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Staff Recommends Denial of Final Plan for Tysons II

Just like the first version issued six months ago, a long-awaited amended staff report on Tysons II Land Company's final development plan to "build out" the Galleria area of Tysons Corner recommends denial.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Mar. 26, before the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

Providence District Planning Commissioner Linda Smyth said she will wait for the public hearing before deciding what her recommendation will be.

"I may defer decision," she said. "It's a big case. Certainly, there is a lot to be weighed."

Copies of the hefty report, available from the Department of Zoning in Fairfax, were limited to "two per customer," Smyth said. "It takes a while for people to look through it."

At press time on Mar. 18, five days after the addendum was issued, copies had not yet been received in Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn's McLean office.

The proposal for mixed-use commercial development with hotels, office, and retail space on 57.44 acres of land was first filed on Nov. 13, 2001.

After the first staff report, issued on Sept., 26, 2002, said the development needed to include residential as well as office space, Tysons II converted Building J to residential use associated with a Metro station.

Smyth said she has been meeting weekly with representatives of the Lerner Corporation, county zoning staffer, Peter Braham, who has labored over the addendum for months, and other Fairfax County staffers. Tysons II Land Company has revised its proffers 10 times, most recently on Feb. 7.

"They got it down to a much shorter list, but the staff is still identifying major issues," Smyth said.

ON TUESDAY, Smyth said she has not decided what she will recommend. For now, she is studying staff concerns about transportation, she said.

Tysons II Land wants to build out its 57-acre property with eight new buildings, the tallest a high-rise with 540 residences that would be constructed over a Metro station at the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and Chain Bridge Road.

"Being the tallest building in the complex and because it is uniquely sited, Building J provides a focal point in all directions and a critical landmark for navigating the composition of buildings," said the proposal.

According to a report from Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Facilities Planning, the residences would generate 55 more children for Fairfax County Schools: 34 in elementary, six in middle, and 15 in high school.

Although the building is presently sited in the attendance area for Spring Hill Elementary, Longfellow Middle, and McLean High Schools, Dranesville School Board Representative Jane Strauss said it it likely to be administratively transferred to the Marshall High School pyramid, probably Westbriar Elementary and Kilmer Middle School.

Smyth said it is transportation issues that most concern the County staff.

"Phasing is a major issue, in terms of how we are going to be dealing with rail coming to Tysons. Whatever we do here, we get to multiply by four, because that is how many rail stations we'll have," Smyth said.

Under the proposal, Tysons II could be developed to 25 percent of its rail-related density once the federal government issues a "full funding grant agreement (FFGA)," a commitment to provide funding for rail that stipulates the portions to be paid by local, state, and federal sources. That agreement is expected by fall of 2004.

When rail is extended to the west side of Tysons, another 50 percent of density could be constructed and the final 25 percent would hinge on completion of rail to Reston Parkway, or bus rapid transit to Dulles Airport.

In his report, Braham wrote that "staff concurs with this approach."

BUT IN ITS PROFFERS, Tysons II states that after Jan. 1, 2017, all rail-related density could be constructed even if Metrorail has not yet reached Tysons Corner and Loudoun County.

While it is likely that rail will be in place by then, Braham wrote, the proffers should address the possibility that it is not.

Otherwise, Braham wrote, the case "could set a precedent for other proposals to develop rail-related density without rail."

"Staff wants to protect the public from what the ramifications of that might be," Smyth said.

If rail is not in place, Tysons II should offset traffic with other means such as road improvements or "Transportation Demand Management" tools: TDMs, Smyth said.

"If you ask for rail density before rail is there, you have to provide TDMs," she said. "They should be enforceable, and not just a nod in the right direction."

"There are many ways of getting at traffic control management. You need incentives, and a certain number of disincentives."

TYSONS II's TDM proposal "is interesting," Smyth said. "I got a real laugh out of it, as a matter of fact. They talk about a shuttle [bus]. Nobody asked for a shuttle," she said, because Fairfax County already has buses running such routes.

Other TDMs could include measures such as flextime, carpooling, and other programs to keep people moving through Tysons.

"Tysons will always have to operate on two levels," public and private transportation, Smyth said.

"We have this huge investment in Metro. What staff is looking at here is, how do we get the best return on Metro?" she said.

"We've got another 1.9 million square feet already approved at Tysons II. The good thing is they would put all of the new development into a TDM program.

"The bad thing is that the TDM program isn't very enforceable and doesn't accomplish very much."

The staff report raised concerns about a little-understood goal for a 20 percent "mode split" that is provided for Tysons in the county's Comprehensive Plan. It means that rail should offset the number of cars by at least 20 percent.

"If [the residential development] sits on top of a Metro station, you should expect a higher than 20 percent reduction in single occupancy vehicle trips," said Smyth.

There are also concerns about parking, proposed improvements to Route 123/Chain Bridge Road, and spot improvements such as turning lanes.

Smyth said Tysons II wants its "building J," the residences, approved now, "so that nothing comes back through the process. I don't have a clue what Building J looks like," she said. "The applicant should really bring it back to the Planning Commission," at least for review and comment, she said.

But her chief worry, she said, is precedent. "This is setting precedents because we are going into a highly developed area and retrofitting," Smyth said.

"When we went out I-66 [with Metro] it was open space."