50 Shades of Autumn in Reston

50 Shades of Autumn in Reston
Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rail project struggles to stay on budget, Fairfax Times, November 30, 2011

Project’s executive director says cost overruns could reach $150M

Construction of the new Metro line to Tysons Corner and Reston is essentially back on schedule but project officials say they are are still struggling to keep the $2.75 billion project under budget.
If project managers are not successful in mitigating cost overruns by reducing costs in other areas, the project could cost up to $150 million more than was budgeted, according to Pat Nowakowski, the executive director of the project.
“$150 million is the worst case scenario,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can to control the costs.”
This article accurately captures much of what MWAA presented to its Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee (DCAC)--comprising MWAA, Virginia, Fairfax, and Loudoun leaders--at its November 28th meeting.  Beyond the points in the article (click here to read in its entirety), the following important comments were also made:
  •   In the financial update presentation, MWAA CFO Andy Rountree noted that, as a result of the LaHood agreement, Dulles Toll Road users would pay 53.9% of the total cost of the Silver Line or about $3.0 billion if the line is built at currently projected costs (which is unlikely)This is down from 56% or $3.3 billion if the Counties had not agreed to take over part of the station and parking garage costs.  It will not provide significant relief from huge toll increases in the decades to come, and toll road users will still be stuck with 75% of any increases in line construction costs.
  • Snowmageddon 2009 substantially delayed construction of the line and stations through Tysons Corner.  Originally scheduled to be built on a regular work schedule, construction crews are now working two 10-hour shifts six days a week.  (Comment:  This may enable the project to return to schedule, but the associated overtime will surely drive costs above budget.)
  • Re-sequencing will enable reduction in the number of days of delay--most recently put at 180 days by the construction contractor.  MWAA's project director, Pat Nowakowski, noted that the reported delay had not made any allowance for the possibility of re-sequencing construction.  Some opportunities have been identified and are being pursued.  For example, there is a utilities issue in the locations for building two substations in the Reston area requiring movement of the utilities.  Building of these sub-stations has been re-sequenced such that other sub-stations will be built first.
  • The Phase 2 contract solicitation will be delayed about six months to allow for the use of a Request for Information (RFI) to be issued and responses to be submitted MWAA CEO Jack Potter reported.  This had not been considered in prior planning.  MWAA is hoping that the RFI process may identify some cost reduction opportunities and, more importantly, opportunities for less expensive financing.  While not envisioning a true public-private partnership, MWAA hopes that private parties will be interested in offering lower-rate financing than is likely with a general revenue bond issuance. 
  • Fairfax BOS Chairman Bulova expressed her appreciation for the regular ongoing meetings among the financing partners' staffs.  Apparently, this had not been the case historically.  The only stakeholders not yet allowed to participate are the people who will still pay for over half the cost of the Silver Line, the Dulles Toll Road users
  • Loudoun BOS Chairman Scott York asked that, at the next meeting of the DCAC (December 20, 2011, I believe), MWAA give "a back of the envelope" estimate of the cost to build and operate a bus rapid transit (BRT) to the Silver Line's terminal station (Wiehle) in the event Phase 2 was not constructed.  His comment hints at Loudoun's continuing ambivalence about participating in the construction of Phase 2.  Even if it didn't participate, MWAA is committed to building the line to the airport.  This would further increase toll road users' share of the Silver Line's cost. 
After the DCAC meeting, I spoke briefly with Chairman Bulova about how the County planned to finance the $180-190 million obligation to build a station and two parking garages it had agreed to under the LaHood MOA.  She noted that the County is looking at all the possibilities.  She specifically cited an opportunity to use some of the revenue from the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) tax--a county-wide 11-cent tax on businesses for transportation purposes, which could lower spending on other public transportation needs--and noted that a bond referendum could be put on a future ballot for public approval.  She noted rather forcefully that there would be no increase in the tax ceiling for the Phase 2 special tax district--a tax on businesses along the Dulles Corridor from Reston to the airport.  She did not exempt the possibility that the County could pass through some debt servicing costs to MWAA and toll road users as permitted in TIFIA financing, although the size of Fairfax TIFIA borrowing will be small per the MOA.  It seems clear that Fairfax has not yet decided how it will finance its additional share of the construction of Phase 2.  

Here is a link to the presentations made at the DCAC meeting

A Review of the GMU Report on the Region’s Workforce, John Hanley, November 30, 2011


Note:  This review refers to the GMU Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) report, Housing the Region's Workforce:  Policy Challenges for Local Jurisdictions, October 25, 2011.
 
A Review of the GMU Report on the Region’s Workforce
Published October 2011

The above Report addresses what may occur in the Greater Washington area between 2010 and 2030. This review assumes the reader’s principal interest lies in identifying how the Report’s conclusions are likely to affect Reston and its contiguous neighborhoods. I also tried to access press and other reaction to its conclusions, but so far found little.

I did however find a recent interview in the Washington Post with one of the Report’s authors, Lisa Sturdevant, who mentioned the fact that the basic figures were subject to recent economic factors. Sturdevant also admitted that the Report’s estimate of 730,000 net new jobs was subject to “significant uncertainty”. That was quite an understatement. Pressed, she qualified her remark to admit that “the latest predictions call for 500,000 fewer additional jobs in the region by 2030 than were forecast before the financial crisis.” Knowing that your headline-grabbing figure of 1,050,000 additional new regional jobs over the next twenty years is subject to a 50% error factor is something that should have been included in the executive summary.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of time between now and 2030 and things could well evolve more positively in the interim. In any case, the potential reduction does not take away from the importance of the Report. But it is a something that a reader should bear in mind. 

Assuming that the Report’s workforce growth figure above will come about over the next 20 years and that 731,000 extra housing units will be required in the region by then, even allowing for the error factor, it is clear that the region will have a significant problem in ensuring that all these additional workers can live and  work near their place of employment.

Policy implications high-lighted in the Report are that:
  1. Local jurisdictions are not presently planning for sufficient housing to accommodate a significant increase in future workers.
  2. More housing is needed closer to workers’ jobs.
  3. More multi-family, affordable owner and renter houses are needed.
  4. A lack of such housing (whether close to public transit or not) will mean more out-of-region commuting. This will aggravate the Washington area traffic congestion, already the worst in the country.
  5. It will also mean more income spent and taxes paid outside work jurisdictions, such as Reston.
Accepting the 731,000 unit figure, the fundamental housing problem is that 25% of units will need to be priced at under $200K, 44% between $200K and 399K, 26% between 400K and 599K with only 6% above the last figure. All these suppositions are backed by impressive wage-level, jurisdictional and employment segment estimates, incidentally. Nevertheless, as the Report says blandly, “In some markets, it would be very difficult to build new units at these lower prices, without significant subsidy.”

Other significant findings are:
  1. Today, no jurisdiction in the Washington area has a housing policy designed to respond adequately to its economic growth potential and workforce requirements.
  2. If jurisdictions such as Reston are dependent on non-residential workers, they will have to spend significantly on extra transportation services. On the other hand, if they can accommodate predominantly resident workers, they will incur much lower expenditures.
  3. As noted above, if workers are resident, they will spend money and pay taxes locally.
The Report’s headline apart, its findings do not sound very promising for Reston at this time. All the more so, given that Fairfax County, together with Loudoun and Montgomery Counties and DC, are the jurisdictions where the greatest growth is predicated.

While it is beyond the remit of the Report, it would have been useful had the authors been able to estimate how much new office space may be required, given high present vacancy levels across the region. Also, the Report could have looked at possible effects of telecommuting on their conclusions. In support of their findings, besides Bank of America, the authors listed a number of experts, plus NVR, Kettler, and Gordon, Smith Inc. IHS Global Insights was a prime source of statistics and information. 

All in all, this is a thought-provoking, timely and interesting Report. It will need careful review and questioning, of course, given the big potential for error and the lack of Reston-specific developer, real estate and Fairfax County input.

John Hanley, Co-Chair Reston 2020
Reston Citizens Association Board Member

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Toll Avoidance and Transportation Funding, Sightline Institute, September 2011

This article, written by Clark Williams-Derry, Research Director at the Sightline Institute, provides an overview of a host of research suggesting that official forecasts of toll road traffic demand are overly optimistic.  

Sightline Institute is an independent, nonprofit research and communications center—a think tank—founded by Alan Durning in 1993.  Sightline equips the Northwest’s citizens and decision-makers with the policy research and practical tools they need to advance long-term solutions to our region’s most significant challenges. Sightline Institute’s mission is to make the Northwest a global model of sustainability—strong communities, a green economy, and a healthy environment. 

This general conclusion of this report, based on a review of dozens of  original research reports, is important as MWAA, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County consider the "official" Dulles Toll Road demand forecast to be provided by Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA) within the next month.  

The Sightline report's key findings are:
  • Toll road traffic and revenue tend to fall short of official projections.
In study after study, from the US and beyond, the findings are the same: transportation officials tend to overestimate how much traffic will use tolled facilities, and how much revenue can be generated from tolls. Just as importantly, traffic and revenue projections for tolled road facilities are highly error prone. There appears to be no consistent or reliable method for predicting whether a particular toll road forecast will miss the mark.
  • Toll-free alternatives increase traffic diversion. 
The paper concludes that, "Because of the fiscal consequences, members of the public would be wise to take a cautious and skeptical view of official tolling revenue forecasts. Likewise, state transportation officials should carefully consider the long-term fiscal consequences of toll revenue shortfalls, particularly  on facilities where drivers can select alternative,toll-free routes."

The paper includes links to the many papers it quotes as well as contained a lengthy hyper-linked set of endnotes that easily enables readers to become more informed on the issue of toll road traffic demand forecasting.

 Toll Avoidance and Transportation Funding, Sightline Institute, September 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Death of the Fringe Suburb, OpEd, New York Times, November 25, 2011

This NY Times OpEd by Christopher Leinberger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of practice in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, puts a perspective on the recent GMU Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) study, "Housing the Region's Workforce: Policy Challenges for Local Jurisdictions."  That study argues that the Washington region will suffer significant economic losses if its local governments do not change their housing policies to allow more high-density, affordable housing and better public transportation.   Here is how the OpEd begins:

DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either. . .
. . . Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.
The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population. . .
 . . .The good news is that there is great pent-up demand for walkable, centrally located neighborhoods in cities like Portland, Denver, Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tenn. The transformation of suburbia can be seen in places like Arlington County, Va., Bellevue, Wash., and Pasadena, Calif., where strip malls have been bulldozed and replaced by higher-density mixed-use developments with good transit connections.

Reston needs to take advantage of this opportunity and, like the forward thinking planned community it has been, build its 21st century TOD areas in a way that offers a rich mix of housing and commercial opportunities rather than more 20th century auto-dependent office parks .  This will not only better meet future housing demand, but will also better serve our environment and the principle of housing diversity in Reston. 

For the rest of the OpEd, click here

 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Virginia lawmaker threatens Dulles Metro funding, Washington Examiner, November 22, 2011

UPDATE:  The text of Del. Marshall's bill is included below this article. 
By: Liz Essley | 11/22/11 8:10 PM
Examiner Staff Writer
A Virginia lawmaker is threatening to block state funding for the second phase of the Dulles Metro rail project unless the board in charge of the project eliminates what is perceived to be a union-friendly labor agreement with the contractor and subjects itself to greater public scrutiny.
The legislation filed by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, would block $150 million in state funding for the rail project, which would extend Metro from Reston to Loudoun County, unless the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority agrees to subject itself to the state's freedom of information laws and allows the state to audit the $6 billion rail project.
Marshall also would forbid the airports authority from entering into any labor agreement with the project's contractor. The authority earlier said it would mandate a labor agreement that some worried would promote the hiring of union labor even though Virginia is a right-to-work state.
 Click here for the rest of this article. 

Although it is far from clear that this legislation would pass, it is a warning that the LaHood Dulles Metrorail financial agreement is still not in place.

Text of draft bill:


HOUSE BILL NO. 2
Offered January 11, 2012
Prefiled November 21, 2011
A BILL to prohibit use of revenues of the Commonwealth in connection with construction of Phase II of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
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Patron-- Marshall, R.G.
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Committee Referral Pending
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Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1.  § 1. Notwithstanding any contrary provision of law, no revenues of the Commonwealth, from whatsoever source, shall be allocated, paid, or expended in connection with Phase II of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project beyond Wiehle Avenue in Fairfax County to Washington Dulles International Airport and on to Virginia Route 772 in Loudoun County if the project or phase of the project (i) is subject to a project labor agreement, (ii) the policy or bylaws of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority governing public access to the Authority’s meetings and records is incompatible with Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.), or (iii) Phase II of the Project and its finances will not be subject to audit by either the Virginia Department of Transportation or the Auditor of Public Accounts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notes on RTF Community Meeting on Phase II--Village Centers & Residential Areas, November 16, 2011

                                      R.Rogers
                                      19 Nov 2011
                              
Reston Task Force Community Meeting
Introduction to Phase 2
16 November 2011

     Summary and Comment: Some comment and interpretations concerning Heidi Merkel’s presentation at the 16 November Reston community meeting on Phase 2 have suggested that there is little possibility of significant change in the Reston PRC areas.  In fact, experienced observers of the Reston Master Planning effort believe that the presentation was carefully crafted to give that impression while leaving many options open for significant re-development.  Of particular interest is the lack of clarity about the process that will be employed to incorporate citizens’ views.  Nothing about planning for Reston's village centers and neighborhoods was foreclosed for Phase 2. 

     Heidi’s presentation was a masterful performance of one hour without a break. Her key talking points are available on the county website and have been given some--albeit somewhat misleading--coverage in local newspapers. This review tries to interpret key points made.

     Heidi said the real work on Phase 2 will not begin until late May or June.  She said this meeting is not a “kickoff” but an informational effort to alert Reston residents to what is coming.  She said, optimistically, that Phase 2 could be completed by late fall of 2012.

PRC Residential Areas

     She keyed her comments on this aspect of the study to the theme that residents want “predictability” (significantly, although she briefly mentioned “stability,” she did not key her presentation to that theme, which has a unique—and undesirable from citizens’ perspective-—meaning in the redevelopment lexicon.) She said DPZ senses a “desire for a structured process for considering redevelopment proposals.”  She noted that many areas were not built up to the density of the existing plan.  Medium density areas (mostly townhouses) could be garden style apartments. High density areas are mostly garden apartments rather than the high rises that could have been put there.

     Heidi said there may be utility in redefining some of these areas in accord with what is actually there.  The land use plan “could use more definition.”

     She also noted that the county has existing guidelines) for community redevelopment (an apparent reference to Appendix 8 of the Master Plan).  It requires a high degree of property owner concurrence to make changes.  There is also a need to ensure compatibility of any changes with adjacent areas.

     (Comment: Although she did not explicitly say so, she seemed to be implying that townhouse clusters could turn themselves over to re-developers in certain situations.  She did not mention to the role of the Reston Deed, RA, or the Design Review Board in this process.)

     Important Comment: A version of the Reston “planning principles” was handed out.  It did not include the note appended to the principles approved by the RMPTF concerning the residential areas.  That note, appended by the development community, said the future of the residential areas will be revisited as Part of Phase II.)

Village Centers

     Village Centers will be another focal point of Phase 2.  Heidi noted that Lake Anne contained Robert Simon’s vision of what a village center should be but it has not prospered. She said they could stay as commercial strips or become community gathering places—or conceivably something else.

     She stressed that any changes must be sought by and be initiated by the center’s property owner; but it is not clear what their vision is. She stressed that it will be the property owners who will bring about change. 

     DPZ posted maps of the village centers and Heidi noted that there are some residential areas within these boundaries.  She noted that there are also some residential areas adjacent of village centers and that they “by and large” should be stable.

     She said the village centers could be the subject of a “charrette” bringing in outside design experts to confer with community and property owners. The mention of “charrettes” brought groans from the audience.  Tall Oaks might be a particularly useful subject for this.

     She said the at other commercial areas—the “convenience” and the Home Depot–Trader Joe area will be included in the review but that consideration may well be given to keeping them as they are for the future.

     Population Cap: Early in her presentation, Heidi noted that DPZ will be looking at a 20-year horizon for population change and that in the TOD-Metro station areas--which are outside the PRC--there might be a growth of 35,000 residents. Later in response to a question, she deferred putting forth specific current figures of both population and the cap, saying they will be on the county website.

     She noted, however, that Phase 2 will be looking at options for development that exceed the current cap.  One possibility would be to raise the cap.  Another would be to keep the current 13 people per acre density but evaluate specific areas on a case by case basis.  She said DPZ anticipated a focused community meeting to discuss population levels.  A member of the audience asked what the point was of having a cap if we just keep raising it. 

     Golf Courses: In response to a question at the end of the meeting on Reston National, Heidi said maybe we should think about future development of the golf courses (specifically including Hidden Creek too). (Comment: this was a new idea in the planning process. The Wiehle TOD sub-committee in particular has emphasized the importance of the Golf Courses as a buffer between the TOD and PRC areas.)

     Fairway Apartments and Colvin Run Woods: In response to a question, Heidi said Fairway Apartments will not be left in abeyance until Phase 2 planning is completed since the property owner has existing rights under current zoning.   Colvin Woods, however, may be included in the study.

Phase II Process

     Heidi left open how Phase 2 might proceed.  She said it would be either a Task Force of an “advisory group.”  She implied that the current planning Task Force was a somewhat unwieldy group.

     She said composition of any group is under consideration and no chair was designated. She said the groups would include member of Reston organizations and property owners.   She left unclear what role this group might have in drafting or approving a plan.  However, as noted above, she did speak of some specific community meetings.

     She noted the process may involve some revisions and updates of the existing planning maps to reflect what has happened over the last 40 years and to revise “outdated” concepts.   The transportation map may be revised since it now reflects only roadways and the land use and community facilities map may be combined.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prepared Reston P&Z Committee Testimony of Robert Goudie, Co-Chair, Town Center Committee, RTF, on Redeveloping Town Center Office Building, November 21, 2011


Testimony of Robert Goudie
To the P&Z Committee, 11/21/11

RE:  Proposed redevelopment of the so-called Town Center Office Building Site

I appear tonight and am speaking from my perspective as Co-Chair of the Town Center Committee of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force.

At the outset, I want to thank Rick Whealen and his team, who generously offered to meet with me not once but twice to provide background on their proposal.  That proposal has elements that should be lauded and I do not wish to minimize those – including the green rooftop space, the concealed parking, the likely gold LEEDS achievement, and the earnest attempt to create a world-class design.  The proposal, however, is materially inconsistent with the Town Center Committee recommendations:

1.      The lack of any residential component is at odds with the Committee recommendation that every zoning application be at least 1:1 SF res:office (and, outside the urban core, which this site is, a ratio even more favorably balanced toward residential should be encouraged):  This 1:1 requirement has received a good deal of attention and I’ve talked about it at a prior P&Z meeting.  It is at the heart of the Town Center Committee’s vision for a greater mix of uses with a stronger residential component to continue Town Center’s build-out as both Reston’s downtown and a regional destination.  Worth noting:

a.      The Committee unanimously rejected a Whealen Team request to be exempted from the residential requirement.  Page 31 of the report speaks to the “form[ation of] an important and essentially residential collar around the extended urban core (with supporting retail),” adding that in these areas “development that moves the Town Center District beyond the minimum 1:1 ratio we are recommending . . . should be encouraged.”  In response to a Whealen Team request the Committee very specifically and unanimously declined to exempt the Office Building Site from this approach:

We include within this reference the so-called Reston Office Building parcel that abuts Reston Parkway and is otherwise surrounded by the Spectrum parcel.  This parcel is not currently within the Town Center District boundary.  We think that parcel should be allowed to redevelop in ways that are consistent with and complement the approved Spectrum concept plan (if/as it may be amended) and the Committee’s recommendations for an essentially residential collar (with supporting retail) around the extended urban core.”  (emphases added)

Simply put, this proposal is not consistent with that recommendation.

b.      The Committee extended the 1:1 or better requirement to all “zoning applications,” thus providing smaller sites a partnering opportunity to achieve the desired balancing.  The Committee felt strongly that the residential requirement must extend to all lots consistent with a philosophy that “we are all in this together” and that all new development must share in the responsibility of bringing better residential:office balance to Town Center.  It recognized, however, that this could create challenges, especially for smaller lots with existing and profitable commercial buildings or development rights.  The Committee also heard from County Staff about compulsory joint zoning as a method used in some other areas in the County.  The Committee had concerns that compulsory collaborative zoning might hurt first movers.  Thus we recommended a different approach:  the 1:1 or better requirement would extend to “any zoning application.”  This essentially incents a collaborative or partnering approach if owners feel individual lots could not easily meet the balancing requirement or that shifting the balancing over a broader area (and thus permitting some single or near-single uses on individual lots) could produce better outcomes. 

That opportunity clearly exists here, most obviously with the adjacent Lerner (Spectrum) property.  (Indeed, with both Lerner and Whealen spending money now on concept plans, the first mover challenge some see with compulsory joint zoning is not extant.)  And if a Whealen-Lerner partnership is not possible for business or other reasons, there are other sites nearby (including the Inova site in Town Center North) that provide partnering opportunities.

Enforcement of this strong encouragement to partner could have powerful benefits for the community.  Not only does it ensure that all lot owners are part of the residential balancing vision, but it also opens the door to more creative and powerful concept plans.  Taking off my Committee hat and speaking now personally, a number of Town Center residents are not enthusiastic about the proposed Spectrum concept plan.  We feel the original Lerner proposal – with a central boulevard bisecting that lot around which retail, open space, residential, and office could be clustered – was a much more interesting outcome than what has been approved.  But that proposal would implicate the Whealen parcel, requiring collaboration between the two land owners.  Although that outcome could not be forced under the Committee approach there would be consequences to going it alone:  neither would be able to get out from under the residential requirement (and the Spectrum proposal I believe meets the test with something like a 1.3 or 1.4:1 res:office ratio).  The proposal before you has no residential component and will, therefore, materially dilute and make more difficult the overall balancing the Committee report contemplates.  Simply put, that would not be allowed under the Committee approach which, if strongly enforced, would change development behavior over time.

2.      The proposal is inconsistent with the tapering of heights and densities the Committee recommends:  The Committee unanimously recommends tapering building heights and densities moving north away from the envisioned Metro Station:

“These areas [to the north outside the urban core] are currently zoned at 50 dwelling units per acre.  Residential development that moves the Town Center District beyond the minimum 1:1 ratio we are recommending for Metro North should be encouraged.  Among other incentives the County should consider are permitting density increments above those currently allowed (staying within the tapered approach we are recommending, with highest densities adjacent to the Metro Station and gradually tapering off as one moves north).  Any such incremental increases should be used primarily to encourage additional residential (with supporting retail as needed) to continue to shrink the current disparity between available jobs and resident potential workers.” (p. 31 of the Committee Report, emphases added)  The Committee then added that building heights should not be static in particular areas, providing a variegated look and feel. 

Very specific guidance was given for Town Center North, which is on the same longitudinal plane as the Office Building Site:  “consistent with our view that TCN should be a transitional space (not an extension of the Town Center urban core), a consensus emerged that building heights across TCN should not be permitted to exceed 200’ above grade.”  (p. 36)

I think there is a material question as to whether the current proposal is proportional to its surroundings (it is materially higher than anything in the proposed Spectrum redevelopment).  And at 23 stories and a 4.08 FAR this would I think exceed the height and massing the Committee recommends for this area.

3.      The proposal undermines TOD (transit-oriented development) objectives the Town Center Committee sought to emphasize:  All data the Task Force has seen emphasizes that the number of people willing to walk to a job from a transit station dramatically declines for jobs located outside the station’s ¼ mile radius, and declines again when one moves outside the ½ mile radius (as the Office Building site is).  This was among the principal reasons that the Committee recommended congregating the greatest office densities nearest to the station and increasing the residential component in the collar surrounding the extended urban core – to encourage greater TOD.  The proposal before you argues for putting +/- 2,000 jobs in an essentially single-use (non-residential) development outside the ½ mile radius.  The impacts to traffic and the overall balancing goals for Town Center are meaningful.

Worth adding here is that the Whealen Team noted in its meetings with me that this lot was originally envisioned as the “gateway” site into Town Center.  Whatever may have been the vision in the 1970’s, a material change in conditions has emerged – the arrival of Metro at Town Center.  There is no question but that the center of gravity in Town Center over the next 25 years will shift toward the Metro Station.  And this is an essential goal of the Town Center Committee report.  The Committee specifically notes that Parcel D4, as the gateway or touchdown point north of the Metro, “will be of special significance” (page 3), adding later that the “key to realizing a vision of an extended urban core will be the development of D4” (page 19).   On page 18 the Committee emphasized the essential priority thusly:  “The focus first and foremost should be on successfully extending the urban core south to the Metro station.  Good things will follow from that.”   

Whatever may have been the original vision for the Office Building Site that vision has been materially altered with the pending arrival of Metro.  I do not want to be misunderstood:  I absolutely believe that redevelopment of the Office Building Site is and should remain an important goal for Town Center’s future and the Whealen Team should be congratulated for thinking boldly about that future.  But that vision should be consistent with and complementary to the Town Center North area and the TOD and other goals we wish for Town Center’s dynamic future.

Conclusion

I return where I started:  there is much about this proposal that should be lauded.  Rick Whealen, very much to his credit, has put together a terrific team of world-class professionals who are thinking boldly about this site and have offered some really important pieces that advance community priorities (the green space, the concealed parking, retail, the LEEDS emphasis, and the bold design among them).  But the fundamental thrust remains inconsistent with the visions for Town Center that our Committee put together.  (Of course the County would always have flexibility to adopt proposals that depart from the Comprehensive Plan vision if the proposal serves compelling public needs, a judgment for others to make here.)

To be sure our Committee recommendations have not yet been adopted by the Task Force let alone become law.  Some recommendations are still very much in flux (for example, the density recommendations).  But the big-picture concepts I have talked about tonight are, in material respects, likely to become part of the revised Comprehensive Plan. 

I also understand that certain development opportunities may exist by-right on the Office Building Site.  That said, there are strong community interests at stake here as well and material changes in conditions (Metro) that it seems to me have to be accounted for.  My hope is that a thoughtful conversation be had, respectful of whatever property rights might already exist and perhaps involving neighboring owners, whereby an outcome that better complements the goals I’ve talked about tonight could be achieved. 

I will be sending the entire Town Center Committee a copy of these remarks.  I will encourage any of my Committee colleagues who feels these remarks do not accurately summarize the Committee recommendations to offer his/her own comments to the P&Z Committee.  Thank you for your consideration of the Committee’s work.