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Planners Say Commons Rd. Top Priority For West End

Fairfax county’s director of planning, Barbara Byron, talks about the necessity of building central avenue through the three parts of the West End site. (Screenshot: News-Press)

At 42 acres, it may be only half the size of the original Disneyland, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t rival that magic 66-year-old Southern California destination as one of the happiest places on Earth.

We’re talking here about the potential full buildout of an integrated three properties that include the City of Falls Church’s planned dense 10-acre mixed use site at the City’s west end, to come on top of the now-demolished old George Mason High School site, the City-owned Virginia Tech site and the third property being the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) site, home of the West Falls Church Metro rail station.

There have been numerous presenters at meetings the last couple weeks, including a special virtual briefing to the approving Smart Growth Coalition, to a virtual public town hall, and presentations to virtual meetings of the Falls Church City Council this Monday, and one slated for the F.C. Planning Commission last night that laid out the parameters of what it is hoped will become a formal revision to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan as early as July.

This Monday night, it was Barbara Byron, director of the Department of Planning and Development of Fairfax County, who spearheaded the presentation to the F.C. City Council with the parameters of the project being delineated as a County Transit Station Area ranging from the Falls Church City’s West End Gateway project through the Virginia Tech site and on to the WMATA property ending at the West Falls Church Metro station.

The draft document was the result of 22 meetings over two and half years of deliberations of a county task force appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and four cooperative meetings with Falls Church officials.
The two most important takeaways from this week’s presentations were:

  1. The resolve by the site developers to maintain a seamless continuity of the .8-mile boulevard, termed the Commons Road, that will run through the three parcels beginning at Leesburg Pike and running north-northwest through to the West Falls Church Metro station (“It is critical that that road goes all the way through,” Byron said), and

2. The intent of the site developers to continue planning for a full integration of the five-acre portion currently under lease to Virginia Tech, despite the recent decision by Virginia Tech not to continue with its original plan to fully build out that site. The property owner in question, in fact, is the City of Falls Church, and the clock is ticking on current lease.

No matter what else happens on the Virginia Tech property, it was noted, the Commons Road connection “needs to be in the first stage of development.”

This means that, as hoped, the three parcels will be fully integrated over time, if not developed at the same pace, with all cooperating bodies expecting to reap great benefits. Right now, since the opening of the Metro’s Silver Line, the use of the West Falls Church station at issue here has dropped off precipitously.

WMATA is not looking to accept the current situation, but by linking up with the two other sites to create the station and its immediate environs as an attractive destination to bring more riders there.

City Council comments Monday hailed the spirit of cooperation between Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church.

“This plan demonstrates the high value placed on cooperation,” said Councilman David Snyder.

Councilman Phil Duncan said he is happy to see “unified planning for these parcels,” Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly hailed the four small parks slated for the WMATA parcel.

Mayor David Tarter said, “This shows how much better our projects will be when we work together. He asked whether the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route slated to run up Leesburg Pike from Skyline to Points West could divert off on the Commons road to make a stop at the Metro station.

The county planning report on this topic said, “Coordination at the staff level among the City of Falls Church, Falls Church City Public Schools, Fairfax County, Virginia Tech, WMATA and the development teams for the city and county projects have been on-going throughout the planning processes for these sites. This coordination has focused on elements such as transportation, urban design and creating a welcoming connection to the West Falls Church Metro station.”

While the City’s West Falls Gateway project expects to have a floor-to-area (FAR) ratio of about 3.0, that density in the current plan is diminished to under 1.0 at the WMATA end of the combined properties with the emphasis there on open space, including parks and a transit plaza in front of the Metro station.

The Commons Road, which begins at Leesburg Pike and continues north, running parallel with Haycock Road, splits on the WMATA property, one fork being a left turn going to the Metro station and its parking garage there, and the other continuing on with a right turn back to Haycock Road.

The Fairfax task force’s vote to adopt and advance its current plan was approved by a 5-3-1 vote.

The current plan is to have that aired before the Fairfax Planning Commission on June 16 and to come for a hearing before the county Board of Supervisors on July 13.