Opinion: Commentary: Protecting McLean Against Runaway Redevelopment

Opinion: Commentary: Protecting McLean Against Runaway Redevelopment

It has been widely reported that Fairfax County has revised its comprehensive plan to redevelop the McLean Community Business Center in response to public feedback, primarily delivered at a community meeting on Feb. 20 where county officials shared details of the plan. At the meeting, however, county officials presented the plan as fait accompli. Many of the supposed "revisions" made to the plan, allegedly in response to the meeting, were actually presented as features of the plan during the meeting. None of the plan's shortcomings, which threaten major disruptions to our community, have been addressed.

Far from soliciting public feedback at the meeting, Supervisor Foust repeatedly insisted that the comprehensive plan, as drafted, enjoys community support based on public "participation" in the planning process and the "transparency" of the process. But in general, developers and landowners play a disproportionate role in urban planning because their interests are concentrated and motivated by the economic windfall offered by such plans. By contrast, most of my neighbors in Dominion Woods, just outside the CBC, have been disengaged until recently. Nor was any representative of the PTA invited to join the planning meetings, though the comprehensive plan will clearly have an adverse impact on local schools. If more McLean residents were aware of the particulars of the comprehensive plan, including the substantial burdens the plan will impose on them, I doubt there would be much community support for the plan.

Among the burdens that the plan would impose are more crowded schools and longer commutes. Since we moved to McLean nine years ago, largely attracted by the schools and commute, the quality of the schools, particularly McLean High School and Longfellow Middle School, has deteriorated, largely due to overcrowding. Our neighbors have few kind words for McLean High. By adding 6,000 to 8,000 new residents, the comprehensive plan could only worsen the school overcrowding problem, and the plan's promise to conduct a study of overcrowding after half of the new units have been constructed is mere window dressing. There is apparently no money or political will to alleviate school overcrowding now, so conducting a study of the problem after it has been worsened by an influx of new students is no solution.

Adding 6,000 to 8,000 new residents, and two new hotels, is also sure to extend commutes to and from DC, given that the slightest hiccup on I-495 already causes a five to ten minute delay at the major intersection of Birch, Old Dominion, and Linway Terrace (next to St. John the Beloved Church) as additional traffic is diverted through McLean. Yet, the traffic studies conducted for the comprehensive plan did not consider this intersection or propose any real solutions to increased traffic, other than closing a portion of Elm Street, adding two or three traffic lights, and proposing "ideas" for alleviating traffic on Dolley Madison Boulevard. Before the pandemic, rampant development in Tysons had paralyzed traffic during rush hour. The comprehensive plan now risks wreaking the same havoc on McLean roads, and every minute that commuters spend stuck in traffic is a minute taken away from their families.

When I proposed a moratorium on the construction of residential high-rises overlooking the playground at Franklin Sherman Elementary School, Supervisor Foust made his priorities clear. He responded that any effort to stop such construction would be a "taking" in violation of the rights of landowners. As a parent with one child at Franklin Sherman and another poised to attend Franklin Sherman, I was disappointed by Supervisor Foust's insensitivity to our legitimate concerns over the prospect of hundreds of strangers with birds-eye views of our children playing during recess. Property rights did not prevent Supervisor Foust from protesting the opening of a gun store next to Franklin Sherman.

In contrast to the burdens likely to be imposed on current residents by the comprehensive plan, there would appear to be little upside. County officials at the community meeting emphasized that the plan does not foresee additional restaurant or shopping options in McLean. It is about building multiple five, six, seven, and ten story residential high rises in exchange for some tiny parks, a paved meeting place, and beautified streets, largely aimed at the new residents. Residents who believe that the comprehensive development plan will transform McLean into a Mosaic District or Clarendon in their backyards are destined to be sorely disappointed.

If the quality of life enjoyed by current McLean residents is to be preserved, major changes must be made to the comprehensive plan. First and foremost, the plan should permit the construction of no more than 960 residential units over the next ten years, not the 2,500 additional units envisioned under the current plan. A study conducted by Streetsense, a consultant to the county, concluded that the McLean CBC could reasonably accommodate no more than 960 new units. Adhering to this limit would go a long way towards mitigating the worst effects of development on schools and traffic. In addition, residential high rises should not be permitted next to Franklin Sherman, and additional traffic studies must be conducted on the impact of the plan on traffic choke points beyond the CBC.

I would urge everyone concerned about the comprehensive plan to e-mail Supervisor Foust and Chairman McKay, and to support Right Size McLean, a coalition of neighborhood associations opposed to the current plan. Our political representatives need to do a better job balancing the interests of current residents, who support sensible redevelopment, against the interests of developers hellbent on transforming McLean into an urbanized dystopia.