Chris Zimmerman does not want to meddle in Fairfax County land decisions. Zimmerman, a member of the Metro Board and a Democrat on the Arlington County Board, told the crowd of about 300 in Oakton High School on Nov. 1 that he didn't think he should really have a say.
The decision would concern what to do with about 3 acres of land just south of the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro Station — an important component of the MetroWest development.
While the Metro Board should ensure that Metro gets a good value for the land, what it is ultimately used for should not be their decision, Zimmerman said.
"I really do believe the people most closely involved should be the ones making this decision," he said. "Bringing Metro into this decision is something you might want to think twice about."
If Zimmerman's comments hold, the choice will essentially belong to Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), chair of the Metro Board and Fairfax County's only voting member of the Metro Board.
The Board of Supervisors in 2004, voted unanimously (including Kauffman) to change the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan to allow the development of MetroWest — a planned community which would go on a total of about 56 acres including about 2,250 housing units, 300,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 of retail.
The 3 acres on the north of the project would include some buildings and allow pedestrian access from the new community to the Metro station.
In April, U.S. Rep Tom Davis (R-11) announced at a meeting at Oakton High that he would use his position as chair of the congressional committee which oversees Metro to block the sale. Recently, he softened his position, instead requiring Metro to conduct a public hearing and perform a thorough financial analysis of the proposed sale.
"If nothing else comes of my efforts, at least I have given them [local citizens] a chance to be heard and to address this frontally," said Davis, at the Nov. 1 hearing.
In exchange for the land, Metro would get $6.5 million in cash, and about $9.5 million worth of improvements to the station, said Metro officials.
SPEAKERS AT the hearing repeated many of the same points in favor of and opposed to the project that have been discussed over the past year.
Supporters say that developing high-density projects close to Metro can help to reduce people's dependency on cars. The MetroWest project, proposed by homebuilder Pulte, is slated to include office and retail space which could allow some people to walk to work and shopping.
"It's the right project in the right place," said Bill Lecos president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
"We do think this specific project is a good project," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Opponents of the plan pointed out that the area had already been planned for fairly high density, about 1,100 units. "A livable, walkable, transit-friendly community will be sacrificed for density, density, density," said Will Elliott of the citizen's group Fairgrowth.
Opponents also noted that the Orange line trains are already overcrowded during rush hours in the morning and evening. Metro said it has sufficient capacity, but its capacity numbers include averages which do not necessarily reflect conditions on a given train. "The conditions are getting downright dangerous," said Steve Pastorkovich, also of Fairgrowth.
While the issue of the land sale and the development are linked, only a few of the speakers actually commented about the land sale. Those who did noted that the land assessment is over a year old, asked Metro to consider leasing the land and questioned if Metro has done the necessary studies to ensure that it will get appropriate value.
"What analysis have you done to study the sale?" asked Fran Wallingford of the Fairfax area. Wallingford also asked that the funds generated from the sale be used to improve conditions at Vienna/Fairfax station.
The Metro Board will likely make its decision about the land sale in the next few months, Kauffman said.
The MetroWest development is going through the county rezoning process and is tentatively scheduled for a public hearing at the Planning Commission in early February.