Douglas Sarno had a tough crowd on his hands at last Thursday's Tysons Land Use Task Force community dialogue meeting. Sarno endured 45 minutes of pointed questions and complaints about development and density before he was even able to begin the scheduled small group discussion portion of the evening.
"This is not a meeting about rail," said Sarno, a principal with The Perspectives Group, the company hired by the Tysons Land Use Task Force to gather community input. "We are here because the introduction of rail affects how the Comprehensive Plan will evolve around the future of Tysons Corner."
The Tysons Land Use Task Force was appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to update the Comprehensive Plan for Tysons. It is made up of a mix of stakeholders from the community, businesses and major employers, as well as representatives from each Supervisory District, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, TyTran and area neighborhoods. Last Thursday's meeting at the McLean Community Center was the seventh of twenty scheduled community dialogues designed to collect citizen input.
The Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan for Tysons Corner was last updated in 1994. It called for a number of goals including more housing, affordable units, mixed-use development, a cohesive pedestrian system and "an improved sense of place."
"At that time, rail was just a thought," said Sarno. "Now it's much more of a reality."
CONSTRUCTION ON the Tysons Metrorail could begin this year, with actual ridership slated for 2011. At Thursday's meeting, Sarno asked for the public's concerns and he got them.
"We're here because 20 nominations to the Comprehensive Plan are under consideration, and these nominations would increase the density of Tysons Corner," said Susan Turner, president of the McLean Citizen's Association (MCA). "Metro will make the traffic worse. The implicit assumption here is that we're all on board here for growth, and that we're all going to sit here and tell them what kind of buildings we want."
However, Sarno defended the purpose of Thursday's meeting.
"With all due respect we are here because we want to know what you want," said Sarno. "If you don't want more growth then you can tell us that you don't want any more growth."
As it turned out, that is precisely what residents of McLean told Sarno. The majority of those in attendance expressed with absolute certainty their desire for no increase in density in Tysons at all. MCA member Germaine Broussard pointed out that despite the fact that she lives in McLean and works in Tysons, her commute can take her up to three hours.
"And where are all these kids going to go to school?" asked Broussard.
Many residents also stated their feeling that Thursday night's dialogue was an exercise in futility.
"My concern is that this project has gone too far without having this meeting three years ago," said resident Mike Kelly.
MCA member Maya Huber, who monitored the 1994 changes to the Comprehensive Plan, said she was disturbed by the fact that changes in the Plan are "always a program that is higher density and higher density and higher density."
Jim Turner, also an MCA member, echoed this sentiment, offering up "treat Metro as a transportation solution, not a development option," as one of his suggestions for the Comprehensive Plan.
Another point of contention was the fact that there are representatives from other districts on the Tysons Land Use Task Force. After numerous heated comments, the crowd eventually talked in small round-table groups, writing down their desires on index cards. After these discussions, a representative from each table handed Sarno their cards, and he mounted them on the wall for everyone to see.
Some of the repeated themes were "as little growth as possible," "transportation and infrastructure before growth," "many more green spaces" and "mobility without driving." Another hugely popular request was the closure of the Office of Economic Development.
All of these values will be gathered for one final report from the Tysons Task Force, which will in turn be used to define the direction of the Comprehensive Plan. The whole process is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
"In terms of guiding and planning we really are the linchpin for this whole process," said Sarno. "We want to use these guiding and planning principles to develop a set of options."
Sarno said that of the Tysons community dialogues he has hosted thus far, the McLean session had been the most contentious.
"People here are more vocal and passionate, but they are angry and they are bitter and they have every right to be," said Sarno.