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McLean body bestows its blessing on West Falls Church plan

WMATA aims to redevelop 24 prime acres into mixed-use campus

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) on Feb. 1 signaled its support of plans by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to redevelop 24 acres around the West Falls Church Metrorail station.

MCA’s supported WMATA’s rezoning request and, echoing a resolution the group passed in January, recommended incorporating into the Fairfax County Transportation Priority Plan 19 projects listed in the West Falls Church Active Transportation Study’s final report. Seven of those transportation projects deserve rapid funding, the resolution added.

The 440-line, 12-page resolution was lengthy even by MCA’s standards and featured myriad project details.

Robert Perito, chairman of MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee, recalled how when he first moved to the area, he would have to wake up early to get a parking spot at the West Falls Church station in order to commute to work. But with the advent of Metrorail’s Silver Line, that station has gone from one of the busiest in the system to one of the least-used, he said.

To counter this outcome, WMATA sought a site-specific plan amendment from Fairfax County to allow mixed-use development around the station. The Board of Supervisors in 2021 approved the comprehensive-plan amendment, which MCA also supported.

The proposed development will replace about 800 under-used surface-parking spaces with a transit-oriented development, which will include streets and other infrastructure, an office building next to the Metro station, about 90 townhomes, 810 apartments and10,000 square feet of retail space.

The proposal features 2.5 acres of recreation area, including a half-acre dog park, quarter-acre children’s playground and a sports court. New bike lanes, pedestrian infrastructure, kiss-and-ride area and new bus stops would improve access to those amenities.

The applicant has proffered to pay Fairfax County Public Schools $14,956 for each projected student at the development and increase that contribution, if necessary, on a building-by-building basis as the residential structures are constructed.

MCA’s resolution expressed concern about how high-density development at the site might cause school overcrowding. While enrollment projections for the next few years show some nearby schools will be under-capacity, MCA in the past has urged the school system to evaluate how it derives those figures.

The only element of MCA’s resolution that generated sustained debate concerned the applicant’s proposal to provide a total of 1,095 parking spaces instead of 1,781 as required by current county rules.

This would include 0.75 spaces per multi-family residential unit, or 0.9 if the Board of Supervisors balked.

“MCA believes that Fairfax County needs to pay particular attention to the applicant’s proposed reductions in off-street parking for multi-family structures and the possibility that this could create overflow parking in additional neighborhoods,” Perito said.

Glenn Harris, who chairs MCA’s Transportation Committee, agreed and said that instead of urging the county to review the proposed parking ratios, the onus should be on the developer to show why 0.75 spaces per multi-family unit would be sufficient to avoid spillover parking.

The county requires high-density developments in Tysons near Metrorail stations to provide one parking space per multi-family unit, Harris said.

“To go to a 0.75 minimum, to my mind, is pretty radical,” he said, but added that county officials are considering reduced requirements under the Parking Reimagined initiative now being drafted.

MCA board members approved the resolution with parking amendments suggested by Harris.

MCA’s resolution pertained to WMATA’s parcel, but there also are adjacent developments at a former Virginia Tech property, now called Converge, and a city of Falls Church site, where the former George Mason High School had been located.

The Fall Church project already is under construction, WMATA’s would come next and the Converge initiative is running about a year behind that, Perito said. Converge representatives will give a presentation at the Feb. 21 meeting of MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee.