A rendering of a new 26-story mixed-use building in Tysons. Image by jrs@tysons used with permission.

The plan to transform Tysons into a walkable urban center has a size problem.

In pursuit of a dense, walkable street grid, Fairfax County encourages large, consolidated development projects of more than 10 acres in Tysons (zoning ordinance article 6-506) — 20 acres in some areas. The idea is that these projects are large enough to contribute to a new grid of smaller streets giving pedestrians an alternative to Tysons’ wide, car-centric roads.

But sometimes property owners don’t want to consolidate. And as Emily Hamilton wrote for GGWash in June, large developments “tend not to provide the diverse and fine-grained built environments pedestrians tend to love.” In other words, the pursuit of a pedestrian grid simultaneously makes it harder for Tysons to develop places walkers want to walk.

It was in the context of this problem that last month, Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning application for a major Tysons development with one of the smallest lots ever.

At 1.1 acres, the district size for the 26-story mixed-use building proposed by jrs@tysons LLC is the smallest of any major zoning application since the Tysons Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2010, according to the plan’s latest annual report.

The Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning application unanimously at the recommendation of the county’s Planning Commission, allowing the project to move to the design phase.

“My view … is that, beyond now meeting the Plan’s performance objectives, an entitled [Planned Tysons Corner Urban District] rezoning will be the catalyst for significant further investment in this relatively underdeveloped area, strategically positioned between two Tysons metro stations,” planning commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner said in a September 16 meeting.

The property at 8130 Watson Street currently holds JR’s Stockyards Inn, a steakhouse dating back to 1974. The owners and operators of the restaurant, Jim and Karen Wordsworth, want to raze the restaurant, replacing it with a 270-foot building with more than 220 apartments and 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail space as well as three levels of underground parking. Most of the property is within a quarter-mile of the Tysons Corner Metro.

John McGranahan, an attorney for jrs@tysons, told the Board of Supervisors that the Wordsworths have been approaching neighboring properties in an effort to consolidate a larger development for more than a decade, “to no avail.” He pointed out to the board that the most logical area for consolidation, had the effort been successful, would only have covered less than eight acres.

“I think as you get Tysons cases going forward, a lot of the big projects have been approved,” McGranahan said. “You’re going to have to wrestle with some of these issues where you cannot get to that 10-acre minimum.”

Building on such a small lot size in the Tysons district required the Board of Supervisors to approve a waiver to the 10-acre requirement. The Planning Board originally recommended denying the waiver, but changed their tune when jrs@tysons made open space improvements and agreed to pay an extra $350,000 into the Tysons Grid of Streets Transportation Fund — about half of what the county thinks it will cost to build a grid street adjacent to the new building.

The developer has also committed to build .57 acres of public park space on site, and will allocate at least 20% of the dwelling units to the county’s Workforce Dwelling Unit rental program, maintaining reduced rents for those making up to 120% of the Area Median Income.

Supervisor Walter Alcorn complemented the project during the meeting, saying it could be a model for other development projects to further the goals of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan without large consolidated areas. Others agreed: if Tysons is aiming for true density, officials and developers will have to look at examples like this to figure out how to fill out smaller spaces while keeping the urban grid plan on track.

  • Tysons Partnership

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Tysons underwritten by the Tysons Partnership and community partners. Greater Greater Washington maintains full editorial independence over its content.

Libby Solomon was a writer/editor and Managing Editor for GGWash from 2020 to 2022. She was previously a reporter for the Baltimore Sun covering the Baltimore suburbs and a writer for Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Civic Impact.