Close to two years since a new vision for downtown McLean was first presented, Fairfax County staff and community representatives are still working on a plan for implementing that vision.
The draft McLean Community Business Center comprehensive plan gives developers more flexibility, while creating parameters designed to protect existing neighborhoods and foster a sense of community.
“We believe the draft plan finds a middle ground, providing for development while preserving what we like about our downtown,” McLean CBC Task Force Chair Kim Dorgan said. “There’s no doubt each of us would change an element here or there, but we think it gives us what the community wants.”
Led by Fairfax County Planning Director Leanna O’Donnell, county staff and the 20-person task force assembled by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust informed the public about their latest work on the McLean CBC draft plan during a virtual open house held on Saturday (Nov. 7).
Last revised on Oct. 5, the draft McLean CBC comprehensive plan retains many elements that have been in place since consultant Streetsense released its vision plan in December 2018, including the establishment of three zones with development becoming more concentrated closer to the center.
Foust says that, in order to revitalize the CBC, the county has to give developers more incentives to invest in the district, a 230-acre area between Dolley Madison Boulevard, Chain Bridge Road, and Old Dominion Road. One way to do that is to allow more density in the district’s core.
The draft plan sets a maximum height of seven stories for buildings in the designated center zone except for select sites where developers can go up to 10 stories if they provide public open space. It also allows for more residential development than the current comprehensive plan for McLean and no longer prescribes specific uses for specific properties.
“The plan tries to create a positive framework for developers to come forward,” said Elizabeth Hagg, who serves as deputy director for the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization.
McLean is also one of six locations included in a new economic incentive program approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September. The program offers developers a 10-year real estate tax abatement for redevelopment projects in the designated areas.
“This plan and possible tax abatement could work together and stimulate future investments,” Hagg said. “We’re very gung-ho about it, and we think the timing with this comprehensive plan going forward could be the spark that we need.”
At the same time, county staff and the task force, which has been meeting regularly since May 2018, have tweaked the draft plan in response to residents’ concerns about the impact that more development could have on traffic, parking, and the availability of open space.
While a Fairfax County Department of Transportation analysis predicts a slight uptick in traffic during peak hours in the future, the proposed land use changes in the draft plan would maintain or improve conditions for all travel modes, according to FCDOT transportation planner Zach Krohmal.
The draft plan also calls for a more connected network of pedestrian and bicycle routes separate from roads and for wider sidewalks, particularly along Old Dominion Road, to accommodate travelers as well as outdoor seating areas and other amenities for restaurants and retailers.
A section of the draft plan that says parking in the center zone will mostly be in structures or underground with on-street parking encouraged, but surface parking limited, has been crossed out.
Hagg says surface parking will be allowed for mixed-use developments, though it will generally be located to the side or in the back of buildings.
Task force members who commented during the open house expressed optimism that the new McLean CBC comprehensive plan will be a necessary improvement over the existing one, revitalizing the area while also giving it a stronger sense of place and addressing issues like pedestrian safety and flooding.
“I personally believe the concept behind the plan is very good,” McLean Planning Committee President Rich Salopek said, acknowledging that there is a lot of diversity of opinions within his group. “…I think it’s a sound strategy, and if the plan develops as we all hope, I think it’ll make a very livable, walkable downtown that we can all be proud of.”
Fairfax County staffers will host a virtual question-and-answer session on the draft plan on Nov. 16, and the McLean CBC study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2021.
Photo via Supervisor John Foust/Twitter