Residential development is outpacing office growth in Tysons, county data shows

The Tysons East skyline, seen from Tysons Corner Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Tysons is making good progress on fulfilling Fairfax County’s goal of turning it into a place where people live as well as work, county staff say.

Since the Tysons Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2010, the urban center has seen its population jump from 17,000 to 30,124 residents, according to data shared last week with the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Tysons Committee.

Over that time period, the housing stock has increased from 8,943 units to 14,253, with another 1,613 units under construction, as of July 2022.

That influx of residents narrowed the ratio of jobs-to-households from over 11-to-1 in 2010 to about 6-to-1 in 2022. Aiming for 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs by 2050, the plan posited a ratio of 4-to-1 as an ideal mix for Tysons.

“Tysons growth continues to be in line with plan growth projections, and we think residential is tracking probably at a faster pace than we anticipated, but there is still capacity in the pipeline,” Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development Urban Centers Section Chief Suzie Battista said at the Jan. 12 committee meeting.

Based on data compiled for the Tysons Tracker, an interactive platform that launched in 2021 and is currently being updated annually, county staff project that development will fall about 9 million square feet short of the 69.9-million-square-feet goal set forth in the plan for 2024.

Development growth projections in Tysons, based on planned and approved projects (via Fairfax County)

Battista noted that the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and completion of Metro’s Silver Line extension are still unknown, but she doesn’t “think there’s any cause for concern.”

From August 2021 through July 2022, developers finished five buildings with 1.3 million square feet of space, including Capital One Hall and the Hanover apartments. Another 3.2 million square feet is under construction, and projects totaling 1 million square feet got site plan approval.

About two-thirds of the upcoming development is residential, which has grown by over 6.6 million square feet since 2011 — exceeding the roughly 3 million square feet of added office space.

Notably, the increase in housing has included 773 affordable or workforce dwelling units to date, not including the planned, all-affordable Dominion Square West and Somos projects. Tysons had just 40 units of affordable housing prior to 2010, according to the tracker.

Battista says developers seem open to the county’s revamped ADU/WDU policy for Tysons, which reduced the percentage of affordable units required in each project but lowered the targeted area median income (AMI) levels.

“We were finding from the development community, some of the higher tiers, that wasn’t really getting at the goal of what we were trying to accomplish with affordable housing just based on the AMIs in this area,” she said.

While heartened by the housing growth in Tysons, planning commissioners warned that the county also needs to focus on maintaining the area’s status as an economic engine, which means supporting commercial development as well.

Where development has been approved in Tysons, as of August 2022 (via Fairfax County)

The closer ratio of housing to jobs partly reflects a decline in the latter, Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina noted, with the estimated 88,304 jobs currently in Tysons falling short of the 105,000 jobs that the comprehensive plan had forecast by this time.

The jobs estimate is slightly outdated, since it comes from numbers reported to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2015, according to Battista. An update is expected this year after being delayed by the pandemic and Census.

“That’s a good point,” DPD Deputy Director Chris Caperton told Cortina. “As excited as we are that the residential numbers are looking robust and people see this as a place to live, as a destination living spot, we do have to be mindful of the office numbers and our employment base out there.”

The need to balance housing and employment has made county staff cautious about supporting proposals to convert vacant or underutilized offices, particularly next to Metro stations, where the county wants to concentrate its job centers, Caperton said.

While office-to-housing conversions have become trendy, the viability of those projects tends to be very site-specific, since the uses have different needs in terms of design, amenities, schools, transportation and other factors, according to county staff.

The county has one conversion proposal for a Tysons office building under review, and more are in the works but haven’t been officially submitted yet. Battista says some of them show “good potential,” but there are others that staff have advised the developers not to pursue.

“[We want to make sure] we’re not making knee-jerk reactions based on the market to a long-range plan that we’re less than 15 years into,” Battista said. “…We want to see development, but it has to be an appropriate development that’s not going to hinder us in the future, because Tysons, we want it to remain the economic engine of the county and be competitive.”