Residents of the McLean, Vienna and Tysons Corner areas are girding for what is likely to be a major land-use battle over a 96-acre tract near the Dulles Airport Toll Road, a fight that could end in a court battle aimed at testing Fairfax County's land-use planning and zoning policies.
Almost a year ago, the Fairfax County Planning Commission killed an effort to change the county's land-use plan for the 96 acres northwest of the airport road along Leesburg Pike from residential, one-house-per-acre, to commercial.
But a developer, the Tysons Cloverleaf Partnership, which includes the NVLand operation in McLean, nonetheless has filed a rezoning request for the same site. The developer knows that Fairfax officials oppose the plan.
The rezoning case challenges Fairfax County's longstanding policy that bars commercial development west of the Dulles road along Rte. 7.
The developers want to build 957,000 square feet of commercial office space on the site, while preserving a horse farm they say would be made available to nearby residents. Their plans also call for 3,510 parking spaces and the widening of Rte. 7.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Wolf Den, McLean Hamlet, Woodside, McLean Estates, Odricks Corner, Summerwood and Springhill said they are ready to fight again this year to block the developers' efforts.
The planning and zoning committee of the McLean Citizens Association voted unanimously last week to oppose the proposal, which is now set for a May 14 hearing before the Planning Commission, the same commission that killed the same developer's similar efforts a year ago.
The developers have told area residents that all entrances to the commercial development would be from Rte. 7. However, a recent letter from the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation to county transportation officials said access to the development, if approved, would be allowed at only one point along the highway.
That entrance would have to be near Laurel Hill Road, according to the letter the highway department sent county transportation chief Shiva Pant.
According to highway officials, additional entrances would have to be from Lewinsville Road, which now carries heavy rush-hour traffic off the Rte. 7 corridor. It runs in front of Springhill Elementary School, baseball and soccer fields and single-family homes ranging from the low $200,000 range to the $750,000 range.
According to statements on file with zoning officials, developers say the county's continuing call for low-density residential development on the site is "unreasonable and arbitrary."
Proximity to increasingly intense commercial use in the Tysons Corner area, to the Dulles road and to Rte. 7 "makes [the land] simply unsuitable for low-density residential development," according to written statements by the developers to county planners.
The developers said it would cost more than $1 million to buffer the site from noise generated by traffic on Rte. 7 and the Dulles road in order to make the land suitable for residential development, according to county records.
Lilla Richards, a civic leader and resident of the nearby Woodside community, said approval of the proposal would jeopardize residential property further west along the Rte. 7 corridor.
During a meeting of the McLean Planning and Zoning Committee, Richards asked the project's lawyer, Marshall Coleman, a former Virginia attorney general, why his client was proceeding with the rezoning after last year's effort to change the comprehensive land plan failed.
Coleman said the proposed development "is in conformance with the plan. It is our intention to proceed with this case" in a lawsuit if the Board of Supervisors rejects the rezoning.
Coleman said developers think the project will make Lewinsville Road and the project itself the buffer against further westward commercial expansion of the Tysons Corner area.
Meanwhile, Fairfax Planning Commission members and the Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote in a few weeks on new language for the county's land-use plan, which is designed to prohibit new commercial development along Rte. 7 beyond its intersection with the toll road to the Loudoun County line.
Because of concerns of churches that own large pieces of land along Rte. 7, planning commissioners have assured church leaders that the new land-use plan language is not aimed at restricting a church from locating or expanding in the area.
Churches and expansions of church schools or other church-related facilities are allowed in residential neighborhoods in Fairfax County by special permits that are granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals, not by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.