Despite opposition from some residents and organizations at the June 22 public hearing, Fairfax County supervisors unanimously approved a comprehensive-plan amendment aimed at revitalizing McLean’s Community Business District (CBC).
“Doing nothing in McLean is not an option,” said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville). “Either we revitalize the commercial district or it will continue to deteriorate and provide fewer and fewer community amenities. We see it year after year going backwards.”
Foust in May 2018 appointed a 20-member task force to craft a plan amendment for the 230-acre CBC that included a central public open space and walkable town center.
While the CBC is centered geographically at Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road, the plan calls for the most development to occur near Elm Street and Beverly Road and concentrates development into three zones:
• The highest development density will occur in a 75-acre Center Zone featuring buildings up to seven stories (92 feet) tall. One consolidated property of up to 6 acres will be able to have 10-story (128-foot-tall) buildings if it provided a two-thirds-of-an-acre central public park or open space. This zone will feature structured parking and only limited surface parking.
• Buildings with up to five stories (68 feet tall) and active ground-floor uses will be allowed in a 54-acre General Zone surrounding the Center Zone. This zone will have surface parking, as supervisors eliminate plan language that would have encouraged structured or underground parking there.
• A 85-acre Edge Zone will buffer the General Zone from surrounding neighborhoods. This zone will retain its surface parking and building heights generally will be limited to three stories, although structures up to 40 feet tall will be permitted in Land Unit G-2, a strip of land east of Chain Bridge Road and north of Old Dominion Drive.
Streetscape improvements will provide for safe movements of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.
Instead of traditional zoning criteria such as maximum floor-area ratio and dwelling units per acre, the new plan gives developers added flexibility by using form-based guidance that caps building heights and the overall amount of development.
The CBC now has 1,280 residential units and 2.79 million square feet of non-residential space. The former comprehensive plan allowed up to 2,175 residential units and about 3.37 million square feet of non-residential space. The new plan allows less non-residential space (3.15 million square feet), but allows for up to 3,850 residential units Those extra 1,675 extra units would be built in the Center and General zones.
Officials will re-evaluate the plan’s community impacts in 2031 or when 700 more residential units had been built or entitled in the Center and General zones, whichever comes first.
Supervisors also agreed that once 1,660 residential units existed in the Center and General zones, this would trigger a second round of analysis of development and associated infrastructure improvements.
CBC task force chairman Kim Dorgan said there was strong community support for change in central McLean.
“I believe that this is likely the most aggressive plan that could be supported by our community,” she said. “I only hope that what you approve today is enough to encourage investment in McLean.”
Dorgan doubted whether allowing a developer to build three extra floors in exchange for providing a two-thirds-of-an-acre central plaza would be sufficient incentive, given high land costs.
The future “milestone” review also should examine whether development incentives have proved sufficient, Dorgan said. The previous CBC plan was too prescriptive and limiting, she said.
Among those with various concerns expressed at the meeting:
• Scott Spitzer, first vice president of the McLean Citizens Association, said MCA opposed the plan because of several deficiencies, but backed a mid-term review of developmental impacts. MCA wanted supervisors to support surface parking in the General and Edge zones and include plan language requiring new developments to retain at least the first inch of rainfall on-site.
Supervisors instead approved standards to detain water runoff from 10-year, 24-hour-long storms, which typically dump nearly 5 inches of water. The plan also recommends use of “green” stormwater infrastructure such as bioretention planters, green roofs, amended soils and rainwater harvesting cisterns, a county staffer said.
• Linda Walsh of Right Size McLean wanted the total amount of residential dwellings within the CBC to be capped at 2,360 instead of 3,850.
• Kathleen Wysocki of the McLean Mews Homeowners Association urged supervisors not to allow garage entrances, loading docks or dumpsters to front onto Corner Lane near Franklin Sherman Elementary School, saying these posed injury and security risks for children and could lower home values.
• Jim Bergeson, who lives next to CBC, said the plan’s benefits would go almost exclusively to landowners and new resident sthere, while homeowners nearby would be inconvenienced.
• Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce president Paul Kohlenberger said the group joined several prominent McLean organizations in opposing the draft plan. The plan underwent changes since last December that reduced its ability to deliver multi-modal connectivity, gathering spaces, housing diversity and stormwater upgrades, he said.
Kohlenberger urged supervisors to eliminate stories as a determinant of site intensity and allow slightly taller building heights of 75, 100 and 135 feet in the General, Center and bonus zones, respectively. This would encourage viable development, activate ground floors and permit delivery of mixed-income housing units, he said. If the county adopted higher height limits, the chamber, McLean Planning Committee and commercial landowners would support a cap of 3,135 residential units, he said.
Foust then castigated Kohlenberger.
“What you just did was very misleading, to suggest that all of these organizations are opposed, which they’re not,” Foust said.
“I don’t take kindly to being called a liar, sir,” shot back Kohlenberger, who told Foust to check his facts.
Foust said the hearing showed why the CBC has lacked a new comprehensive plan in more than 20 years. Most property owners there have lacked sufficient incentives to redevelop, he said.
“Time and experience have demonstrated clearly that the existing plan does not permit sufficient new development to justify the costs and loss of rental income associated with redeveloping revenue-producing properties,” Foust said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) sympathized with those trying to revitalize commercial districts.
“We want the amenities, but folks don’t want any impacts, and ultimately we know that’s not possible,” he said.