After second deferral, planning commission to decide on McLean downtown plan next week

The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a decision on the McLean Community Business Center comprehensive plan until June during a meeting last Wednesday (May 26).

It was the second deferral for the plan to guide development in downtown McLean, which has been developing over the last three years. The hotly debated plan was originally slated to go before the commission for a public hearing in April but was deferred to May. During that time, further revisions were made to the final draft.

Now, the planning commission will make a decision on June 9 ahead of a Board of Supervisors meeting set for June 22.

“A lot of hard work has been put into this,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “I think those revisions help with some of the issues that have arisen since the original staff report. But we’re going to hear from the community there are still differences of opinion about the proposed language.”

Nearly two dozen speakers voiced their opinions at the commission’s public hearing last week, and a majority had criticisms of certain aspects of the plan or the plan in its entirety. Among the demands were more stringent stormwater protections, more surface parking, and a lower cap on residential units.

Covering a 230-acre area between Dolley Madison Boulevard, Chain Bridge Road, and Old Dominion Road, the draft plan is meant to incentivize developers to come to McLean and build more residential density in exchange for public open space and other community amenities. The plan also no longer prescribes specific uses for specific properties.

The plan divides the downtown area into Center, General, and Edge zones, each with height requirements. It allows for up to 3,850 residential units in McLean, which currently has 1,280 units.

Robert Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the organization opposes the newest draft plan on the grounds of parking and stormwater management.

“Some changes made, and we are pleased with some of them, but [those] two major issues remain unaddressed satisfactorily,” he said.

The MCA previously recommended removing the entire parking management section because “its intention is to make parking scarce, not plentiful,” he said. It also recommended restoring old language with more specific and protective stormwater requirements.

Barbara Ryan, a citizen and credentialed sustainable landscape designer, said each subsequent draft has diluted stormwater management requirements. She called for restoring a requirement that new development retains one inch of water and imposing a volume limit on runoff, rather than requiring a reduction.

“The focus needs to address flooding and streambed erosion concerns, particularly as we are seeing downstream erosion in Pimmit Run,” she said.

Responding to earlier input, county staff recently added a provision stating that the plan will be reviewed either in 2031 or when 1,660 units are built or in development, whichever comes first. That would result in 2,360 total units in McLean, which is a few hundred more than the current upper limit of 2,175.

But planning commissioners were skeptical of the 10-year timeframe.

“One of the issues in development years is that 10 years is in the blink of an eye,” Ulfelder said. “I think this is necessary and appropriate, but it’s not clear to me what we’ll know in this timeframe unless the developers are hanging outside the CBC waiting for this plan amendment to be passed — salivating, waiting to put together some blocks of land, particularly in the center zone.”

In addition, the review and its timing will not address school overcrowding now or as development brings more children into the area, Braddock District Planning Commissioner Mary Cortina argued.

“Frankly, it doesn’t make a bit of difference” when schools review their enrollment projections with new development plans, she said, adding that 10 years seems a long time to wait.

“There has to be some deeper planning when it comes to comprehensive plan amendments that take into account the school situation long-term,” the commissioner said.

Ulfelder said FCPS will have to do additional work to address the students generated by some of the proposed development in the CBC, particularly at schools that are already overcrowded and in need of redistricting.

Meanwhile, a group advocating for a more suburban-friendly redevelopment plan presented the results of a community survey it conducted. Representing McLean Citizens for Right Size Development (Right Size McLean), Sarah Wittman walked commissioners through the group’s findings.

Wittman said the results were representative of McLean’s overall population: The percentage of respondents ages 35-59 and 60 and older, as well as those with and without children, mapped onto McLean’s demographics.

77% of respondents reported not knowing much about the plan update, with only 20% saying they read the plan and felt they understood it.

“I try to be an informed citizen, but with this plan, I was caught flat-footed,” she said.

53% want to see some of the elements in the CBC, such as wider walkways, tree-lined streets, up to five- to seven-story buildings, and open community spaces.

Respondents held varying views on development. Nearly 30% want no development, but about 18% want taller buildings or Mosaic District-style development.

About 46% support adding up to 960 residential units, which is slightly more than what is allowed in the current plan, but only 11% approved of the increase proposed in the CBC plan.

Photos via Fairfax County

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