Planning for future of McLean core rolls forward | Business

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It’s experienced hiccups over the years, but the groundwork for McLean’s Community Business Center (CBC) is advancing.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who outlined a CBC study at a Feb. 20 virtual open house, said he was impressed by the consensus achieved.

“Like you might expect, there was not unanimous agreement, but in my experience in this business, it was as close as you can get,” Foust said. “There was an amazing amount of agreement amongst those who participated on what we really need to do: Make McLean work for everybody.”

McLean leaders earlier pinned hopes on a “Main Street McLean” mixed-use concept that would have redeveloped areas near the Giant Food shopping center. But the developer, McLean Properties, in June 2017 opted not to pursue the initiative.

The company in 2008 also was going to submit a redevelopment plan for central McLean, but backed out because of the economic recession.

Fairfax County in 2018 hired a consultant to hold workshops and develop a shared vision for McLean’s future, Foust said.

Participants desired to set aside part of downtown for a more pedestrian-friendly development and agreed that protecting bordering neighborhoods was a priority, Foust said.

Workshop attendees agreed the revitalized downtown should have a gathering place and retain its community-serving retail and business functions, he said.

The consultant’s market analysis found significant demand for residential development, and maybe one or two small hotels, over a decade-long horizon, Foust said. There was little demand, however, for McLean to become a significant office center, he said.

Participants were satisfied with the amount of retail provided in downtown McLean, but said business owners no longer desired some of the current retail forms and locations, he said.

The consultant in December 2018 presented the Vision Plan, which considered market demand and offered redevelopment incentives for property owners in certain areas, Foust said.

The proposal centered around three areas:

• A center zone with pedestrian-oriented development at Beverly and Elm streets. Buildings there would be capped at seven stories (92 feet) and have street trees, wide sidewalks and other amenities.

• A general zone around that central core with moderate-intensity buildings of up to five stories (68 feet) and suburban-style development similar to what exists there today.

• An edge zone around the general zone that would serve as a buffer between the more-developed areas and existing neighborhoods, while still providing automobile-friendly convenience. Properties there would see no change from their current planned uses, Foust said.

Based on market demand, the consultant concluded the community could expect creation of a plaza covering at least two-thirds of an acre as part of a redevelopment project in the center zone, Foust said.

In exchange, the consultant suggested the developer of that project should be allowed to construct buildings up to 10 stories tall (128 feet), which would be just slightly taller than those of The Ashby and McLean House residential structures not far away, he said.

County officials later formed a 20-member task force to translate that vision plan into a series of comprehensive-plan recommendations for McLean. The group met publicly 29 times over two and a half years, considered not only the vision plan but nominations submitted by property owners, and set a 20-year planning horizon.

“Any suggestion that the process was not open, transparent and fair is unjust to the task-force members,” Foust said.

The task force presented its three-zone plan to the public virtually in December 2020 and recommended a smaller plaza if a developer proposed a project smaller than the 6-acre one outlined in the vision plan. Foust and county staff disagreed, desiring the plans to make room for at least a two-thirds-of-an-acre park.

County staff strengthened the plan’s language to ensure the capacity of local schools keeps pace with development in downtown McLean, he said. County and school-system officials would have to perform a school-capacity assessment when the half of the CBC’s residential-development potential is reached.

Officials will strengthen the plan’s environmental language for stormwater management and treat the CBC’s tree canopy as part of its natural ecology, rather than simply as an aesthetic benefit.

Foust asked county staff to list the plan’s maximum building heights, including bonus densities, in feet rather than stories.

The new plan focuses redevelopment in the McLean CBC’s center, offers new residential uses, offers a plaza as an open-space public amenity and offers land-use flexibility within defined parameters, said Jennifer Garcia of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development.

The proposed new height limits would be inclusive of any added density, including for affordable or workforce housing, she said.

Officials are proposing a 40-foot height limit for buildings – the same as current by-right development – between Brawner Street and Corner Lane, located next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School.

The draft plan would use a form-based plan for the center and general zones, offering flexibility based on market conditions and a total cap on residential and commercial development, Garcia said.

The CBC currently has 1,280 residential units. The existing plan calls for up to 2,175 residential units and nearly 3.37 million square feet of non-residential development, while the draft plan would allow for up to 3,850 residential units and 3.15 million square feet of non-residential uses.

A group called McLean Citizens for Right Size Development favors the proposed lower building heights, listing maximum heights in linear feet, limiting heights near Franklin Sherman Elementary and the increased environmental focus.

But members oppose allowing up to 2,570 more residential units, saying they would overburden McLean’s road and school capacity. County officials, for safety and security reasons, also should avoid allowing building shadows to obscure the elementary school, they said.

The county also should ensure proper setbacks and screening to protect nearby residential communities, members said.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold an April 28 public hearing on the proposed comprehensive-plan changes and the Board of Supervisors is slated to take up the matter May 18.

Those who wish to comment on the process should send their remarks to [email protected].