The accessibility of Tysons Corner Center and other attractions will make the property enticing to residents and workers, who can now cross I-495 with a pedestrian bridge, McGuireWoods land use lawyer Greg Riegle argued on developer Madison Highland’s behalf at a Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing on Sept. 14.
However, county staff fear noise from the adjacent highway could deter those same residents and workers from utilizing the park and amenity spaces proposed to replace most of the 8-acre site’s surface parking.
The developer, going under the name McLean Corporate Ridge Property LLC, has committed to some mitigation measures, including window upgrades and evergreen tree plantings to separate the public park areas from an existing sound wall along the Beltway, according to a staff report.
“There still remains outdoor recreation and park space that is encumbered by noise impacts that exceed Policy Plan guidance,” staff said in the report. “Staff continues to recommend creative solutions, like artistic walls, to further mitigate noise impacts to better be in conformance with the Policy Plan or to increase the useability of the space of future residents should be further explored by the applicant.”
Despite those concerns, which Riegle noted could be further addressed at the more detailed site plan phase, county staff and the planning commission recommended that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approve Madison Highland’s rezoning application.
Following up on similar projects in Bailey’s Crossroads and Merrifield, the developer is seeking to convert the 10-story office building northeast of the Beltway and Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) into up to 250 live/work units, which can serve as housing, a workplace or both. Between 10 and 13% of the units will be designated as workforce dwelling units, in accordance with the county’s guidelines for Tysons.
Even after recent renovations, 2000 Corporate Ridge is struggling with vacancies in a slow office market, according to Riegle. Compared to a full replacement, the proposed conversion would be a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to put the building “to productive use,” while keeping the door open for future commercial uses, he told the planning commission.
“The building as it exists doesn’t contribute anything to the fabric or economy of Tysons, and there’s not a good way forward, absent repositioning here,” Riegle said. “The tactical repositioning is good for the site, it’s good for the community, and frankly, it’s good for the remaining office opportunities in Tysons.”
While the building and its 4-level, 644-space parking garage will stay, the project promises to transform the rest of the site with a 0.73-acre private amenity space for tenants and 3.2 acres of publicly accessible open space, including a “reforested hillside” to the north, a preserve with a boardwalk and bird-watching station to the south, and a neighborhood park near the McLean Hills Condominiums.
Located on the north side of the property adjacent to the Beltway, the reforested hillside will feature an 8-foot-wide, ADA-accessible trail that the developer has agreed to extend off-site with a shared-use trail to the I-495 pedestrian bridge.
To accommodate the trail, Madison Highland anticipates needing to remove most of the trees on the northern part of the site, much to Braddock District Planning Commissioner Mary Cortina’s alarm.
“That is the best sound barrier that you can have,” Cortina said. “I understand you need to make an accessible path, but all of those trees are gone, and that’s not just a loss to the immediate area, but everybody that drives by too. Every tree coming down between 495 and the buildings, it changes the air quality for the people that live there too.”
Sunny Yang, a planner for the county, said staff shares those concerns, but the site’s slope would otherwise make it difficult for the trail to meet accessibility requirements. The developer plans to preserve 15,200 square feet of trees elsewhere on the property, per the staff report, which calls the trail an “integral” connection for the development.
Under a proffer agreement that was being revised up to the afternoon of the public hearing, the developer has committed to looking for ways to save more trees when developing its site plan.
“We’re not in the business of taking down trees that don’t need to be taken down,” Riegle said.
Though disappointed by the prospective tree losses, Cortina joined the rest of the commission in supporting the proposal overall, praising the “beautiful” design and “attention to detail.”
Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner called the conversion a “creative” approach to reusing a “high-vacancy” office building constructed in 1985, noting that the plan has evolved since it was first submitted to the county last year.
“As we talk about the dynamics of land use, the reality is we’re always making tradeoffs between objectives and ideal purposes, and I fully respect the issue of the tree save,” he said. “It’s very important in all of our considerations, but I also want to balance that against the benefits being realized with this application.”
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the application on Oct. 24.
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