Efforts by developers to withdraw a controversial application for commercial use of a giant tract near Reston ran into unexpected trouble this week.
After bowing to the wishes of residents of Great Falls and Reston, developers James Lewis and Mack Crippen this week withdrew an application to change a 273-acre site at Baron Cameron Avenue and Leesburg Pike from residential to permit construction of a mixed-use residential and commercial project.
The decision to withdraw generated a hot confrontation between two members of the Fairfax County Planning Commission within whose districts portions of the massive site lie.
Tuesday night, members of the planning commission agreed to support Centreville District Planning Commissioner John Thillmann's proposal to deny the attempt to withdraw the application. But Wednesday, in an unusual move, Dranesville Commissioner George Lilly gave up the chairmanship of the commission temporarily and asked commissioners to reconsider their previous action.
During recent weeks, the commission has permitted at least a dozen of those filing more than 300 possible amendments to the county's comprehensive land-use plan to withdraw their applications or defer them.
"It is my understanding that the applicant intended to withdraw the commercial part" but wanted to continue talking to residents of the area, Lilly said. "A coordinated residential development of the property is a useful land-use goal," Lilly said.
Thillmann opposed the move. "I can't tell the commission how strongly I oppose. It is a matter of what is right and wrong. A nominator puts in a nomination, we go through extensive work," Thillmann said.
Thillmann said allowing the applicant to withdraw at the last minute "looks like the planning commission has cut a deal with the applicant." He said the county attorney's office told him the commission was within its rights to deny the withdrawal attempt.
"No deals have been cut," Lilly said. "We have honored other requests for withdrawal."
He said he sees the withdrawal as a chance to "bring a strongly controversial puzzle into a little more of a line."
"We have had deferrals every night," commissioner Ronald W. Koch said.
"The original application was for a planned development commercial project and created a firestorm of opposition," Lilly said. "It was literally blown out of the water."
During meetings of the Centreville and Dranesville task forces studying proposed changes, residents of Great Falls, McLean and Reston supported a continuing dialogue with the developers.
The land is owned by Crippen, a longtime Great Falls resident. Lewis, a well-known zoning attorney and commercial developer in the Tysons area, this week said he has some background in residential development based on work years ago in Eastern Loudoun county and development of one section of an established prestigious McLean-Vienna area known as Beau Ridge.
Residents in Great Falls and Reston had voiced support for a totally residential plan and hoped to work with Crippen and Lewis to develop such a plan.
The importance of working with the land while it is owned by a single owner/developer has been intensified by the recent announcement of major expansion surrounding the existing Xerox training facilities along the Leesburg Pike in Loudoun County, a county staff member said.
Lewis said he plans to "try and work with the citizens to come up with a plan for all residential. The residents have indicated they have a strong interest in getting with us in a residential plan. We would like to do the best residential development we can."
The 273 acres involved are on three corners of the Baron Cameron Avenue and Leesburg Pike intersection. The property includes the southeast, southwest and northwest corners of the intersection.
Lewis and Crippen had promised major traffic improvements, including an above-grade interchange for Route 7/Baron Cameron if the mixed-use project had been approved.