Fairfax County planners have concluded that the jurisdiction must change its long-standing land-use and transportation policies if it is to maintain its competitive edge against Prince George's and Montgomery counties in the battle to attract top-quality office development and tenants.
While Fairfax already has enough land zoned for commercial development to last into the next century, the planners said the county's most sought-after sites with high visibility and easy accessibility from major roads are rapidly disappearing.
The study said half of the current available sites "lack some of the most attractive features such as visibility from the Capital Beltway or radial limited access highways. As the sites which provide these attractions are used up, competing sites in other jurisdictions" which have land with good highway visibility will become more competitive with Fairfax County "for new economic development than they are now."
The study, entitled Office and Industrial Development in Fairfax County, predicted that "the most competitive areas are likely to be Montgomery and Prince George's counties" because both have better road access than adjacent counties in Virginia.
The study cited development in the WestPark/WestGate areas of Tysons Corner near the Beltway and Rte. 123 as good examples of the type of commercial development Fairfax needs to continue attracting.
The study already has proven controversial, angering some elected officials because it offers possible alternatives to what one county official called "sacred cow land-use policies."
But Wayne Pumphrey, the county's acting planning director, said the report does not advocate changes but simply lays them out "should the county wish to consider changes on these or other tracts."
The most controversial potential changes mentioned in the study involve land at major interchanges along the Dulles Airport Access Road between Tysons Corner and Reston.
The study said the northeast, northwest and southeast corners of the Dulles Rd. interchange at Hunter Mill Rd. and the northeast and northwest corners of the toll road interchange with Leesburg Pike "are under considerable pressure for replanning for office use."
"If replanned from residential to commercial , their attractiveness may exceed other sites currently planned for commercial use," the report said.
Several land-use attorneys said they were "astounded" or "astonished" to see the Dulles road interchanges called good potential commercial sites in a report prepared by the county staff.
The Hunter Mill Rd. interchanges and the northwest corner of the Leesburg Pike interchange have been the subject of major land-use battles pitting developers against citizen groups and county officials who have vowed for years to keep those properties zoned for residential use.
The study said Fairfax officials have long held to a policy banning westward commercial development along Leesburg Pike. That position would have to be reversed for the land to become prime commercial property, county planners said.
"All the study says is that they might be good sites to look at" if land and transportation policies are changed, said Richard Hecht, a staff economist and the study's director.
Several Fairfax supervisors, including Republican board Chairman John F. Herrity and Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), attacked the study when it was recently handed to the supervisors as an "information-only item."
Maintaining sufficient numbers of plum development sites which "have helped make Fairfax County the leader in attracting new office and industrial development in the Washington area in recent years may require local officials to reexamine not only land-use and transportation policies but also economic development programs," according to the study.
The study said Fairfax may need to allow higher-density development and be willing to lower traffic standards, which might mean more congestion, in order to encourage the needed redevelopment of areas such as Seven Corners and Baileys Crossroads.
"One tradeoff issue which will need to be considered is whether or not a changing of traffic standards is a reasonable price to pay to get quality in-fill development in order to protect these areas from urban blight," the study said.
The report also said that Metro stations and the land surrounding them may provide excellent spots for intense commercial development. It also encourages policies that would generate "a broader mix of housing types in and near economic development and employment centers."
That is a policy that coincides with recommendations made in a recent Fairfax planning study calling for setting aside more land in close-in areas and job centers for apartment development.
Pumphrey said he sees no conflict in the studies even though one suggests that residential land might be considered for commercial development and the other calls for additional land for multi-family housing.
Both reports, he said, are part of many Fairfax studies now underway to help evaluate existing economic development and housing trends.
Hecht said one of the major reasons for doing the study was to see if Fairfax was on its way to a tax base that is 25 percent dependent on commercial or industrial development, which the supervisors have set as a goal. The current figure is about 22 percent.
He said the staff, however, would have been remiss not to have looked at the potential needs of the county on a long-range basis while preparing the study.