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Tysons condo proposal faces uphill battle over loading, traffic concerns

A rendering of the proposed Flats at Tysons Corner condominiums along Gallows Road (via Fairfax County)

For a small development, a proposal for 86 condominium units near the Fairfax Square shopping center in Tysons has turned out to be surprisingly vexing.

Fairfax County’s planning staff recommended denying developer Pulte Group’s rezoning application for a Flats at Tysons Corner last Wednesday (Nov. 2), taking issue primarily with the size and location of sites for loading and trash collection.

“Operationally, the on-street loading has the potential to negatively impact and disrupt the pedestrian experience and safety and has the potential to impede vehicular travel,” planner Mary Ann Tsai said at the Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing. “Design-wise, the on-street loading spaces do not meet the geometric size or location requirements in the zoning ordinance or public facilities manual.”

Pulte hopes to replace a parking lot at 1953 Gallows Road, right behind Patsy’s American, with two multifamily residential buildings and about 17,000 square feet of park space, including publicly accessible urban and pocket parks and a Gateway Plaza on Gallows.

The plan also calls for a 10,700-square-foot pop-up plaza in the parking lot between the residences and an existing, 8-story office building owned by The Meridian Group.

The property would have a new, private street and a Road A extending from what’s currently an entrance off Gallows Road. Initially designated as private, Road A would be the beginnings of a public grid street envisioned in the Tysons Comprehensive Plan as eventually connecting Gallows to Route 7.

The Flats at Tysons Corner would consist of two condo buildings with park space (via Fairfax County)

In addition to 111 garage parking spaces on the ground floors of the residential buildings, the developer has proposed two on-street loading spaces: one on the private street and one on Road A that would be removed once it becomes a public street.

County staff objected to having loading spots on the street and noted that they would only be 8 feet wide — below the 15 feet required for off-street loading spaces in the county zoning ordinance and the 10 to 11-foot minimum in the public facilities manual.

“I just think the loading dock…doesn’t work well for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which it’s not wide enough, it’s at somebody’s front door, and it conflicts with the impression of this project,” Hunter Mill District Commissioner John Carter said, noting a semi-truck wouldn’t fit in the spaces.

Staff have been trying to work with Pulte, but the 5.4-acre site is too small for a service road, and the developer has been “unwilling” to redesign the buildings to allow interior loading, Tsai told the planning commission.

Notably, Pulte can only redevelop a portion of the site, since Meridian plans to keep its office building and an accompanying 3-story parking garage. Other neighboring property owners also declined to sell.

DLA Piper attoreny Antonio Calabrese, who represented Pulte at the hearing, argued the development would enhance the property, bringing residents to a block intended as a transition between residential neighborhoods south of Gallows Road and Tysons Corner Center to the north of Route 7.

It would also provide gathering spaces for residents, visitors and workers at the adjacent office building with food trucks, outdoor seating, art and landscaping, including along Gallows.

“I think it was Voltaire who talked about not letting perfection get in the way of very good. From my perspective, looking at this site, which is just asphalt parking…this is a much better use,” Calabrese said.

The application got support from Southern Management Companies, which owns two adjacent office buildings. Executive Vice President Gabrielle Duvall said the proposed park spaces would be attractive to the company’s employees and tenants, asking the commission to “not penalize Pulte for the fact that we wouldn’t sell them our land.”

However, one resident of the townhomes across Gallows Road called the traffic situation “chaotic.” Another worried parking would spill over into the existing neighborhoods and questioned whether the new residents would use the proposed urban parks.

“There isn’t enough open, recreational space. I hear all about this kind of kitschy, decorative pavements, throwing some pingpong tables for goodness sakes,” Janet Bradley said, arguing people would be more drawn to the open, recreational fields at Freedom Hill Park.

The commission deferred a vote on the application until Nov. 16 to see if the loading issues can be addressed.

“Staff’s concerns are very legitimate and appropriate. There’s no question about that,” Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner said. “What we have to struggle with is if there’s factors that make this ironclad or other factors that would give us some desire to accommodate [the proposal] to the best of their ability.”