MetroWest residents near the Vienna Metro station might soon finally start to see progress on stalled portions of the planned community, which led the way for mixed-use development in Fairfax County when it was originally approved more than a decade ago.
As the Washington Business Journal reported on Jan. 19, Pulte Homes — one of two developers involved, along with CRC Cos. — submitted an application to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning on Dec. 23 seeking to update its proffers for the joint project.
The proposed modifications include the removal of a barrier to construction on additional residential buildings with retail, an increased enrollment cap for a planned daycare center, and the replacement of a proposed business center with community space.
“The modest adjustments will allow the Applicant to deliver critically needed housing at market and affordable rates, thoughtful open space and an activated community hub,” DLA Piper associate Kevin MacWhorter, one of the attorneys representing Pulte, said in a statement of justification to Fairfax County Zoning Evaluation Division Director Tracy Strunk.
As of last week, Pulte’s application was still going through the county’s review process, but it is expected to be accepted and assigned to a staff coordinator soon.
The MetroWest development encompasses 56 acres south of the Vienna Metro station from I-66 to Lee Highway.
The original plans approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Mar. 27, 2006 called for up to 2,248 residential units, 300,000 square feet of office, and at least 100,000 square feet of floor area for retail, service, institutional, and governmental uses, according to DLA Piper.
Much of the southern portion of the site has now been built out with homes, including housing for seniors, and the Providence Community Center, a $12 million project that was funded by Pulte and Fairfax County and opened in 2014.
However, construction has yet to start on a four-building parcel from Pulte and the CRC portion of the site, which are collectively supposed to bring retail and hundreds of residential units to the development.
According to Fairfax County Planning Director Barbara Byron, the stagnation stems in part from the proliferation of mixed-use development in the Tysons area over the past decade as well as the general challenges facing the real estate markets for retail and office even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
When MetroWest was approved in 2006, it represented Fairfax County’s first major attempt at transit-oriented development, but the arrival of Metro’s Silver Line ushered in a wave of mixed-use projects, from the Mosaic District in Merrifield to The Boro in Tysons and Scout on the Circle in Fairfax City.
Though Fairfax County still sees retail and other ground-floor amenities as critical to achieving the goal of using transit-oriented development to reduce people’s reliance on cars, expectations for what those amenities look like have changed.
For instance, the county had initially hoped to include a grocery store in the MetroWest proffers. It ended up being optional, but given the development’s proximity to the Pan Am Safeway and the Giant at Scout on the Circle, Byron says she is “not particularly optimistic” about a full-sized grocery, though a Mom’s or something even smaller could still be a possibility.
“Many people moved into MetroWest expecting that they would have that kind of amenity near them,” Byron said. “So, it’s important for us to be sure that that piece of what they moved in there for actually comes through.”
Still, the lack of progress on the retail portions of MetroWest has worn down the patience of the existing community.
“These two companies need to work out their business disputes so they can deliver retail and other amenities, as promised to the community over a decade ago,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.
What Pulte Has Proposed
For its part, Pulte Homes seems confident that it will be able to finish its portion of the project if Fairfax County approves its request to amend the proffers.
The four planned buildings will have 480 multi-family residential units, including 52 affordable dwelling units that would bring the site’s total to 142 ADUs. There would also be two swimming pools, one of which would be open to all community residents, and a daycare center.
Citing a commissioned study that determined retail demand at MetroWest in 2026 would max out at 8,350 square feet, Pulte is asking the county to let non-retail commercial uses like the daycare center count toward the 35,000 square feet of non-residential space it has committed to providing.
The new proffer modification application also suggests increasing the cap on enrollment at the daycare from 100 to 150 children. DLA Piper attorney Antonio Calabrese says the facility will between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet in size, and it will be supplemented by an outdoor play area.
“We’re excited to be at this point, and we’re resolute about trying to proceed and frankly deliver on a really attractive additional series of buildings and amenities for the MetroWest community,” Calabrese said.
However, Pulte can’t start work on the buildings until Fairfax County issues more than 1,001 residential occupancy permits. The existing proffers say can’t happen until construction starts on two buildings under CRC’s purview, including one designated just for retail and office uses.
Pulte is now seeking to remove that requirement.
“There’s been a lot of understandable frustration on the part of the existing residents that these pieces aren’t done yet,” Calabrese said. “It’s an understandable frustration that we want to rectify. The best way for us to do that is to have this application accepted and processed by the county.”
What CRC Has Proposed
While no official application has been submitted yet, CRC spokesperson Joy Lute says the real estate company has spent the past six months coordinating with Fairfax County on plans for a town center comprised of two mixed-use, multi-family residential buildings totaling at least 500 units.
The first building would feature approximately 270 apartments and about 6,500 square feet of retail. A groundbreaking on that building and supporting infrastructure could potentially occur later this year, depending on the county’s permit review timelines, according to Lute.
The developer is also exploring options for interim uses of the undeveloped parcels “that would serve the residents of the forthcoming multifamily buildings and the MetroWest community at large,” Lute says.
CRC’s plans for office space, however, remain hazy.
The real estate developer has been working with the consulting firm Newmark Knight Frank to secure office tenants since at least 2018. Fairfax County’s Vienna Transit Station Area comprehensive plan calls for at least 125,000 square feet of office uses on the MetroWest site, though a hotel could serve as a supplement or as an alternative to office or residential uses.
Lute says CRC “remains optimistic” about its prospects of finding an office tenant, but it is “not a prerequisite for additional residential development at MetroWest.”
“Ongoing improvements to I-66 and the upgrades to the Metro stop in summer 2021 will make the site even more competitive,” Lute said.
Photos courtesy DLA Piper