Arriving at the McLean Metro station today, your first impression of Tysons is a construction zone — impressive, perhaps, though not the most inviting. But, sooner than in most other districts, “America’s Next Great City” will be rolling out a verdant welcome mat and transforming Tysons East into an urban park and a vibrant gateway to Tysons’ downtown.
Tysons East, one of Tysons’ eight districts and one of its four “downtowns,” is the area around the McLean Metro station. It already holds the Capital One tower, which is the tallest building anywhere between Baltimore and Richmond. That won’t be the last tower to pop up in the district: the aptly-named One Tysons East will soon be joining it.
Each of the four downtown districts has a specialty. Tysons Central 123’s two malls make it a shopping paradise, Tysons Central 7 is already known for its high-powered offices, and Tysons West is slowing developing a cultural scene.
Tysons East — though a mixed-use urban environment with plenty of offices, shops, and residences — will be characterized by two unique attributes. First, plans are in the works to improve and extend the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park, making this into the greenest corner of downtown Tysons. Second, planners envision Tysons East as home to public uses, like educational institutions, that would make it a hotspot for the creative class.
Trees and Towers
One of the greatest failures of past generations of urban planners in Fairfax was their failure to preserve nature. This generation of planners is trying their best to regain the park space that was lost, planning reclusive gardens and natural spaces as a nearby retreat from the chaos of downtown Tysons.
In Tysons East, they’re working with the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park, a half-mile-long strip of dense forest extending south from the McLean Metro. Although today it’s fairly uninviting, without designated trails or other recreational facilities, there are plans in the works for it to become a beautifully-landscaped public green.
This new park will also function as a connector, with pedestrian and bicycle paths to join the residential neighborhoods of the East Side to the bustling downtown of Tysons East. In fact, the first pedestrian path, from Magarity Road to Coleshire Meadow Drive, should be under construction in the next few months.
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan envisions that, as redevelopment progresses, the park will “be expanded through the stream valley and in adjacent areas to provide better access and connectivity throughout the Tysons East District.”
“It will provide a range of experiences, such as enjoying the outdoors and scenery, arts, performances and programs or participating in recreation,” the plan says. “Intimate gardens with shady places of retreat could provide relief and gathering places for families, visitors and workers in Tysons.”
Dave Whitman is a principal at SmithGroup, the planning and urban design consultants responsible for the Scotts Run development that will redefine Tysons East. He explained that the Scotts Run park will contribute much more than a name to the development — it will shape the area’s urban visual identity.
“Elements from Scotts Run such as water, vegetation, wood, and stone will be incorporated into the design of the public spaces and streetscape throughout the project,” he said.
One defining feature of the Comprehensive Plan’s vision for Tysons East is institutional. The Plan states that “public and institutional facilities such as professional education, recreational, health and sports amenities should be located in this district.” By emphasizing the educational and recreational role of the district, planners hope to make it a more diverse and desirable residential area.
However, the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t actually include specific plans to incentive these kinds of institutions, and current redevelopment plans — which cover most of the district — do not seem to include such uses, except for some athletic fields.
A major infrastructure project is underway to connect Tysons East to the North Central district, and there’s a good chance you’ve already taken advantage of it: the Jones Branch Connector. This do-it-all bridge across the Beltway will not only provide dedicated space for cars, for bicycles, and for pedestrians, but also hold some space in the middle of the bridge in reserve, planning for the future Tysons Circulator public transit system. The bridge is expected to be fully completed sometime this fall.
For Whitman, planning the redevelopment of Tysons East meant more than just the blocks inside the Scotts Run project. Although mixed-use projects in Tysons’ traditionally-suburban context run the risk of feeling like all-inclusive campuses, SmithGroup strives for a more authentically urban design that will be able to naturally connect to neighborhoods on all sides.
“We felt that this redevelopment opportunity was to create a real urban place as opposed to a town center,” Whitman said, “this meant a framework that can expand in all directions, connecting it to the existing context, projects underway, and future development.”
Redevelopment Coming Soon
Tysons East has over twenty million square feet of currently planned development — more than any other of Tysons’ eight districts. Much of that is in one single enormous project: Scotts Run. Current plans include 22 multi-story mixed-use buildings ranging from 75 to 400 feet tall, with a densifying street grid and plenty of pedestrian infrastructure.
One key aspect of this redevelopment is that Cityline Partners, the developer, has proffered to provide design plans for the proposed “Super Boulevard” improvements to Dolley Madison Boulevard and to contribute funds toward its construction. These improvements would likely include pedestrian and vehicle safety work as well as improvements to the visual environment of the street, making it more pleasant to stroll alongside. The details, though, are as yet unclear — that will be a story for another article.
For the less sober-minded among us, perhaps the most exciting news is that Tysons Biergarten will be adding a location in Tysons East this summer.