Westward Ho

Westward Ho

Proposed development at Vienna Metro station may define smart growth for Fairfax County.

Although the final project is far from finished, "Metro West," the development by Pulte and Clark Realty at the Vienna Metrorail station, attempts to apply smart growth principles by placing high-density, mixed-use development within walking distance of the Metro station. By having such a development near public transportation, proponents argue it reduces sprawl and preserves the open space at the farther edges of the county as well as in the pockets of undisturbed land within the county's center.

For a development project to employ smart growth, the project must be near transit; have a good street grid with narrow streets; a mix of residential, commercial and retail uses; public open space; and good connections to adjoining communities, so that neighboring communities can also have pedestrian access to the transit center. These were among the criteria that the Smart Growth Alliance used to judge and approve development projects such as Metro West. The Smart Growth Alliance is a coalition made up of the Urban Land Institute in Washington, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Metropolitan Washington Builders Council.

"We see that doing good, transit-oriented development is the best way to preserve open space," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

The Alliance recognized Metro West as an example of smart growth because it fits the criteria. While the project they reviewed last summer has been modified since then, both projects propose the desired high-density, mixed-use development for the 56 acres south of the Metro station and north of Route 29.

The current project, subject to change, is to have approximately 2,400 dwelling units, with 900 of them as rentals. The dwelling units would be a mix of apartments, condominiums, townhouses and stacked townhouses. Both the condominiums and the townhouses would have different sizes available for the would-be homeowner.

Commercial property would include 300,000 square feet of office space, and 35,000 square feet of retail. The tallest buildings would be between 10 and 14 stories high, with the greatest commercial and residential density occurring closer to the Metro station.

TO ENSURE a pedestrian-friendly community, Metro West will have a Main Street-type area, with shops and a fountain lining the plaza. The Main Street would connect the development to the Metro station. Other open space within the community could include a pool, a skating rink, or a green space for Frisbee games or picnics. The townhouses would front the street and not each other.

The feeling of Metro West could extend through Saintsbury Drive up to the Metro station's entrance, as Pulte is considering purchasing land owned by WMATA. The land, currently a parking lot, could be designed as a pedestrian extension to the Metro entrance.

"We think it's such a unique opportunity near a Metro station. We want to make sure it's done right," said Jon W. Lindgren, assistant land acquisitions manager at Pulte.

The development would also include an area enabling residents to telecommute, according to Pulte vice president of acquisition Sam Settle.

"We're really trying to encourage people to take the emphasis off driving," Settle said.

Since March 2003, developers have worked with neighboring homeowners associations to accommodate their concerns. The Circle Woods neighborhood to the west and the Hunters Branch neighborhood to the east will have trees and housing stock similar to what is found in their neighborhoods bordering the development. Vaden Drive will extend with four lanes from Saintsbury Drive to Route 29, with traffic-calming measures in place. East Blake Lane Park, to the project's west, will also be connected to the project through paths and entranceways.

"Different ideas that people have brought to the table have created, I think, a good overall project," Lindgren said.

The next step for the project is to await the date for the out-of-turn amendment to the county's comprehensive plan. Passing the amendment will allow the density of the area to increase up to 40 dwelling units per acre, thus enabling the project to continue.

Should the amendment be approved and Metro West be constructed, Schwartz said it would benefit residents seeking better options to transit proximity. While questions have been raised about Metrorail's capacity, having office space at Metro West could result in reverse commuting, where people travel on uncrowded trains to their work at the Vienna Metro station. Furthermore, the higher density at the Vienna Metro could prevent further sprawl of the region, as 300,000 more residents are anticipated to make Fairfax County their home in the next 20 years.

"Focusing development next to transit is important in addressing ... problems" of traffic congestion and open space, said Schwartz.