Residents of more than 30 neighborhoods in the Hunter Mill Road area near the Dulles Toll Road interchange are expected to protest proposed land-use changes in their neighborhoods from residential to commercial at a public hearing this morning before the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
Members of a citizens coalition known as the Hunter Mill Defense League were expected to be heard Thursday night, but public hearings on land-use changes in other parts of the county generated such strong opposition from so many people that the planning commission is running far behind its original schedule.
As many as two dozen speakers have addressed single issues in the Oakton, Vienna and McLean areas this week as the planning commission tackled some of the most controversial of the 300 land-use changes now pending as part of the annual review of the county's comprehensive land-use plan.
Standing-room-only crowds jammed meetings three nights this week focusing on possible changes in the Vienna, Oakton and McLean areas.
"With this many people talking, it's hard to keep up with the planned agenda," planning commission Chairman George Lilly said. Commission member John Thillmann was trying to help residents of the Hunter Mill area get phone banks operating late this week to notify others of today's hearing.
Earlier this week, residents of the Bryn Mawr neighborhood in McLean sat quietly through four hours of hearings on other proposals before the clock struck midnight, meaning their proposal to expand McLean's central business district would not be heard until Thursday night. In addition, a highly controversial hearing on a proposal by developer Dwight Schar that had been tentatively set to begin at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday was rescheduled. Schar, owner of NVHomes, seeks to change the plan for 98 acres west of the Dulles Toll Road along the north side of Route 7 from residential to commercial.
Hearing on proposals in Vienna dragged on until 1 a.m. Thursday morning, leaving commissioners a backlog of Vienna items to be aired along with the McLean items on the night the Hunter Mill applications were scheduled to be heard.
According to Bill Keefe of the Office of Comprehensive Planning, there would have been no way to get to the Hunter Mill proposal Thursday night in spite of thousands of letters and notices mailed out to local residents by those who oppose the changes in the area.
Proposed land-use changes at the Hunter Mill/Dulles Road interchange could result in construction of more than $4.5 million square feet of office space. That is equal to one-third of the total office space currently planned in the entire Fairfax Center area.
Even though most Fairfax residents have been "extremely patient," staff members said there has been some concern about the impact the delayed hearings might have on citizen input on extremely controversial items. However, the delays apparently have not reduced the number of speakers who want to talk.
The McLean Citizens Association canceled a major transportation committee meeting because of its unexpected conflict with the planning commission's deferred hearing on Schar's proposal. If approved, that plan would allow commercial development west of the toll road and break what the county has long held as the barrier against commercial development of Tysons Corner west along Route 7.
The expansion of the commercial Tysons area was the focus of several public hearings on proposed changes in the Vienna area along Route 123 and Old Courthouse Road.
Some of those protesting called for the destruction of the $66.5 million Tycon Courthouse building and called the 23-story Sheraton hotel under construction on Route 7 "a monster."
Residents of the Mosscrest area urged the planning commission to "have compassion" on them and allow them to sell their land for development of commercial town houses. The Mosscrest neighborhood, which calls itself "blighted," sits on a hill on the corner of Old Courthouse and Gosnell overlooking the Route 7/Tysons corridor.
Even though residents of nearby, more affluent, Westbriar and the Greater Tysons Green areas objected to the commercial town houses, they said residential construction at a density of five to eight per acre might be acceptable. Thillmann supports town houses for residential purposes at a density of eight to 12 per acre because it would be more appropriate to encourage consolidation of existing sites and encourage a coordinated rather than piecemeal development on the site.
One resident suggested the problems being discussed were caused by construction of Tycon Courthouse and perhaps would be eased if the building were demolished. But a resident of the newly built Monticello of Tysons town houses said he did not object to the "same ugly black building" that was in place when he bought his town house in an area he described as a "nice, quiet residential neighborhood."
Public hearings that were deferred until this morning begin at 10 a.m., but an exact time on proposed changes at the Dulles Road and Hunter Mill area has not been set because there is no method for determining how many speakers may speak on any item. Lilly has allowed any person wishing to speak on an application to speak. His only limit on hearings has been that no new items would be taken up past midnight. However, debate on any application under way at midnight has been allowed to finish.
More than 296 acres are involved in several proposals involving the northeast, northwest and southeast corners of the Dulles Road/Hunter Mill interchange.
Even though the staff reports say "the opening of the Dulles Toll Road parallel lanes merits land-use review of the interchange area on Hunter Mill Road," the staff is recommending that no change be made to the comprehensive plan. The county's current land-use plan calls for "development centers at Tysons Corner and Reston along the toll road. These two areas are presently separated by low-density, residential development and a sensitive environmental quality corridor. Based on accepted land use and transportation principles, the nomination is unwarranted and does not merit favorable consideration."
There are several different applications involved. Boston Properties has asked for a planned development on 167 acres on the southeast corner of the interchange. A similar proposal was submitted and withdrawn last year.
Robert Thoburn, a longtime Fairfax politician and former owner of a private school in the Hunter Mill area, has assembled more than 100 acres on both sides of Hunter Mill north of the toll road. He has asked the county to change that land use from residential to commercial.