Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Will the Tysons--and Reston--TOD Dream Fail on Infrastructure Costs?

On November 6, the Washington Post carried an article entitled, "AvalonBay puts Tysons West apartment plans on hold over costs."  A corporate spokesperson said:
. . . the company has put the plans (to build two apartment buildings) on hold indefinitely. At issue, he said, are $810 million in road improvements included in the plan Fairfax County adopted last year.
“It’s just that the new comprehensive plan — I don’t feel good about it. It’s outrageously expensive what they’re asking to be done,” Cox said.
So, after five years of effort by developers and the community to create a new Comprehensive Plan for Tysons to utilize the growth potential offered by the opening of four Metrorail stations there, developers are reluctant to contribute to the cost of infrastructure development that would allow huge corporate profits over the longer term.  Indeed, they want to stick Fairfax residents with the costs.

Indeed, the cost of road improvements mentioned above is a fraction of the $2 billion infrastructure cost the County sees as needed for the Tysons area--three-quarters of which is for roads, bus transit, and greater toll road access.  And most now concede that the two-year old $2 billion estimate is on the conservative side. 

The debate on the larger issue of who pays for all the new infrastructure required at Tysons has been going on for some time.  The developer-driven County re-investment board wants residents to pay two-thirds of the costs.  Community leaders believe they should only pay a quarter of the cost, a position the RCA Board of Directors supported in a unanimous resolution earlier this year.   As argued in an e-mail exchange with Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, developers will literally profit from the needed improvements in Tysons and have the opportunity to share those costs with their customers and clients.   Residents can only absorb the costs of new taxes; they have no way to pass on those added costs.

The second lesson from this ongoing debate in Tysons is the importance of addressing governance, implementation, and financial planning concurrent with the land use planning.  The new Tysons plan offers no real guidance on these issues other than pro forma ideas and emphasizing they are important.  If this had occurred and an equitable cost-sharing arrangement worked out as the process unfolded, it is quite likely that the developers, always eager to lift constraints on their building rights, would have been more realistic in proposing higher building densities there.  Regrettably, the Reston Task Force is following the same trail to confusion the Tysons task force did.  Consideration of governance, implementation, and financing issues for much more density around Reston's Metrorail stations has not yet been put on the table two years after the task force was launched.

The bottom line is that, as economists say, there is no free lunch--apparently not even for developers at Tysons.  The Reston Task Force needs to tackle these thorny issues now.

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