After much study and volatile debate, the Fairfax County Planning Commission wants to keep the maximum heights of new buildings in the Tysons Corner area right where most of them are now -- seven to nine stories.
The Fairfax County staff has tried for several years to develop a plan for the future skyline of the 1,700-acre core of the Tysons Corner area. But the planning commission has recommended that county supervisors kill a controversial height study prepared by the staff and proposals by a citizens task force.
Instead, after two nights of debate recently, the commission voted to ask the Board of Supervisors to "reaffirm the existing 'by right' heights on land in the Tysons core." The commissioners also are urging adoption of staff proposals aimed at encouraging good design features in future buildings.
The supervisors are scheduled to act on the controversial issue after a public hearing on it Monday night at 7 in the Massey Building in Fairfax City.
The staff proposal would have allowed construction of so-called "gateway" buildings, some as tall as 20 stories, at key intersections within the Tysons area, if developers agreed to a long list of design standards.
The citizens task force's report called for some "down-zoning," or reducing the height now allowed, as a matter of right under existing zoning categories.
Carl Zimmer, chairman of the task force, told the commissioners that task force members want to ensure that existing strip shopping areas and car dealerships that are likely to be redeveloped are not allowed to have structures as tall as existing zoning might permit. But county officials said down-zoning was never the study's intent.
Not only did the commissioners reject the staff's proposed height guidelines, they also voted to delete a paragraph in the report that identified the future First American Bank building, near the defense communications tower at Rtes. 123 and 7, as representative of the maximum height for future buildings at Tysons.
That 214-foot-tall building will be 730 feet above sea level. Several commissioners feared the reference to 730 feet could be interpreted to mean that buildings more than 60 stories tall might be permitted in the Tysons area.
"I can see it now in the papers . . . 'Commission Supports 60-Story Buildings,' " quipped Commission Chairman George Lilly.
Setting building heights in the Tysons area has been troublesome because of the hilly terrain; as a result, the county has set heights based on above-sea-level figures, rather than on the number of stories in a building.
The planning board action calls for deletion of proposed buildings 15 stories and taller as gateways, which had angered some area residents.
Some county planners said the approval several years ago of a special exception, which allowed construction of the 23-story Sheraton Hotel at the Rte. 7 and Dulles Airport Access Road interchange, set a precedent that other landowners may seek nearby. Other tall buildings have been approved as special exceptions.
Commissioners heard testimony on the height proposal several weeks ago, but deferred action until the planning staff presented charts of the proposed changes.
Charles E. Ewing Jr., executive vice president of the West Group, which owns 500 acres of the 1,700 acres involved in the Tysons area, testified at the time that the proposal "unfairly discriminates against his West Gate and West Park office developments , because they are older existing developments and because of their proximity to the residential areas north of the Dulles Airport Access Road." The West Group and West Park developments now have major vacant sites ripe for new development.
The commissioners' recommendation that supervisors simply affirm existing zonings leaves those who have been fighting the height study "four years back where we were before all the work began," charged Lilla Richards, a citizen leader in the McLean-Tysons area.