Tysons has been adding more public facilities, but for a library, expect to wait

Existing public facilities are in red, while planned ones are blue (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has made some progress over the past decade in introducing public amenities to support its growing community in Tysons.

Since adopting its Tysons Comprehensive Plan in 2010, the county has secured sites for 14 new, major public facilities, including the completed Scotts Run Fire Station and Capital One Hall, which is privately owned but guarantees space for community groups under an agreement with ArtsFairfax.

Tysons has also added 34 acres of parkland, including four urban parks within the past year, and athletic fields are “ahead of where we need to be based on the…development that’s been delivered,” Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Urban Centers Section Chief Suzie Battista told the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Tysons Committee at a Jan. 12 meeting.

Planning is underway on other projects, like the relocation of Fire Station 29 to serve western Tysons, but with the area booming in terms of development and population, commissioners asked how county staff decide what needs to prioritize when negotiating commitments from developers, known as proffers.

For instance, why is a community center going into the planned residential high-rises at Dominion Square, rather than a library?

“I think what some of us are concerned about is that opportunity cost,” Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner said. “If we make a commitment to a community center, what are we not doing, not able to do as a consequence of that decision? Why is that community center a priority over that thing that we are not able to do?”

The need for a community center in Tysons dates back to the comprehensive plan’s adoption and “was of great interest” to former Providence District supervisor Linda Smyth, who retired in 2019, according to DPD Deputy Director Chris Caperton.

The plan recommends phasing in public facilities based on population and employment growth, acknowledging that they can take a long time to plan, fund and construct.

A community center is listed as a “current need” in the county’s Tysons Tracker, along with a Dominion Energy power substation and interim office space for police. Though the data platform doesn’t show a threshold for a library, the comprehensive plan predicts one will be needed when Tysons reaches 50,000 residents, or between 2030 and 2040.

Public facilities needed in Tysons, per the Tysons Tracker (via Fairfax County)

As of 2022, Tysons had 30,124 residents, according to county data. The county’s plan calls for 100,000 people by 2050.

When Niedzielski-Eichner noted that a community center had already been proffered with The View at Tysons, a 3 million-square-foot development planned next to the Spring Hill Metro station, Caperton pointed to Dominion Square’s location on the opposite side of Route 7 and anticipated all-affordable housing units as benefits.

“[Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services] is now more involved in looking for small-scale opportunities in Tysons to meet their needs, their constituents,” he said. “I don’t know the thinking behind this specific community center or what drove it, but there certainly is a need south of 7.”

With the community center at Dominion Square approved, The View developer Clemente Development is expected to instead provide new land, construction or improvements for athletic fields, per DPD, though a second center could still be built elsewhere in Tysons in the future.

As for the library, developer The Meridian Group agreed to provide 19,000 square feet in one of The Boro’s office buildings, and the facility is included in the county’s longer-term plan for capital improvement projects.

However, there’s no timeline yet for work to begin in earnest.

“This need was identified years ago based on changing demographics, density, and mass transit access, to be developed at a future unknown time,” Fairfax County Public Library Director Jessica Hudson told FFXnow. “FCPL works with County partners when opportunities occur for potential sites but for a new Tysons facility, it is too early to start any detailed planning.”

Some commissioners questioned if the county may be relying too much on developers setting the pace for delivering needed public facilities.

“I think our current system, which is just waiting and doing it through the proffer system, can be a problem,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “I think maybe the county ought to think about how it should be more proactive on that.”

Most of the land in Tysons is privately owned and already developed, making proffers a more feasible approach to securing sites for public facilities, according to DPD Director Tracy Strunk.

“Locating new public facilities would be cost-prohibitive if the county had to purchase land to build stand-alone public structures,” Strunk said in a statement to FFXnow. “Using the proffer process allows the county to work with developers to co-locate public facilities within private developments at a lower cost to the public.”

Niedzielski-Eichner said he sees a library as a priority for Tysons, reflecting on a recent visit to New York City where he was impressed by how its library’s main branch felt like “a cornerstone” of the community.

While Vice Chair Timothy Sargeant noted that New York City’s “planning” for public facilities often involved clearing existing neighborhoods, the commission agreed that “a little bit of strategic thinking” is important to deciding what goes where.

“We just want to make sure these things are all working together, that the people planning the [capital improvement program] are in tune with you or you’re directing it more than just waiting for the library board to say yes,” Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina said.