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Votes

Commentary: Save Tysons’ Last Forest

In late September, I joined members of the Vienna community in touring Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park in Tysons Corner and met with the members of the Neighborhood Coalition to Save Tysons Last Forest. Hundreds of Vienna residents oppose the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s proposed “Option 3” of the Dulles Toll Road Ramp Study to build a highway ramp through the valuable stream valley. These neighborhoods have documented their concerns on a comprehensive website and petition (see www.SaveTysonsLastForest.org).

I have signed the petition and in a letter sent by me, Del. Mark Keam, State Senators Janet Howell and Chap Petersen to Transportation Secretary Connaughton and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. We detailed the problems with the proposal and have asked that this proposal be eliminated from further study.

*County and State Costs If Study Continues

In a recent memo, the Fairfax County Park Authority describes irreversible impacts on Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area (RPA) land and on the Ash Grove Historic Site. It details the anticipated impacts to the parkland and stream valley, affecting the tree stands, wetlands, habitat, floodplain, stormwater management facilities and water quality. If the proposal were to move forward, Parks Director John Dargle, Jr. anticipates the need for a 4(f) review as well as a Section 106 review and other federal and state reviews.

The projected costs to the County, state, and federal governments to move through the approval process will be staggering. Therefore, we should eliminate unnecessary costs incurred in order to study what is nearly universally viewed by the impacted neighborhoods as an unreasonable and unworkable option.

*Additional Legal Costs

Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park’s very creation was based upon the County’s agreement to protect its natural resources. From 1976 to 1999, six deeds that transferred the land from private to County ownership include legal covenants requiring the County protect the land as “open space . . . ,” “parkland . . . substantially in its natural condition.” The County would also have to overcome these protective environmental covenants, potentially making such an option a costly legal battle that the County would ultimately lose after expending unnecessary resources.

*Our Shared Vision for Tysons Corner

There are 15 neighborhoods in the Neighborhood Coalition to Save Tysons’ Last Forest who believe, as I do, that a ramp through the stream valley would be inconsistent with Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan and would also negatively impact our community.

First, the Tysons Corner Amendments to the plan specifically ban “hardscapes” near the stream valley; clearly a highway ramp would violate that prohibition. As noted on pages 74-75 of the plan: “Protection, enhancement and management of natural resources in the existing stream valley parks in Tysons is critical . . . stream valley expansions should not include large hardscape areas (other than trails) and resources management should drive park design.” On page 78, it continues, “Stream valley parks such as . . . Old Courthouse Spring Branch provide natural buffers and potential connectivity to and throughout Tysons. . . . These stream valley parks should not only be protected from development and infrastructure impacts, but be restored and enhanced.”

Second, keeping this option on the table increases homeowners’ feelings of uncertainty which poses a threat to home values and individual economic and emotional well-being. Going forward with Option 3—or even leaving it as an option on the table—means a significant drop in home values throughout the Old Courthouse area and will therefore decrease the amount of revenue that would otherwise go to Fairfax County in property taxes. In these uncertain economic times and in an area of Virginia that is experiencing substantial economic stress, it would be unwise to make such an irrational fiscal decision that could hurt the real estate market in these neighborhoods.

The County is currently working with VDOT, who is expending resources to evaluate the transportation feasibility of this option. Next steps would include conducting and preparing a multi-million dollar Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). With limited state and County resources, it is a waste of our tax dollars to spend money studying an option that will only continue to have environmental and legal hurdles throughout the County, state, and federal review process—especially one that is inconsistent with the County’s plans, policies and vision.

Removing this option and Saving Tysons’ Last Forest is simply the only option. It is a reasonable and bipartisan solution that best serves our neighborhoods and quality of life throughout Vienna and Tysons Corner.