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District Spotlight: North Central

Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, Tysons Reporter is profiling the eight districts of Tysons. This is the sixth article in that series.

North Central, sandwiched between downtown Tysons and the Dulles Access Road, is in some ways the quintessential Tysons district, with neither the flash of a Metrorail station nor the moderating influence of surrounding suburbs.

It will remain a lower-density office option compared to the higher-density downtown districts, and will add some more urban residential neighborhoods along with a new park and a “circulator” transit option connecting it to the Metro.

North Central represents Tysons’ conventional approach to development in ways that other districts, with their Metrorail stations or surrounding suburban areas, don’t quite. Because it backs onto the Dulles Access Road, it is the only non-downtown district that is not required to provide a smooth transition to a suburban area. However, because it lacks a Metro station, it is not yet undergoing the kind of radically-transformative transit oriented development witnessed along the Silver Line. In some ways, the absence of those two factors make this perhaps the district where Tysons is most itself.

Plans for the area show a strip of office-only zoning along the fringe adjacent to the Dulles Access Road and the Beltway, with mid-density urban residential neighborhoods in the center and southwest of the district.

Circulator Will Connect to Metro

One challenge to urban connectivity in North Central is posed by the monumental Rotonda gated condominium community. The immense size of the two interlocking buildings, their position on a large hill, and the total lack of any sidewalk amenities adjacent to them, add up for an area that’s quite unpleasant to walk past. These buildings — though undeniably a striking contribution to Tysons’ urban milieu — are an obstacle standing between North Central and the urban amenities (Metro, performing arts, retail) in the nearby Tysons East district.

North Central faces another obstacle in its connection to the malls and Metro station of Tysons Central 123 — a steep uphill slope.

Fortunately, North Central is served by a technology capable of overcoming both of these obstacles: the humble bus. For only fifty cents, those residing in or visiting North Central can hop on a Tysons Circulator bus that will carry them to either the Spring Hill or the Tysons Corner Metrorail station. A bus from each line arrives every 12 minutes or so throughout the day, from early morning until midnight, helping North Central share in the value created by mass transit.

Although there aren’t specific plans in the works, Fairfax County expects to one day upgrade the line to higher-quality service or even to a streetcar or light rail system.

Development is Gradual and Ongoing

This district has seen its share of development in recent years. These include a luxurious four-building residential project at Park Crest, eleven floors of new class-A office space at Tysons Overlook, and the residential Highgate. In the near future, that last building could be joined by a 13-building mixed-use development called The Mile — if it is approved by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors at hearings in June and July of this year.

Development here is less frenetic than in the downtown districts, but it is ongoing at a healthy pace.

The Tysons Comprehensive Plan notes that, as circulator service is improved, greater residential density may become possible.

A New Park

A crowning ambition of this district could be the new urban park, 8-10 acres in size, to be created along Westbranch Drive and a future new street. This park, which would be one of Tysons’ largest, would include two athletic fields and provide “a focus for civic gatherings for residents and employees.”

However, one possible problem is that the provisional location of the park, as listed in the Comprehensive Plan, clashes with the proposal for development of The Mile. The Mile’s plan does include a large central green space, but it is not quite as large as Fairfax envisions, and does not include athletic fields.

The Comprehensive Plan also states that a new elementary school will be needed to accompany population growth in this area.

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