Hoping to bolster economic development, provide additional housing and boost ridership at an under-used transit station, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 13 unanimously amended comprehensive-plan guidance to allow about 1.8 million square feet of development near the West Falls Church Metro Station.
The 31.5-acre site, located south of Interstate 66 and north of Haycock Road, consists of two properties. A 24-acre parcel owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) contains the Metro station, surface parking, a parking garage, bus loop and stormwater detention pond.
An adjacent 7.53-acre parcel, owned by Virginia Tech and the city of Falls Church, contains the 101,460-square-foot Northern Virginia Center, which offers graduate-level education, plus surface parking and a small courtyard.
Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan had slated up to 720 dwelling units for the WMATA property. The new amendment will allow about 1,003,620 square feet of development with up to 900 units (largely multi-family, but with up to 80 townhouses in transition areas), plus between 105,000 and 120,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 to 30,000 square feet of retail.
Up to 130 dwelling units and 43,800 square feet of commercial space previously had been permitted at the Virginia Tech site under the comprehensive plan. The new amendment will permit about 816,750 square feet of development, with up to 440 dwelling units, 181,000 square feet of office space, 160,000 square feet of institutional uses and 18,000 square feet of retail space.
The plan calls for three small parks within the site to be built along the primary route to the Metro station, plus another park at Haycock Road and Route 7. These facilities may consist of civic plazas, neighborhood recreational parks or pocket parks.
The plan provides for multi-modal transportation improvements, particularly ones for bicyclists and pedestrians, and for construction during the project’s first phase of a street parallel to Haycock Road in order to improve traffic efficiency.
Buildings will be taller near the Metro station and then taper down toward nearby neighborhoods.
The new plan has environmentally friendly features such as stormwater-management facilities, “green” building practices, mitigation of noise and nighttime light pollution, preservation of native plant species and installation of natural landscaping throughout both sites, officials contend.
Andrew Painter, an attorney speaking for Fairfax Gateway Partners Metro LLC a consortium selected by WMATA to redevelop the Metro station site – said the plan capitalizes on investments county residents have made in the Metro system – bolsters the fortunes of the West Falls Church station and represents an unusual opportunity for inter-jurisdictional planning.
The city of Falls Church plans to build a high-density, mixed-use development at the nearby former George Mason High School site.
“At its essence, the draft plan before you really represents the progeny of more than two generations of citizen-led planning efforts designed to bring about positive change at what is today a sorely under-utilized Metro station,” Painter said.
Speakers at the July 13 hearing offered views both laudatory and critical.
Adrienne Whyte, founder and president of Reclaim Fairfax County, said the new development plan, in combination with Falls Church development, would turn her suburban neighborhood into a “gateway for gridlock.”
“West Falls Church was intended to be a neighborhood-serving station, suburban and academic in character, because the road network was inadequate to serve traffic demands for significant development projects,” she said.
“It still is. What other station can you name that depends on a two-lane country road for egress?”
Paul Rothstein of Village Condominium worried about pedestrian safety in the vicinity, and said the new plan would exacerbate the issues.
The initiative would improve traffic efficiency and provide a mix of housing types, including sought-after affordable and workforce dwellings, said Sonia Breehey, Northern Virginia advocacy manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Virginia Tech official David Baker said the university supported the plan.
“As the higher-education landscape changes, we have found that students, particularly graduate students, are drawn to urban, walkable and sustainable communities with ample green space and access to individuals, businesses and resources outside of the traditional academic environment,” he said.
The plan amendment addresses the surrounding community’s aspirations and concerns and will encourage cohesive development of adjacent sites, said Nia Rubin, WMATA’s acting vice president for real estate and parking.
Darren Ewing, president of the Olney Park Citizens Association, said the recommended plan amendments were “well-conceived.”
“I think this will create an exciting, walkable, downtown experience at a density that is reasonable,” said Ewing, adding that the development would create jobs, tax revenues and much-needed housing.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said the county has done several pedestrian-related projects in that area, but more work needs to be done to address traffic and safety concerns.
“Clearly, near a Metro station like this is where you want to see this type of growth occur,” agreed Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
“That being said, the residents have good reasons to be concerned.”