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‘A Different, Better Place:’ the Evolution of Tysons

“Imagine the future Tysons as a different, better place than today.”

So begins the “Vision for Tysons,” as laid out in Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan for Tysons. A “different, better place” is something that stakeholders want — from developers to citizens groups.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted “the first relevant comprehensive plan” for Tysons today in 2010, “and that was a very hard fought document by all parties,” said Sally Horn, who today serves as chair of the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition. “I think people all accept it as a decent compromise document.”

A 36-member task force developed that plan, working to reach satisfactory conclusions on questions from the number of parks in Tysons to the appropriate way to divide tax burdens.

“We were most interested in making sure that there were adequate public facilities, especially for transportation, that they would be rolled out at the same time as the development and that it wouldn’t become… an unfair burden on taxpayers,” said Rob Jackson, who was president of the McLean Citizens Association from June 2007 through May 2012 and is the chair of MCA’s planning and zoning committee today.

The plan they came up with has been updated several times since 2010. Its ultimate goals extend to 2050, a time by which planners hope Tysons will boast 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs.

Though developers, community members and county representatives recognize that Tysons has a long way to go, many also see the better future as possible. Some pieces of that imagined future, like Metro’s Silver Line, have already started to come together.

“I think that plan is going to be satisfied more quickly than [2050],” said Jerry Gordon, president and CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “We’ve already seen a lot of the construction.”

Gordon has previously described Tysons as a place where “we have disposed of all the laws of supply and demand,” in part due to rapid high-density development the area saw after the Board of Supervisors approved the Tysons plan.

“We leapfrogged that period where supply [of office space] was low,” Gordon said. “It demonstrated that not only did the developers and the owners of the land have confidence that Tysons Corner was going to continue to grow dramatically… It also demonstrated more importantly that the banks were willing to finance that.”

Still, Tysons continues to face growing pains. When it began developing, prevailing planning concepts dictated that “you didn’t mix things up, that… employment centers weren’t good places to live and you protected residential areas from intrusions from commercial traffic and commercial activities,” said Stephen Fuller, head of George Mason University’s Stephen S. Fuller Institute. “Tysons reflected that former concept, and now we’re trying to make it easier for people to live near where they work.”

Though change in Tysons dates back to the 1960s, the area is relatively young for a city, especially one working to adopt a challenging vision.

“It has a long reach back, but that isn’t long in the life of cities,” Fuller said. “We’re youngsters, and trying to change that pattern abruptly is complicated and that’s what they’re hoping to do in Tysons.”

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