Congress Mandates MetroWest Hearing

Congress Mandates MetroWest Hearing

Public hearing about disposition of three acres on proposed development site.

Three acres of land which are key to the development of the MetroWest project will be the subject of a Nov. 1 public hearing.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the land, and its board will hold the hearing to gauge citizen feelings about selling the land to a developer.

"We are pleased that the [Metro] Board has responded to many citizen requests to conduct an open public forum on this issue," said Will Elliott of Fairgrowth, a citizen's group opposed to increased density at MetroWest.

"This public forum that's coming up is as much a response to a request for a dialogue as it is a response to a possible request for a public hearing," said Metro Board chair Dana Kauffman. Kauffman (D-Lee) is also a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The MetroWest project is planned to go on roughly 56 acres of land just south of the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station. The area had been planned for roughly 1,100 housing units. In December 2004, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved increasing the allowable density to about 2,250 housing units, about 300,000 square feet of office space and about 100,000 square feet of retail. The project is currently going through the rezoning process.

The development is within walking distance to Metro and has some amenities on site, which theoretically will reduce the number of car trips that residents will make.

In fact, the Comprehensive plan mandates that the development generate 47 percent fewer residential trips and 25 percent fewer office trips than would be expected from a project of its size.

A study performed by an outside consultant confirmed that these reductions are just barely possible under the existing circumstances, although some dispute the findings.

HOWEVER, THE LAND owned by Metro is a strip along the northern border and it is the part of the project closest to the station. Some buildings are planned to go on the property, as is the network of sidewalks which will allow easy pedestrian access to the site.

The study did not contemplate a project without this land, and it is unclear if the trip reduction targets can be met without it.

"To not include the Metro land in the mix is going to create a barrier to transit," Kauffman said.

Elliott said his group does not think the land should be undeveloped. "I think we all feel that the land should be used," he said. Fairgrowth thinks the land should be leased, not sold, Elliott said.

Metro operates under federal oversight and generally is managed by the Committee on Government Reform. That committee is chaired by U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11). Davis opposes the extra density in the area, which is in his district.

A recent bill sponsored by Davis would give Metro $1.5 billion in federal funding, if they meet some criteria. Included in that bill was a provision which would flatly deny Metro the ability to sell the property.

Davis recently softened the prohibition, instead mandating a public hearing and thorough economic analysis, including the costs and benefits of the sale, and the impacts on parking and capacity. "We want to make sure that if they're going to give away this land, which is clearly a valuable piece of property, that they're getting the best value," said Rob White, Davis' press secretary.

The legislation also places restrictions on the disposition of Metro land in two locations in Maryland.

The public hearing on Nov. 1 is planned for members of the Metro Board to hear about the proposed sale of the land. In addition to Kauffman, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) also sits on the board as an alternate. Both voted in favor of the increased density at the Board of Supervisors.

Kauffman, however, held open the possibility that the vote allowing the increase may not dictate the ultimate project. 'I think there's still a fair amount of discussion about what the ultimate form will take," he said.

KAUFFMAN INTENDS THE public forum to use a non-traditional format. Rather than just a line of speakers one after the other, he hopes to open an actual discussion between the parties. "There's going to be a pro mic and a con mic," he said.

After hearing from a few of the speakers, he will pause the meeting to allow participants and board members to talk about what they just heard.

Kauffman said this will be a better option than a traditional public hearing. "If the crowd allows it, this could really be an interesting debate," Kauffman said. "I earnestly believe that this will be better than a rote public hearing."

Metro's Public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1, 7 p.m. at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Road, Vienna. Individuals who wish to speak do not need to pre-register.