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Fairfax Planners Defer Action on Allowing Development at West F.C. Metro Site

ANDREW PAINTER speaking at the Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, June 17. (Photo: News-Press)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission last night voted to defer action for two weeks on an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan for the West Falls Church Transportation Station Area after hearing extensive public input on the plan that would permit significant new mixed use development on the WMATA-owned West Falls Church Metro station site and an adjacent Virginia Tech site.

Planning Commission chair John Ulfelder said in advocating the deferral at the end of the lengthy meeting, “We have a little wood to chop and we’ll take care of it” before the matter comes back for a vote on June 30.     

Among the 19 who signed up to speak at the meeting, almost all by phone, proponents of the WMATA and Virginia Tech redevelopment plans who presented last night included the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Great Falls chapter of the Sierra Club, and numerous Chestnut Place Homeowners Association board members, including Adam Thormahlen who said he “couldn’t be more excited” and William Mugg who said the plans to integrate the development planned for the 10-acre site where the old George Mason High School was just demolished with the development plans for the adjacent Virginia Tech and WMATA sites would add value and extensive retail options to the area.     

A third Chestnut area proponent William Hederman focused on the importance of Virginia Tech’s expansion as part of the overall plan, saying it has become one of the top technology training institutions in the U.S., underscoring testimony by David Baker, a public relations specialist for Virginia Tech who said the students and faculty alike “prefer the urban, walkable and sustainable” community that the overall plan will provide. He said the plan will include an “infrastructure test bed” that will involve imbedded sensors that will relay information to enhance transportation flows and reduce the area’s carbon footprint as a result.   

Falls Church consultant Andrew Painter, speaking on behalf of the EYA and other proposed developers of the WMATA site, was the first to testify appearing in person at the in person meeting of the commission since Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted last week. He stipulated five reasons the development would beneficial to the area, that it would capitalize on the Metrorail station there, reversing the steep decline in ridership at that station since the Silver Line opened in 2014, would involve an interjurisdictional planning effort that would look past boundaries, that height and density factors would be mindful of the wider neighborhood, that there would be an important affordable housing component adjacent a major transit facility and that new sidewalk and other improvements would enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety, overcoming the current difficulties involved for anyone not driving a car from getting to that Metro station.     

Adrian Whyte of an entity called Reclaim Falls Church spoke against approval of the comprehensive plan amendment, saying it would be a “gateway to gridlock.” But Ulfelder noted that the “commons avenue” road that would run parallel to Haycock through the three parcels from Route 7 to the Metro station would, with other improvements, “improve existing conditions, making it safer and easier to get to the West Falls Church Metro station.       

Ulfelder announced that VDOT is “satisfied” with the plans for improvements at the Route 7 and Haycock intersection, with an acceptance letter coming soon to local jurisdictions as a result.