Tysons Corner, VA

Five months after it was destroyed in a fire, the ruined husk of the Marco Polo restaurant building in Vienna has finally been completely demolished.

It’s unclear when demolition began, but by March 19 most of the rubble had been removed from the site.

The restaurant was originally built in 1954. In 2015, local developer Doug D’Alexander applied to have the lot redeveloped as Vienna Market, but the application failed. A more scaled-down version was presented in 2017 and was approved.

The development plans were complicated an alleged intentionally-set fire that gutted the building. Two teenagers were later arrested and charged with setting the fire as part of a vandalism spree.

The charred remains were left as a visible blight along Maple Avenue, though Vienna staff said plans for development are still in the works.

In January, Cindy Petkac, director of planning and zoning for the Town of Vienna, said the building was expected to be demolished within the month.

Vienna residents remembered the building, a longtime local prom-date spot, fondly.

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A new development plan could bring new housing, hotel rooms, office space and retail to the area around the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons.

The plan, which calls for between 775 and 1,225 residential units, some 700,000 square feet of office space, and perhaps a 350-room hotel, would be located down the street from the proposed View at Tysons project, the Washington Business Journal reports.

More from WBJ:

There’s a new proposal for a 5.24-acre site just down the street, at the corner of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road, that would bring an additional 2 million square feet to the Spring Hill Metro area. And this one features a 2-acre piazza.

“The Piazza at Tysons is more than just another high-quality redevelopment in Tysons, with a mix of uses that will permit people to live, work and play in Tysons,” per the application, submitted to Fairfax County by Michelle Rosati, a partner in Holland & Knight LLP’s Tysons’ office. “It is a vision for an inclusive, welcoming and aesthetically exquisite neighborhood where people will interact and thrive — where the pedestrian realm is at the center of the concept, both literally and philosophically.” [ …]

The Piazza at Tysons would replace Schmitz Exxon and a neighboring retail development currently home to a Starbucks, Tile Shop and Ethan Allen furniture store.

Read more here.

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The Fairfax County Planning Commission moved forward a plan for a new mixed-use residential and commercial development called Hanover Tysons in northern Tysons at its meeting last night (March 14).

The Hanover Company’s plan is to demolish the vacant seven-story office building that was built in 1983 and replace it with a new residential development.

The new residential building would be between five to seven stories with up to 420 dwelling units and include ground-level retail and nearby park space.

In keeping with Fairfax County’s efforts to promote more affordable housing around Tysons, workforce housing will make up 20 percent of the total units, according to the staff report.

Located just west of Jones Branch Park at 1500 Westbranch Drive, Hanover Tysons is a little under one mile from the Tysons Corner Station.

The county’s Board of Supervisors is set to take up the proposal with a public hearing next Tuesday (March 19).

Photo via The Hanover Company

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The developers behind The Boro — a sprawling project scheduled for staggered openings throughout the year — have filed paperwork for a plan to work with the company WhyHotel to turn unleased rental units into temporary hotel rooms.

“Given the large number of units in the building, the applicant anticipates that the initial lease-up period for the Rise will be at least 18-24 months,” Elizabeth Baker, senior land use planner for the developers, said in a report on the project. “During this period not to exceed 24 months, the Applicant proposes to temporarily utilize up to 150 market rate units throughout the building for short-term residential or hotel stays.”

The report notes that the stays would be coordinated and managed by WhyHotel, and the guests would have access to the residential parking garage in the building and amenities like the fitness lounge, club room, yoga studio and rooftop swimming pool.

As a bonus, the report says the short term residents would be more likely to use transit or alternate modes of transportation, resulting in a temporarily reduced demand on parking and single occupancy vehicles trips around the site.

There are no architectural design changes resulting from the proposal and at the end of the 24-month period, the temporary use would be terminated.

“The request represents a modest and relatively short term change in use for the property that will be positive for the Boro project and the county,” Baker said in the report.

A staff report and Planning Commission hearing are both scheduled for May.

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An effort to prohibit Vienna Town Council members from taking private meetings with developers was brought to a screeching halt this week.

Town Attorney Steven Briglia said such an ordinance would likely violate a number of laws, from First Amendment rights protecting free speech, including that of developers, to the Citizens United case and Virginia’s Dillon Rule, which only allows localities to pass ordinances where granted clear authority from the General Assembly.

According to Briglia at a Vienna Town Council and Planning Commission work session on March 4:

“The question came up about a month ago about possibly limiting discussion with developers and passing an ordinance requiring any meetings by members of a public body be public. I started with that mandate to see if there was any authority that could restrict a local ordinance… To get right to the end, not only could I not find any authority in Virginia that would enable the town or any locality to pass an ordinance restricting individual contact by representatives of a developer with a member of the council, but… under Virginia law the general assembly says you can do what we say you can do and no more.”

Briglia also said the proposed ordinance could be seen as a violation of free speech.

“I think there would be First Amendment [issues] and I ran it by other attorneys and they had the same concerns I did,” said Briglia. “Citizens United was an expansion of basically corporate rights under First Amendment. Years ago, the Supreme Court said corporations are people for purposes of certain activity under government [so] corporations have the same rights as an individual.”

The effort had been spearheaded by Councilmembers Pasha Majdi and Howard Springsteen, two of the leading opponents to the controversial Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) developments last year. Majdi asked if the proposal could be pursued as a town policy and a resolution rather than codified law, but ultimately the Council agreed not move forward with any plans for limiting developer-council member discussions.

The discussion also opened old wounds about developer pressures on Town Council members, with Springsteen saying developers frequently used overbearing or even threatening tactics to try to intimidate the town into getting their way. But during a heated exchange, one Planning Commission member said the proposal was but another attempt to stall new development.

“This is another effort to make the MAC even more difficult,” said Planning Commission member Sarah Couchman. “I don’t think this is a widespread problem. It’s like electoral fraud. People hype it up. To use a policy of fear that Council members and Commissioners are going behind people’s backs and having meetings with developers is not right. I’m sorry you feel you need a policy to cite, but the fact of the matter is you can always say ‘I am not comfortable with this.'”

File photo

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(Updated March 21) — Today, the area south of the West Falls Church Metro station is split between an aging high school and a parking deck, but a series of developments could completely transform the area into a new commercial center.

At least one of the developments hinge on a new George Mason High School being rebuilt just to the northwest of its current location, facing the former school site which is planned to be demolished and turned into a new commercial area like the Mosaic District in Merrifield.

Just months before construction is scheduled to break ground on June 14, details of the school are still being adjusted. At a town hall on Feb. 24, staff working on the project ran through some of the changes and outlined the timeline for the site.

“Where we were is not where we are now,” said Derk Jeffrey, principal architect for the project. “We’re in a much stronger place to meet the needs of the school.”

Staff at the meeting said the rooms and walls are all set for the project’s design, and at this point, most of the tinkering includes just minor adjustments.

The project was reviewed at an architectural advisory board meeting last night (Wednesday) and is scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Commission in April/May with approval from the city planned for June. Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan said construction is planned to start as soon as school is out.

If approved, the construction on the project is scheduled to begin immediately with the new school projected to open in January 2021. Once the new school is completed, work is planned to start on a sprawling new West Falls Church Economic Development Project led by developers EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency Centers.

The project is described as a gateway to the city with a focus on pedestrian-oriented streets.

Plans for the site include:

  • 390,000 square feet of office space
  • 126,400 square feet of retail
  • 288 units of multi-family apartments
  • 245 condominium units
  • 150-200 senior housing units
  • 40 affordable housing units

The plans also call for nearly an acre of open space in an area called Little City Commons, a gathering place and venue for community events.

A hotel with conference space is also planned for the site.

On Feb. 28, the project received preliminary approval from the Falls Church City Council but will come back for a final vote in May.

Meanwhile, details are still scarce on the plans to redevelop the parking lots at the West Falls Church station with potentially 700 residential units, 150,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail.

A Virginia Tech academic facility at the site is also in the early stages of redevelopment into 205,000 square feet of academic space, along with a 100,000-square-foot lab and 300,000 square feet of residential space.

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Tweaks to The View project proposed in Tysons include plans for a new performing arts center, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The development, which would include the region’s tallest building, is part of a sweeping series of new developments planned to transform Tysons east of the Spring Hill Metro station.

According to the Business Journal, the new proposal includes ground-floor retail beneath a 199-seat black box theater. Above the theater would be an outdoor amphitheater, and three floors of office space above that.

A previously proposed 500-seat theater is not part of the project.

Image via Gensler

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Traffic is not inevitable, and new development does not have to bring new cars.

Arlington County saw an astounding decline of 20 percent in average weekday traffic in just 15 years from 2000 to 2015. That same period saw a growth of nearly 20 percent in population. Certainly, many of Arlington’s new residents drove cars — but not all, and some of its long-time residents must have found new ways to get around.

There are several ways to fight congestion. Most people’s first thought is simply to widen the road. More road, more space for cars, less traffic — right?  The problem is that it won’t work for long.

For economists, mobility can be a commodity like any other. And when the government gives something away for free — in this case, it’s giving away the use of asphalt — of course people will clog the system. When something is available for free people will wait in line, paying with time instead of money. So, if highway engineers widen the roadway, it’s only a matter of years until more cars come along and the traffic is as bad as it ever was.

Another idea might be to slow down new development — but it would be difficult to persuade Fairfax County to forgo all the additional tax revenue.

Third, the county could turn to public transit. The Metro arrived in Tysons in 2014 and, while ridership is increasing, it still lingers below expectations. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but Metrorail was a major investment, and it will take decades of development and improvements to local bus service and sidewalks before it sees full results.

Wider roads, slowing development, and railways are 20th-century solutions. The 21st century brings a more subtle, smarter approach — an approach that professionals call “transportation demand management.”

Transportation demand management is not a single technique, but a set of approaches that nudge people out of their cars and towards buses, bikes, walking and working remotely. It’s practiced cooperatively by Fairfax County, the Tysons Partnership and private developers. It often relies heavily on data-driven, highly connected approaches rather than on large infrastructure investments.

One example of a transportation demand management program is the “Guaranteed Ride Home” offered by Fairfax County. This program offers commuters a free trip home up to four times every year. It’s intended for those who would consider a new kind of commute, but who the fear of unplanned overtime or family emergency keeps tethered to their cars.

What Developers Are Doing

For a clearer understanding of what individual developers are doing to cut congestion, Tysons Reporter spoke with Caroline Flax of The Meridian Group, the master developer of The Boro.

Flax described the “pedestrian experience” at The Boro, and the options that will be available to people on foot. By locating residences close to offices, retail, restaurants and Metro stations, Meridian hopes to “create a bite-sized pedestrian experience.”

“We will have a pedestrian-only promenade that connects to Boro Park, and for the other streets we have created wide sidewalks with activated outdoor seating that will create a really inviting pedestrian experience,” she said.

According to the EPA, concerned with carbon emissions from cars, “Research consistently shows that neighborhoods that mix land uses, make walking safe and convenient, and are near other development allow residents and workers to drive significantly less.”

“[Transportation demand management] is about promoting the other transit options available to residents, visitors, and tenants — aside from driving,” she said. Those options include bicycles, buses, and trains.

Caroline emphasized “making [The Boro] accessible in general” — including shared office/commercial parking to efficiently accommodate drivers, wide sidewalks for pedestrians, designated bike parking, Capital Bikeshare, and creating options for easy pick up and drop off by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Flax said that she hopes visitors and tenants at The Boro embrace all modes of travel.

Meridian will strengthen its five-minute walking connection to the Metro by supplying new residents with complementary SmarTrip cards, helping them see how easily they can “hop on the Metro and get downtown, or elsewhere in Tysons, really quickly.”

Flax also emphasized the new streets that will help make traffic smoother by creating more options and connections from the main thoroughfares in Tysons: Route 7, Westpark Drive and Greensboro Drive.

Silver Hill Road, connecting from Greensboro Drive to Route 7, is expected to alleviate traffic on Westpark Drive. Another connection, called Broad Street, currently links drivers and pedestrians from Solutions Drive to another new street that connects to Route 7. Once the second phase of the project begins, Broad Street will connect Westpark Drive to Spring Hill Road.

Smaller blocks make a neighborhood more walkable.

Transportation demand management is a field still in its infancy, as planners and developers find new ways to work toward a more balanced transportation network. People across the country are searching for new tools, and Tysons, frequently dubbed “America’s Next Great City,” will have to work hard to be on the cutting edge.

With the Boro opening soon, Flax concluded by saying, “We’re really excited for everything to come alive… and to show everyone the pedestrian experience we will bring.”

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Fairfax County is planning to include McLean in a new targeted economic revitalization plan.

The proposed Economic Revitalization and Redevelopment Zones (ERRZs) would allow developers a 5-10 percent fee reduction for site plan reviews and a partial real estate tax abatement for properties consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. A staff report noted that developments approved through the ERRZ pipeline could also see expedited processing.

The plan is the result of legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2017 that allowed regulatory flexibility and financial incentives to encourage private sector growth.

“An inter-departmental team developed and vetted with industry a proposal for a program in Fairfax County to provide an economic development opportunity to the private sector consistent with the legislation,” Fairfax County staff said in the report.

In order to qualify for the program, developments would need to have two parcels that collectively comprise at least two acres in size. Smaller acreages could be considered with Board of Supervisors review.

The ERRZs would be located in the Commercial Revitalization Districts first established in 2004.

In addition to McLean, new ERRZs would be established in:

  • Annandale
  • Baileys Crossroads
  • Springfield
  • Lake Anne Village Center
  • Richmond Highway Business Centers
  • The Huntington Transit Station Area
  • The Lincolnia Community Business Center
  • Franconia-Springfield Transit Station Area

At tomorrow’s (Tuesday) Board of Supervisors meeting, the scheduling of a public hearing for the ERRZ ordinance is included in the items scheduled for administrative approval. If approved, a public hearing would be scheduled for April 9. If adopted, the changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020 and would last until Dec. 31, 2029.

Photo via Fairfax County

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The Vienna Town Council will review two projects along Maple Avenue in a work session tonight (Monday), after indicating concerns that developers are trying to skirt zoning regulations by pushing their proposed heights a bit higher than current limits might allow.

The 380 Maple development is a proposed mixed-use building with 7,500 square feet of ground floor retail and 40 residential condominiums on three floors. The building includes one floor of underground parking and two floors of structure above-ground parking, but staff noted that the applications calls for an extra half-floor added to the mix, beyond current limits in the area.

“Staff notes that the applicant is proposing a half-floor of parking between the first story and second story of the building, beyond the four stories allowed per code,” staff said in a project overview. “The applicant is applying for a modification of requirement for the additional half-story.”

While approving of greater levels of parking available at the site, Councilmember Douglas Noble said at a meeting last week that he was concerned the additional half-story would still be contrary to the Maple Avenue zoning code’s five-story limit.

Meanwhile, the Sunrise Assisted Living project, a four-story building with 85 assisted living units and 7,700 square feet of first-floor commercial space, is also requesting a “half-story” space.

“Staff notes that the applicant is proposing a half-story space to include additional lobby and common spaces for the assisted living facility between the first story and second story of the building, beyond the four stories allowed per Code,” staff said in the project overview. “The applicant is applying for a modification of requirement for the additional half-story.”

An additional item listed as “limiting discussion with developers” was also added to the agenda at the request of Councilmembers Pasha Majdi and Howard Springsteen, two of the leading opponents to the controversial Maple Avenue Commercial developments last year.

Image via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning

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