Greater Greater Washington

Two plans for Tysons Corner diverge on walkability

Several developers have submitted proposals to make parts of Tysons Corner more urban. Among the proposals for the Tysons East (or "Tysons-McLean" station, two stand out on either end of the walkable spectrum: an excellent project by LCOR and a terrible one by Mitre.


Metro construction at Tysons East. Photo by fairfaxcounty on Flickr.

While not the most ambitious in scale, the proposal by developer LCOR for "The Commons of McLean" is certainly the most urban in scope. LCOR envisions an entirely residential development, and residents (plus ground-level retail) are what Tysons needs most.

The scale of LCOR's project is also appropriate. The LCOR site is not immediately adjacent to the new Metro station, though it is still within a walkable distance. With buildings in the 10-20 story range and approximately 2,200 total apartments proposed, LCOR's plan would lead to the creation of a vibrant neighborhood without overwhelming local amenities.


Rendering of LCOR plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Besides the ambitiousness of LCOR's plan, the proposal is also very urban in nature and deserves an A+ for integrating the future street grid of Tysons. Each building interacts with the future grid of streets through ample street-front retail, which will encourage a vibrant streetscape with pedestrian activity.

Additionally, the streets are scaled appropriately for vehicle and pedestrian traffic (contrary to Route 123, among others). LCOR's plan also centralizes parks, instead of spreading out green space with no regards to what's actually usable.

LCOR certainly feels that the tower-in-the-park school of urbanity is dead. Their proposal neatly encompasses traditional city planning elements that have more recently become the hallmarks of smart growth. Street-front retail, centralized parks, and walkable block sizes are all excellent attributes of the plan for McLean's Commons, and serve as an example for how other projects should be planned for Tysons Corner.


Street diagram of LCOR plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

A proposal by defense contractor Mitre to expand their campus is decidedly less urban in nature. Instead of utilizing their land for a plan that acts in accordance with the urban vision for Tysons, Mitre ignores every tenet of building a walkable, urban community. Mitre's proposal envisions an additional two office buildings with 1.4 million square feet of space, as well as the construction of another elevated parking garage.


Mitre plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Construction of more office space is clearly in the cards for Tysons, but Mitre's plan has several glaring problems. It ignores any potential future street grid in favor of keeping winding roads typical of suburban office campuses. Those winding roads are accompanied by an additional massive parking structure, and though Mitre's proposal is within walking distance of the new station, they ignore any accommodations that could be made to make their new campus pedestrian-friendly. This would make the use of the Tysons East station by any future employees laughable.

Unlike LCOR's plan, there is no mix of uses, nor do the proposed buildings even front the streets. And Mitre sticks to the failed model of spreading open space randomly throughout their plan, effectively creating dead areas.


Mitre rendering photo of the current campus. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Contrasting LCOR's plan with Mitre's shows that not all parties involved in the redevelopment of Tysons Corner believe that a more urbanist plan is the best option. If plans like Mitre's continue to be submitted and receive approval, Tysons will not be able to achieve its goal of becoming a walkable city that's not as reliant on auto trips in and out, nor avoid perpetual gridlock for adjacent McLean and Vienna.

Nicolai Fedak graduated from Fordham University in New York City with a degree in political science in 2011. He originally hails from McLean, Virginia and graduated from McLean High School. He currently lives on the Upper West Side and still travels regularly between New York and Washington. 

Comments

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First, how is a concrete canyone with few trees supposedly so walkable?

Second, how can the author just throw out there this ridiculous claim that "what McLean needs most is people"? Why does McLean need more people? The people who already live there seem very happy the way it is now. If they wanted to be around more people, they'd move somewhere near an Orange Line Metro stop.

I like the Mitre plan better.

by JB on Jul 28, 2011 3:43 pm • linkreport

I also love the Mitre plan!!

by A Motor Vehicle on Jul 28, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

JB: Walkable means interesting to walk near, and believe it or not, that doesn't have to mean trees. I find the restaurants, shops, bars, and bustling street life of Dupont, Clarendon, and U Street just fine despite their lack of foliage.

by ossipago on Jul 28, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

The Mitre plan is a dumb idea. Hopefully that plan doest go thru. It doesn't tie in to the future of making Tyson a walkable city. To the guy that says why do McLean need more people you need to realize that things are changing. I applaud the change that the first plan is trying to create. If that's plan goes thru I would consider moving out to tyson to enjoy the bright city that it will become

by Steve85 on Jul 28, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure JB is looking at the same plan I am... the Mitre plan creates the treeless concrete canyon. Maybe you're confused between the two plans... and how McLeanTyson's Corner is planning to be both a commercial and residential center.

by Adam L on Jul 28, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

Both plans suck. Why does LCOR think Tysons should be focused on residential areas? Where does he expect people to work? The most successful urban areas are destinations, not points of origin. However, their plan could be used as a starting point. The Mitre plan is completely devoid of imagination and should be scrapped immediately.

by movement on Jul 28, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

The second Mitre image isn't a rendering, it's a photo of the current campus.

So, they are getting rid of two surface parking lots, and building less than 1/4 mile from the metro (p 34). It might be walkable for commuters, but it's not an after-hours place.

the LCOR looks good, but a lot of the other projects have very chopped-up blocks and inconsistent streetwalls. It might look a bit like Ballston.

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 28, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

@JB wrote:

Second, how can the author just throw out there this ridiculous claim that "what McLean needs most is people"? Why does McLean need more people? The people who already live there seem very happy the way it is now. If they wanted to be around more people, they'd move somewhere near an Orange Line Metro stop.

I like the Mitre plan better.

Oboe's Law also predicts the Mitre plan will come out on top.

by oboe on Jul 28, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

The Mitre plan looks like something out of a bad 1960s sci-fi movie vision of the future.

Or like something from Logan's Run. UGH. So depressing.

by LuvDusty on Jul 28, 2011 4:46 pm • linkreport

What would be a good counter proposal then to what Mitre is planning? Given the current layout and the immediate surrounding area, it seems like you would need to do a complete tear down if you ever wanted to get the place to be walkable and integrated with the community.

by Nicoli on Jul 28, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

@movement: Tysons already has the jobs. Now it needs the residents--you know, the people who make any place worth visiting and sticking around. Currently Tysons has about 100,000 jobs but only 14-17,000 residents (I can't find the exact statistic right now). I'd say that that's a PRETTY f&$*ing huge inbalance that LCOR is smartly concentrating on.

by Eric on Jul 28, 2011 5:03 pm • linkreport

As Neil states, most of the buildings in the Mitre plan already exist. Expecting them to demolish their campus to better conform to the comp plan is unrealistic. Where possible, it appears Mitre's plan DOES add to the street grid connecting to Colshire in front of proposed building 4. The large area of undeveloped land in the foreground is not part of the Mitre site (I think it is Northrop Grumman)and obviously access must be maintained to it as well. I say focus on getting some ground floor retail in building 4 and make sure the new road connects to the residential community to the east.

by DB on Jul 28, 2011 5:17 pm • linkreport

It looks as though LCOR's plan is to tear down the existing townhouse community and replace it with the new mid-rise buildings. While I agree their plan is superior to Mitre's, I don't like that they are destroying existing residential. From that perspective, they won't be adding as many new residents as it may appear at first glance.

by Juanita de Talmas on Jul 28, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

McLean needs more people (specifically people with high payimg jobs who live in expensive homes) because people pay taxes and taxes are what will pay for the massive investment being made on the silver line. Sure, businesses pay taxes too and tysons needs more of those too but if you build a place with all businesses and no residents, you're building a transportation nightmare.

by Falls Church on Jul 28, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

How is the Mitre plan at all different from the "old" Tysons Corner we're trying to get away from? Terrible design.

by Tim on Jul 28, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

I've fixed the caption. Nikolai instructed us editors on which pictures to put in where and I got the captions messed up.

by David Alpert on Jul 28, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

Let's stop spreading the myth that Tysons will develop and reduce traffic congestion. That statement is false. Tysons with rail and good mixed use development will create large increases in traffic volume. Fairfax County's 527 TIA demonstrated that. Take a look at the Comp Plan's Table 7 that shows the $1.5 billion of additional road improvements that are needed to support an urban Tysons. SOVs are the main transportation mode now and will continue to be even after Tysons develops.

The developers are now going to be required to prepare and file consolidated 527 TIAs to look at traffic on a smaller, but still integrated level over multiple projects.

by tmtfairfax on Jul 28, 2011 5:39 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see more trees in the Mitre plan too, but I like it way better than the other plan, which I think is too tall. Does every place need to be Ballston or Clarendon? I'm sure a lot of you are saying "Yes," but GGW commenters don't represent a cross-section of the region. A lot of people actually prefer residential areas that are JUST residential and business areas that are JUST businesses.

As to funding the Silver Line: The argument that TOD will fund it doesn't hold water. Look at all the TOD in the R-B Corridor and along the Red, Blue, and Yellow Lines. Lots of residences. Lots of property tax. And still Metro is nearly insolvent--raising fares and cutting service. And we're supposed to think that more TOD will pay for the Silver Line?

Was it Einstein who said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

by JB on Jul 28, 2011 7:08 pm • linkreport

@JB

Metro is insolvent because the tax revenue that results from the TOD doesn't go to Metro. In Hong Kong, the transit agency owns the land in the TOD areas near the transit stations and earns a tidy profit.

However, metro doesn't need to make a profit from the Silver Line TOD to make it a good investment because metro isn't paying for building the silver line. Fairfax/Virginia taxpayers are paying for the Silver Line and the increased revenue from TOD will go to Fairfax/Virginia taxpayers. What would be smart is if Virginia dedicated a portion of the extra revenue from the TOD to Metro. Then Metro wouldn't be so broke and could better continue providing large dividends to its owners (the taxpayers).

One should analyze transit investments similar to how you would analyze a road investment. Roads don't make a profit but they can still be good investments and transit doesn't make a profit but can still be a good investment.

As for traffic increasing as Tysons develops, yes, that will be the case. If you build an awesome place with lots of high paying jobs and interesting retail (yes, some people think "American Girl" is cool), then lots of people will want to go there. Many of them would rather put up with traffic than use alternatives such as transit, so traffic will increase. However, you won't be able to build such a place without transit.

And, yes, I realize that a lot of people who moved to the Tysons area years ago could care less about lots of high paying jobs and interesting retail. However, whether you live in/near Tysons, a gentrifying area like Shaw, or most other places in an urban area like DC Metro, you have to understand that change comes with the territory. If you want to live some place where you never have to worry about it changing, you should live in an area with very strict historic designations. But, change/development/progress is at the very core of the American way and you'll be hard pressed to find many places where the American spirit of building it "bigger, faster, stronger" doesn't soon take hold.

by Falls Church on Jul 28, 2011 8:20 pm • linkreport

@tmtfairfax

Assuming that Tysons is walkable and residents have little need for cars, then the traffic volumes should remain or actually decrease as a street grid will allow for better automobile distribution. Look at Northern Arlington as a prime example; residents find that having a car is more of a hassle and traffic has remained the same as it was pre-TOD.

by Phil on Jul 28, 2011 9:41 pm • linkreport

I think JB is confused.

The Commons of McLean are in Tysons Corner, not McLean (despite the name).

JB misquoted me as saying McLean needs more people, when the article specifically refers to Tysons Corner, as well.

Just as an FYI.

by Nikolai on Jul 28, 2011 9:42 pm • linkreport

Phil, have you bothered to read the traffic analysis that was prepared for Tysons at a cost of seven figures? It shows more traffic, not less. There is a need for $1.5 billion in additional road capacity to bring Tysons to 2030 growth levels. This also assumes the Silver Line is completed to at least Dulles Airport, high-quality mixed use development, bike lanes, sidewalks, etc., etc. Why do so many people want to pretend that Tysons will not have more traffic?

by tmtfairfax on Jul 28, 2011 11:06 pm • linkreport

Both plans seem to fall a bit short, but the Mitre plan is definatly a dissapointment. The whole idea of extending the metro to Tysons was to build it up as a true urban area with rail connecting it to other urbanism. The Mitre plan won't do anything to encourage pedestrial life. The other one has a great plan, but the buildings don't seem to support them as much as they could, the whole Ballston effect. Make a truly great environment and you'll encourage people ot get out of their cars, but you won't reduce congestion, you'll only slow it down. New TOD's simply absorb development that would further deteriorate driving conditions, not actually pull existing cars off the road. It seems like a missed opportunity in Mitre's case.

by Thayer-D on Jul 29, 2011 6:13 am • linkreport

I love how people like JB argue that "transit agencies lose money". No shit, and roads make money?

It's about the tangential benefits! We don't build Metro stations or highways so that WMATA/VDOT/DDOT/MSHA make money; we build them so people can move around easier, which is crucial for any economic development. The agencies themselves don't have to be profitable since the economic growth they bring makes up for it.

by Tom on Jul 29, 2011 8:06 am • linkreport

JB: "A lot of people actually prefer residential areas that are JUST residential and business areas that are JUST businesses."

That's the sort of mentality that got us into the sprawl mess to begin with. It's time to start moving away from that flawed model.

by AlecT on Jul 29, 2011 8:38 am • linkreport

It seems to me that Mitre's future development is designed to be a highly insuler, single user campus that consolidates several of their Tysons locations with proximity to metro and a focus on its own employees ease of access and security. Therefore it wouldn't make sense for them to have a ton of street level retail because there is no need to create a draw. They aren't primarily in the real estate business and rather focus on R&D over dealing with retail leases. They are a large employer and are one of the biggest real estate tax payers in Tysons which the county leadership is no doubt aware of and is willing to support. Furthermore, portions of the Mitre plan were approved before revisions to the Tysons comprehensive plan were in place. With this in mind, I think their plan works for them and should be viewed as a success. Look to the neighboring Scotts Run Station/old West*gate office park redevelopment by CityLine (who's land Mitre 4 is being built on) to fit more of a multi-tenant office and retail destination with an urban mixed-use character that is consistent with the new plan for Tysons.

by JoeBob on Jul 29, 2011 9:36 am • linkreport

I think the author is being obtuse with respect to the Mitre plan as most of the detractors. Mitre isn't some general retailer or developer or office complex but a defense contractor. For obvious reasons, they don't exactly want random people wandering around their campus and the design was probably intended that way. Be inviting but limiting. They certainly do not want large store front retail and the like on their campus.

Further, if the author had done a little research he would know that Mitre, as a defense contractor, has security restrictions placed upon it by DoD in how it can erect its constructions. Or does the author not understand there reason for BRAC.

by Burger on Jul 29, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

There is also an effort to attract the National Science Foundation to Tysons. Landowners will build whatever type of building is necessary to obtain the tenant. Fairfax County is also likely to be flexible with respect to set-backs, etc. in order for the landowners to obtain leases from federal agencies. Mitre is just protecting its business with its development. It doesn't make much sense for the County to push Mitre to another location by forcing it to build what is does not need and cannot use.

But unless there is funding for $17 billion in road and supplemental transit improvements, much of this proposed urban construction cannot necessarily be built.

by tmtfairfax on Jul 29, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

Is no one ever going to build another rowhouse in the DC metro area again? I'm getting really tired of seeing these big behemoth condo buildings (even if they are mixed-use.) There's a really good reason NoMa isn't a warm, neighborly community like Shaw. We're way overbuilding these impersonal condos where people have no direction connection to the street. They're great for density -- if people will live in them -- but they're not what makes DC a great city.

by Tanya on Jul 29, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

@Tanya

There are plenty of good reasons that you're not seeing rowhouses in either NoMa or Tysons - the land values are far higher and support much denser uses. You don't see rowhouses in downtown, either.

And we have seen new, rowhouse-level developments in areas where that kind of density is appropriate. Check out the Capitol Quarter down near the Navy Yard for a good example.

The developers wouldn't be building them if they couldn't get people to live in them. The region's apartment vacancy rate is absurdly low - there is huge demand for more housing. What evidence do you have that we're overbuilding? The price data indicates that we're under-supplied, not over-supplied.

I also reject your assertion that tall buildings can't be neighborly - both for the residents in those buildings and for the urban design of the community itself.

by Alex B. on Jul 29, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

I'm confused. It's not clear in the article whether this is a "one-or-the-other" debate; i.e., are we talking about the same parcel of land, where they have to pick one plan or the other? Or are these plans for two different pieces of land, and both might be able to come to fruition?

by JS on Jul 29, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

@JS

They are different pieces of land.

by Alex B. on Jul 29, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

There has been talk by several Fairfax County planning commissioners that townhouses would be a good addition to Tysons Corner in some of the outlying, non-TOD areas. But no developer has proposed them yet. Those landowners might propose to develop under the former Comp Plan as they did not obtain the desired density under the new Comp Plan. Townhouses or row houses might be good transition from the intense density near the Tysons rail stations and the existing, mainly SFH neighborhoods.

by tmtfairfax on Jul 29, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

@JB,

@Falls Church gave an excellent answer, but I want to add that purely residential and purely business areas will continue to exist. You complain about not wanting to be Ballston or Clarendon -- well, look at an aerial photo of Arlington sometime (I think GGW posted some a few months ago). The area right around the Metro stations is built up, but go a couple blocks away, and you're in a neighborhood of single-family homes (which have basically stayed the same since the Metro stations were built). And that's just within an easy walk of the Metro station -- there are huge swaths of Arlington that are entirely residential neighborhoods.

The point is to make the best use of the land right around the new Metro stations -- spread-out, detached office campuses are not going to draw riders from the Metro or make it easy for their workers to use the Metro to commute. Yes, lots of people want to live in among nothing but single-family houses and drive to work at an office park where they have to drive to get lunch because there are no restaurants they can walk to. And that option will still be in plentiful supply. But lots of people want the choice to ride Metro and to walk to lunch -- an option that doesn't exist now.

by MMSS on Jul 29, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

How is the Mitre plan at all different from the "old" Tysons Corner we're trying to get away from? Terrible design.

by hyperfuse 2011 on Aug 1, 2011 2:25 am • linkreport

Is no one ever going to build another rowhouse in the DC metro area again?

@Tanya: Check out these new Condos on 15th and Swann

The builder did an amazing job of keeping the look/feel of the row house on the outside and making nice condos on the inside. Many of the older row houses you see have also been converted inside to multiple units without changing the outside feel. So fear not.

by LuvDusty on Aug 1, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

I agree that the LCOR plan is far superior to Mitre's plan. Unfortunately, LCOR's plan doesn't actually propose any ground-floor retail.

by Alison Russell on Aug 1, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

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