June 17, 2003 – Plans for a massive complex of offices, apartments and stores in Tysons Corner, described as the future downtown of Fairfax, won unanimous approval from county supervisors last night.
Nine high-rise towers will join the skyline north of Route 123 between the two Tysons malls and alongside a proposed Metro station. Four of the towers will stand at 30 stories and will be among the tallest in Fairfax County. The project will include pedestrian bridges, small plazas, eight-foot sidewalks, ample parking garages and a park with an amphitheater - features that developer Lerner Enterprises said are designed to give the proposed Tysons II project a more urban feel than many of the surrounding office parks and malls.
"It's a transit-oriented development in an urban center of Fairfax County", Ben Tompkins, an attorney for the developer, told the Board of Supervisors.
The centerpiece of the project, which is billed as a new model of urban culture, will be a Metro station, one of four along a Metrorail extension planned to Tysons and, eventually, to Dulles International Airport.
Lerner will become the first developer to take advantage of a county incentive encouraging construction in the vicinity of public transit to reduce car trips. Supervisors permitted Lerner to double the number of square feet authorized to 4.1 million from 1.9 million.
And, like West Group Properties, which won approval last winter for four luxury condominium towers in Tysons, Lerner tripled the amount of space allocated for apartments under a separate county policy designed to attract housing rather than offices.
"Tysons is our commercial future, and we've got to get it right," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), whose district includes Tysons. "This case moves us a step forward."
The vote was 8 to 0. Two board members, Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), were absent.
The policy of handing a developer a density bonus for proximity to transit, when the rail proposal has not been funded by Congress, made at least one supervisor jittery.
"The great fear is the density comes and rail never comes," said Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville).
Lerner agreed to some safeguards to protect the county: If funding for the rail project is not in place by 2005, the supervisors can rescind the extra density. If rail moves forward, Tysons II is authorized to move forward, too.
The county's Planning Commission had recommended against approval of the project this spring, expressing concerns about timing and density, transportation improvements and the developer's commitment to encouraging use of transit. But by the time the project came before them, supervisors were satisfied that Lerner was providing adequately to offset the effect of the offices and apartments. The developer will contribute $5 million to a fund to make road improvements in Tysons, add a lane on Route 123, build some affordable apartments and provide land for the Metro station, among other measures.
Some advocates of so-called smart growth planning criticized Tysons II, saying it would not follow such principles. Despite its proximity to a planned Metro station, Tysons II would turn out like any other office park, some critics said.
"The Lerner project does not go far enough to reduce sprawl, mitigate traffic impacts, or create 'community'," the Coalition for smarter Growth said in a statement urging denial of the project. "It is little more than a standard, upscale office development, with a sprinkling of houses and retail."
Most of the dozen civic and business groups and individuals who weighed in backed the project.
It "ensures that Tysons Corner does not remain a suburban office park, disconnected from a transit system and bogged down in traffic," said William D. Lecos, executive director of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Lerner Enterprises, founded by Theodore N. Lerner, is one of Washington, D.C.'s largest and most successful real estate developers. Lerner is involved in all phases of commercial and residential real estate including development, asset management, acquisitions and leasing. Lerner Enterprises has developed and currently manages through its leasing and management affiliate, Lerner Corporation, more than fifteen million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space.
Among Lerner Enterprises' extensive office portfolio are The Corporate Office Centre at Tysons II in McLean, Virginia; The Corporate Office Park at Dulles Town Center in Dulles, Virginia; Flint Hill Office Park in Fairfax, Virginia; Parkview Executive Center in Herndon, Virginia; 7799 Leesburg Pike in Tysons Corner, Virginia; 400 Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City, Virginia; White Flint North in North Bethesda, Maryland; and Washington Square and 1133 Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C.