Representatives of the Hazel-Peterson Cos. this week promised Vienna residents an environment in which shoppers and commuters could buy champagne and ice cream in an attempt to win support for their proposed three-million-square-foot office development which is scheduled to open near the Vienna Metro Station next spring.
But those who live near the station at I-66 and Nutley Street charged that the development is far too urban for their suburban community.
Hazel-Peterson wants to build a giant commercial and retail complex on 50 acres north side of the Metro station. Plans call for a 34-story office building and two hotels designed to set the stage for a major daytime employment center that would become a glamorous area for nightlife with a variety of restaurants, according to Ed Reise of Hazel-Peterson.
The proposed development will be known as Virginia Center. The 34-story building would be taller than any currently planned or under construction at Tysons Corner.
Slides showed restaurants serving champagne and ice cream vendors offering goodies to those waiting to catch rail trains.
Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson wasn't buying the ice-cream-and-champagne proposal. "What we are talking about is three million square feet of office space," he said. "That is equal to 15 downtown office buildings."
Robinson said the plan represents a threat to existing stable residential neighborhoods and is a reversal of the original Metro concept of providing access to the city for commuters.
The Virginia Center project is being promoted as an employment center that would provide jobs for 8,000 to 10,000 people.
An estimated 175 residents showed up at a public meeting at Marshall Road Elementary School, which is directly across Nutley Street from the proposed development.
Developers of Virginia Center and developers of a smaller 10-acre parcel nearby planned by P. Reed Wills made brief presentations on their projects. Wills wants to build a 12-story, 400,000-square-foot office building with retail space on the first level, and an 11-story, 200-unit residential building. The Wills project includes 33 low- and moderate-income town houses that were mandated when the zoning for the project was granted for the 10-acre site 10 years ago.
Hazel-Peterson representatives used a vivid slide show to detail their proposal, while attorney Martin Walsh, who represented Wills, used intricate computer-designed projections to outline his client's plans.
The current zoning on the Virginia Center site is PDH-20 (planned development housing). That zoning would permit 20-story residential buildings, 350,000 square feet of office and retail space, and 86 town houses. However, Hazel-Peterson officials have asked Fairfax to change the zoning to PDC (planned development commercial) so they can put up office buildings, two hotels, a health club, retail space and 370 housing units, including 180 for the elderly. Town houses are also part of the project.
The Virginia Center complex would be flanked by two existing town-house developments -- Country Creek and the Townes of Moorefield.
Virginia Center's plans would leave 37 percent of the 50-acre site open and include a perpetually maintained and endowed garden area. "We subscribe to and support the county goals for the Vienna Metro site," Reise said. "This Metro site is unique and important for Fairfax and the entire East Coast of the United States. It gets that importance from being right next to Metro and I-66."
Gary Molneaux, the Fairfax County's Planning Department staff member in charge of the citizen task forces studying Fairfax Metro station sites, told residents that final plans around any station depend on county recommendations. However, Fairfax is only halfway through with its plans for the Vienna station area, he said.
Robinson called the Virginia Center plan the most elaborate he has seen in years. The project is not inside the Vienna city limits but is almost adjacent to the town.
"Somewhere in a room in some city, somebody is looking at this project and figuring how many dollars they have to get," Robinson said.
The Vienna station will be the end of the Metro Orange line. Molneaux said terminal line stations in urban areas are generally not good for development. He said this case is like a "kid in front of the candy store windows with $5 who doesn't have enough to go in."
Resident Gary Gilum asked if the developers would be willing to delay their project until the task force work is finished.
"I'm only the lawyer," Walsh replied.
Reise said his company would take whatever time is necessary to "work with area residents. But we are not at that point yet" of making a decision to delay.
"The most obtrusive building on the site is the [400-room] hotel. It seems completely out of place," said John Kraft, an area resident. He said that building would be right across from the elementary school where the meeting was being held.
"This is the kind of input we want to get," Reise told Kraft.
Richard T. Wagaman, the moderator, asked Fairfax to conduct an environmental impact study of the effect of the projects on the elementary school. He said he had just driven around suburban Dalles where skyscrapers dominate skylines.
"They have their own way. Each man wants his own 'J.R.' suite. I don't think this is in character with our neighborhood," Wagaman said. He urged residents to "get your facts straight." He warned that "emotional arguments" won't win zoning cases if those cases end up going to court.