Although pleased with the Tysons Land Use Task Force’s presentation at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting this Monday, Drainesville District Supervisor John Foust harbored concerns over the Task Force’s plan to reinvent Tysons Corner into a bustling urban center.
In an interview with the News-Press Tuesday, Foust shared his criticisms of the Task Force’s vision statement, which the Board referred to the Planning Commission after the presentation, for being “limited to the 1,700 acres of Tysons Corner without any reference or expressing any concerns for surrounding communities.”
Foust said he is “not willing to sacrifice getting it right to get it done” in Tysons by fully adopting the Task Force’s vision statement.
The representative of Fairfax County neighborhoods to the north of Falls Church like McLean and Vienna, Foust said he is concerned by the spill-over effect from Tysons, warning about the “devil in the details” of the Task Force’s broad-sweeping vision statement.
“As we develop Tysons Corner, we don’t want to adversely affect the surrounding communities such as Falls Church. It’s essential that we look at those infrastructure restraints, too,” Foust said.
But the Tysons Tomorrow pro-development group stressed at its meeting yesterday that the vote on the plan should come before the end of the year.
At the Board meeting, Clark Tyler, the head of the 36-member Task Force, outlined how Tysons could mimic growth in Ballston and elsewhere in the country by turning from an “auto-oriented” into a walkable, transit-oriented city where 95 percent of the city’s inhabitants would be in reach of public transit options.
The 116-page vision statement detailed the planned growth of Tysons as the Washington Metrorail begins its Silver Line service through the area by 2013.
In order to accommodate commuter and residential growth, the statement took into account the current uses and fears of Tysons Corner. At present, Tyler said, Tysons houses 17,000 residents and nearly 26 million square feet of commercial space that employs almost 106,000 people. The area, however, has 167,000 parking spaces and is congested by poor infrastructure and, in Tyler’s words, “hyphenated sidewalks.”
The Tysons Corner of the near future that Tyler presented is ambitious: Tysons of 2050 would hold upwards of 100,000 residents with at least three times the commercial area for a workforce of 200,000.
High-density Floor-Area Ratios (FAR) would permit development up to 6.0 FAR around the Metro line; for example, a business that used half of its property for building could construct up to 12 stories. Those high-density blocks would encircle each of the four planned Metro stations, surrounded by retail, public works and transportation zones.
The presentation focused on making Tysons more accessible and livable, reducing car traffic while augmenting bicycle and pedestrian pathways. Culture and recreation were two major points for the Task Force, with requirements for development areas to build arts centers and provide for 160 acres of parkland across Tysons. The Task Force aimed to revive Tysons’ natural environment as well, restoring trashed streams and providing developments with density incentives to encourage the construction of green, LEED-certified buildings. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a nationally-recognized building certification awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Perhaps the vision statement’s most ambitious proposals were carbon neutrality, keeping Tysons’ carbon emissions at present and then lower levels over the next 40 years, and increasing Tysons’ tax revenue threefold, to $1 billion annually from $300 million today.
Foust thought Tyler “did a real nice job pulling it all together” during the presentation, with some reservations. “Truthfully, the plan hasn’t dramatically changed in terms of transit-oriented development, mixed uses and affordable housing,” said Foust.
Echoing the overall positive sentiment of his board colleagues who hope to see the Tysons plan develop “as expeditiously as possible,” Foust added that he would advise the board to “proceed with caution, given the fact we want to get it right.”
“The task force has given us very good concepts for Tysons Corner, fabulous for transportation, greening, making Tysons more walkable,” Foust said, including proposals for a grid system of streets and a free circulator around the city that would ferry commuters between Tysons and the metro stations. “But there will be a lot of reality checks along the way, making sure we have adequate infrastructure for development.”
There are “complicated issues,” Foust said, that the Task Force had not adequately addressed inside and outside of Tysons. He added, “There’s no way Tysons Corner will grow to full density for a long, long time,” stressing that infrastructure is “not just roads: it’s parks, police, schools, water, sewer.”
Foust also referred to the study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, which concluded Tysons will take at least 40 years to develop as planned by the Task Force – an optimal, but unpredictable future, said Foust.
“No one wants to see Tysons Corner languish,” Foust continued. “My communities want to have the adequate opportunities to have the county planning staff and the Task Force think through this problem. We also want to see public involvement.”
Now with the vision statement in the hands of the Planning Commission, which will cooperate with the Task Force in preparing a detailed plan for Tysons Corner’s future, Foust said he hopes the commission can form a practical and timely plan.
“Whenever the Planning Commission staff and the Task Force say they will have language ready for public comment I encourage them to deliver it as soon as they can, but also to take into account our concerns,” said Foust, who told the News-Press that he expects a draft of the plan in the next 12 months and, more likely, by six months.
“If the infrastructure is there, I can agree to higher density. The Task Force has not looked at these issues,” he said. “It will take measurable pieces, in my belief, with a focus on density around existing transit in order to secure maximum benefits.”