The potential benefits and challenges of converting commercial properties into housing both emerged during a public hearing last week on a proposal to repurpose the now-vacant Sheraton Tysons Hotel at 8661 Leesburg Pike.
Promising up to 544 new residential units, the project will boost the supply of housing in Tysons with a unique, market-rate affordable option, a representative for developer JBG Tysons Hotel touted at the hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Thursday (Dec. 14).
Because the development will utilize the existing hotel structure, the majority of units — about 80% — will be smaller-than-average studios, a currently “underrepresented” housing type, according to Walsh Colucci land use attorney Robert Brant. Some one and two-bedroom units will also be included, along with designated workforce dwelling units.
“This is an opportunity to provide diversity in the range of housing. The smaller units, combined with the fact that this is adaptive reuse, will make them also naturally more affordable,” Brant told the commission. “…Folks will be able to have an affordable housing option right here at the doorstep of the Spring Hill Metro station.”
The planning commission recommended that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approve the conceptual development plan, which will amend a plan for the Tysons West neighborhood that was originally adopted in 2013 to allow the hotel-to-residential conversion.
The developer is also seeking to revise a second planned, but unbuilt residential building along Leesburg Pike (Route 7) from a 400-unit, six-story mid-rise to 265 units with five to eight stories and 5,000 square feet of retail. The overall height of 85 feet would stay the same.
The smaller footprint for “Building C” preserves the top portion of the existing hotel parking garage and provides more room for park space, getting Tysons West up to the 3.05 acres of publicly accessible urban park space required by the county.
However, whether that space will actually meet the needs of future residents and surrounding community remains a question mark.
“We would say definitely the applicant has made improvements in terms of the quantity of park space. We remain concerned about the quality and functionality of the park spaces,” Fairfax County Park Authority Assistant Director of Planning and Real Estate Sam Hudson said.
Eight park spaces are proposed for the 16-acre development, mostly pocket parks and urban plazas along Cornerside Boulevard. FCPA staff told the planning commission that not all of the plazas meet the minimum size for a “civic plaza” under the county’s urban parks framework.
In addition, a dog park suggested in a 1.1-acre, recreation-focused park behind the former hotel would be too close to the neighboring Westwood Village condominiums and create possible tree and wastewater conflicts, county staff argued. Per the staff report, the area is also “disconnected from the public realm and unlikely to experience substantial public bicycle/pedestrian traffic.”
According to Brant, the developer’s design team suggested a dog park for the site’s northwest corner because it would convenient for residents in the condos as well as the new development, but they’ve agreed to keep discussing the planned amenities and ways to draw attention to the park.
“It was an idea. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate idea,” he said.
The challenge of finding sufficient park space has become a recurring hurdle for developments from McLean to Reston. Hunter Mill District Commissioner John Carter reiterated that the county needs to reevaluate its standards, which are much higher for residential properties than commercial ones.
“This is not working for the county,” Carter said. “This notion of changing office to residential, this is going to be a tremendous problem moving forward. We brought this up on several cases…So many times we just waive the requirements, and I hate to see us do that.”
The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the Tysons West plan amendment on Jan. 23.
Tysons West is planned as a mixed-use center with 1.6 million square feet of development, including the existing Walmart building and a pair of office and residential buildings that will eventually replace the retail currently at the corner of Leesburg Pike and Westwood Center Drive.
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