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Tysons Rezoning: Round 2?

West*Group wants to replace 58 townhouses with 138 lofts.

The West*Group rezoning in Tysons Corner that caused so much controversy last year is back. This time, the developer has asked for a change in the project's plans to replace 58 proposed townhouses with 138 loft apartments at the corner of Park Run Drive and Westpark Drive. As part of the change, a planned grocery store would be moved from the basement of one of the buildings to the ground floor of the new five-story loft building. Despite the change, the project would still have a maximum of 1,354 units.

The Board of Supervisors originally approved the project to put four high-rise buildings, townhouses and retail outlets including a grocery store on 13.5 acres of land in Tysons in January 2003. But West*Group executive Tom Fleury said he decided to seek the change when he learned that the original site of the grocery store — in the basement of one of the approved apartment buildings — consisted of granite bedrock.

"We found out we couldn't put the grocery store underneath those buildings," he said. "So we ended up eliminating all of the townhouses and creating a grocery store pad that will look just like townhouses from the street."

But instead of townhouses, the ground-floor grocery store will be topped with "your classic New York East River loft unit surrounding a central courtyard."

In the middle of the courtyard, Fleury envisions a swimming pool to sit right on top of the grocery store.

"It looks exactly like the last project, except instead of the townhouses you've got kind of a square box," he said.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the new application on Wednesday, July 21. The Board of Supervisors is set to cast the final vote on the project on Aug. 2.

WHEN WEST*GROUP first proposed the project late in 2002, it was met with loud opposition from McLean residents who claimed that new residents would jam up the roads and flood the schools. It also sparked heated exchanges between supervisors Gerry Connolly (D), then of Providence District, who now serves as chairman, and Stuart Mendelsohn (R), who then represented Dranesville District and is now retired.

This time, however, the response has been more muted, said current Providence supervisor Linda Smyth (D), who was planning commissioner at the time of the original rezoning.

"I have not heard from anybody on it. We're not changing that much," she said. "I suspect [the Planning Commission public hearing] is going to be fairly quiet."

But she added the decision would probably be deferred.

Fleury said he met with the planning and zoning chair of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) , Jim Robertson, who did not raise any objection.

"It doesn't appear that there's anything that would impact the McLean area," said Robertson.

BUT SUSAN TURNER, president of the MCA, said she did not know about the application until last week.

"We're not pleased," she said. "We thought we negotiated an agreement there. Now we seem to have something happening unanticipated."

Turner said replacing 58 townhouses with 138 loft apartments would exacerbate the traffic problems in Tysons Corner. Even though a Metro station is scheduled to open about one mile away before the end of the decade, Turner predicted most new residents would still use their cars to get around.

"Obviously, all these people cannot take the Metro when they need to go to the hardware store and the Kennedy Center and so forth. And they're going to generate a lot of traffic. It's not like New York, where you have an intricate system of subways and so forth."

County land-use staffers were also concerned about the traffic, particularly around the grocery store, and recommended that the Planning Commission deny the application.

"Shifting one thing is not so easy, because in areas this large, shifting one thing has a lot of ripple effect," said Cathy Lewis, the staff coordinator for the application.

County staff is working with the developer on an addendum to the staff report, which will be presented at the Planning Commission public hearing.

"I THINK THIS is a change for the better," said Smyth. "I think the grocery store is in a better place. It gives us more open space."

Smyth added that she thought the grocery store would be a Harris Teeter with a pharmacy.

Fleury said West*Group has added new proffers including $50,000 for the design of a new public facility in the area, which could be used for relocating the Spring Hill fire station. The developer has also proffered $50,000 for the design of a new Tysons library and $150,000 for parkland acquisition in the Providence District. Although the company is no longer legally required to provide affordable dwelling units, Fleury said the original plan to include eight moderately priced homes would remain in place. County ordinances do not require high-rise developers to provide affordable housing.

Fleury also said he would contribute an additional $150,000 for traffic improvements. The original set of proffers, which included $850,000 for education and $1 million to build a new homeless shelter, are still in place, he said.