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Tysons Rezoning Could Impact Dranesville, Hunter Mill Districts

Four O'Clock 'Big Bang' Surprises Residents, County Staff

Public Hearing:

West*Group’s application to rezone 13.5 acres from commercial to residential use will go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9. It will be televised live on Fairfax County Cable Channel 16. Citizens who wish to speak can call 703-324-3151.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission last week approved an application from West*Group to rezone a 13.5 acre parcel of land in West*Park Office Park in Tyson’s Corner, most of it from commercial to residential use.

West*Group wants to build 1,354 dwellings for single families, 1,296 of them in four high-rise buildings 150 feet tall and another 58 units in single-family attached, townhouse style units.

At 4 p.m. on Wed., Nov. 20, the day the measure was scheduled before the hearing, county planning and zoning officials discovered that the development is located in the Spring Hill/Longfellow/McLean High School attendance area.

BECAUSE THE DEVELOPMENT sits on Westpark Drive, the boundary between the two attendance areas, zoning officials were initially advised that the new development would be assigned to Westbriar/Kilmer/Marshall.

In a memo dated Oct. 10, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) office of facilities planning said the new development would be in the Marshall High School pyramid. They estimated the new development would require 6.08 new classrooms to serve the 152 new students it would generate, at a cost of $2,128,000, or $350,000 per classroom.

But on Nov. 18, two days before the public hearing, FCPS facilities planners changed their stance. In a new memo, they changed the residences to the Spring Hill/Longfellow/McLean attendance area and estimated the cost at $1,114,000, or $7,500 per student.

West*Group has proffered a total of $200,000: $50,000 for the computer lab at Westbriar, $100,000 for special education at Kilmer Middle School, and $50,000 for scholarships for Marshall High School students. These would be awarded in $10,000 increments for five years.

Julie Dallen, president of the PTA at Westbriar, said that even if the residences are assigned to the Marshall pyramid, Westbriar Elementary School, does not need wireless connections for its school computers. She said no one had discussed West*Group’s proffers with her group.

But Thomas Fleury, a West*Group vice president who testified at the Nov. 20 public hearing said his company had been in touch with a representative of the Westbriar PTA.

John Foust, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the proffers would have come under his group’s scrutiny, had they known that 1,354 new residences would be coming on line at Spring Hill Elementary, Longfellow Middle, and McLean High Schools in McLean.

On Nov. 18, FCPS held the second of three monthly meetings to draw boundaries for a new elementary school at the Andrew Chapel site off Route 7.

The school is intended to relieve overcrowding at three elementary schools, Spring Hill being the most crowded of the three.

Three magisterial districts are involved: Providence, Hunter Mill and Dranesville.

The application for rezoning is handled in the Providence District, where West*Group’s land is located. Supervisor Gerald Connolly (D) will make the recommendation to the rest of the board on approval.

Linda Smyth, his appointed representative to the Planning Commission, deferred the vote on that board by 24 hours, to Nov. 21.

ALTHOUGH THE LAND PARCEL lies in the Providence magisterial district, it raised deep concern in Dranesville District, where its impact could affect traffic and stormwater management.

Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Division Director Fred Selden said that if West*Group’s application for a waiver to allow underground stormwater management is denied, “the applicant has not provided any alternative stormwater quantity or quality control measures on the site.

“...Retrofitting above-ground facilities will likely require re-design and new development plan approvals,” he said.

Lynn Tadlock, director of planning and development for the Fairfax County Park Authority, said the new development would require a contribution of $1,293,070 under the new ordinance.

West*Group has proffered $1 million to further the county's affordable housing efforts and $60,000 to support a community arts program.

Another proffer condition provides for 4,000 square feet of public government office space.

Fleury, the West*Group vice president, stood by his company's proffers.

"We believe we have offered a generous proffer package," he said.

"We are looking for total packages" on proffers, agreed Smyth, the Providence District Planning Commissioner. "We have considerable value here, not just for the schools but for public facilities, for parks, for trails, for transportation."

Some citizens were not convinced.

The revelation that children from the development might attend Spring Hill Elementary quickly became known as “the 4 p.m. big bang” among citizen activists who normally track such applications for the McLean Citizens Association (MCA).

Adrienne Whyte, chairman of the MCA’s planning and zoning committee said converting from commercial to residential, which have equivalent taxation rates, “is a cash loser for citizens."

A development of 1,356 units that would generate 2,505 new residents requires public services such for parks and stormwater management that go beyond what is required for commercial uses, she said.

She said West*Group’s proffers are “trivial in terms of what people in Fairfax County expect” to offset the effects of development on transportation, schools, open space, police and fire protection, libraries, and stormwater management, she said.

When new residential development criteria were developed, “Our elected officials listened. Now, they are resentful," she said. “They want to get this one under the wire. Why do they want to protect West*Group from their obligations to the citizenry, after they said what they wanted?” she said. The new criteria go into effect Jan. 7, 2003.

Although the new development is within walking distance of a bus transfer station at Spring Hill Road and Jones Branch Drive, “We still don’t know what year Metro through Tyson’s might actually open its doors,” Whyte said. “The realistic public officials are telling us 2016.

“We talk about Smart Growth,” she said. “I don’t know what’s smart about it. There’s no Metro out here.”

AS OF THE PUBLIC MEETING on Nov. 18, School Board Chairman Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) said the new residences could be administratively assigned to the Marshall pyramid, despite its presence in Spring Hill’s attendance area.

Dranesville District Planning Commissioner Joan Dubois said West*Group's schools proffer was amended to provide a cash donation for whichever public schools the development is eventually assigned to attend.

West*Group’s proposal now goes before the Board of Supervisors for a hearing at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9.

John Foust, president of the MCA, said that if the application is not ruled on at the Board's Dec. 9 meeting, then it would be subject to the more stringent development conditions that go into effect on Jan. 7, 2003.

Those conditions were written with input from citizens earlier this year.

But Fleury, the West*Group senior vice president, said the company tried to incorporate the new criteria into its application even though it was not required to do so.

"We've tried to follow this as closely as we could according to the new criteria," he said.

The new criteria give planning commissioners flexibility in negotiating proffers from residential developers. But different county agencies will have to work better together if the new criteria are going to be successful, according to Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy (Springfield).

"If this new system is going to work we are really going to have to improve the communication between all the different elements," he said.

Ernestine Heastie is Providence District’s representative to the School Board, but the affected schools are in Dranesville and Hunter Mill Districts.

Dranesville District is represented by Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, Planning Commissioner Joan Dubois, and School Board Representative Jane Strauss.

Westbriar is in Hunter Mill District, represented by Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe, and School Board Representative Stuart Gibson, who is also School Board Chairman.