Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fairfax County considers expanded use of developer fees for housing, Fairfax Times, February 5, 2014

Some officials fear program could hamper commercial development

Fairfax County is considering using developer contributions to further expand affordable housing options, particularly in transit centers.
The proposal builds on a concept pioneered in Tysons Corner, where the developers of commercial properties near the four new Metro stations are expected to contribute $3 per square foot to the county’s housing trust fund.
However, some supervisors expressed concern that such fees could hamper commercial development in other parts of the county.
The so-called “3-2-1” concept developed by county staff would encourage $3 per square foot contributions from commercial development in areas within a quarter-mile of a transit station, $2 per square foot for properties between a quarter and half mile, and $1 per square foot for any other commercial development. . . .
Workforce (middle income) and affordable (lower income) housing are both desperately needed in Fairfax County to assure the healthy growth of its economy, reduce damage to its environment, and slow growing traffic congestion resulting from long worker commutes.  We don't know if this is the right answer, but we are glad that the County is taking the matter seriously and looking for answers. 

We think that the damage to commercial development from NOT pursuing a policy like this may be greater than pursuing it:  Why would companies want to settle in Fairfax County is their employees have huge commuting costs and inconvenience from long commutes--some of which they would feel obliged to subsidize?  Other counties and nearby states may offer much stronger incentives for new businesses as a result of more balanced approaches to business and residential development.  No matter, commercial developers will complain that anything the County government does--other than give them unfettered and untaxed development rights--will hurt the County's competitiveness. 

Unfortunately, Virginia's "proffer system"--"voluntary" contributions to the County as part of a re-zoning process--has to be one of the worst "systems" available to assure a balance in commercial and residential investment in the County.  Years of experience shows that the County virtually never asks for enough, and we doubt these charges would be adequate in the long term. 

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