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What's Best for Metro West?

Vienna raises concerns about proposed development.

For Vienna councilwoman Maud Robinson, the proposed development project south of the Vienna Metrorail station feels like a foot that's trying to get into a shoe that's too small. While something needs to happen there, Robinson isn't sure high density is the answer, given the Town of Vienna's proximity to the station.

"It is all very well to talk about smart growth at the Metro stations," Robinson said. But "you simply can't implement the idea ... without considering the impact of adjoining neighborhoods."

If a high-density development were to be constructed at the Metro station, several Vienna Town Council members questioned whether the surrounding area could handle it. Their greatest concerns at a March 17 meeting with developers for Metro West, the proposed community, were Metrorail capacity and the traffic congestion that could result should Metro be too full. In interviews after the meeting, Council members elaborated on their concerns.

"We need to be realistic about how people use Metro, so we need to look at homebound capacity in the afternoon peak hours," said Councilwoman Laurie Cole. "If people can't get on a train to get home, they aren't going to use a train in the morning."

THE PROPOSED development, Metro West by Clark Realty and Pulte, is located off Route 29 near Nutley Street, and it calls for high density and mixed use. Dependent on the approval of an out-of-turn amendment to Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan, the development — a mixture of townhouses, stacked townhouses, condominiums and apartments on 56 acres — could have as many as 2,400 dwelling units. It would also have 300,000 square feet of office space and 35,000 square feet for retail.

But Council members wondered whether the current transit and road infrastructure could handle such a development. Although the infrastructure for both public transportation and roadways could improve in several years, the improvements are based on funding, which is lacking at state and local levels and at WMATA.

"You have a chicken-and-egg thing. With additional ridership, you have additional incentive to put on cars and trains," said Councilwoman Edythe Kelleher, referring to a proposal to put eight-car trains on Metrorail's crowded Orange Line. The line currently sees six-car trains on its track. "But where does the money come from?"

Several Council members pointed to Metro's capacity during rush hour. Although residents could usually find seats inbound in the morning, finding an outbound train to squeeze into in the afternoon at the Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom and even Farragut West stations is more difficult.

"It makes me wonder how do the people in Arlington feel," Kelleher said, of the potential increased morning ridership.

Councilman George Lovelace, who rides the Metro several times a week in the morning, agreed, adding that the Ballston Corridor, which has been cited as an example of smart growth, has a larger commercial area.

"The concept of having increased development near Metro stations is a good concept, except not at Vienna, where it's a residential community," Lovelace said.

IF METRO can't support the ridership, Council members fear the residents living at the development will use their cars instead to get to work, which could mean more traffic for Route 123, which cuts through Vienna's heart. Furthermore, traffic congestion could also result from errand traffic, as well as from the lack of public transit options to the Dulles Corridor or Tysons.

"This is an end-of-line station, and it's not likely to change in the next quarter-century," said Vienna resident Gary Gillum, who attended the March 17 meeting. "This station intercepts a lot of traffic from (Interstate) 66."

One way that the situation could be alleviated is to consider reducing the density of the proposed development, which asks for up to 40 dwellings per acre, said Cole.

"Slapping the label ‘smart growth’ on something doesn't make it so," said Cole. "The question is, what makes 2,400 units smarter than 1,200? We recognize there's going to higher density there, but what's the rationale for doubling that density?"

COUNCIL MEMBERS also wanted traffic data the developers had collected, in order to assess the possible impact to the area.

"We would first need to see the data they're looking at. From knowing that, we can develop an intelligent opinion," Lovelace said. "The sooner we can get that, the sooner we can be helpful to developers and the Fairfax County Planning Commission."

Cole agreed. "I want to see continued exchanges with planning staff on the plan development so the Town will has a chance to raise its concerns and have them addressed."

Some Council members argued that they didn't oppose the development but wanted to ensure the Town's voice was heard in the process.

"I have no doubts about Pulte's ability to do a good project," Kelleher said.

Vienna mayor Jane Seeman agreed, hopeful that the March 17 meeting was a step in the right direction.

"We have to look out for Vienna residents," Seeman said. "We just want to be included in the discussion. We want to be able to stand up for Vienna."