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Proposed design guidelines imagine downtown McLean as ‘neighborhood village’

Proposed design guidelines for downtown McLean envision Elm Street as one of two future main streets (via Fairfax County)

In the future, the heart of downtown McLean will be at the meeting of Beverly Road and Elm Street.

A newly released set of draft design guidelines for development in McLean’s Community Business Center (CBC) designates Beverly and Elm as “main streets” that will help turn the area from a collection of strip malls into an active, more streamlined neighborhood village.

At the intersection of the roadways, the draft guidelines envision a pedestrian-focused “signature civic plaza” surrounded by retail and restaurants, building off an urban park concept outlined in the CBC comprehensive plan that Fairfax County adopted in 2021.

“The urban design vision for McLean is that it will have a small town feel with a variety of human-scale gathering spaces that foster social interaction and communal experiences,” the document says, calling for diverse businesses to support residents and “comfortable connections” both within McLean’s commercial core and to nearby neighborhoods.

Fairfax County is now seeking public feedback on the guidance, which was made public on Monday (April 24) and sets expectations for everything from building architecture to street layouts and wayfinding signage.

An open house where community members can discuss the proposed guidelines with county staff has been scheduled for 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday (May 2) at The Signet (6900 Fleetwood Road). Comments will also be accepted via an online survey until May 14.

The vision of downtown McLean as a “neighborhood village” was developed by the county’s Department of Planning and Development and an advisory group of McLean Planning Committee directors based on a community workshop held in March 2022.

The biggest section of the 132-page document is devoted to streetscapes, differentiating between the four-lane, faster avenues of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road and two-lane local streets, which include Beverly and Elm.

As outlined in the comprehensive plan, the design guidance envisions an urban trail for cyclists and pedestrians that’s at least 12 feet wide along Old Dominion. Chain Bridge will have a 5-foot-wide cycle track and at least 6-foot-wide sidewalks, along with an 8 to 10-foot-wide trail between Ingleside Avenue and Davidson Road.

The guidance advises against on-street parking on the avenues but recommends providing spots on local streets, particularly on the main streets and in front of retail.

Other highlights include:

  • A new street light style, since McLean’s current lights don’t meet “dark sky” standards
  • Street tree specifications
  • A screening requirement for parking lots, which are discouraged in favor of parking garages, preferably ones underground
  • A map of both existing and possible new park locations, with the “signature” plaza at the Beverly and Elm intersection serving as a town square
  • Guidance for public art, including that it be integrated with developments, have a functional or interactive component, and feature historical or environmentally friendly themes

“Existing developments in McLean have included water as a primary element to activate public space and residents would like this trend to continue,” the guidance says. “…Alternatively, consider use of natural art and beauty through the preservation of trees, waterways, and other environmental features.”

The draft guidelines are expected to be finalized this summer, after which they will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for its endorsement.

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