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1775 Tysons, The Pros and Cons

December 10, 2011
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In 2003, when the Tysons II Rezoning was approved by the Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Department, it was heralded as a large step to improving the economic strength of Tysons Corner. At that time it was one of a select few projects touting mixed used development including new residential towers, ambitiously proposed to be 30 stories, centered around a then stalled WMATA Metro expansion to Tyson’s Corner. After the construction of 1800 Tysons Boulevard, and its subsequent ease of occupancy in 2005, it appeared that the construction of further phases of the project were eminent.

The stalling of this project, while delaying the economic opportunity available for additional office space in Tysons Corner, allowed enough time to for resolution of the long awaited Metro expansion and the discussion, design, and approval of the new Tysons Corner Master Zoning Plan. With many developers pushing and being pushed to new innovative development designs in line with the proposed density modifications and concepts of the future Tysons Corner, the Lerner Group has the opportunity to reanalyze their original concept to better utilize the unique frontage along the new Silver Line station. The current road network within the Tysons II Project, including Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive/Westpark Drive, is a typical tangled and erratic mess of excessive and underused pavement. This project however has not been discussed with FCPZD in any facet for modifications in line with the Master Zoning Plan, and with good reason as re-applying for modification could open this project to scrutiny under the new requirements and payment towards the overall infrastructure fund. It should fall to the hands of Fairfax County to approach Lerner with this unique opportunity to build upon the cornerstone development provided by Lerner Enterprises through initiatives such as further density allowance, additional land through the retraction of the existing oversized right-of-way, and exemptions from any required infrastructure fund if the development is updated to meet the concept of the Master Zoning Plan.

At the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and West Park Drive a new Lerner development is currently under construction, but with an excessive right of way and lack of proper pedestrian consideration this landmark property misses the mark of the new comprehensive plan.

Tysons Corner must focus its development in much the same way that the Northern Virginia area as a whole has curtailed low density sprawl. Projects that have proven not only to be economically viable to develop but have stood as prime property should be the focus of the Tyson’s concept in lieu of massive redevelopments phased over a theoretical 20 year life span. The opportunity to develop the parcel directly adjacent to the 123 Metro Station to this image will be lost once construction is undertaken and should be the number 1 priority of any Board member serious about the Master Zoning Plan. By allowing additional density through further vertical allotment the county could negotiate for a better balance of mixed use retail and residential earlier in the project. Providing this additional height will not increase the effective per unit cost for development and will make the property more attractive to high end customers looking for Penthouse views, more profitable to the developer, and provide an opportunity for an increase in the resident population of Tysons Corner, a goal at the forefront of the Master Zoning Plan concept. This will clearly provide a benefit to the sustainability of the 123 Metro station by creating a greater concentration of riders as well as generating a customer base for the proposed mixed-use retail to be located (and currently located in the case of Bldg 1800 and Tysons Galleria) across Galleria Drive. Providing this residential element at additional height beyond the currently proposed 18-story office complex also reduces the number of open units earlier in the project without the upfront cost of starting a new construction phase and reduces the lag in selling units closer to ground level that is often seen in luxury condominiums.

The reduction of road right of way may seem counterintuitive to both commuters and the county, however by reducing the overall width of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive the County can still achieve the avenue concept as illustrated in the Master Zoning Plan. By removing 2 lanes, one from each direction of traffic, the pavement section can be reduced 24’ and will allow for an expansion of the current 3’ median to a plantable 8’ width. This has a dual beneficial effect of creating a more pedestrian friendly crossing as well as creating a more integrated frontage for the developer. The remaining 19’ of ROW could be traded to the Lerner project provided the Lerner project funds or constructs these modifications along the frontage of the project. This strategy will provide an additional benefit of reducing maintenance cost to VDOT for the oversized roadway, act as a traffic calming measure, and inherently create a more consistently aligned urban road network for this sizeable portion of Tyson’s Corner without any assistance from the 1.7 billion dollar transportation fund.

Tysons II 1775 is currently under construction, but with 5 more towers on the horizon for the next 10 years there is plenty of time and incentive for all parties to re-analyze the project's public amenities and transportation master plan.

Incorporating the Lerner development in the process of creating a mutually beneficial transportation infrastructure is a piecemeal method to completing the overall goal of a comprehensive transportation backbone. By viewing this large scope in its individual components it becomes a design challenge for planners, but a manageable construction and funding scope for the taxpayers and the county. This also removes the intangible, and often incomprehensive, private contribution required by developers by allowing each developer to improve the network attributed to their project. The cost of constructing these improvements by the developer would be offset by the provision of additional land from the Right of Way acquisition, additional allowable density, and long term sustainability and commercial attractiveness of the property.

Tysons II has been a monument of Tysons Corner, spurring the growth of the surrounding commercial development. It sits at the heart of the region and the new Silver Line Phase I and should not be overlooked for it unique location and viability. Waiting for Lerner Enterprises to rezone this project to new standards is a pipe dream unlikely to happen. The approved rezoning in 2003 assures this project a profitable end, and will surely bring tax revenue to the area but at the cost of the future growth possibilities at the core of Tysons Corner. By proposing an amicable change with little risk to the developer both parties can achieve a cost benefit while providing a greater public good. Building 1775 is only step 2 of a 6 step development, and while it is too late for this building to be reanalyzed there is an abundance of time before 1725 and the remaining buildings are begun and subsequently completed. Lerner Enterprises has already proven to be a reasonable and responsible developer in the region, providing the first LEED Platinum Building to Tysons Corner, as well as other infill projects in the greater Metro area. This project will remain at the geographic and conceptual center of Tysons Corner for years to come and it would benefit all those who are interested in a better Tysons to approach this as an opportunity rather than a conflict.

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