Residents of a small single-family neighborhood near Tysons Corner have reached a compromise with a development firm that is expected to lead to construction of a 330-unit apartment building adjacent to their homes.
Developers and several residents of the Red Warren area recently told county planning commission members the high-density rental project will help meet the increasing need for rental housing in the booming Tysons area.
The shortage of rental housing has become a major issue confronting Fairfax County government leaders, businesses and residents in recent months. Although the issue is countywide, it is rapidly becoming a major problem in growing commercial centers such as Tysons Corner.
Developers have promised to leave 200- to 250-foot-wide wooded buffer zones between the single-family homes and the 22-acre apartment site, adjacent to the Capital Beltway near George Marshall High School.
After months of negotiations, residents of Oak and Providence streets have agreed to go along with changes in land use from a long-standing plan for construction of detached housing to permit development of a 10- or 12-story Y-shaped rental facility. The exact height and density are yet to be determined.
Residents of the single-family area, known as Red Warren, squeezed between Idylwood Road and Rte. 7, want commitments from developers to protect their homes from the intensive development. Developers have promised to put commitments in writing as covenants between homeowners and developers.
"We intend to back up our promises with contracts," according to attorney Barnes Lawson. He represents the developers -- FRT, a Virginia limited partnership.
Because FRT and residents have been negotiating over land-use changes rather than actual rezoning, promises made by developers are not binding. That is why agreements will be drawn up in contractual form, Lawson said.
Area residents told a recent meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission they want to make sure developers keep their word.
"We want to make sure we get everything promised," said Charles Stolze, who lives on Providence Street.
"I have lived in the Tysons area for 26 years now. When I moved out here, it was all pastures. Now we are all boxed in," Stolze said. He apparently was referring to nearby apartment projects in the George Marshall Village area separating Red Warren from Rte. 7. The proposed apartment site is east of the Beltway and south of Marshall High School.
Last spring, developers purchased an easement from the Fairfax County School system that will allow residents of the proposed apartment complex to get in and out of it along George Marshall Drive, which feeds into Rte. 7. That easement will keep traffic out of Providence and Oak streets, project engineers said.
Sale of the easement was approved by the county board of education, said Ed Moore, director of land acquisition and site development for the school system.
"This was an old right-of-way, set aside when the high school was built. Our fences have been set back from the right-of-way for 25 years," Moore said. "They acquired a perpetual easement for road construction and maintenance."
Attorney Lawson has been working with area residents led by Francis Moravitz, head of the Red Warren civic group, for several months. Lawson said developers explored many possible development alternatives, including garden apartments, before deciding to pursue a single large building to be located in the northern part of the site as far away from existing single-family homes as possible. Approximately 10 of the 22 acres involved will buffer the south and eastern edges of the project.
That means 40 to 50 percent of the site will be in open space, some of which will be used for parking, according to Doug Fahl of Dewberry and Davis, an architectural and engineering firm involved in the development plan.
Moravitz said, "Things have been a bit tumultuous in our neighborhood" since the proposed change surfaced, but "we are not in a tirade. We have to conclude that development is inevitable."
Francis Naughton, a resident of the Dunn Loring area west of the Beltway across from the proposed apartment site, told commissioners he opposed the proposal. He called it "an unwarranted change to the master plan" for land use in the county. He asked the county to study the impact of traffic generated by the land-use change on the safety of students attending Marshall High School.
Planning commission member Rosemarie Annunziata, within whose district the land lies, said that promises made by applicants involved in this case generally are made in a rezoning process rather than in the planning process. However, commissioner Tydelle Fasteau said language changes should be specific as to what would be allowed on the site in order to avoid trouble in the future. "If the plan language does not contain that much specificity, then we could have a problem" if the property changes hands before it is developed, Fasteau said.
James Perrin, who lives in one of the oldest houses on Providence Street, said he and his wife "realized the 22 acres would be developed. We thought it would be with single-family detached houses. However, if we have to live with a tall building," he said he prefers one that is buffered from the neighborhood by the heavily wooded areas developers are now promising.
Although FRT would prefer to build a 12-story facility, Lawson said they would be willing to go along with a 10-story building.
The planning commission is supporting the proposed land-use change, now scheduled to be voted on by the board of supervisors Monday. Annunziata said she is supporting the change because of the need to protect the existing community and the fact that the development is earmarked to be rental housing. "I am more persuaded by the need for multi-family housing," she said. Annunziata called the proposed buffer adequate and "rather extensive," but said some consideration should be given to the Dunn Loring community even though it is across the Beltway. She asked developers to plan a buffer including trees along the Beltway.
"I am going to recommend that the height be limited to 10 stories," she said.
The proposed land-use change was one of many submitted to Fairfax months ago, but residents and developers were able to get the proposal out of the regular process for county action to give them time to come up with a compromise.
Annunziata commended residents and developers for the time they spent trying to reach an agreement. "No matter where it ends up, it is a satisfactory example" of the land-use plan process. "There has been a lot of intensity on both sides," she said