MetroWest is the way forward, according to the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
“For such a district as Providence, the past growth idiom … no longer serves everywhere,” said Planning Commissioner Ken Lawrence (Providence).
Championing the idea of building “up not out” Lawrence and the commission recommended approval of the controversial development.
“Mr. Lawrence is boldly moving us into the 21st century,” said Commission chair Peter Murphy (Springfield). “Sometimes that moving can be painful.”
While the commission approved the development, Commissioner John Byers (Mount Vernon) abstained from the vote. He did not give details, but Byers said that he still has questions about the development and was uncomfortable supporting the project.
MetroWest is a development proposed to go on about 56 acres just south of the Vienna Metro station. When complete, the complex would contain up to 2,248 residential units, from 125,000 to 300,000 square feet of office space and 80,000-190,000 square feet of retail space. Of the residential units, 140 will be Affordable Dwelling Units and 368 will be restricted to residents 55 and older.
Some citizens oppose the size of the development. While many of them acknowledge that the 61 houses which had been on the site were not an efficient use of the space, they would prefer fewer units, about 1,500.
The Planning Commission held its public hearing about MetroWest on Feb. 8, and 48 people came to speak. Two major themes arose during that hearing — residents said the project needed to make a larger contribution toward recreational facilities, and they asked that the developer give stronger assurances that the project would be phased in properly so new residents wouldn’t have to drive to access many services.
“At bottom, these centered on getting what is promised,” Lawrence said.
The project’s developer, Pulte homes, has altered its proposal to accommodate both of these concerns.
The changes are a start, said Will Elliott, but do not go far enough.
"We do see something, but we think it falls short of responding to the variety of concerns at the public hearing."
Elliott is a spokesperson for Fairgrowth, a group opposed to the high-density project.
The initial draft had commitments such as a $6 million community building and smaller recreational facilities scattered throughout the area. In addition to those, the developer will pay $750,000 to have an as-yet-undetermined, nearby athletic field converted to artificial turf. Pulte will also add a 1.3-mile fitness loop, with exercise stations.
"That's not chump change," Elliott said of the $750,000. "That's nice." But Elliott pointed to the need for athletic facilities in the area and said that helping with one field will do little. "That's not the full monty," he said.
The phasing requirements have also changed. The idea behind the phasing requirements is that as the project is built, the different uses will come into play. Residents will, in theory, be able to work and shop on site.
Retail space is set to go on the ground floor of some of the taller buildings, and two of those taller buildings are to be office buildings. The phasing requirements seek to ensure that these taller buildings containing the non-residential uses are built.
Under the new requirements, the first six floors of “columns and beams” of one of the high-rise buildings must be complete before the 501st unit may be occupied. Age-restricted units do not count in this (or any of the other phasing) calculations, so there could actually by 869 units occupied at this point.
That building must be complete, and another must have six stories of columns and beams complete before the 1,001st unit (1,369 counting the age-restricted units) can be occupied. The second building must be complete within 18 months of the 1,001st unit being occupied.
One of the two planned office buildings must be complete within 18 months of the 1,101st (1,469 counting the age-restricted) unit being occupied.
An office building could be built to comply with either or both of the earlier phasing requirements. The phasing plan means that two of the taller buildings will be constructed and ensures that at least one (and possibly both) of them will be an office building.
Elliott said that he would prefer the phasing to be even more strict — specifying exactly when an office building must be finished, and specifying when the planned grocery store will open.
He also rejected the idea of excluding the age-restricted units. Residents of these units will be at least 55, but many will still be working. "They're still going to be using the roads," he said.
The project now moves to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing which is scheduled for March 27.