Fairfax builds on its advantages by transforming Tysons CornerNovember 30, 2011 6:00 AM
by M.J. McAteer
Photo by Trevor Wrayton, courtesy Virginia Department of Transportation
Once again, as in so many years past, Fairfax sits on top of the ratings of counties nationwide in terms of almost any parameter that gets measured.
Its residents are among the nation’s wealthiest, best educated and most highly employable, its public schools are models for achievement, and violent crime is a rarity. Announcements that Fairfax has landed yet another headquarters of a billion-dollar corporation have become practically ho-hum, and even the county’s housing market has proven more resilient than the next guy’s (unless the next guy happens to be equally blessed Arlington County).
So much good news has become no news, really (but to see specifics on all this affluence, see pages 89-90). Instead, what makes headlines in Fairfax these days are updates on the county’s enormously ambitious plan to turn Tysons Corner, already the largest job center in the state, into a city in all but name.
Gerald L. Gordon, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, says the number of jobs at Tysons Corner should double in the next 20 years, from 100,000 to 200,000, while commercial real estate space there should nearly triple, from 26 million square feet to 70 million. New housing units accommodating about 20,000 new residents will boost the current population of 17,000, and some projections show Tysons with 100,000 residents by 2030. This reinvented commercial hub will be serviced by four new Metro stops and a wider Beltway.
As anyone who has traveled through what has become the land of traffic barrels and construction cranes can attest, plans for a new Tysons are rapidly becoming reality.
The Beltway project — the addition of HOT toll lanes and HOV-3 lanes, plus new interchanges with Interstate 66 and state Routes 7 and 123 — is on schedule to be completed next year. While most of the highway is being widened from six lanes to eight, the Tysons sector will have 12 lanes. Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, says the area needs the extra capacity. Along with the I-66 and Route 7 corridors, Tysons accounted for a third of the region’s growth in the past 20 years, Fuller says, and, of course, a lot more growth is on the way.
The first phase of the extension of the new Metro Silver line, sometimes referred to as the Dulles Corridor Project, includes four stations for Tysons. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013; however, possible delays of anywhere from 10 days to six months recently have been reported, along with potential cost overruns of $150 million. The projected cost of phase 1, which is to extend 11.6 miles to the eastern edge of Reston, is $2.8 billion.
Seventy-five percent of Tysons’ growth is projected to be within walking distance of the new Metro stations, and the Georgelas Group, a McLean developer with a portfolio of millions of square feet of commercial and residential development, will be in the vanguard of that growth when it breaks ground in 2012 on Spring Hill Station, a mixed-use project at a 28-acre site near the Tysons West station. The project eventually will include 2.9 million square feet of office space, two apartment buildings and a 300-room hotel.
Employers, says Fuller, “are itching to find office space” in the Tysons area, and CityLine Partners’ plan for 8.5 million square feet of development at its Westgate Office Park adjacent to the Tysons East station should help scratch that itch. In October, CityLine unveiled a plan for the 40-acre site near the intersection of Route 123 and Dulles Toll Road that will feature 21 buildings, including 11 new office buildings (4.9 million square feet), nine residential buildings (3.1 million square feet), a hotel and retail space.
Next to the CityLine site, Capital One Financial Corp. wants to add a dozen buildings with a total of 4.4 million square feet to the two it already has on a 26-acre campus. The Capital One project, which would represent 2.7 million square feet of office space, also encompasses retail, five residential buildings and a hotel. One building would be about 35 stories. Capital One and CityLine are citing zoning laws to sue each other over possible restrictions on their development rights.
Meanwhile, The Mitre Corp. also has announced that it wants to consolidate its four offices into as much as 1.4 million square feet at a 19-acre campus near the Metro East station, although it will need a zoning exception to add more parking.
This new Tysons Corner of densely packed, high-rise buildings is supposed to be a place where people live as well as work — a pedestrian- and bike-friendly urban environment dependent on public transit, in contrast to the auto-necessary Tysons of today. The Metro stations, for example, deliberately discourage vehicular traffic by having no parking lots, and only two, Tysons East and Tysons West, will even have drop-off access. Plans call for parks, recreational facilities and plenty of shopping, including a 79,000 square-foot Walmart (to open in 2013).
But some worry that traffic, already the county’s most intractable problem, will get even worse after all this development because Fairfax’s comprehensive plan for Tysons requires a residential component of only 20 percent.
That percentage concerns Fuller, for instance, who says that Northern Virginia is more dependent on nonresident workers than any other part of the country because of the shortage of affordable housing. People who don’t make more than $80,000 won’t be able to afford to live at Tysons, he says. Fuller’s point is underlined by the $417,000 median sales price for housing in Fairfax County in October.
Gordon sees things differently. “Residential tax dollars,” he says, “are expensive.” He relishes all “the good tax dollars” that will be generated by so much new commerce.
Other hot spots
Thanks to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission mandate, the Springfield sector of the county will “blossom,” Fuller says.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency opened there in September, and, at 2.77 million square feet, it is the third largest federal building in the D.C. metro area. As of October, it was about 75 percent occupied, and, eventually, it will house 8,500 employees.
The nearby 120-bed Fort Belvoir Community Hospital also opened in September. Add to that activity, the opening of the $1.08 billion Mark Center and the 6,400 defense workers it is bringing to next-door Alexandria, and that’s a lot of growth.
Private contractors are expected to follow the federal influx into this corridor. Supervisor Jeff C. McKay, a Democrat who represents the Lee District on the Fairfax County Council, says that the owners of the Springfield Mall are talking about starting renovations in the spring. A new look for the 2 million-square-foot mall would give retail in the area a jumpstart.
Reston and Herndon, which have the second largest number of jobs in the state after Tysons, should continue to thrive, Fuller says. Although no timetable has been announced for the extension of the Silver line to Dulles and beyond (to Ashburn in Loudoun County), Reston and Herndon each are slated to have a Metro station.
Fuller also believes that Merrifield, an area in mid-county, will “emerge” as its proximity to U.S. Route 50 and I-66 will be augmented by better Beltway access once HOT lanes are completed. Exxon Mobil, Inova Fairfax Hospital, General Dynamics and the largest postal facility in the mid-Atlantic region already are located in Merrifield, and they recently were joined by the corporate headquarters of defense contractor Northrup Grumman, a Fortune 500 company, which relocated from Los Angeles.
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