A proposed comprehensive-plan amendment designed to foster redevelopment in McLean’s Community Business Center (CBC) underwent years of drafting and community meetings before being presented May 26 to the Fairfax County Planning Commission, but it still faces heavy opposition.
Architect and McLean resident Denis Findley views the proposal askance.
“The process’ design predetermined the outcome of the plan: a mini-megalopolis of high-density, characterless nothingness with postage-stamp-sized open space that in reality is nothing more than developer-incentivized talking points,” he testified at the hearing. “It’s a nightmare, dystopian vision for my beloved community of 32 years.”
The Planning Commission deferred its decision on the matter to June 9 and kept the record open for public comments. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say at a future meeting.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) in May 2018 appointed the 20-member task force to begin crafting a potential CBC plan amendment. The 230-acre CBC is located south of Dolley Madison Boulevard and its center is roughly the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road.
The resulting plan focuses most heavily on the area near Elm Street and Beverly Road, a couple of blocks northeast from a major shopping area that was the focal point of two previous failed redevelopment plans. The proposal’s key priorities include a centrally located open space and a walkable town center or main street.
The new plan proposes three zones:
• A 75-acre Center Zone would receive the highest development density, with buildings up to seven stories (92 feet) tall. The county would make one exception for a consolidated property of up to 6 acres, which would be eligible for 10-story (128-foot-tall) buildings if it provided a central public park or open space of about two-thirds of an acre.
Officials recommend structured parking and only limited surface parking in the Center Zone.
• A 54-acre General Zone surrounding the Center Zone would be allowed low- to mid-rise buildings of up to five stories (68 feet) tall. Planners intend for new developments within this zone to have active ground-floor uses.
Surface parking would be provided in this zone, although officials said some structured parking also might be appropriate.
• Emanating still farther out, the 85-acre Edge Zone would serve as a buffer between the General Zone and surrounding neighborhoods. The zone would continue to have surface parking and its building heights generally would be limited to three stories, officials said.
County staff also recommended a 40-foot height limit for buildings along a strip of the CBC located east of Chain Bridge Road and north of Old Dominion Drive.
Planned streetscape improvements would provide for safe movements of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.
Instead of using traditional zoning criteria, such as maximum floor-area ratio and dwelling units per acres, the proposed amendment would use “form-based” guidance that would cap building heights and the overall amount of development. This approach would offer developers flexibility based on market conditions, county staff said.
“The intent here is to get rid of the old, highly compartmentalized comprehensive plan that’s been around for over 20 years and has only resulted in a few scattered applications,” said Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder (Dranesville District).
The CBC currently is home to 1,280 residential units and 2.79 million square feet of non-residential space. The county’s current comprehensive plan allows up to 2,175 residential units and nearly 3.37 million square feet of non-residential space.
The proposed amendment would permit less non-residential space (3.15 million square feet), but vastly increase the residential component for a maximum of 3,850 units. The 1,675 extra units that could be built if the plan were approved would be located in the Center and General zones.
McLean Citizens Association president Robert Jackson said the group continues to oppose the plan unless officials scrap proposed reductions for surface parking in the CBC and strengthen stormwater measures to reduce flooding and stream erosion.
McLean’s 22101 ZIP Code, where the CBC is located, has a higher percentage of school-age children than Fairfax County’s average, said Sharon Gamble, president of the Salona Village Citizens Association.
“We also know how rapid development and dramatically increasing the population density can put a stress on any community, so it’s critical [to] get it right,” Gamble said.
McLean resident Adrienne Whyte, representing a development watchdog group called Reclaim Fairfax County, said the plan amendment is a gift to developers, but does not reflect the community’s vision.
“We were told that Tysons would be our downtown and that surrounding communities would be protected from the urbanization that is threatening nearby suburban communities,” she said. “That’s not what’s happening. This plan seeks to turn McLean into a stepped-down version of Tysons, which is just 2 miles away.”
McLean resident Karl von Schriltz said that potentially attracting 6,000 to 8,000 new residents might overwhelm local schools and roads. The county’s planning process has contributed to the CBC’s deterioration, he said.
“Property owners have stopped maintaining their buildings and looking for new tenants in anticipation of the financial windfall promised by the comprehensive plan,” von Schriltz said.