysons Corner shopping center and real estate brokers from all over the Washington area have signed official registers.
Some residents fear traffic generated by the project will make their neighborhoods less safe for children. And commuters have said, "I don't know how I will ever get to work if this thing goes through."
Members of the McLean Citizens Association, which represents a coalition of Northern Virginia homeowner and civic groups, agree with county planning officials that the Tysons II site is certain to be the center for future development at Tysons. Citizens and developers both want a regional shopping center in the development plan. Some residents have said they would like to see more retail and less office space built.
Developers are proposing to build two 22-story hotels, several 12-story office buildings and a three-story galleria-style shopping mall to be anchored by two major department stores. Residents say they are worried about the impact of increased height within the proposed development, on a 107-acre site west of Tysons Corner shopping center across Dolley Madison Boulevard near International Drive.
But the developer said the increased height will not raise the density of the proposed project but will provide for 30 percent open space and a diversity of building heights. H-L Land Improvements Venture is a wholly owned subsidiary of Homart Development Co., part of Coldwell Banker Real Estate, which is owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co. H-L Land is developing the site with Bethesda-based Tysons II Development Co.
McLean Citizens Association officials have tried to refute a claim by the developers that they could build a series of 12-story office buildings on the site under its present C-7 zoning and get by with providing only basic traffic improvements -- a contention that generally has been supported by county staff. That is exactly what H-L Land had in mind when it purchased the site jointly with Theodore Lerner, one of the three former owners of the site, just minutes before ownership of the property was to have been settled in a courtroom in March 1983.
Attorney John T. (Til) Hazel convinced H-L Land officials to seek a PDC (planned development commercial) zoning rather than simply build more office buildings. As part of the PDC plan, the development company is offering to widen Dolley Madison Boulevard to six lanes between the Beltway and International Drive, build a six-lane International Drive, relocate West Park Drive and construct a new four-lane road through the entire Tysons II project.
However, there continues to be confusion over what H-L Land could build on the site "by right" as it is presently zoned.
In an Aug. 21 "memo for the record," Fairfax Zoning Administrator Philip Yates said that any development of the present site based on proffers, or offers, made in the 1978 rezoning would be subject only to review and approval of the final site plan by the county's planning commission. The memo was issued to clarify the status of the site should the current rezoning effort fail.
If the site is developed "absent a regional shopping center," office buildings can be built as long as they conform to the county's C-7 commercial zoning regulation, according to the memo.
Yates ruled that "there is no written proffer, however, which limits the FAR floor area ratio below that which can be realized under the C-7" -- in other words, there had been no written promise during the 1978 rezoning to limit buildings' height to under 12 stories. Yates also said that the buildings, location and dimension shown on the 1978 plan were for "illustrative purposes only" and "shall not be considered binding for purposes of the final development plan."
Yates said that 12-story buildings could be built without additional actions by the board of supervisors. "These 1978 proffers clearly suggest substantial flexibility in the development of the property without a regional shopping center," according to Yates' memo.
Wayne Angle, the H-L Land executive who recently moved to McLean to head the project, said he thinks that "too much time has been spent on the history and not enough time spent on the amenities and mixed-used plan such as the Tysons II project offers this area."
However, there is also confusion over what is meant by the term "mixed use" when applied to a rezoning or land development plan change. The H-L Land proposal for Tysons II is a mixed-use plan incorporating commercial, hotel and office buildings in a single development. Angle said this week that he sees the 107-acre package as a "great opportunity" to develop a "flagship project" for his company. "It is rare for a company to get such a chance," Angle said.
Several lawyers cautioned McLean residents not to attach too many conditions to whatever they decide to recommend to the county planning staff. "If you give them developers too much to choose from, you cannot be sure what you will get. He can satisfy 50 percent of what you are asking for and that can sound pretty good to the county, but he may not have included what was at the top of your priority list," one attorney cautioned.