News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tysons Corner Redevelopment: A Glimpse of What's To Come?

tysons.jpgOne of the most lively discussions we've seen on this filthy "web log" has cropped up over the whole issue of redevelopment. Will Reston become "another Manhattan"? Will the county raze existing developments near the proposed Metro stations and replace them with giant mixed-use monstrosities featuring rad '80s art, and bus kids from their Blade Runner-like schools to distant playgrounds for recess? Or is this NIMBYism taken to town hall-style extremes?

Frankly, we haven't a clue. But recent news about plans for "Fairfax County's Downtown," assuming you can call randomly arranged buildings filled with generic office space surrounded by auto malls a "downtown," makes us wonder:

Fairfax County planners on Wednesday will propose rules for builders in Tysons Corner that retreat from the vision local officials approved last fall, a shift some civic leaders worry will jeopardize the blueprint to remake the area into a walkable urban center.

The task force envisioned eight mini-cities springing up with a dense mix of housing, offices and stores within a half mile of four Metrorail stations under construction in Tysons, the tallest buildings located closest to the stops... But planners charged with translating the vision into zoning rules reviewed it and came to a different conclusion:

The proposed city is too urban.

"We're looking for an urban feel and urban experience," said Jim Zook, the county's planning director. "But there are cities across this country that work very well at lesser densities" than the task force proposed.

Zook and his staff have concluded that the density of what the task force envisions could be built when Tysons is fully redeveloped in about 40 years would overwhelm traffic. Planners say that would be about five times the 44 million square feet of offices, malls, condos and townhouses there now. Before developers can build high-rises, even near the Metrorail stations, planners say, the area's already clogged road network will need to expand to accommodate the extra development because many of the new residents and office workers will drive. That would require three new interchanges on the Dulles Toll Road; another lane on the Beltway between Interstate 66 and Route 7, in addition to the high-occupancy toll lanes now under construction; and wider lanes on other local roads.

So planners have devised rules that reduce by as much as one-third the building recommended by the task force... "It comes down to a difference over timing," said Walter L. Alcorn, the planning commission chairman who is leading efforts to reconcile the conflicting visions. "The staff's perspective is that we have to look at the constraints of the transportation infrastructure and how much it can take. Based on that, the densities that were recommended by the task force were too high."
From an urban planning standpoint, pretty much anything would be better than the array of dreck that makes up present-day Tysons Corner. By comparison, Reston's incredibly well planned -- if only because there actually was a master plan guiding its development, albeit one that's about to be revised. But if there's pushback on redeveloping craptastic Tysons, what does that mean for Reston's future? Discuss amongst yourselves.


  1. I think most in Fairfax County are truly in for a bumpy ride in the coming years as we are faced with our infrastructure strained beyond capacity as we are drowning in red ink. I made the mistake this morning of leaving my apartment "late" at 6:30 AM and just made it to work around 7:02 AM. Over a half-hour to go about 7.5 miles between Reston and Tyson's Corner is totally unacceptable. I bet the same commute via the Silver Line would only be 15-20 minutes.

    With that being said I don't know what CAN be done to salvage Tyson's Corner without bankrupting future generations. Whatever ultimately happens in Tyson's will have a very noticeable effect upon Reston, so this is something we need to be keeping ourselves abreast of. Tyson's in its current state is a VERY depressing place to work---very wide roads where pedestrians must play "Frogger" with speeding middle-aged business professionals in huge SUVs, a mess of car dealers lining the "gateway" to our alleged "downtown," very little vegetation, and very drab architecture. I don't know how my prior generation permitted this pimple to have cropped up upon the landscape, and I don't see any viable solutions without MAJOR headaches and MAJOR tax hikes.

  2. We only need to ask only one question here: is Krystal Koons wowed by the plan?

  3. If they widen the roads, you're almost certainly going to have to get into your car or ride the subway to another part of Tysons if you want to walk around the city and take in the walkability. LOL. This is what you get when you have a city carved up by huge avenues and interstates. Reminds me of another town.

  4. I truly believe Tysons to Reston to Herndon can be developed with constraint and vision. But, it requires strong leadership ... and not a developer's...

    In Reston, I am a proponent of revitalization (Lake Anne, Fairway, etc..). I've lived here since 1989 and have owned/lived in 4 different homes of varying size, age, and land usage... I see the need for increased density to keep the vision alive...

    My concern -- the best laid plans are ultimately passed into the hands of developers who have different incentives... and have the strongest voice in Fairfax County at the moment.

  5. From the Uplands of RestonSeptember 18, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    There is not enough money to do it right. Plus, the increased density is an ecological disaster in slow motion.
    1) No Phase II Rail funded, with government induced depression heading our way.
    2) Traffic in Reston will skyrocket, with no money for road improvements. This analysis assumes that 30,000 more people do not move to Reston. The more people, the worse off Reston becomes.
    3) Every school in Reston was designed for a smaller number of students. With walking students Adding classrooms did not redesign the schools for efficient bus transportation. There is no money for redesign/rebuilding.
    4) Every school in Reston is a traffic jam in the morning. Metro will not fix this.
    5) Increased crime is already here, and will get worse.
    6) Without immigration control, land values will drop. We need to learn the lessons on why California is broke, before we follow the same path.
    7) More traffic, more people, more pollution. I expect respiratory diseases to increase, even with Metro.

  6. The goal of the metro project should be first and foremost to deliver Metro Rail in a clean monor to Tysons, Reston, Herndon, Dullus, and 2-3 stops in the Ashburn area.

    The secondary objective should be to create good curb appeal.

    That is it....

  7. I am told that even with the 30% reduction of the density proposed for Tysons (requested by the Fx county planning dept), there will still be a doubling of the traffic on the surrounding roads which are already pretty clogged. I don't see a lot of businesses moving in or staying under such conditions. Whose idea was this super-saturated development anyway?

  8. The developers have always run FFCty -- even back to the Lees, Washingtons, and Blands. It's all about $$ and who is still around when the elected officials come and go. The dynasties remain. These days the dynasties are the developers that just don a different shell when they've become too exposed. Cynical, depressing, and, as soon as my land in Reston is worth 3x what it is now (hopefully getting back to where it was about 8 years ago), we're outta here!

  9. They've wasted a lot of space in the Town Center and along Sunset Hills. The area has high rises but resembles suburban office parks and malls with expansive parking lots.

    The same can be said of Dulles Corner. The county and the developers have gone the quick and cheap route of in building up densities. As a result, there's going to be much more sprawl in Reston/Herndon.

  10. Anon 7:33 --

    Don't pack your bags yet. Every single development project has to be voted on by the DRB. Remember them? Those guys we love to hate? The panel put in place by the Reston deed and bylaws, they are a legal force that cannot be circumvented.

    Barring a 180 degree flip in political leadership at the county level, the DRB is our only hope of preserving the Reston we know. And they thought they signed on to consider paint swatches and porch light fixtures.

  11. From the Uplands of RestonSeptember 21, 2009 at 4:52 AM

    Reston Town Center specifically barred the DRB from ruling on development. This will happen again, when the new wave of high density development hits Reston.
    There is too much money at stake to let DRB interfere.

  12. I was told that Town Center is not part of Reston Assn. DRB has no authority to review projects outside RA. DRB did review (as did P&Z) the Fairway Apts redevelopment plan by JBG along North Shore Drive across the street from Lake Anne Elementary School. JBG will bring the plan back to P&Z on October 5. Fairfax County Planning Commission can override P&Z because P&Z has no legal authority, but the DRB has legal authority granted under the Deed of Reston.

    And speaking of deeds, the vacating of the deed for the RCIG, Reston Corridor for Industry and Government (the Dulles corridor) is not legal until 90% of the area has signed to vacate. Patti Nicoson President of Dulles Corridor Rail Assn (the property owners along the Dulles corridor) said they have 66 2/3 of the votes. That is not enough. Without a proper vote they cannot insert residential units in the corridor. And they have to maintain the covenants which require 50% open space.

    There is a lot of money at stake and the powers-that-be have good attorneys so maybe they can find a way.

    Hope not.

  13. I believe the long strip of commercial properties along both sides of the Toll Road are also exempt from RA planning and zoning oversight. Few people are objecting to redevloping Spectrum or other parts of Reston Town Center. Maybe a few more people object to high-density development along Sunset Hills and Sunrise Valley, but not many.

  14. The Comstock Wiehle proposal for the million square feet of commercial and residential in five high-rises above the parking garage for the Metro station was presented to RA's P&Z a couple of weeks ago. The decision was deferred until the Chapter 527 traffic impact analysis studies were complete.

    Few people are objecting because they don't know about it. The county has taken advantage of the fact that people in Reston don't read the local newspapers to move their plans along. There are 20 proposals for high-density developments in the area between Sunset Hills and Sunrise Valley.

    High density proposals are in the works for North Shore Drive in addition to the plans for Lake Anne plaza and the immediate surroundings.

    And in Reston residents move through their lives blissfully unaware of the changes redevelopment will bring to their lives.

  15. Guess what this means...

    If over the next 5-10 yrs there becomes a mini wiehle town center, Watch out for those high priced condos at the RTC...The appreciation which a lot of people plan on receiving will not occur


(If you don't see comments for some reason, click here).