Tysons-based West*Group on Monday became the first developer to take advantage of a three-for-one rate of exchange of commercial for residential space at Tysons Corner, an incentive first offered by Fairfax County in 1994 to encourage more people to move into an “edge city” that vacates at night.
“Tysons is already a poster child for bad development,” said Providence District Supervisor Gerry Connolly (D), whose district includes the proposal for four high-rise buildings at the northwest intersection of Westpark and Park Run Drives near a bus transfer station at Tysons II.
He voiced strong support for West*Group’s proposal to rezone 13.5 acres of land in the West*Park office park from commercial to residential use, calling it the first development proposal to take advantage of the 3:1 conversion.
The board approved the measure 9-0, discounting pleas from citizens who asked that the vote be deferred to allow for a comprehensive evaluation of its effect on traffic, schools, and the tax base.
Tom Fleury, vice president of development services for West*Group, told Connolly the proposal is “absolutely not” a downzoning.
Fleury said it will increase the amount the county will yield from property taxes from $1.7 million from a commercial base to $5 million annually from residences.
Before voting “yes,” Board Chairman Kate Hanley recounted that in 1991, a task force spun off from the group that reviewed Fairfax County’s zoning blueprint, its comprehensive plan.
Because Tysons had been defined as Fairfax County’s downtown, “it was so important that it needed a special task force that met for three years, from 1991-94,” Hanley said. “Tysons was an edge city with no night life and no open space. It was auto-dependent,” she said.
“The ratio of people who commute to Tysons versus the number who live there is out of whack,” said Connolly.
To repair the imbalance, the county offered developers a three-to-one density bonus if they would build residences instead of offices.
WEST*GROUP’S development will do just that. Its four 14-story buildings will take as much as 10 years to be built.
“This project supports the ridership that the federal government refuses to believe we have to support rail to Dulles [Airport],” said Fleury.
Under West*Group’s proffers, residents of the development will be provided with shuttle bus service to reach the bus transfer station. Ultimately, a rail loop is planned to extend from a rail line to Dulles, but it won’t reach the development. That was a sticking point for those who wanted the proposal deferred.
“The Tysons area transportation plan represents surrender,” said resident Tim Reed. “...We did it one rezoning at a time, until surrender actually made sense.”
“I have heard nothing but confusion and speculation,” said David Gibson, a professional planner who lives in the Tysons area. “We have all seen information that has not been made public until now.
“The consequences [of the rezoning] are not predictable, fair, or cost effective. There has not been adequate review,” he said.
Supervisors also sparred with citizens over predictions for how many schoolchildren the development will bring to Fairfax County schools.
Susan Turner of McLean asked the board to “look at the big picture.”
She said another rezoning now in the pipeline for the Tysons area will trigger the need for a new elementary school.
“Who is going to proffer the space for the school?” Turner asked. “What happens to the middle and high schools?
She said $875,000 that West*Group has proffered for schools -- an increase from $200,000 originally proffered, “won’t be there to pay for the classrooms at the time they are needed.”
“We would expect you to coordinate land use changes with [FCPS] facilities planning,” said Adrienne Whyte, chairman of planning and zoning for the McLean Citizens Association.
Dianne Miller, president of the PTO at Spring Hill Elementary School, where the new project was initially assigned, said the school already has a population of 1,026 students and a capacity of 789.
One year after the school underwent a $5.6 million renovation, Miller said, there were already 11 classroom trailers at the school.
“Everyone in the Marshall, McLean, and Langley [high school] pyramids bought their homes with the understanding” that schools could accommodate their children, she said.
“Please consider the benefits of working in concert with the school board for future planning.”
Both Hanley and Connolly challenged Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) facilities planners’ estimates that 152 children, 93 of them in elementary school, will live at the development. That estimate mirrored attendance figures from a nearby residential high-rise, The Rotonda, according to Gary Chevalier, who represented FCPS at a recent series of community meetings to address school overcrowding in the Route 7 corridor.
But Hanley said the 14-story high-rise where she lives at Reston Town Center has produced “zero” children, despite an FCPS projection for 42 students. Including townhomes in The Stratford in Reston, “all told there are three” students, Hanley said.
“One size of coefficient doesn’t fit all,” she said. “And the School Board only uses one.”
Connolly cited attendance figures of zero at the Encore and two at the Regency, also multi-family structures at Tysons. He said Avalon Crescent had produced 39 where 126 had been expected.
At the Lincoln and the Fountains, he said, a prediction of 137 children had yielded 25. “Tysons does not attract families with kids,” Connolly said. Instead, the high cost of condominiums encourages young, childless professionals and older empty-nesters rather than families with school-aged children.
Hunter Mill Supervisor Catherine Hudgins said FCPS should “make boundary changes based on what is happening in the community” rather than applying formulas to adjust boundaries.
FAIRFAX COUNTY’S new residential density criteria went into effect Jan. 7, the day after West*Group’s hearing.
But under questioning from Connolly, Fairfax County staff planner Barbara Byron said West*Group’s proposal, which includes a proffer of $1 million to fund a fourth homeless shelter in the county, meets or exceeds the new requirements.
Because it was the first such rezoning, citizen Jody Bennett said, “It is critical that we get this one exactly correct.
“We need this applicant to help us with the traffic circulation problem:” at Tysons,” she said.
“I don’t see any proffers that will help us with traffic circulation or stormwater management.”
Westbriar Elementary PTA President Julie Dallen said the proposal is “a taxpayer issue.”
“We were told to look at the proffers in their totality, and not just look for schools, schools, schools,” she said.
Doing so, she concluded the $3.5 million value of the proffers was inadequate for a development that will gross $800 million to $1 billion for West*Group, she said.
“You need to set a good model. West*Group should meet with the residents to be impacted and I encourage you to defer until they have done so,” she said.
WHILE CONNOLLY REFERRED to the rezoning, which tripled the density of floor area that can be constructed, as “a big case, It’s not a particularly complicated case,” he said.
“We have an obligation, before we start delving into process or proffers, to ask, ‘What does the [comprehensive] plan say?’
“We are trying to infuse residential dynamism in a place where people go to work in the morning and leave at night,” said Connolly.
“We are missing the point that what is approved there right now is 590,000 square feet of office [space],” Hanley said.
“Tysons is the largest concentration of retail outside Manhattan on the East Coast. There have been substantial transportation proffers in the 1988 rezoning” for West*Park, she said, citing West*Group's previous improvements to International Drive and an entrance ramp for the Dulles Toll Road.
“Even if we added 50 or 60 students, this application far outweighs that,” said Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell. “We wanted to quit depending on D.C. for jobs. We got it. We’ve got everything we need right here in Fairfax County.”
“It makes sense to bring residential to where jobs are,” said Lee District Superintendent Dana Kauffman.
He commended West*Group for boosting its initial proffer of cash for schools from $200,000 to $875.000.
“The slow-growther in me had a hard time with this,” said Braddock Supervisor Sharon Bulova.
“[But] this is not a clean slate. It is property already zoned for a large-scale commercial development. Is that better? Or would residential be preferable?”
Gerry Hyland, supervisor of Mt. Vernon District, said “Tysons is the economic heart of this county, for Northern Virginia and for all of Virginia.”