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Votes

Vote on Tysons II Density Is Deferred

Public Hearing Transpires in the Wee Hours of the Morning

The Fairfax County Planning Commission last week vetted a “challenging” proposal to build out Tysons II with a Metrorail station and eight new buildings, one a 540-unit, high-rise condominium. They would add 2.2 million square feet of density, contingent on passenger rail service, to 1.9 million square feet of office space already approved at Tysons II.

The public hearing on what is viewed as the largest land-use proposal at Tysons Corner, and possibly in the county, began after midnight and concluded at 1:40 a.m. There were five speakers, three from McLean.

The applicant, Tysons II Land Co., a subsidiary of Lerner Enterprises, is asking for 2.2 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space in addition to the 1.9 million already approved and has proffered land for a Metro rail station and a five-acre park.

The new density, to be phased over 15 to 20 years, would be “triggered” by the arrival of passenger rail to Tysons, which would be expected to reduce auto traffic.

Of five speakers who waited until after 12:30 a.m. to speak at the hearing, three opposed the added density because a proffered condition would allow Tysons II to build it out after the year 2017, even if rail has not been completed.

In a revised staff report issued March 13, Fairfax County staff planner Peter Braham recommended denial because the issues that have not been resolved “result in a situation where the potential benefits associated with approval of this proposal are outweighed by the severity of the outstanding issues.”

Construction of the rail-related density “subsequent to Jan. 1, 2017, irrespective of the status of the extension of Metrorail to Tysons Corner and beyond to Loudoun County … could set a precedent for other proposals to develop rail-related density without rail,” he said, stressing the road network at Tysons Corner. He said Tysons II has objected to providing a rail study, more road improvements, or “meaningful” measures to manage traffic, known as “Transportation Demand Management” tools or TDMs.

BUT BEN TOMPKINS of Reed, Smith, Hazel & Thomas, attorney for Tysons II Land Co., and other speakers said a 2005 “go/no-go’ decision that is contingent on a federal guarantee for financing is enough to ensure that rail will be complete.

Under withering criticism at the hearing, Tompkins reminded Planning Commission that the company is already approved to construct 1,963,474 square feet of commercial space “by right” without rail.

Should its plan for added density associated with rail be denied, the company could withdraw the offer of land for the future Metro station.

Providence District Planning Commissioner Linda Smyth deferred a vote on the measure twice: first to the next night and then by another week, until April 3.

Patty Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, supported the final development plan for the 57-acre site at Tysons I, calling it “an important mixed-use project” that will “basically begin to create a heart for the Tysons Corner area.”

None of the issues outstanding since the project was first proposed in November 2001 “is a deal breaker,” Nicoson said.

She said construction of rail to Tysons will be “pretty much locked in” by a promise for funding from the federal government by 2005.

“WE ARE VERY COMFORTABLE with the notion that in the year 2005, someone will decide whether there has or has not been a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) issued by the Federal Transportation Administration,” said Adrienne Whyte, presenting a resolution of support from the McLean Citizens Association. “That is a real clear thing. If that occurs, we believe that rail will be constructed through Tysons.

“You heard Peter Braham say, if we ever get past the 2005 go-no go decision, when we get to the year 2017; I think he used the term ‘little’ risk,” Whyte said.

“There is a risk. We can’t quantify that risk, but we believe it is very, very small.

“For that reason, we support the application,” said Whyte.

SPEAKING AT 1 A.M., former Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Herrity, now a Republican candidate for the open seat being vacated by Kate Hanley, disagreed.

In “days long gone” in Fairfax County, he said, “when there was increased density in an area, there was a price, and we knew what the price was, and they had to pay it. But in Tysons Corner, there is no transportation plan.”

“There is no fund that is mandated by the comprehensive plan,” Herrity said.

When the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 6 approved West*Group’s proposal for 1,356 new residential units in West Park, “there was zero, nothing for transportation,” Herrity said. “Nada.

“I don’t believe that’s equity,” Herrity said. “I believe the comprehensive plan in Tysons and the Dulles Corridor has to be revised again, and the density suggested there has to be linked to transportation improvements.

“I think you are very wise to question whether rail will ever be built in Tysons,” Herrity said. “Some people talk about the tooth fairy. Maybe one day we will wake up, and the tooth fairy will be among us.”

Smyth said because West*Group had already paid into the transportation fund, new funding was not required by its new proposal.

However, she questioned Tysons II attorney Tompkins for an hour, raising concerns about density and challenging whether the company’s proffers are worth as much as the applicant claims.

Real-estate taxes, which Tysons II estimates at $19 million at build-out, are “an estimate,” Smyth said. “Poor homeowner that I am, my home [assessment] went up 33 percent. Yours stayed exactly the same.

“Perhaps those numbers are not exactly what we thought,” Smyth said. “When we are presented with a list of figures, we don’t really know the value. We are taking your word for it,” she said.

“We will only realize that [amount] if you have every single office rented,” said Planning Commissioner Suzanne Harsel (Braddock).

Smyth also pointed out that Tysons II pays no taxes on the five acres being proffered for use as a park.

“It has been that way since 1991, when your clients went to court to get that set.”

“If people don’t want the park, that’s fine,” said Tompkins. “Lerner has paid millions and millions in taxes on its undeveloped land.”

“Why are you afraid to commit to the 2017 that staff is asking?” asked Harsell. “If you are so positive about your FFGA in 2005, why are you balking at 2017?”

“We are being asked to commit to millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said Tompkins.

“To suggest that all the risk should be on the shoulders of this applicant, frankly, it’s not fair. It doesn’t make economic sense.

“There needs to be an element of shared risk between the public and private sector.

“If we get to 2017, no one is going to refund the excess proffer. We are pregnant on this plan. We cannot unwind it.”

SINCE THE FIRST staff report was issued on Sept. 26, 2002, several changes have occurred that might impact the proposal:

• “Locally preferred alternatives” (LPAs) for the proposed rail system were adopted on Dec. 19, 2002. They ruled out rapid bus transit as an interim step in acquiring rail and decided the location of the Metro stations at Tysons.

• On Jan. 7, Fairfax County adopted residential development criteria, a new system of proffers that could affect Building J, where Tysons II plans 540 residences.

The applicant says it should not be held to the new criteria, since its application dates to Nov. 13, 2001, and the residences were added to answer county staff ‘s criticism that the proposal was too heavily weighted to commercial space. Presently, office space is not filling up, while residential space in Fairfax County is much in demand.

• The 10th revision of Tysons II’s proffers, dated Feb. 7, changes the provision of pedestrian bridges to an option.

• A letter from Fred R. Selden, director of Planning Division of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, included in the March 13, 2003, addendum, questions the 2017 provision that would allow Tysons II to proceed even if rail is not complete.

“If, as proffered, the rail-related development is allowed to proceed in 2017, whether or not rail has been constructed, the link between the ultimate build-out of the project to the actual programming, design and construction of rail would be abrogated,” he wrote.

• In the same staff addendum, Young Ho Chang, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation, wrote, “The key element guiding approval … is the construction and implementation of rail service to the site.”

The proposed phasing schedule would allow 25 percent of the new density before rail service is available, 50 percent when rail comes to Tysons, and the final 25 percent when it is complete to Dulles Airport.

Chang said the schedule is reasonable except for the proposal to initiate development in January 2017, “regardless of the status of rail in the Tysons area. Staff cannot support an application that has the potential to allow rail-related density on the ground without any means to address the transportation impact of that development,” he said.

Noting “explicitly” that he was not speaking for the MCA, which he formerly served as president, Bill Byrnes read a prepared statement at the hearing.

“I ask that you affirm the fundamental principle in the Comprehensive Plan that there should not be rail-based density in Tysons if there is no rail, and deny its application.”

* Five acres for a park with an amphitheater and $100,000 for maintenance;

* 4.5 acres for the Metro station;

* $5 million that could be leveraged to obtain state funding to complete the $8 million widening of Route 123;

* Optional pedestrian walkways connecting buildings;

* Three affordable dwelling units totaling $450,000;

* Transportation Demand Management (TDM) tools including preferred parking for vans and carpools, financial incentives for carpooling, and a shuttle bus to Metro, all designed to reduce traffic in Tysons by 20 percent;

* $955 per residential unit for recreation;

* $400,000 for schools;

* $100,000 for Transportation Demand Management