Approximately 100 residents from McLean packed into the cafeteria at Spring Hill Elementary School last week for a July 17 Tysons Task Force public workshop. One sentiment that came through loud and clear: Many residents of McLean feel that there is too much development planned for Tysons Corner, and not enough infrastructure to support it.
The Tysons Task Force is a 36-member group representing residents, businesses, major employers and community and civic organizations. The group was created in March 2005 after Fairfax County realized that the proposed Metrorail development planned for Tysons Corner meant that numerous changes would have to be made to the county’s existing Comprehensive Plan for the area. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized a special study of Tysons Corner to determine what kinds of updates should be made to the Comprehensive Plan given the proposed transportation and land use for the region.
In January 2006, the Task Force held 20 community dialogues to get a sense of what local residents wanted to see in the Tysons Corner of the future. In August 2006, the Task Force gathered public input on guiding planning principles, and in November and December 2006, the group conducted interviews with various Tysons stakeholders. Community information meetings were held in January 2007, and three possible growth models for Tysons were developed in February and March. Six planning workshops were then arranged in order to provide the public with the opportunity to look at the growth models, and from March to July 2007, three test scenarios were developed and analyzed. Last week, the Tysons Task Force held three planning workshops which allowed residents to closely examine the three possible test scenarios. In addition, three focus groups were held with Tysons Corner employees.
At the planning workshop held at Spring Hill Elementary School last week, McLean resident and Tysons Task Force chair Clark Tyler urged residents to be patient with the process.
“It’s important to know that what we plan today, tomorrow and the next day is not going to happen right away,” said Tyler. “But I think the worst thing that we can do is nothing … and we are trying to involve the public every step of the way.”
LAST WEEK, workshop participants were presented with three possible development test scenarios. Test Scenario A represented a Tysons Corner with more intense urban development, while Test Scenario B emphasized Tysons Corner’s role as an employment center by adding housing around the new transit stations, transforming Leesburg Pike into a highly pedestrian, traffic-calmed “Main Street,” and installing a “green network” of green streets, parks and open space. Test Scenario C provided a Tysons Corner with a much stronger residential base than what is proposed in the current Comprehensive Plan — more than 450 percent of what exists today. Of the three scenarios, Test Scenario C represented a balance between jobs and housing in Tysons.
“Tysons needs to be different than it is today if it is going to grow and be better,” said G.B. Arrington, of PB Placemaking, as he went over the three test scenarios at the July 17 workshop. “These three contrasting patterns and test scenarios are essentially crash test dummies, and none of these have to survive the analysis process. None of these alternatives are advanced, and we know there’s going to be more refinement. Tysons is a place to work, to shop, to play and to have fun, so that means each alternative will have different mixes of those.”
Arrington added that the proposed alternatives were built around the concept of transit-oriented development.
“What we’ve done so far assumes a more complex network of Metrorail, HOT Lanes and Toll Road access,” said Arrington. “But the numbers show that auto trips will still be dominant in the future.”
RESIDENTS INQUIRED why there was not a test scenario representing the option of much less development than what is proposed in the current Comprehensive Plan.
“Why can we not first see a low-growth scenario, such as the base case scenario with green and housing elements incorporated?” asked Steve DelBianco, a member of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA).
However, Arrington said the public should not look at the test scenarios in black and white.
“We’re not trying to say that to have these good things, you have to have this amount of growth,” said Arrington. “Think of this as a Chinese menu, and we get to choose from a variety of different columns.
McLean resident Dave Hunt, the Republican candidate running for the Virginia House of Delegates 34th District seat, asked if future planning for Tysons takes into account the surrounding communities.
“How much consideration was given to the impact this is going to make on the communities immediately surrounding this area?” asked Hunt, who lives off of Lewinsville Road.
Don Vary of Cambridge Systematics, a transportation planning consultant group working with the Tysons Task Force, said the impact made on neighboring communities is being included in the overall analysis. He noted that the impact can be lessened by limiting growth around the outside edges of Tysons, and by creating additional routes and connections.
“The concern is absolutely legitimate and we’re going to be looking at this in more detail,” said Vary.
McLean Citizens Association (MCA) member Germaine Broussard said she had concerns about the lack of proposed retail in comparison to the proposed residential development in all of the test scenarios.
“Not in any one of them do you show additional retail,” said Broussard. “No retail as in no grocery shopping, no drug stores.”
However, G.B. Arrington noted that each residential building was designed to include a mix of grocery shopping, drug stores, dry cleaning and other retail on the ground floor level.
McLean Citizens Association (MCA) member Darren Ewing said he was skeptical about the fact that the test scenarios all stated that only one to two elementary schools and half a high school and middle school would need to be added to accommodate the growth in Tysons’ population predicted for the future.
“With 60,000 residents you only need half a high school and half a middle school?” asked Ewing. “That seems really low to me.”
Tysons Task Force consultants said the number was based on data and statistics provided by Fairfax County.
THE TASK FORCE’S next step will be to take the public input gathered at last week’s workshops and spend the next few months testing and refining two advanced alternatives to the development proposed in the current Comprehensive Plan. In September 2007, a community workshop on implementation will be held, followed by a community workshop on the advanced alternatives in December 2007. The preferred alternative will be tested and refined in December 2007 and January 2008, and the Tysons Task Force will make its final recommendation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in early 2008.
“The next set of plans are going to be much more real,” said Doug Sarno of The Perspectives Group, a consulting firm working with the Tysons Task Force to help facilitate its community workshops. “Choices are going to have to be made, and there are going to be trade-offs.”