These Stories Appeared in the Crier, concerning the Save-the-Forest Campaign, May 2012 – January 2013

 

Tysons Corner Planning Meeting Held 5/8/12

An update on the status of Tysons Corner drew a capacity crowd May 8th at the Westbriar Elementary School. The meeting was hosted by the Greater Tysons Green Civic Association, which represents the homeowners directly abutting the Tysons Corner boundary on the west edge. Senior Fairfax County Planning and Zoning official, Matt Ladd provided an update on current status of approved and pending parcel developments, and described overall directions and parameters of the proposed transformation of Tysons Corner, anchored by the four Metro stations currently under construction.

Mr. Ladd empahsized that the development process will be slow, deliberate, and transparent, and allow for adequate citizen input at all stages. Each of the the Metro stations will be the focal point of high density construction, ranging up to 240 feet in height. This will produce a somewhat Roslyn-like skyline, which will be dominant from all points in Vienna having a view of the north eastern horizon. Existing roads, which have developed in a somewhat haphazard fashion over the decades, will be augmented and changed to a more urban cityscape of a conventional grid, with sidewalks, shop windows and street lights.

One of the earliest infrastructure upgrades, besides the Metro, will be to the electrical power. Tysons Corner, like most of Nothern Virginia, is powered from the high tension line which towers overhead along the W & OD Trail, more often called the Bike Path. A shunt to Tysons zig-zags across Vienna’s north side, going though the back yards of Westbriar’s Fairway and Woodford Drives, and on to a substation located on Tyco Road. The route of this power will not change, but a new substation is planned for the location just where the route enters the Tysons boundary. From this new substation, the plan calls for underground delivery of power to the existing Tyco Road facility.

Mr. Ladd touched on the planning for schools, athletic fields, pedestrian and bike access, and the mixed-use nature of new development. In evaluating proposals, the Planning Commission strongly favors commercial proposals which contain elements of public-oriented features, called “proffers”. These might include, for example, fire stations, day care centers, pedestrian trails.

The transformation of Tyson’s corner is a long term project, and will probably not be fully built-out until about 2050.

Of special interest to the Tysons Green Civic Association members, as well as to us here in Westbriar, is the narrow and fragile ribbon of woodland which forms a natural boundary between Tysons Corner and the homes to the west. At many stages of a lenthy question and answer period, residents raised questions related to this urban treasure. One of the most ominous issues is a proposal for an extension of Boone Boulevard from its present ending behind the old Hechinger property, (now Bed Bath and Beyond) to create a major traffic route out to a new exit ramp from the Dulles Access Road near the present toll booth. Mr. Ladd could not make a clear explanation of how this would be done without major destruction to this woodland.

In a future edition of the Westbriar Crier, we will explore this issue in more detail and attempt to determine the current official thinking regarding environmental protection.

_________________________

Fairfax DOT Unveils New Dulles Access Road Exit Plan May 31, 2012

Fairfax County Department of Transportation officials met with area residents Thursday, May 31 at the Westbriar Elementary School to unveil their newly minted plans for an extra Dulles Tollway exit into Tysons Corner. The standing-room only crowd of about 250 was asked to submit their preference for one of these plans on ballots which were collected after the meeting. Unfortunately, the DOT had never anticipated a crowd of that size, and had brought only a small fraction of the necessary ballots.

Before the meeting began, residents were given the opportunity to move about the room to view drawings of the proposed exits, and to talk to the five DOT representatives present. The three plans presented by DOT engineer, Seyed Nabavi, are summarized below.

Plan 1.  The Sheraton Wrap-Around

In this concept, a two lane flyover bridge to the westbound lanes would marry up with a two lane eastbound exit just after the present toll booth. The four lane bidirectional highway would be elevated and aimed straight at the 24 story Sheraton Premiere Hotel. Then, in a dramatic architectural flourish, the two segments would separate at the last instant, enveloping the gleaming blue iconic tower around the sixth floor level, join again on the other side, and descend to somewhere around Westwood Center Drive. Where exactly, the maps did not show, and the DOT officials apparently did not know.

is not clear what the Sheraton folks think of Plan 1, if they in fact have even been consulted. While the experience of being a guest above the seventh floor would still include the vista of Tysons’ skyline and the distant Blue Ridge mountains, along with perhaps 80 decibles of traffic noise, the view below the sixth floor would be a forest of concrete and steel girders holding the structure up. Sixth floor guests, however, would be treated to a stream of cars, trucks, and motorcycles screaming past their windows within a few feet. Perhaps the enterprising guest could offset his travel expenses by selling coffee or snacks out the window to morning commuters.

The Sheraton Wrap-Around Plan is easily the most architecturally novel of the plans offered. In a community where people are used to navigating around by referring to buildings names such as the Shopping Bag, or the Toilet Bowl, it is interesting to speculate, should this concept become reality, of what the thing would be called informally.

Plan 2. The Power Shift

The exit would be near the last exit to the Dulles Access, just prior to the last tollbooth prior to Route 495. The ramps would turn south and connect with Goldsboro Drive at Spring Hill Road. The route would take it through the site where the electrical substation currently exists at Tyco Road.

According to DOT, there is a little bit of leeway in the exact routing of the ramp. “However, in all cases, the power substation will have to be dismantled and moved to another location”, said Mr. Nabavi.

Since this power station powers all of Tysons Corners, and most of the existing distribution cables are now underground, this might be a bigger job, for example, than moving a trailer or a Wendy’s. How long could Tysons Corner comfortably exist on candles and kerosene lamps during the re-routing of hundreds of miles of buried cables? Does the electric company have a say in this? Or does every random new road have right of way over top level infrastructure? More questions than answers here.

Plan 3. The Forest Drop

Plaln 3, of course, is the plan that has us the most concerned. It’s an exit ramp off the exit ramp, prior to the existing toll booth. It would have its own tollbooth build on a bridge high above the extreme north end of the woodlands, and come to a landing snug up against the one story parking building associated with 8618 Westwood Center Drive.

Aside from the destruction of the north end of the forest, the plan contains an ominous feature indicated by the red arrow: The DOT’s map indicates continuation of the highway for a hundred feet aiming southeast exactly along the centerline of the Tysons Run woodlands. None of the DOT officials would clarify this. Instead, all said exactly the same curious thing as if rehearsed: “The highway will be blocked off at the point shown. All traffic will do a tight turn to the east into a single lane alley around the corner of that building and connect up with Boone Blvd by unspecified routes. We only designed the ramps, and have no idea where the roads will go.”

After listening to this explanation, one neighborhood attendee likened it to being in an airplane, and the Captain comes back to announce that he was only trained to take-off, and has no idea where he is going, or how to land. “But the good news is, according to my watch, we are over halfway to the crash site, and with any luck, will beat the firetrucks by at least twenty minutes,” she quipped.

In the more than one hour Question and Answer period, there was 100% opposition to the Plan 3 (Forest Drop) and virtually no support to the other plans. Many attendees indicated that the best way to avoid congestion is to provide for adequate lanes on Route 7 for its full length through Tysons, not to reduce the number of lanes.

For more neighborhood commentary at this meeting click on the Patch logo 

See also this story in the

 

 

The VDOT officials indicated that they did not know if the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has been made aware of the proposed highway exit into the Tysons Spring Run forest. The Westbriar Crier will be investigating this aspect further and will report back.

_________________________

What is the REAL reason for Boone Blvd Extension?
by John Freudiger, Westbriar Resident 6/4/12

I’d like to know the excuse that they are using for building the Boone Blvd extension and who is pushing the plan. If the excuse is to ease traffic on Route 7 and the Toll Road, the extension won’t be needed, for a number of reasons: First, the tolls are scheduled to increase dramatically soon even if the Dulles Rail isn’t extended to the Airport, and most people that I know won’t be using the Toll Road when that happens. They will be using Beulah, Old Courthouse Road, Route 7, Old Dominion Drive and Georgetown Pike, so we don’t need another exit off the toll road. Just like the Dulles Greenway, the Toll Road will see a lot less traffic than it would if the tolls were reasonable. 

Secondly, the traffic is currently awful on Route 7 west of Tysons Corner, but that will change when they finish construction and add the 1 to 2 additional lanes in each direction that are currently being used by cranes and track-building equipment. So traffic there will improve considerably.

And finally, Traffic is bad going East on Rte 7 between Route 123 and I-495, but that will ease when they complete the hot-lanes construction on I-495. Boone Blvd empties into this part of Rte 7 anyway. And if they are building Boone Blvd to empty more traffic onto Rte 123 South in the afternoon, they should understand that we will never widen Maple Avenue in Vienna – so traffic will just back up onto Boone Blvd. We don’t need any shortcuts from Boone Blvd to Old Courthouse Road to divert traffic.

So the excuse can’t be to ease traffic. Did Fairfax promise the many shopping centers whose disappearing customers no longer have an easy entrance from Route 7 that they would now have a back entrance for shoppers? Many of the businesses in these centers have closed because of the construction and because it is almost impossible to get into and out of them. But that doesn’t justify the destruction of parks and woodland and streams

 

Is the real reason that businessmen have paid off the zoning commissioners and County Board so that they can create all the additional high-rises and strip malls and gas stations and convenience stores in place of the trees? If that’s true, think of the wonderful shopping malls they could build at Wolf Trap Farm Park. It has easy access from both Route 7 and from the Toll Road, and there is plenty of land to build on. Why not take that over and leave the Vienna residents alone with the few woodlands we have left. That makes just as much sense as the extension of Boone Blvd.

John Freudiger
Kramer Drive SE Vienna
johnfreudiger@mac.com

_________________________

A Wrong Direction
by David Shue, Westbriar Resident

The supposed reason for the extension of Boone Blvd is to relieve traffic on Route 7. For a planner to say this is absurd. The area around the Metro was widened to eliminate the service road (necessary to get the space for Metro) but not widened enough to add another lane to Route 7. So it is an excuse to grab an alternative. It doesn’t fit the traffic facts at Tysons. Has a traffic study been done that describes traffic at rush hour on Gosnell? Has a traffic study been done to examine an at-grade intersection for Route 123 and Boone Blvd? If it had, anyone who knows the area knows that the Tysons area becomes backed up almost to the point of gridlock. Another new intersection would make it truly gridlock.

Try Boone Blvd and International Drive and see how long it backs up. The planners have laid an egg. Yes, transportation in the area needs alternatives. But this is not it.

I had imagined that the Dulles exit and the road would be on stilts Ð thus making moribund the area destroying the estuary and an ecological separation between commercial and residential. Animals still depend on this area and its water. Putting runoff into a culvert is a terrible answer wasting a resource and the planners admit that they will have at least 8 times the peak runoff without the forest absorbtion. Absurd.

To keep the area from becoming a traffic disaster, a Boone extension should be built on stilts over Gosnell, over Route 123 and put then onto Boone Blvd. Even this is a bad choice if you look at rush hour traffic on Boone Blvd. It backs up two to three blocks (that is what I observe when I drive it at 3:30 to 4:00 PM on the way home). This idea will not relieve anything, it will only add to congestion. To me it makes far more sense to widen Route 7.

Just because green land, however small, exists, it is not an excuse for a planner to make a power grab and build something that is not in the interests of the residents or the County. The planners seem to have illusions of New York City in mind. Even the asphalt planners left Central Park to provide green space. A New York City traffic matrix is not what I have in my mind as an ideal, but that is what the planners are dreaming about. Tysons is far too hilly and has too many existing facts on the ground to start thinking about a New York style street grid.

Let’s talk about the residents that will be uprooted.  The houses/apartments behind Radio Shack and the 40 unit apartment building across the way will have to be eliminated.  Displacing residents to create alternative traffic routes (that won’t work) is hardly a good thing.  Widen Route 7 instead, and problem solved.

David S. Shue 
106 Saint Bernard Drive
Vienna

_________________________

Westbriar Joins Coalition on Tysons Corner Forest Issue 8/15/12

Our Civic Association has been invited into a coalition of local civic and home owner groups which was formed to persuade the Fairfax County government to rethink a recent Department of Transportation proposed action. This action would destroy the thin ribbon of forest that surrounds the western edge of Tysons Corner, and replace it with a new exit ramp to serve the commercial area where the Best Buy is located.

The forest issue has been covered here in the Crier since it became public three months ago, detailing the proposal as it was previewed on May 8, and officially disclosed on May 31.

“On behalf of Westbriar, I have accepted this invitation because I feel the arguments for sparing this fragile and beautiful forest and stream are well founded”, said John Shreffler, Westbriar president. “I believe most, if not all, of our entire 433 homeowner membership does also. At least in the feedback I have received, not one person has expressed support for the destruction of the forest, even if it solved some future traffic problems.”

_________________________

Save the Forest Coalition fires shot over Fairfax County bow 8/23/12

The Coalition to Save Tysons Corner Forest has sent on August 23 a strongly-worded letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and other relevant departments requesting that a proposal presented by the Department of Transportation involving the Tysons Spring Run forest be summarily dropped from further consideration.

Following the unveiling of the DOT plan on May 31 at the Westbriar Elementary School, stunned residents of surrounding neighborhoods were at first slow to react. There was informal chat across the fence, and some meetings of Home Owners Associations, but it took a while to realize how deeply the plan had struck a common nerve.

“We owe it to the future generations and to future residents of Tysons Corner”, said Pam Konde, president of the Greater Tysons Green Civic Association, part of which borders against the Tysons Spring forest. Konde identified local community leaders, got out the word, and chaired two well-attended meeting in the last six weeks to map out a strategy to bring to the attention of Fairfax government the unanimous feelings of other surrounding civic associations. Westbriar Civic Association has become part of this coalition, with 100% membership approval.

The coalition has developed and published a website to tell its story. The website will be under continual development as the issue and events evolve. It makes an appeal for help from the public through a number of practical steps. We strongly urge our membership to visit the site, learn the issues, see who the coalition members are, and do what you can to support the coalition’s goals. [Ed note:  This website is no longer on the web]

Westbriar Civic produced a video to help explain the issue to the public.  It can be seen HERE.

_________________________

Fairfax County Hangs Tight to DOT Forest Destruction Proposal 9/15/12

Three weeks ago, the Coalition to Save Tysons Corner Forest sent a letter to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, asking that they remove from further consideration the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s proposal to use the protected parkland as an exit from the Dulles Access Road. Last week, the coalition followed up on this request by meeting with county officials.

On the evening of September 12, Coalition Leader Pam Konde, accompanied by six civic association leaders met with Dranesville Supervisor John W. Foust in his McLean office. Konde laid out the coalition’s basic points: The Tysons Corner Comprehensive Plan had accepted the park as a key element of its urban livability parameters; the land was acquired through deeds that directed unqualified protection; and a highly critical report by the County’s Park Authority that enumerated a number of flaws in the conception of the proposal, plus various legal and regulatory hurdles that must be overcome.

Supervisor Foust expressed understanding of the Coalition’s points, but indicated that the county was engaged in a process of evaluation of four possible exit ramp proposals, and said that it may not be appropriate at this time to attempt to intervene. Foust indicated that Federal funding procedures require evidence that a thorough evaluation of all possibilites have been considered. In addition to the forest route, the FCDOT is considering intersections at the Sheraton Hotel, Greensboro, and Jones Branch Drives. Foust said he was “not an advocate of the forest route”.

On September 14, the Coalition met with County Supervisor Sharon Bulova and three representatives of the FCDOT. Again, Konde reviewed the documents and Comprehensive Plan sections that the Coalition feels should be sufficient to render the protected forest destruction a non-starter. However, the result was much like the Foust meeting: a process has been started, and needs to be seen through to the end. Chairman Bulova did say that the thought of voting to destoy the forest would give her “heartburn”.

The coalition presented Supervisor Bulova with the printout of over 500 responders to the on-line petition. The petition allows each person the ability to say exactly why they are signing.

FCDOT representative Karyn Moreland indicated that the forest route was “best from a transportation standpoint, but worst environmentally”. She said the FCDOT was aware of the functions of the forest in retaining runoff and mitigating flooding downstream. Coalition member John Shreffler asked the group if anyone had personally been in the forest. Nobody in the Fairfax County government, it seems, has been.

The FCDOT will be conducting another round of community meetings later this fall, and expect to bring the results of the study to the Board of Supervisors in late 2012 or early 2013.

The coalition has scheduled more meetings with County officials in the weeks ahead. A Coalition block party is being organized for Saturday, September 29 near the park at Irvin Street. Watch the Crier for more details.

_________________________

Party Time in Tysons Green 9/29/12

There are few better ways to have a good time than having fun. And this group knows how to do that. It was serious fun, however. It had a theme. And that was to get together to talk about a possible end to the Tysons Spring Branch Run and its beautiful forest. The party had a little of everything. The weatherman even chipped in a gorgeous early autumn day.

It had food. Great food, and plenty of it, a pot luck delux.

And smoke, as host Dean Manson stoked the fire and kept the burgers and hot dogs coming non-stop.

And Art the kids made up posters to tell the story.

And Dogs …. ever alert for a dropped morsel.

And Music …. Above and Beyond DJ kept a lively beat.

But the best part was probably right here. That’s the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, Sharon Bulova on the left, accompanied by the Save the Forest Coalition Chairman Pam Konde. They are strolling down the narrow pedestrian and bike path, Ashgrove Lane, down into the center of the forest.

What is the big deal? Well, Bulova is believed to be the very first person in either the Supervisory offices or the Department of Transportation to have ever personally seen the Tysons Spring Run forest. The highway ramp project has been up to this moment something technical, remote, not real.

When she later addressed the group, Bulova said she “really needed that”. Hey, same here, we all felt. 
A special moment.

We were also honored to have with us Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, VA Delegates Barbara Comstock and Mark Keam, VA Senator Chap Petersen, and Vienna Council Member Carey Sienicki.

_________________________

Supervisor Hudgins Supports Save the Forest 11/20/12

Cathy Hudgins

Cathy Hudgins: “It’s a no-brainer.”

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins introduced a motion in the November 20 session to urge fellow Board members to look carefully at the environmental damages inherent in one of the options being studied by the Fairfax Department of Transportation.

A total of four proposals are being studied to bring additional traffic into the evolving Tysons, one of which destroys the last remaining forested area. Not only would the forest be destroyed, but the entire rain runoff from the west side of Tysons would of necessity be encased in underground culverts and sent crashing into downstream developments such as Carrington and Wolf Trap. Without the benefit of the water absorption of the forest floor, downstream flooding would worsen.

The FCDOT studies are expected to be complete by January 15. While Hudgins’ proposal did not remove the forest route from consideration, the move did serve to alert the FCDOT that there was more at play here than simply moving cars.

The 16 member Coalition to Save the Forest applauds Ms Hudgins for her sensitivity to the larger picture. In the end, her motion passed by vote of 6 to 1, with 3 abstentions.

Update 11/22: Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins has expressed in no uncertain terms that she understands that whatever one does or does not do to any part of the watershed will have consequences for everyone downstream. “It’s a no-brainer” said Hudgins, who is expected to introduce measures to have FCDOT remove from further consideration the concept of destroying the Tysons forest. Her Hunter Mill District encompasses not only all of Vienna, but also the forest, and the Beulah Road bridge.

_________________________

VICTORY! 1/16/13

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday afternoon to remove from further consideration a Tysons exit ramp which would have largely removed the last forest from the area. The forest contains one of the head water streams of the Difficult Run, which joins the Potomac River near Great Falls.

Soon after the forest route was unveiled by the Department of Transportation last May, an ad hoc group of community organizations joined forces to oppose this site for the highway exit. The Coalition to Save Tysons Last Forest, headed by Pam Konde (above), President of Greater Tysons Green Civic Association, quickly grew into a formidable advocate for the forest, with a membership of over two thousand homes. The Westbriar Civic Association was part of the effort.