A meeting Thursday (May 30) will seek community input on revamping aging bridges at a highway intersection in the heart of Tysons.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plans to rehabilitate the intersection of Leesburg Pike (Route 7) and Route 123 in Tysons. The project will focus on the northbound and southbound bridges where Route 123 passes over Leesburg Pike. Built more than 50 years ago in 1965, the bridges are beginning to show their age.
This rehabilitation will restore the bridge to a like-new condition and will cost approximately $2.5 million. The project is part of VDOT’s routine “State of Good Repair” program, which keeps infrastructure across the Commonwealth well-maintained and safe.
Fairfax County has bigger plans for the intersection. Fairfax transportation planners hope to one day tear down those bridges and build an efficient, modern “continuous flow intersection” at the junction of the two highways. That design would enable a high capacity of automobile throughput, but would also let the county build an elevated park over the intersection.
As it stands, the highways sever those communities from one another and separate Old Courthouse from the Metro stations, but an elevated park would stitch them together.
If the project proceeds as planned, construction would begin in early 2020 and finish by the end of the year. VDOT did not provide any information about possible traffic impacts.
The public has an opportunity for in-person comment on VDOT’s rehab plan at a public information meeting Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Freedom Hill Elementary School (1945 Lord Fairfax Road).
People can also provide feedback on the project by emailing Gang Zhang at [email protected].
Vienna: Provide input on Rt 123 over Rt 7 bridge rehabilitation Thu 5/30, 6:30-8:30PM at Freedom Hill ES. A presentation will begin at 7PM. More info: https://t.co/hntL5Ey4ib pic.twitter.com/3zOqUxykSL
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) May 24, 2019
Image via Google Maps
Tysons’ West Side is unique among its eight districts: most of it is parkland and two neighborhoods with no pressing need for redevelopment.
The park and these neighborhoods provide a clear transition between the soon-to-be shining towers of downtown Tysons West and the suburban neighborhoods beyond.
The Stream Valley Park
Some residents call it “Tysons’ Last Forest.” Its full name is Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park, adjoining Freedom Hill Park and Raglan Road Park, but it’s easiest to simply refer to the entire thing as the Stream Valley Park. It defines the West Side.
The park was created mostly in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as private landowners donated parts of the forest to Fairfax County. It includes Ash Grove, a historic site of some local significance that once belonged to the Lord Fairfax family.
It is an area of ecological significance. As the Neighborhood Coalition to Save Tysons’ Last Forest points out, the park “contains nationally-recognized ‘wetlands,’ which house the stream valley, a Palustrine forest of mature trees, and varied vegetation.” It provides animal habitat and, as part of the Difficult Run and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay watersheds, is important for stormwater management and for the region’s overall environmental water quality.
An active local environmental movement works to protect it from development — a movement which succeeded in preventing a highway ramp from being built in it. The only things that might disrupt the natural environment are bicycle paths, like the Vesper Trail that recently opened between Spring Hill Metro station and Higdon Road on the far side of the park.
Perhaps most importantly for residents, it also provides a natural urban green space. Less than a ten-minute walk from the Spring Hill Metro station, Stream Valley Park is accessible to residents of urban Tysons.
Gosnell and Ashgrove
The Gosnell and Ashgrove neighborhood seem like they will remain as peaceful, urban residential communities.
This pair of residential neighborhoods — Gosnell in the south and Ashgrove in the north — are communities of townhouses and multifamily structures that provide residential opportunities close to downtown Tysons’ employment centers and next to the natural amenity of the park. These residences were mostly built in the 1990s.
The Comprehensive Plan for Tysons found that, in fact, these neighborhoods already have the desired level of density. As such, they’re not slated for redevelopment anytime soon, meaning that this area is unlikely to change with anything near the speed or the intensity of other areas in Tysons.
A planned Tysons development may soon have new owners, which could result in changes to the previously approved project.
Two years ago, Fairfax County approved a redevelopment project near the corner of Leesburg Pike and Gallows Road in the Old Courthouse district. Shortly afterward, the developer filed for bankruptcy. Now, the property is poised to shift hands, but it’s unclear whether the soon-to-be new owner will still follow the approved plans.
The plans for International Place, which were submitted by a limited liability company as a project of the Stafford-based Garrett Cos., follow a typical pattern for post-Metro development in Tysons. They call for one main new building and five secondary structures, ranging from 85 to 400 feet in height, to house a mixture of office, residential and retail uses.
The current plan includes 385 new apartments, 129,000 square feet of retail space, two new public parks and one new public street, which would connect Leesburg Pike to Boone Blvd. The plans would follow urban design guidelines for human-focused sidewalks.
After an extensive process of planning, design, submission and county review, Fairfax planners approved the design for International Place, authorizing construction to begin. It was to be the first major redevelopment in the Old Courthouse district.
When the LLC filed for bankruptcy last February, though, the development was put on hold. Now, a Middle Eastern real estate developer who chairs the United Arab Emirates-based Nobles Properties has signed a purchase agreement to buy the property at 8201 Leesburg Pike for $18 million, the Washington Business Journal reported. That purchase isn’t final yet — the LLC has a hearing set for May 7 to seek permission to sell the property.
It is unclear whether the developer would seek to implement the plans that have been approved for International Place, propose an alternate design or continue to use the site as it is. These approved plans, though, would certainly be valuable to the new owners, and in all likelihood, this purchase will be a significant step toward redevelopment of the location.
First and second images via Fairfax County, last image via Google Maps
If Tysons Central 123 is Tysons’ Fifth Avenue, Tysons Central 7 is its Wall Street.
Anchored on the original “Tyson’s Corner” and the Greensboro Metrorail station, Tysons Central 7 is one of Tysons’ four downtown districts. It is the most similar to a conventional “Central Business District” elsewhere in the United States.
Northeast of Leesburg Pike, the district “will continue to have one of the highest concentrations of office space in Tysons.” Southwest of Leesburg Pike, planners intend a “Civic Commons” to be the heart of the Tysons community — but change might be slower here than in other downtown districts.
An Urban Downtown
Tysons Central 7, named for the highway number of Leesburg Pike, is home to towers like 8100 and 8200 Greensboro Drive — modernist offices surrounded by lots of surface parking. It is also home to The Boro, a development opening later this year that consists of mixed-use high-rises surrounded by urban plazas and a new street grid. If the former represents Tysons’ past, and the latter represents Tysons’ present, both will leave their marks on Tysons’ future.
Predictions are that Tysons will grow to 200,000 jobs and 100,000 residents by 2050. Whether you think those predictions are conservative or generous, it is inevitable that the imbalance between jobs and residents will continue to be a major factor shaping Tysons’ development. Many of the new residences will be located in the districts like Old Courthouse that lie a little farther from the Metro, leaving the office pressure on the downtown.
Even as it diversifies with some retail, residences, and hotels to “become a vibrant 24-hour area,” Tysons Central 7 will continue to be defined by offices of all kinds, old and new.
Tysons Central 7 lies on what is naturally the most elevated land in Fairfax County, making it perfect for ambitious builders hoping to leave their mark on Tysons’ emerging skyline.
North Central, sandwiched between downtown Tysons and the Dulles Access Road, is in some ways the quintessential Tysons district, with neither the flash of a Metrorail station nor the moderating influence of surrounding suburbs.
It will remain a lower-density office option compared to the higher-density downtown districts, and will add some more urban residential neighborhoods along with a new park and a “circulator” transit option connecting it to the Metro.
North Central represents Tysons’ conventional approach to development in ways that other districts, with their Metrorail stations or surrounding suburban areas, don’t quite. Because it backs onto the Dulles Access Road, it is the only non-downtown district that is not required to provide a smooth transition to a suburban area. However, because it lacks a Metro station, it is not yet undergoing the kind of radically-transformative transit oriented development witnessed along the Silver Line. In some ways, the absence of those two factors make this perhaps the district where Tysons is most itself.
Plans for the area show a strip of office-only zoning along the fringe adjacent to the Dulles Access Road and the Beltway, with mid-density urban residential neighborhoods in the center and southwest of the district.
Circulator Will Connect to Metro
One challenge to urban connectivity in North Central is posed by the monumental Rotonda gated condominium community. The immense size of the two interlocking buildings, their position on a large hill, and the total lack of any sidewalk amenities adjacent to them, add up for an area that’s quite unpleasant to walk past. These buildings — though undeniably a striking contribution to Tysons’ urban milieu — are an obstacle standing between North Central and the urban amenities (Metro, performing arts, retail) in the nearby Tysons East district.
North Central faces another obstacle in its connection to the malls and Metro station of Tysons Central 123 — a steep uphill slope.
Fortunately, North Central is served by a technology capable of overcoming both of these obstacles: the humble bus. For only fifty cents, those residing in or visiting North Central can hop on a Tysons Circulator bus that will carry them to either the Spring Hill or the Tysons Corner Metrorail station. A bus from each line arrives every 12 minutes or so throughout the day, from early morning until midnight, helping North Central share in the value created by mass transit.
Although there aren’t specific plans in the works, Fairfax County expects to one day upgrade the line to higher-quality service or even to a streetcar or light rail system.
Development is Gradual and Ongoing
This district has seen its share of development in recent years. These include a luxurious four-building residential project at Park Crest, eleven floors of new class-A office space at Tysons Overlook, and the residential Highgate. In the near future, that last building could be joined by a 13-building mixed-use development called The Mile — if it is approved by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors at hearings in June and July of this year.
Development here is less frenetic than in the downtown districts, but it is ongoing at a healthy pace.
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan notes that, as circulator service is improved, greater residential density may become possible.
A New Park
A crowning ambition of this district could be the new urban park, 8-10 acres in size, to be created along Westbranch Drive and a future new street. This park, which would be one of Tysons’ largest, would include two athletic fields and provide “a focus for civic gatherings for residents and employees.”
However, one possible problem is that the provisional location of the park, as listed in the Comprehensive Plan, clashes with the proposal for development of The Mile. The Mile’s plan does include a large central green space, but it is not quite as large as Fairfax envisions, and does not include athletic fields.
The Comprehensive Plan also states that a new elementary school will be needed to accompany population growth in this area.
Tysons these days has a bit of a reputation as a cultural wasteland. Even today, that’s not quite true, and if the plans for Tysons West come to fruition it won’t be true at all.
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan envisions this area, which is centered on the Spring Hill Metro station, as one of Tysons’ four downtown districts, an “arts and entertainment center.” The plan calls for a high-density diversity of uses, “tree-lined streets”, and “a series of urban park spaces.” Over 18 million square feet of development, including what could be Tysons’ tallest tower, is in the works, and much of it (though not yet the tower) has been approved.
From Car Dealerships to Towers
Today, Tysons West is the least developed of Tysons’ four downtown areas. Much of the land is still covered by car dealerships. But the arrival of a more urban form of transportation — the Silver Line — has sparked intense plans for redevelopment.
These plans, although by a range of different developers, share many elements that characterize projects across Tysons. They’re dense, mixed-use, and are built with an eye for pedestrian accessibility, meaning that residents should be able to fulfill daily and weekly needs without motorized transportation. They’re outward-facing, with most attention and retail activity on the sidewalks of public streets rather than inside buildings or isolated courtyards. And they connect to one another, through a new grid of streets, helping residents of one development enjoy the amenities of another.
Many of these projects also promise to bring sports fields, for example in Dominion Square East, or provide funding for fields nearby.
There’s so much new development slated for this area that I can’t even list it all, but naming a few key projects should give a sense of the scope of the plans.
Dominion Square East, Dominion Square West, and Sunburst will all lie directly west of the Spring Hill Metro, within a five-minute walk. Combined, they will bring us at least 13 new buildings, as many as 3,100 residential units (20% of them to be designated for lower-income residents), over 200,000 square feet of commercial space, and several office towers. The Vesper Trail, which opened recently, passes through this area to connect to the Metro.
From now until May 15, local residents have an annual opportunity to influence the funding of transportation projects in Northern Virginia.
When tolls were put in place along I-66, the Commonwealth of Virginia decided that toll revenue would be used to fund public transportation and mobility infrastructure projects in the area.
Every year, policymakers decide which projects to fund. This year, they have about $20 million — a lot, but not enough to fund all the proposals. That means they need your help to make the decision about what gets cut and what gets funded.
Twenty different proposals are under consideration, several of which could affect the Tysons area.
Nine of the proposals have to do with improving commuter bus service from places like Fairfax Government Center to downtown D.C. Two of the proposals are for Capital Bikeshare implementation in Fairfax City and in Vienna. Other proposals are for trail improvements that will help people get to train stations, improve intersections, and encourage people to take advantage of slug lines.
See here for a list of all the proposed projects.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, responsible for the program, will be accepting public comments until May 15. There are several ways to express your thoughts.
To dive into greater depth, you can attend one of the two open house events that the Commission will host to discuss the program. The first will be from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School located at 7130 Leesburg Pike, Fall Church. The second will be from 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, May 2 in the lobby of the Navy League Building, 2300 Wilson Blvd, Arlington. Immediately after the second open house, the Commission will hold its monthly meeting, which includes a public hearing.
For those seeking a calmer but still urban lifestyle within a short walk of parks and of the emerging downtown Tysons, the East Side might be your best bet — and that will only become more true as the Tysons Comprehensive Plan is implemented.
The East Side extends along the eastern fringe of Tysons, from Route 7 in the south to the Dulles Access Road in the north, bounded by Magarity Road in the east and Tysons East to its west. Today, it’s mostly composed of garden-style apartment developments like Tysons Landings and the Dolley Madison Apartments.
Over the next few decades, it will remain primarily residential, forming a smooth gradient of transition from downtown Tysons to single-family Pimmit Hills. It will not witness rapid increases in density like Tysons East, but rather it will gradually take on a more urban character. That means neighborhood retail, like corner stores and local restaurants, and it means a more cohesive and walkable network of streets.
The district might include some offices, which planners hope to configure into a “live-work” combination — imagine the 21st-century equivalent of a craftsman living upstairs from his shop.
This district is closely tied to Tysons East, and in a way it is the residential backyard to that district’s vibrant center. Right now, the two are separated by a forest, the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park, that can make it difficult to get from one to the other.
This year, though, Fairfax County will be taking the first steps to change that park from a barrier to a gateway, building pedestrian and bicycle paths to connect the East Side to Tysons East through one of Tysons’ greatest natural treasures.
Most of the East Side is only a short walk away from the McLean Metro station, and that walk will become significantly easier – and more pleasant — with the opening of the Scotts Run Trail. The 3T bus on Magarity Road offers reliable and comfortable service to downtown Tysons and to the center of Falls Church.
However, right now it is remarkably difficult to walk from anywhere on the East Side to downtown Tysons. That will soon change, though, with the construction of a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Beltway. The bridge will link the East Side directly with Tysons Corner Center and contribute to a more complete network of access throughout the area.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for a circulator system of public transit to span the entirety of Tysons, and although its precise location is still in question, the Plan indicates that it will likely be placed along Old Meadow Road.
In stark contrast to nearby Tysons East, which is slated for near-total redevelopment in the next few years, the East Side will see change come more gently — or, at least, in the farther future.
The only project currently on file is a new hotel, and even that is located in the extreme southern part of the East Side — its only office-focused corner. Just because change is coming more slowly, though, does not mean it will never come.
Almost three hundred years ago, when Thomas Fairfax was still alive, the county’s first courthouse was built where the “Toilet Bowl Building” now stands. The courthouse is long gone, but it has given its name to the second of Tysons’ eight districts.
“Old Courthouse” is now home to mid-rise offices, but is destined to become a mixed-use residential quarter as the Comprehensive Plan is implemented.
Ironically enough, the Old Courthouse district doesn’t actually include the land where the courthouse itself once stood. Rather, the district runs along Old Courthouse Road and Gallows Road and is bounded by Route 123 to the northwest, Route 7 to the northeast, the Beltway to the east, and the single-family neighborhoods to its south and southwest.
Old Courthouse is today home to a collection of low- and mid-rise office buildings and a few strip-mall-style retail and dining options. Tomorrow, it could be home to many more people.
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan envisions this area as “a neighborhood that supports an active 24-hour environment where people go to restaurants or shopping after work.” and where “residential development will become a dominant use in most subdistricts, which will create the sense of community throughout this district.”
In a sense, this will be the residential counterpart of the Tysons Central 123 shopping area just north of it.
As a mixed-use residential area, planners intend for families living in Old Courthouse to be able to satisfy most of their day-to-day needs with a short walk. Pedestrian infrastructure, like more pleasant sidewalks and safer crossings, will help make that vision a reality.
Perhaps the most major change in the blueprints for Old Courthouse is the extension of Boone Boulevard. Ultimately, this street could triple in length, extending all the way from Kidwell Drive in the south, crossing Route 123 in the north, and leading into the civic center planned for the western part of Tysons Central 7. That extension — along with other proposed new streets perpendicular to it — would create a denser grid of streets, making it easier for both pedestrians and vehicles to move around.
Public transportation will be key to the district’s future. Almost all of Old Courthouse is within a mile walk of the Greensboro Metro station, and some is much closer. The extended Boone Boulevard has been identified as a prime candidate for a circulator line connecting the different neighborhoods of Tysons.
Old Courthouse also stands to benefit greatly from the potential park on top of the Route 123-Route 7 intersection, which would make it much easier for people to get to the Metro station as well as provide some much-needed green space.
Although the vision of the Comprehensive Plan extends for decades, a handful of development projects in the coming years offer us a peek into the future of Old Courthouse.
For the most part, developers will be permitted to construct offices and shops in addition to residences throughout Old Courthouse. However, Fairfax County hopes to incentivize additional housing by letting developers build taller buildings if those buildings are residential — with the requirement that these taller apartment or condo buildings have a light impact on traffic.
In 2015, Fairfax County approved plans for a development including 385 apartments and 129,000 square feet of commercial space to be located in the northern part of Old Courthouse on Rt. 7. This plan, called International Place, would bring a much more urban form, with wide sidewalks and street cafe seating. However, the developer who was to be responsible for the project has since declared bankruptcy, leaving the undeveloped-but-approved project on the market.
A hospital could also be coming to the eastern part of the district as the medical system seeks to be able to serve the increasing number of residents across Tysons.
Arriving at the McLean Metro station today, your first impression of Tysons is a construction zone — impressive, perhaps, though not the most inviting. But, sooner than in most other districts, “America’s Next Great City” will be rolling out a verdant welcome mat and transforming Tysons East into an urban park and a vibrant gateway to Tysons’ downtown.
Tysons East, one of Tysons’ eight districts and one of its four “downtowns,” is the area around the McLean Metro station. It already holds the Capital One tower, which is the tallest building anywhere between Baltimore and Richmond. That won’t be the last tower to pop up in the district: the aptly-named One Tysons East will soon be joining it.
Each of the four downtown districts has a specialty. Tysons Central 123’s two malls make it a shopping paradise, Tysons Central 7 is already known for its high-powered offices, and Tysons West is slowing developing a cultural scene.
Tysons East — though a mixed-use urban environment with plenty of offices, shops, and residences — will be characterized by two unique attributes. First, plans are in the works to improve and extend the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park, making this into the greenest corner of downtown Tysons. Second, planners envision Tysons East as home to public uses, like educational institutions, that would make it a hotspot for the creative class.
Trees and Towers
One of the greatest failures of past generations of urban planners in Fairfax was their failure to preserve nature. This generation of planners is trying their best to regain the park space that was lost, planning reclusive gardens and natural spaces as a nearby retreat from the chaos of downtown Tysons.
In Tysons East, they’re working with the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park, a half-mile-long strip of dense forest extending south from the McLean Metro. Although today it’s fairly uninviting, without designated trails or other recreational facilities, there are plans in the works for it to become a beautifully-landscaped public green.
This new park will also function as a connector, with pedestrian and bicycle paths to join the residential neighborhoods of the East Side to the bustling downtown of Tysons East. In fact, the first pedestrian path, from Magarity Road to Coleshire Meadow Drive, should be under construction in the next few months.
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan envisions that, as redevelopment progresses, the park will “be expanded through the stream valley and in adjacent areas to provide better access and connectivity throughout the Tysons East District.”
“It will provide a range of experiences, such as enjoying the outdoors and scenery, arts, performances and programs or participating in recreation,” the plan says. “Intimate gardens with shady places of retreat could provide relief and gathering places for families, visitors and workers in Tysons.”
Dave Whitman is a principal at SmithGroup, the planning and urban design consultants responsible for the Scotts Run development that will redefine Tysons East. He explained that the Scotts Run park will contribute much more than a name to the development — it will shape the area’s urban visual identity.
“Elements from Scotts Run such as water, vegetation, wood, and stone will be incorporated into the design of the public spaces and streetscape throughout the project,” he said.
One defining feature of the Comprehensive Plan’s vision for Tysons East is institutional. The Plan states that “public and institutional facilities such as professional education, recreational, health and sports amenities should be located in this district.” By emphasizing the educational and recreational role of the district, planners hope to make it a more diverse and desirable residential area.
However, the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t actually include specific plans to incentive these kinds of institutions, and current redevelopment plans — which cover most of the district — do not seem to include such uses, except for some athletic fields.