The Washington Post

Tysons forest on verge of not being paved over

The Old Courthouse Spring Branch forest provides a buffer for many Vienna residents from the toll road and Route 7. A creek, which emanates from a spring under the Pike 7 Plaza, is shown in blue. The move to turn Tysons Corner into a city could eliminate this forest (Google Earth)

It’s a 33-acre forest called Old Courthouse Spring Branch park, and it runs roughly parallel to Route 7, just west of the Pike 7 Plaza. Underneath Pike 7 Plaza, a natural spring begins, runs through the park and then all the way to the Potomac. The plan to place a road through the park would not only deprive residents of their access to nature and recreation, but would severely impact the floodplain and “increase flooding up and down the stream,” according to a Fairfax County Park Authority memo that analyzed the plan.

Cathy Hudgins, the Fairfax County supervisor whose Hunter Mill district includes the Tysons forest. (Fairfax County)

Hudgins wouldn’t exactly confirm this to me, but she came awfully close. “I’m quite assured,” Hudgins said, “that we will not be using the RPA [Resource Protection Area, or forest] as a route onto the Toll Road.” The Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, where this issue is expected to arise and possibly be laid to rest.

For more on how this happy ending may be evolving, read after the jump. And here is the Fairfax County Park Authority memo analyzing the environmental impact of extending Boone Boulevard through the park.

Alexis Linder and Curran Bullock walk along a trail near Old Courthouse Spring Branch in Tysons Corner. Residents have organized a coalition to oppose a highway ramp that could go through the wooded area. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times)

In 2010, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors adopted a comprehensive plan for redeveloping Tysons around the new Metro stations. A big part of this plan involved developing an urban, walkable street grid for a newly dense, heavily built-up city-type place.

Part of the plan says that the Old Courthouse Spring Branch forest is a key part of a livable new Tysons. But another part of the plan says that Boone Boulevard, which currently stops at Route 123, should be extended west to connect with the Dulles Toll Road. That extension would go straight through the forest. In Fairfax transportation studies, it is known as “Preferred Option 3.” (Cue the ominous, threatening music.)

Many many details of why the forest is good and why it should be saved were covered in excruciating detail here in June.

Fifteen different civic associations, representing 1,800 households, in the vicinity of the forest banded together to form the Save Tysons Last Forest coalition. They met with politicians and planners, and “there isn’t an elected official we’ve talked with,” coalition president Pam Konde said, “who thinks we should do anything other than preserve and protect the stream valley.”

In addition to Fairfax supervisors, the coalition received bipartisan support from state and federal officials. Meanwhile, developers are starting to apply for and receive permission to build. They want, and need, to know where the roads are going to be. The sense of urgency was building.

And it appears the Fairfax board is responding. Hudgins attended a long neighborhood meeting at Westbriar Elementary School in late May, and has repeatedly met or spoken with pro-forest members. Now, all indications are she is going to ask the board to direct the county transportation department either to study the issue much further, or eliminate it from the plan altogether.

“I think we are sensitive to the neighbors,” Hudgins told me. She said the forest “remains a valuable asset that Tysons will need in the long term. I think I will be working with my fellow board members to address it. I know all of the people would like us to do it.”

Sounds promising, yes? Konde thinks so.

“I’m really excited,” she said Thursday, “for the Board of Supervisors to direct the county Department of Transportation to eliminate this option from further study, or take it off the table completely and continue their 35 years of protecting this valuable stream valley, flood plain and wetland.”

Will the little guys win? The answer may come on Tuesday.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.


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