A long public process that started with one of Tysons Reporter’s very first stories ended Tuesday night (June 22) when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan intended to revitalize McLean’s stagnant downtown.
The Community Business Center plan breaks McLean into certain areas where greater density will be allowed in exchange for certain public amenities, with the density gradually decreasing from that new epicenter out towards the existing neighborhoods.
The passage wasn’t without controversy, with prominent community groups like the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) continuing to oppose the plan.
“The MCA opposes the new comprehensive plan because of certain major deficiencies,” MCA representative Scott Spitzer said at Tuesday’s public hearing.
The MCA’s opposition to the plan focused on a few particular issues, like concerns about losing surface parking in favor of a push toward underground or on-street parking. The MCA also sought to have more language in the plan that would guarantee certain above-roof features.
Other speakers at the meeting were more general in their opposition.
“The Mclean CBC vision plan being discussed here today is awful,” said Dennis Findley, a McLean resident and an architect. “It’s just awful…It’s developer-incentivized talking points. It’s a nightmare dystopian vision for my beloved community.”
There was some back-and-forth between Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Paul Kohlenberger, president of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce. Kohlenberger said his opposition to the plan as drafted was shared by every other McLean community-wide organization, though Foust later pushed back against that claim.
“We, like the others, have broadly supported the plan amendment process and support the aims of the process, and so does the broader community, but significant changes have been made since the task force stopped meeting in December,” Kohlenberger said. “Significant changes have undermined the plans ability to deliver the key benefits: multimodal connectivity, central gathering spaces, housing diversity, and stormwater management.”
In a tense exchange, Foust accused Kohlenberger of misrepresenting the views of other community organizations, stating that different groups have expressed different, sometimes incompatible demands.
“Everything you want is exactly what the organizations that have testified up to this point have said they don’t want,” Foust said. “You are on the outer limits…This is the reason it was so hard to get consensus.”
Other local residents expressed a concern that the McLean CBC plan would turn McLean into a new Tysons, saying they wanted to preserve the community’s “suburban character.”
Foust disputed that fear, saying that the proposed plan will provide more incentive for redevelopment in McLean than the existing comprehensive plan, which currently doesn’t allow enough development to justify the associated costs, but not to the extent allowed in Tysons.
“For many years, I’ve heard from residents who want a more pedestrian-friendly, vibrant downtown where we can celebrate a sense of place, where McLean residents can gather and celebrate community-focused events,” Foust said. “…We are not creating another Tysons. I believe this plan addresses each of the concerns and accommodates the goals set forth by the community.”
Ultimately, Foust led the Board in approval of the project.
“There’s strong interest in both directions,” Foust said. “We tried to find a middle and I think we did. There’s lots of misinformation out there…I think we have an excellent plan. It’s what the community wants, and not necessarily what certain organizations and individuals want. [But] doing nothing in McLean is not an option. Either we revitalize the business district or we continue to deteriorate and provide fewer and fewer community amenities. We see it year after year.”
The rest of the Board of Supervisors asked no questions and made no further comment on the plan. Chair Jeff McKay said he shared Foust’s sentiments regarding the necessity of the plan for McLean’s future.
“Often times we want the amenities, but folks don’t want any impacts, and ultimately we know that’s not possible,” McKay said. “So, we have to craft a plan that tries to balance the issues of revitalization with some real concerns from the community and when you do that, there’s often disagreement over how far one went at the expense of the other. The idea of doing nothing isn’t really acceptable.”
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