Tysons, VA

The City of Falls Church wants to update Oak Street Bridge, but funding uncertainty leaves the project without a distinctive start date.

Even though the damage to the bridge from the flooding in July has been completely repaired, the Falls Church Planning Commission still met last month to discuss the construction of a new bridge.

Now the city is just awaiting the results from grant applications — which will inevitably fund the project, Susan Finarelli, a spokesperson for the city, said.

Initial concept designs are in the works to rethink the aesthetic appeal, modernize the bridge, improve pedestrian and traffic safety.

The project is currently in the design phase, which should be completed from August 2020 to February 2021, potentially allowing construction to begin shortly after, according to a planning commission presentation.

Due to safety concerns, the bridge is on a yearly inspection list, which monitors at-risk infrastructure projects. Originally built in 1953, the bridge needs to be redone for engineering improvements to increase the weight limit.

“We will be lengthening the bridge approximately two feet on either sides,” a representative at the Oct. 21 Planning Commission meeting said, adding that pedestrians will have easier access to Tripps Run.

The project is expected to cost around $2.6 million.

The Planning Commission made a unanimous recommendation for the City Council to relocate a utility pole so it isn’t in the middle of the sidewalk, include adding wider sidewalks, a crosswalk for Tripps Run and decorative guard rails on the southeast side of the bridge.

Image via The City of Falls Church

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A zoning ordinance amendment that would allow lower parking rates at Fairfax County’s largest malls received a thumbs up from the Planning Commission last night.

The proposal would affect the four malls — the two in Tysons, Fair Oaks Mall and Springfield Town Center — and was based on a review of the parking rates and demand at large regional malls by consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard.

While the county’s planners have stressed that the focus of the zoning change is directed at Fair Oaks Mall, the proposal has sparked concern about its impacts on the Tysons malls.

“Taking away parking — or even insinuating taking away parking from Tysons — I think is a bad way to go,” Dwight Fuller, a managing partner with Great American Restaurants, told the Planning Commission at the public hearing earlier this month.

McLean Citizens Association criticized the county’s consideration of a proposal without complete data.

Nelson/Nygaard study’s evaluated parking data for Fair Oaks Mall collected by the property owner in December for both 2017 and 2018, along with data about the Springfield Town Center that the firm collected in June. The study did not evaluate the two malls in Tysons.

“Without a study specifically addressing parking at those two malls, the MCA believes it is inappropriate to reduce the parking requirements at those locations,” the MCA wrote in a letter dated Oct. 30 to the Planning Commission.

At both the public hearing and before the votes last night, county staff and the commissioners stressed that the Tysons malls already have opportunities to lower their parking rates — and haven’t.

Tysons Corner Center is a part of the Planned Tysons Corner Urban District’s (PTC) parking rates, which allows for lower parking rates. Tysons Galleria is not a part of the PTC District, but could opt-in.

At-Large Commissioner Timothy Sargeant said that the Tysons malls are “bucking the trend” of large malls — like Fair Oaks — that are struggling with empty parking lots as more shoppers rely on online retail or delivery services.

To address citizens’ concerns, Sargeant brought forward several proposals after the Planning Commission recommended approval of the zoning amendment, including:

  • notification to the Planning Commission when a parking reduction request is submitted to the county
  • a study of how to include the PTC in the county’s update of the zoning ordinance
  • prioritize review of parking rates for the county’s update of the zoning ordinance
  • integration of environmental improvements with the proposal

Sargeant noted that more parking rate studies are necessary.

The proposal now heads to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing on Dec. 3.

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The Fairfax County Planning Commission is still tackling a proposal to reduce parking requirements for the county’s largest malls after a contentious public hearing last night (Wednesday).

The proposal would affect the four largest malls in Fairfax County — the two in Tysons, Fair Oaks Mall and Springfield Town Center — and was based on a review of the parking rates and demand at large regional malls by consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard.

County documents indicate that the proposal is meant to help Fair Oaks Mall.

“Fair Oaks Mall is also currently looking at redevelopment opportunities and an evaluation of the parking rates is viewed as critical to ensure the long-term vitality of the mall,” according to a county staff report.

Yet most of the discussion about the proposal last night focused on the inclusion of the two malls in Tysons — Tysons Galleria and Tysons Corner Center.

Dwight Fuller, a managing partner with Great American Restaurants, told the Planning Commission that parking is a problem for staff and diners in the Tysons area.

“Taking away parking — or even insinuating taking away parking from Tysons — I think is a bad way to go,” he said.

“It’s hard to do this one size fits all,” Vice-Chairman James Hart said, asking if there could be a way to eliminate the other malls from the proposal. “Is there a way to do this for the mall that seems to need this?”

Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson told Hart that the staff could have tried to define the proposal in a way that would only make it applicable to Fair Oaks Mall.

Tysons Malls Have Flexibility With Parking

Despite concern about parking at the Tysons malls, county staff told the Planning Commission multiple times throughout the evening that the Tysons malls “have additional flexibility” already when it comes to parking.

During the discussion between the staff and commissioners, it was unclear how much of the conversation revolved around both Tysons malls or just Tysons Corner Center. Yet the feedback from staff suggested that both Tysons malls already have the opportunities to pursue reducing their parking limits if so desired.

“[The proposal] does not have a lot of relevance to the Tysons malls because they can go to zero [parking spaces,]” staff said. Yet, for economic business decisions, the malls are unlikely to drastically cut or eliminate parking, staff said.

Tysons Corner Center is a part of the Planned Tysons Corner Urban District’s (PTC) parking rates, according to the staff. Tysons Galleria is not a part of the PTC District, but could opt-in, staff said.

Tysons Corner Center also proffered to pursue parking reductions with the redevelopment of part of the site, staff said.

The staff presentation noted that declines in retail parking demand are expected to continue because of mall locations near other transit options and the prevalence of online shopping. The presentation noted that lower parking rates could lead to better utilization of surface parking.

When asked by the commissioners if the proposal would serve as a catalyst for the Tysons malls to cut their parking, the staff said, “No, it would not.”

A Call For More Data

The proposal is based on a Nelson/Nygaard study that evaluated parking data for Fair Oaks Mall collected by the property owner in December 2017 and December 2018, along with data about the Springfield Town Center that the firm collected in June.

The firm found that less than 65% of the available spaces were occupied during peak times from a parking count for the Springfield mall and analyzing data from the Fair Oaks Mall. The study did not evaluate the two malls in Tysons.

County staff insisted that the study looked at the peak shopping month — December.

Commissioner Ellen Hurley, who represents the Braddock District, criticized the limited range of the Nelson/Nygaard study and that there isn’t any data about the parking demand for the day after Thanksgiving.

“I think it’s disingenuous to say the ‘peak day of the peak month’ when most shoppers realize the peak day is the day after Thanksgiving,” she said.

Hurley called for a survey of mall shoppers to provide more data about the parking demand. She also noted that not everyone has access to the Metro.

“It’s kind of feeling like you’re saying that Tysons could eliminate all parking,” she said. “From the lens of equity that doesn’t seem like a really smart way to go.”

Commissioner John Carter, who represents the Hunter Mill District, also called for more data about malls’ parking rates.

Carter suggested a table with the parking rates for 10 or so malls in Fairfax County and surrounding jurisdictions.

“I don’t question that malls are evolving tremendously,” he said.

“Relatively Simple and Straightforward”

Tony Calabrese, a DLA Piper attorney representing Fair Oaks Mall, said that the proposal was “intended to be relatively simple and straightforward.”

Addressing Hart’s comments, Calabrese said that trying to make changes to the proposed amendment might lead to more confusion.

Calabrese said that Fair Oaks Mall does survey its shoppers and claimed that the day after Thanksgiving is not nearly as the holiday peak in December.

Calabrese noted that the amendment would not affect the Tysons malls from being able to reduce their parking if they wanted to — the Tysons Galleria, while not a part of the PTC currently, could opt-in with the zoning administrator’s approval, staff said.

“The parking requirements have to be dropped,” Calabrese said.

“Supportive But With Reluct-ness”

The Planning Commission voted to defer the decision to next Wednesday, Nov. 20.

At-Large Commissioner Timothy Sargeant said that deferral will give the commissioners time to consider the comments from the public hearing.

Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, who represents the Providence District, asked the staff if they could exclude the Tysons malls. Staff replied that the proposal would barely impact the malls, which already could find ways to reduce their parking requirements.

While Niedzielski-Eichner said he would prefer to see the Tysons malls kept out of the proposal, he said he is “supportive but with reluct-ness.”

Ultimately, he said that he wants to help Fair Oaks Mall and doesn’t want to risk having to over through the process again if this proposal is rejected.

The proposal is slated to head to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing on Dec. 3.

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The McLean Citizens Association is looking to steer Fairfax County away from reducing parking requirements at Tysons Galleria and Tysons Corner Center.

The proposal would affect the four largest malls in Fairfax County — the two in Tysons, Fair Oaks and Springfield Town Center — and was based on a review of the parking rates and demand at large regional malls by consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard.

The firm found that less than 65% of the available spaces were occupied during peak times from a parking count for the Springfield mall and analyzing data from the Fair Oaks mall. The study did not evaluate the two malls in Tysons — alarming the McLean Citizens Association.

“Without a study specifically addressing parking at those two malls, the MCA believes it is inappropriate to reduce the parking requirements at those locations,” the MCA wrote in a letter dated Oct. 30 to the Planning Commission.

The letter goes on to state that “it seems that it is frequently difficult to find a vacant space at the two Tysons malls even during normal weekends throughout the year” and advises the county against approving the change without data about the two Tysons malls.

MCA urges the county to drop the two Tysons malls from the proposal and — going forward — only consider changes to the parking when there is a study done specifically for the affected mall(s).

Fairfax County planners support altering the requirement from four to 2.5 or three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for the four malls — the recommended change from Nelson/Nygaard.

County staff suggested a rate of 2.8, saying it “is reasonable and will address the oversupply of parking currently experienced at our regional malls.”

The Fairfax County Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the proposal next Wednesday (Nov. 13). Unless indefinitely deferred, the proposal would then head to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing on Dec. 3.

Image via Google Maps

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Next month, locals will get the chance to weigh in on a proposal to reduce the parking requirements at Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria.

Fairfax County is considering a proposal that would affect the four largest malls in the county — the two in Tysons, Fair Oaks and Springfield Town Center — after a review earlier this year of the parking rates and demand at large regional malls.

Consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard conducted the study from June 5-8 by doing a parking count for the Springfield mall and analyzing data from the Fair Oaks mall. The study found that less than 65% of the available spaces were occupied during peak times, according to county documents.

The study did not evaluate the two malls in Tysons, county spokesperson Crystal Santos said.

When Tysons Reporter asked how the Tysons malls’ parking needs might differ from the two malls analyzed, Santos said:

The county envisions that Tysons will become a walkable, sustainable urban center as it redevelops leading to less car usage in the area and therefore less demand for parking. While Springfield is more urban than Fair Oaks because of bus service and Metrorail, it’s not as urban or accessible through public transportation as the two Tysons malls. We wanted to examine similar, more suburban malls to measure demand on parking for this study.

Santos added that there was a parking study in 2014 in Tysons before the Silver Line stations opened.

“The malls are also included in the Tysons Comprehensive Plan to transform the area into an urban center, as a result, the malls are able to reduce their effective parking rate to less than 2.5 per 1000 square feet of gross floor area through a county review and approval process,” Santos said.

A spokesperson for Tysons Corner Center did not respond to Tysons Reporter’s request for comment on the proposal.

The proposal would alter the requirement from four to 2.5 or three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area — the recommended change from Nelson/Nygaard. County staff is recommending the rate be 2.8 parking spaces.

“This is a more realistic parking requirement and, if implemented, would continue to provide an oversupply of parking at peak demand on weekdays and weekends during all times of the year,” according to county documents. “Overall, the changes will provide Fairfax County’s largest commercial retail centers additional flexibility to react to a changing retail marketplace.”

The Planning Commission plans to hold a public hearing on Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. before the Board of Supervisors has one on Dec. 3 at 4 p.m.

Image via Google Maps

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The developer of two mixed-use developments by the Spring Hill Metro will likely have to wait until next year for Fairfax County to determine the proposals’ fates.

Georgelas LLC is looking to redevelop car dealerships along the north side of Tyco Road into developments called West Spring Hill Station and North Spring Hill Station.

The development — particularly West Spring Hill Station — has faced concerns from county staff and the Planning Commission, including the projects’ synergy with The View, school overcrowding, and the abundance of artificial turf.

At the request of the developer, Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, the commissioner for the Providence District, pushed the decisions last night (Thursday) about the projects to the end of the year.

“Since the public hearing on the Georgelas application, we’ve had a series of discussions with the applicant that represent progress but more attention needs to be given to some of these specifics,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.

The proposed North Spring Hill Station would replace the existing Tesla dealership with four new buildings, including two residential towers, one office tower and a parking garage with an athletic field on top. The existing Verizon telecommunications facility on the site would stay.

Meanwhile, West Spring Hill Station would add four buildings — two for residential, one for residential or office space and the final one for offices — and three public parks.

Fairfax County planners said that the North Spring Hill Station addresses the expectations in the Tysons Comprehensive Plan — but not the West Spring Hill Station.

“[West Spring Hill Station] does not fully address the criteria, particularly with regards to providing a comprehensive, functioning grid of streets; the provision of open space; and, coordination of development,” the staff report said.

The staff report also notes that the West Spring Hill Station may require further development of the Koons Tysons Toyota site.

The Planning Commission deferred its decision on the projects to Dec. 11.

While the developments were set to go before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 15, the agenda indicates that the public hearing will get pushed to a later date.

Since the Board of Supervisors’ last full meeting of the year is on Dec. 3, the fate of the two developments probably won’t get determined until 2020.

Images via Fairfax County 

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Plans are no longer in the works for an assisted living facility in the Vienna area after facing criticism by the Planning Commission and residents.

The proposed 86-bed facility would provide accommodations for people with dementia or memory loss at 2347 Hunter Mill Road, adjacent to the United Methodist Church of the Good Shepherd.

The applicant, Orr-BSL Hunter Mill, LLC, wanted to build a two-story building with approximately 43,680 square feet of space, along with outdoor courtyards and a garden for the facility’s residents.

Fairfax County planners gave the proposal a favorable recommendation in the staff report, writing,”In staff’s opinion, the development has been thoughtfully designed to be compatible with adjacent residential uses and to preserve the property’s rural character.”

Many residents opposed the proposed project during a four-hour-long public hearing in July, arguing to the Planning Commission that the proposal does not meet the county’s comprehensive-plan requirements.

Some of the commissioners agreed — including John Carter, the commissioner who oversees the Hunter Mill District.

Carter and another commissioner brought up a long list of issues with the proposal and special needs of the site at the Sept. 12 meeting — like pointing out that emergency vehicles might have trouble traveling to and from the site, which has a two-lane scenic by-way policy.

Carter also said the proposed facility’s size would not fit in with surrounding buildings. “It’s a football field in length,” he said.

Carter deferred the proposal indefinitely — essentially killing it since he said that other developers are eying the site.

“This is only one case. I expect more cases on this site,” he said.

Dranesville District John Ulfelder added that the site is pending being listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

While Ulfelder said that schools and churches would be appropriate on the site, he said that he was worried that a medical facility would “erode” the site’s history.

The application was withdrawn at the end of September.

Image via Fairfax County

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Columbia Baptist Church is ironing out parking and height issues linked to its expansion plans in the City of Falls Church.

The church wants to add a one-story, 33,000 square-foot building addition, along with a new sanctuary space with 1,192 seats, expanded paved surface parking and relocation of the parking lot and driveway along N. Maple Avenue.

The church (103 W. Columbia Street) is also seeking a variance that would allow the steeple to go 55 feet above the maximum height of 70 height to help bolster’s the church’s presence as a gateway to the city. The church argued that other churches have steeples above the maximum 70 feet.

Most of the discussion at the city’s Planning Commission meeting last night (Tuesday) focused on concerns that the church would have problems updating one of its ramps to make it ADA-compliant.

“On W. Columbia, both curb ramps at the midblock crosswalk need to be replaced,” according to the staff report.

“Since there are offsite parking agreements, all infrastructure that is being utilized in the right of way is required to be brought into current ADA standards.”

Facing the possibility of the proposal getting deferred because of the ramp, the team behind the church’s expansion said that they will figure out a way to meet the requirements for ADA-accessible ramps.

To address previous concerns about parking, the applicant added an extra 10 feet between the planned area for the parking spaces and nearby homes. The parking lot at the church was also redesigned to move the landscaping buffer between the parking lot and historic structures.

The Planning Commission approved the site plans and variance recommended.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will take up the church plans — decide if the church’s claims for the higher steeple will be allowed — at their meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17.

“Overall, I think it’s improved,” Andrew Rankin, the vice-chair of the city’s Planning Commission, said.

Image via Google Maps

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The City of Falls Church is planning to replace Oak Street Bridge after it was damaged from flooding in July.

Located at South Oak Street, the bridge runs over Tripps Run. The proposed plans would replace the bridge — which was flagged as being in poor condition before the flooding — with a new steel span bridge that will connect people to Howard E. Herman Stream Valley Park.

“Although the surface of this bridge was damaged during the July 8 floods, this long-term project was already pending,” according to a press release from the city.

More from the city:

In 2012, Dewberry inspectors found the bridge to be in poor condition with a bridge rating of four out of 10. There is severe corrosion in the steel beam webs. Timber blocking was installed at locations where steel beam webs were severely corroded. Concrete deck has spalling and numerous hairline cracks with some exposed rebar.

The bridge has been on a yearly inspection cycle since 2012. The rating has not changed and there have been no major changes from the 2012 condition. Each annual inspection recommends replacing or repairing the steel beams and concrete deck immediately.

The project’s estimated cost is $2.6 million and is partially funded by Regional Surface Transportation Program funds, the press release said. City officials are looking for additional grant funding.

The city’s Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the conceptual design for the replacement bridge with the consultants and design team from Kimley-Horn on Monday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m.

City officials will discuss the project timeline at the meeting.

The city will allow public input on the project until Nov. 6.

Image via City of Falls Church

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Tysons may soon get a new athletic field in connection to The Mile development.

The developers behind the previously approved The Mile project now want to create a youth-sized athletic facility in the Old Courthouse neighborhood of Tysons to fulfill one of the development’s proffers.

The developers want to create the field on a site along Boone Blvd that currently has an 8-story-tall office building and surface parking lot. The site was previously approved for an extended stay hotel that was never constructed.

The developers propose to convert the parking lot into a field measuring 180 feet by 330 feet. The field would be surrounded by a black chain link fence between 10-24 feet high to prevent balls from escaping and include portable toilets, bleachers and bike racks.

The parking lot would get reconfigured to serve both the athletic field and office building, which houses Cel-Sci Corporation and Liberty Tax Service. While the developers would own the field, Fairfax County Park Authority would operate and maintain the park.

“So we’re able to take advantage of that which I think is a creative way to find land in Tysons Corner that is much needed for athletic fields,” Elizabeth Baker, a senior land use planner for Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, told the Fairfax County Planning Commission last night (Wednesday).

Baker said that while the athletic field is “youth-sized” because it is smaller than a full-size athletic field, she expects adults will use it as well.

“I think it’s a field that is going to be well used,” Baker said. “Obviously it’s an older building. It was built 40 years ago so it a site that’s been around for awhile, but is a large parking lot with excess parking in it.”

At-Large Commissioner Mary Cortina asked if restroom buildings could replace the portable toilets at the site.

“The Park Authority model of providing those porta-potties I think is really a holdover — even though we continue to do it — from another era when we were more suburban and there were no services in some of those park areas,” Cortina said. “This is right in the heart of Tysons.”

Baker said that having portable toilets at the site is no different than Ken Lawrence Park or Quantum Field in Tysons, “so it is meeting the standards for the Park Authority and that’s what we’ve provided here.”

Still, Cortina made a plea to the Park Authority to do away with portable toilets in the future.

“As we’re doing urban design we can’t forget the toileting needs,” Cortina said. “To continue to have these porta-potties throughout this urban development, it just seems to be incongruous with the rest of the streetscaping et cetera.”

A representative from the Park Authority said that restroom buildings are considered for fields and parks connected to larger developments and that portable toilets are appropriate for standalone parks.

Baker reassured Cortina that the portable toilets are in a corner of the site so that they won’t be visible to people walking or driving along Boone Blvd.

The Planning Commission voted to approve the proposal, which now heads to the Board of Supervisors.

“This new synthetic turf field will be a welcome addition to the Park Authority’s inventory of playing fields in Tysons,” Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, the commissioner for the Providence District, said.

First image via Google Maps, images 2-3 via Fairfax County 

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