Fairfax County planning staffers are crafting new urban-design guidelines intended to make downtown McLean’s Community Business Center (CBC) more functional, pedestrian-friendly and attractive as it redevelops.
County supervisors last summer approved a revised comprehensive plan for the CBC, featuring three concentric zones with the highest development density occurring in the vicinity of Beverly Road and Elm Street.
“That comprehensive plan is really what we see as the big-picture vision for this CBC,” said JoAnne Fiebe, who leads the urban-design work of the Department of Planning and Development’s Community Revitalization Section.
Developers will be the primary users of the new design guidelines and county staff will acquaint them with those suggestions early in the development process to shape projects positively, said Fiebe, who provided a “virtual” update Feb. 3 to McLean Chamber of Commerce members.
“They are recommendations,” she emphasized about the guidelines. “They are not standards or requirements, and that’s done intentionally so that they’re flexible. The last thing we want to do is restrict good development.”
Tysons and Reston have stand-alone design guidelines and county officials use different standards for revitalization areas, of which McLean’s CBC is one, Fiebe said. The county has a general set of best practices for revitalization zones and separate specifications for each area, she said.
Enhanced streetscapes will be a critical element of McLean’s redeveloping CBC, Fiebe said. Downtown McLean already is home to a series of benches, and county staff will evaluate whether to add to the current style of benches or branch off in a new direction, possibly emphasizing comfort more, she said.
County planning staff also hope to use gateway signage and other elements to give downtown McLean a distinctive sense of place. Parking, preferably not a sea of it in front of businesses, is another critical feature in the CBC’s success, Fiebe said.
Trees, plantings, stormwater gardens and park space also can enhance the ambiance.
“I think McLean has the opportunity to really become – if this is the vision the community desires – a really green-looking place,” she said. “It exudes green as part of its community DNA. It says, ‘We want to be a healthy, sustainable community for the future.”
Some older McLean office buildings blend into the background and have no relationship to the street, Fiebe said. County planners hope to change that dynamic as those areas redevelop.
“We don’t want to dictate architectural style, per se, but we want to make sure the ‘bones’ of the building are good and that they engage with the street,” she said.
County officials will examine the idea of concentrating retail, along with plazas and related amenities, in strategic spots in McLean, she said. Consulting firms such as Streetsense have told county officials that McLean could use about three times more outdoor-dining space.
“Because of COVID, there’s definitely a need for more outdoor seating,” said Fiebe, who posted a slide of dining tables covering most of a wide brick sidewalk in Arlington’s Shirlington area. “This is the kind of place-making that everybody values.”
Community engagement, something for which McLean is known, will be an important part of the CBC’s development, Fiebe said. In addition to the McLean Planning Committee’s 12-member advisory group that will study various proposals, county officials also will hold community-wide meetings to brief the public on the latest happenings, she said.
Officials tentatively plan to hold the first such virtual meeting March 23 and in early fall will welcome public comments on the final draft plan before the Board of Supervisors consider those guidelines toward year’s end.
Chamber president Paul Kohlenberger said he hoped the plan would provide flexibility for redevelopment while allowing existing businesses to continue operating as before, if so desired.
For more information, visit fcrevite.org/mclean/design-guidelines.