Vision for Downtown McLean Presented

Vision for Downtown McLean Presented

Open House shows public a vision for future of McLean.

“It would bring so much, walkability, vibrancy and connection to our neighborhoods.” —Robin Walker, a long-time McLean resident

Since June of this year, citizens, county staff and officials, and consultants have been working diligently on the McLean Community Business Center (CBC) Study after the Board of Supervisors authorized a Comprehensive Plan amendment to review the approximately 230-acre area centered around the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road. The study will focus on developing recommendations for future land uses, public facilities, development types and densities, urban design and transportation in the CBC.

The last full review of the Comprehensive Plan as it applies to the McLean area took place in 1998. “A thing or two has changed since then,” acknowledged Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) as he welcomed the attendees to an open house to update his constituents on the progress to date. “We were overdue to take a look and a rethink about the present and the future.”

Streetsense, the consultants in charge of the study, according to their website have a number of large-scale projects on their resume, including significant participation in the development of the National Harbor in Maryland, and the still-in-progress Reston Heights. Tagging themselves as a “strategy and design collective,” the Streetsense team have taken the lead on the McLean CBC study and on Nov. 8, they had the McLean High School Cafeteria decked out with graphic boards and design drawings to explain the “second draft of the CBC Vision” to the several hundred who turned out to take a look and hear the presentation by Colin Greene, senior director of planning for the company.

Greene was the lead presenter at the Open House. “I’m not going back to the beginning tonight,” he said, “but starting where we left off [at the last Open House held on Sept. 27, 2018] except to remind everyone that this plan is ‘illustrative’ – a best practices vision for what could be.”

The point that Greene wanted to make clear is that the final recommendations, even if fully adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, remains a vision for now.

“No one has put in applications for redevelopment. There’s no agenda,” he stated. The study recommendations, created by industry experts, county staff and the community, is meant to be a “framework for future development.”

That framework is fairly complex and has a number of moving parts that would require the collaborative efforts of numerous stakeholders, but at its core, the recommendations for the McLean CBC are to regroup the community into three major zones: Center, General, and Edge.

The Center Zone vision was what got the most attention from the attendees.

“For starters,” said Greene, “let’s avoid the roads that handle the most traffic, Chain Bridge and Old Dominion, when we think about a ‘town center.’”

IN THE FRAMEWORK PLAN, the Center Zone would move in from those streets, focusing around the intersection of Beverly Road and Elm Street. The vision offers a “new community space emblematic of McLean’s culture and interests.”

A plaza or a central square with civic facilities and green space would ideally be surrounded by mixed-use buildings, high density residential with retail and restaurants on the ground floor and walkable streets and embedded parking.

Fanning out from this new “downtown” McLean would be the General Zone, “intended to allow for reasonable redevelopment as opportunities exist to improve properties.” Smaller block sizes, more moderate density, lower building sizes, but still including continuous sidewalks, street plantings and reducing surface parking lots that often equate to a “shapeless realm.”

“Connectivity is key,” said Greene, saying that the success of the Center Zone and its benefit to all McLean residents is making it accessible.

The Edge Zone is “intended to protect the existing neighborhood fabric and act as the transition from the CBC and the adjacent residential neighborhoods.” Further out from the “downtown” vibe, the Edge Zone consists of single-family and townhouse residential units with a much lower density.

Any redevelopment in this zone should be about replacing, rather than expanding, and maintaining the character of the McLean where most citizens reside. Improvements should still be encouraged to thoroughfares and, once again, connectivity is essential, both to the CBC and to community assets like schools, parks, the community center and the library, which all sit outside the CBC boundaries.

Meetings that tackle local redevelopment, zoning, and transportation issues have a tendency to get a bit heated. That red zone temperature was noticeably absent at the open house.

“Hopefully, that means we have been doing our job in communicating and engaging with the community,” said Streetsense’s Greene. “We have involved community members every step of the way so far,” he said, referring to the McLean residents who make up the majority of the taskforce that meets to discuss the study, the plans, and public commentary.

The task force has already met several times since the approval of the study, and there have been workshop meetings that included hands-on immersive table exercises and smaller break-out groups, as well as instruction and discussion on market conditions and the elements of real estate transformation and economic considerations.

On Sept. 27, the study partners presented their initial findings and recommendations at the first Open House. Taking the feedback received at that event, they went back to the drawing board for another task force gathering in October before the presentation of this second draft.

THE REVIEWS from the attendees seemed to lean to the positive side.

Robin Walker is a long-time McLean resident and deeply involved with her “home town.” The Community Outreach Liaison for the McLean Community Center, Walker just “wishes this vision could happen in my lifetime. It would bring so much, walkability, vibrancy and connection to our neighborhoods.”

Walker understands what Greene was trying to clarify. “I know this isn’t a set plan, but having this framework approved says to quality developers that McLean is friendly and welcoming and ready for sustainable, suitable change.”

Joe Wetzel, who has lived in McLean for 38 years, agrees and thinks the “vision” that the study group has put forth is a “great concept.” The lack of any understandable plan, without the absolute do’s and don’ts of what is possible “has made quality developers afraid of investing in McLean,” he said. “This would really help and seems to take into account all of the stakeholders, residents and businesses alike.”

Greene and the other plan representatives did field a few objections. One lifelong area resident expressed concern over adding high-density residential property into the “heart of McLean.” She questioned Greene repeatedly about “who would be moving in there and would they respect our McLean.”

Greene could only respond that this vision was still just that – a vision and a framework from which to move forward. There was nothing to say at this point what would be developed or if their recommendation of a new, vibrant town center would ever leave the drawing board.

“Whatever happens,” he assured his listeners, “remember that the goal here is community involvement, and development that will serve as a source of community purpose and pride.”

There are more taskforce meetings scheduled and open to the public. The next is set for Nov. 19 at 7 pm at the McLean Governmental Center, 1437 Balls Hill Road, and another at the same location on Jan. 14.

The history of the works and the complete presentation are available on the county’s website, search for McLean Community Business Center Study. Links will take you to the materials and to upcoming meeting information.

McLean Community Business Center (CBC) Task Force Meeting

Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

McLean Governmental Center, Community Room,1437 Balls Hill Rd., McLean, VA

McLean Community Business Center (CBC) Final Vision Plan Meeting

Monday, Dec. 17, 2018 at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Longfellow Middle School, 2000 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church, VA

McLean Community Business Center (CBC) Task Force Meeting

Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

McLean Governmental Center, Community Room,1437 Balls Hill Rd., McLean, VA

McLean Community Business Center (CBC) Task Force Meeting

Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

McLean Governmental Center, Community Room,1437 Balls Hill Rd., McLean, VA