Town Discusses Fairlee Impacts

Town Discusses Fairlee Impacts

Developer explains plans to Vienna Town Council and residents.

Vienna resident Laurie DiRocco was wondering what many other people are wondering about the Fairlee/MetroWest development. What will the impact be on local roads and schools after the project's 2,248 new housing units are added?

"When we see something like this, we think, ‘Oh my God, my sixth-grader is already in a trailer,’" she said.

The Fairlee Project won plan approval from the Board of Supervisors in December 2004. The project, just south of the Vienna Metro Station and west of Nutley Street, will include 2,248 housing units, some of which will be townhouses and the rest condominiums; about 94,000 square feet of retail space; and about 325,000 square feet of office space. Of the housing units, 376 will be age-restricted to allow for senior housing, and a total of 99 units will be set aside as affordable housing. "Most development will be within five minutes’ walking distance [of the Metro stop]," said Tim Sampson, an attorney working on the project. "It's designed to really encourage Metro use."

Many citizens and the Vienna Town Council have been opposed to the degree of density in the project. The Town Council echoed the sentiments of DiRocco and other citizens in their concerns about the development's impact. "What is this plan going to do to Vienna?" asked Mayor Jane Seeman. "I see that the two major issues are traffic and schools."

THE PROPOSAL is currently undergoing the rezoning process. It is during this part of the planning process that developers, in this case Pulte Homes, make proffers — contributions in cash or services designed to mitigate the impact of a development.

The proffer package is considered in conjunction with the development by the Board of Supervisors when it considers whether it should grant approval to a rezoning application.

Some of the proffers being discussed with the Fairlee/MetroWest proposal include a contribution of $2 million to the school system. The project is expected to generate 323 school-age children, Sampson said.

That number is derived using formulas generated by the school system that predict the number of children based on the type of housing unit being constructed.

The $2 million would likely be used to add classroom space, at the discretion of the school system. "The question is where does that resource go," Sampson said. Either Pulte will make a direct contribution to the schools or perform construction projects equal to that amount of money.

ALTHOUGH THE project is designed to encourage its residents to use Metro, it is inevitable that they will also drive places. "The reality is you get in your car going to some activity," DiRocco said. "We deal with the traffic every day. We live it."

Traffic improvements are included in the proposed proffers as well. The project would connect Vaden Lane to Route 29 on the west side of the parcel, "which will take pressure off the [I-66] interchange at Nutley Street," Sampson said.

Several traffic ramps are also included, which developers say should improve the Nutley/I-66 interchange. The plan also has pedestrian improvements and connects the nearby developments of Circle Woods, Hunter's Branch and Regents Park — through Fairlee/MetroWest — to the Vienna Metro station.

The developers must meet goals to reduce the number of trips the project will generate, or they will be obliged to scale back the project. "I want to try to keep them off the roads as much as I can," said Stan Settle of Pulte Homes.

Also of concern to at least one resident was the phasing of the project. Jody Bennett of Oakton said that in her research into this type of mixed-use development, the retail component often is not rented to capacity.

This becomes a concern, particularly when the people living in the development go to already crowded grocery stores in the area.

In this case, the retail component will take up the first floor of several of the condo buildings, said Jack Lester of Clark Realty Capital. Clark is tasked with managing the building's rentals.

With that floor space built, it is in the developer's best interests to have the space occupied. "With the economics here, we're motivated to bring in the retail," Lester said.

Retail stores attract other retail stores, and residents will attract retail stores, so everyone involved in the project wants to see the storefronts filled.

The stores will include a grocery store, and likely a bank and dry cleaner, among others, Lester said. He also hopes to have a restaurant and a total of five or six different types of retail on the site. If successful, it is designed to reduce the number of residents who will need to go off-site for those services, he explained.

THE OFFICE SPACE is another concern of Lester's. After the recent crash in the dot-com market, there was a glut of office space in Northern Virginia. Lester said that the market is turning around.

Again he pointed out that it is not in the company's economic interests to have the buildings sitting empty, and it would rather not incur the expense of building them if they did not expect to fill them. "If the office market is awful, this will be an open field," Lester said, indicating the place on the plan where the offices are set to go.

Sampson said he hopes to have the rezoning application completed early this summer. If that happens, some occupancies could happen as early as the summer of 2007, although he said that is an aggressive target. The entire site will likely take 10 years to build to completion.