A new study of the height of existing and potential buildings in the Tysons Corner area has proposed taller buildings to provide what Fairfax County planners are calling "gateways," designed to let people know they are entering the Tysons area.
The study, prepared by the office of comprehensive planning, supports maintaining the western boundary of the commercial Tysons area at the Route 7-Dulles Road interchange.
It also predicts redevelopment of existing low-rise shopping areas and car dealerships along Route 7 and expands the so-called boundaries of the Tysons planning area.
And the study proposes possible construction of a high-rise building on the site of an existing Giant Food store within the existing Tysons Corner Shopping Center. That building would be one of the "gateways."
The study recognizes "Tysons Corner as the downtown of Fairfax County," according to Martha Pennino, vice-chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.
But some citizens are not pleased.
"Since when does the largest concentration of retail and office space in the county need landmarks?" asked Stephen Hubbard, head of the McLean Citizens Association's planning and zoning committee. "I think most people know where Tysons is. Fairfax has problems with its definitions of gateways. Fairfax defines gateways as buildings, while other jurisdictions call for green spaces and setbacks," Hubbard said.
According to the study, there is still time to apply good urban design standards to Tysons, in spite of the criticisms the area often receives because of traffic problems.
"While Tysons Corner is approaching maturity as a development center in the short term when compared to the Fairfax Center area, the LeHigh site and the Centreville development centers, it remains completely appropriate to apply urban design principles to new development," the study said.
Tysons Corner is centered around the intersections of I-495 with Routes 7 and 123 and the Dulles Airport access and toll roads for the purposes of the study.
The study tries to "set edges" for the Tysons area using development sites, rather than roads. Roads, including the Leesburg Pike and Dolley Madison Boulevard, are called paths. The study area is bounded generally on the north by Lewinsville Road, on the west by the Dulles Road, on the south by buildings along the southern side of Old Courthouse Road and a line running along Gosnell Road and behind existing commercial development along Route 7. Magarity Road and Marshall High School are the eastern boundaries.
No public hearings on the proposal have been held, even though the study has been submitted by the planning staff as an amendment to Fairfax County's comprehensive land-use plan. However, the county faces more than 290 plan amendments that must be acted on during the next six months.
Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck said public hearings dealing with plan amendments may not offer sufficient opportunity for citizen input on such a major proposal. "It can be voted up. It can be voted down and it can be deferred," Falck said. She wants more time to study the document and the board may want to do the same thing, she said.
Pennino says she has been waiting for the height study for many years. The county's failure to produce it before the board acted on the controversial Tysons II site last fall was a major sore point with residents.
Several Tysons developers and Tysons/Vienna/McLean civic leaders contacted for their reactions to the study said they had not seen it.
"It is a document that rationalizes height of commercial buildings in the Tysons area. Oddly enough, the only reduction in height proposed is in the residential areas near the Rotunda," Hubbard said. There are several tracts in that area that are zoned for R-30 high density residential construction. The study says the height on those sites should be limited to 90 feet. "By right, they could get 120 feet," Hubbard said.
The study says that a 150-foot, or 12- to 13-story building, could be built on the site of a Dodge dealership on the north side of Route 7, almost adjacent to the toll road. That site is across from the 23-story Sheraton Hotel. The McLean Citizens Association opposes that.
"We are going to fight very hard that there be no buildings over 75 feet tall between Tyco Road and Jones Branch Drive and the Dulles Road," said Lilla Richards, chairman of the MCA's transportation committee. Buildings along the DAR need to be low rise because of potential impact on residential land west of the DAR, she said.
The study also proposes setting a rooftop elevation limit of 730 feet as the maximum for future construction.
The study says the National Association of Automobile Dealers' building on a hill on West Park Drive overlooking Route 7 is a "landmark," and that whatever is built between that structure and Route 7 should not adversely affect the NADA building.
Another proposed site for a high-rise structure is at the intersection of Magarity Road and the Dulles overpass. This proposal greatly expands the intensive land-use along Magarity Road and places a Tysons' "gateway" within walking distance of McLean's central business district. Land near that site is now developed primarily for apartments or condominiums. On the opposite side of Magarity is Pimmit Hills, where houses sell from $80,000 to $125,000.
Hubbard said such a tall building would severely impact Pimmit Hills.
The study divides the Tysons area into 20 planning districts and give details of all existing and proposed land uses. It is full of maps and lists pending area land-use changes. There are 58 buildings in the study area that are taller than four stories. Another 17 are under construction, including the giant Tycon Towers complex with its three 17-story buildings.
As of November, the county listed 19 pending applications, including 13 buildings in the Tysons II project.
In many instances, the study appears to be outdated, even though it has a December printing date. For example, the Tysons II site is consistently referred to as the Lerner tract and treated as if it has not yet been approved for a massive development. In fact, grading for the project is well under way.
The study makes many proposals for use of vacant land and redevelopment of existing spaces. The following are some of those suggestions:
* Redevelopment of the JKJ Chevrolet site in combination with two adjacent existing single-story shopping centers and an apartment complex to create a mixed-use development on the southwest corner of Route 7 and Chain Bridge Road. A tall building there would be a "gateway." One of the single-story shopping centers now houses Marshalls.
* "Some of the automobile sales sites are targets for redevelopment for office use." Car dealerships line the Route 7 corridor west of the Tysons Corner Shopping Center to the Dulles Road interchange.
* Land along the Tysons Corner side of the Dulles Road between Route 7 and Springhill Road should be developed or redeveloped "to create a favorable impression of Tysons Corner to viewers from the Dulles Airport Access Road." Large pieces of that land are now occupied by warehouses.
* The high-density residential buildings at the Rotunda should be "the benchmark for height consideration" for nearby residentially planned sites.
* The southern corner of the Route 7 and Route 123 interchange and the southwest corner of Route 7 and the beltway could accommodate buildings up to 120 feet tall, which would make the structures "nodal centers where prominent structures are desirable for orientation and identification purposes." One of those sites is behind the Boeing Computer Building at Gallows Road and Kidwell Drive, abutting the Beltway.
* The Ramada Inn (on the Leesburg Pike) is currently functioning well as a gateway building.