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Photos: McLean Then and Now

Fairfax County’s aerial photography can offer a view of the startling growth of some some parts of the area, charting Merrifield‘s growth from a lonely drive-in theater to today’s Mosaic District, changes to Tysons Galleria and the commercial properties around Route 7, and Tysons East’s transformation from suburbs to an urban center.

But McLean’s story is more like Maple Avenue’s, where rapid growth has been followed by decades of stagnation.

An ongoing effort to update zoning for downtown McLean, called the McLean Community Business Center (CBC), has faced pushback from some local residents who say the plans will transform McLean into a new Tysons-style development.

While the town of McLean was founded in 1902, aerial photography shows that even as late as the 1960s there wasn’t a developed center of town. The first developments in the CBC, like McLean House Condominiums in the northeast corner and Langley Shopping Center a little south of that, show up in photography from the 1970s.

Between then and 1990, much of the area along Old Dominion Drive was developed and new shopping centers bloomed at the southern edge of downtown McLean.

But in all of the photography between 1990 and 2017, that development grinds to a halt. At several of the McLean CBC meetings, locals lamented that McLean didn’t really have a “sense of place” and that much of the downtown was defined by gas stations on every corner and vacant buildings.

The plans for the CBC call for changing some of the transportation routes through the downtown McLean to make the area more pedestrian friendly and allowing new, mostly residential and commercial developments downtown.

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