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Residents mostly embrace West Falls Church Metro redevelopment, but some fear traffic dysfunction

West Falls Church Metro redevelopment rendering (via EYA)

Depending on who had the microphone, last week’s public hearing on the proposed redevelopment of Metro’s West Falls Church station suggested it will either overwhelm local roads or avert “climate arson,” to use one speaker’s phrase.

As they did earlier in the planning process, supporters of the project seemed to have an edge over skeptics at the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s meeting on Wednesday (Feb. 8), arguing that the over 1-million-square-foot development would deliver needed housing and amenities, while making the transit station area more accessible and vibrant than the parking lots that it would replace.

“It is not pleasant to go through an enormous parking lot to get to Metro,” said Aaron Wilkowitz, a resident of the Mount Daniel neighborhood. “I would absolutely love it if we replace that parking lot with dog parks and with playgrounds and all sorts of wonderful things that my family can enjoy and that neighbors can enjoy.”

Developers EYA, Rushmark Properties, and Hoffman & Associates (FGCP-Metro LLC) are seeking to rezone the nearly 24-acre site to allow 810 multifamily residential units, 85 townhouses, a 110,000-square-foot office building and up to 10,000 square feet of retail.

The development would also bring about 2.1 acres of park space and transportation improvements — most notably, a 10-foot-wide shared-use trail on Haycock Road over I-66, as recommended by a community advisory group late last year.

Even the more critical speakers praised the inclusion of the Haycock Metrorail Connector Trail, but they worried about whether the developers will deliver. County planner Bryan Botello noted that the design needs to be approved by the county and state transportation departments.

Some residents questioned whether the grid of streets and 1,095 parking spaces sought at the site — 40% fewer than the 1,781 spaces required by the county — will support traffic, especially with development also coming to the adjacent Virginia Tech campus and in nearby Falls Church.

A proposed redevelopment of the West Falls Church Metro station property (via Fairfax County)

Ellison Heights-Mt. Daniel Civic Association president Adrianne Whyte warned that, if the parking and loading space is inadequate, “existing roads will become dysfunctional.”

“If this rezoning is approved, the development envisioned by all three parcels combined will dramatically change the stability of our neighborhood, increase the traffic on the roads within and around our neighborhood, and probably negatively impact the quality of life of the residents and other surrounding neighborhoods,” Whyte said.

Resident Cheryl Sim expressed skepticism that the future West Falls Station Blvd linking all three properties will mitigate traffic on Haycock, noting that the Falls Church and Virginia Tech developers have said the road will be closed “on occasion” for events.

A resident of the Pavillion Condominiums next to the site countered that he would welcome street closures if it means he no longer has to travel to Falls Church to find “vibrant community life.”

FGCP-Metro LLC will construct the project in phases, with much of the transportation infrastructure coming first to maintain access to the Metro station and bus stops — a condition of its agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

That includes the on-site segment of West Falls Church Blvd and other planned internal streets. The developers will also be required to complete the Haycock trail before the county permits 40 residents.

“The impetus of this project is really to achieve WMATA’s twin aims of boosting ridership and upgrading its aging infrastructure, so we are providing a lot of infrastructure up front, about $30 million worth,” Walsh Colucci lawyer Andrew Painter said for the applicant.

Proponents argued that putting housing at transit stations alleviates traffic by giving residents direct access to transportation options other than cars, suggesting that, if anything, the development should be more dense than what’s proposed.

“People have to live somewhere,” said Joseph Schiarizzi, who chairs Falls Church’s Environmental Sustainability Council but spoke as an individual. “And they’re either going to drive through our neighborhoods, through Leesburg Pike and completely block it up, or they can live near where they work…Literally on top of a Metro, obviously that’s where the most possible people should live. It just makes sense, and to do anything else is really climate arson, I believe.”

While the planning commission deferred a decision to March 8, Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder observed that the most enthusiastic about the project tended to be younger, including a mother who testified at 11:20 p.m. despite having “a 2 a.m. wake-up call waiting for me at home” in the form of a 4-month-old kid.

The woman said she and her husband moved into the Gates at Westfalls Condominiums so they could be in walking distance of Metro, which they both use for their work commutes.

“If we had it our way, we would never drive our cars, but that can be hard to do in this area, so we are very excited and grateful to have more options to walk to in the near future,” she said.

Rendering via EYA

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