Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Metro West - Urbanity on Hold


It has been heralded by green organizations across the country as "the answer to urban sprawl" - an urban village complete with more than 2200 new residences, fountains, cafes and over 100,000 s.f. of the all-important, ground-floor retail, concentrated around a Metro station as an outlet to relieve pressure for expansion outside of Washington DC.

When Pulte Homes' 56-acre Metro West development is finally completed, it will concentrate residences and offices south of the Vienna-Fairfax-GMU Metro Station, north of Route 29, and usher in a new era of "smart growth." That is, if it ever gets built.

The idea for Metro West first debuted in 2001, but it was March of 2006 before Fairfax County approved plans for up to 2,248 residential units and 300,000 s.f. of office space between Lee Highway and Saintsbury Drive; outside the beltway but still on a metro line.

"It took too many years trying to get it approved," laments Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. In 2003, Schwartz's group began lending support to the project as it passed through Fairfax County's Proffer System. He credits green organizations like the Sierra Club, FairGrowth and his own for spurring a "turning point" with the Board of Supervisors, who began to see "a transit-oriented development as a green solution" that would help to make Fairfax and other Northern Virginia neighborhoods feel more connected to one another.

In light of the 2006 zoning approvals, an announcement appeared on the Metro West web site declaring that construction would begin in 2007. The bulletin still adds that "the first townhouse and condominium units could be ready for occupancy by the middle of 2008."

But three years after making that announcement, Pulte Homes Corporate Communications Manager, Eric Younan, tells DCMud that no sale dates have been set, and his office "doesn't have a date for when they're going to build [Metro West] at this time." There is nothing new to report "that's not on our web site," reiterates Younan.

So, will Metro West ever come to achieve its potential?

Mike Wing from the Fairfax County Department of Planning Zoning is optimistic, assuring that Metro West "is moving forward with the permitting process and working with the VDOT," but that these discussions "take time."

Pulte Homes' former Northern Virginia land acquisitions head, Stan Settle, takes a different perspective. In 2005, Settle battled with everyone from angry neighbors to then-US Congressman Thomas M. Davis of Virginia to win the right to raze 69 single-family homes so that Metro West could be realized.

But Settle says a lot has changed since then. In 2009, Pulte merged with Centex Corporation, becoming the largest home builder in America. Settle was let go from the company after the merger, and has since formed his own land company. Although no longer involved in Metro West decisions, Settle holds fast to the opinion that Pulte "projects like Metro West have gotten shelved until the market improves."

"They have a great land position," but he speculates that Pulte "is just sitting on the land," adding that in this market "it could be a while before Pulte has to worry about high rise construction again."

Despite Settle's foreboding, there have been signs that Metro West is still on Pulte's agenda. Just last June, the company began looking for Fairfax County approval to swap out 700,000 s.f. of residential space for office space, a move green organizations are supportive of because it still translates into increased density near a Virginia Metro station. But building anything close to 2200 housing units seems presently unimaginable, and Stan Settle remains the contact person on Pulte's website, which also lists a timeline that hasn't seen an update since 2004.

3 comments:

Carl I said...

Wow. Projects like this are dead for the short term. I'm glad its transit-oriented, even though its far from the city. Municipalities should be requiring this kind of project and disallowing more land to be asphalted for the construction of new, car-industry supporting, badly built homes.

Timothy R. Hughes on Nov 11, 2009, 3:45:00 PM said...

Nice post on an interesting and important project with a very difficult approval history. This will get built, but it likely will be quite a while.

Anonymous said...

Any progress forward on this development?

 

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