Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

When CEOs need only a 42 square foot office space, why does Fairfax County insist on planning for 300 SF for every office employee?

We have already noted on a number of occasions--and we will note again in the future--that the amount of office space per worker is shrinking from historic averages of about 300 gross square feet (includes all common areas, walls, etc.) per worker to less than half that in 21st Century office planning.  Early this year, Arlington County recognized this long term trend and reduced its planning guidance for new office buildings to 200 GSF per office worker.

But Fairfax County planning remains firmly locked in the last millennium:  The planning standard here is 300 GSF per office worker.  The key implication of that standard is that, if the County is fortunate enough to fill out the space it has allowed, say, in Tysons and Reston, for new office space, it will end up with TWICE as many workers as it had planned.  Yet, the supporting infrastructure--most importantly streets and transit--will may be able to handle HALF the number of workers the office space allows.

So now the New York Times reports that the trend has even extended to publishing industry, a bastion of the large private office.  Hachette Book Group has just moved into a new open office space environment and even its CEO sits in a 6'x7' cubicle--42 SF of usable office space.  That translates into about 63 gross square feet--one-fifth the County's standard!

But don't believe us, read it in the NYT:

Michael Pietsch, Hachette’s chief executive, in his 6-by-7-foot cubicle at the publishing group’s new Manhattan headquarters. Credit Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Michael Pietsch was given his first private office when he became an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons 30 years ago.
He got his first corner office when he was named publisher of Little, Brown and Company in 2001. He moved into an even bigger corner office — with a large living room area — 11 years later, after being promoted to chief executive of Little, Brown’s parent, the Hachette Book Group.
Mr. Pietsch still runs Hachette. But last month, he started working in a 6-by-7-foot cubicle. Except for a few family photos, it is identical to the 519 other cubes in his company’s new Midtown headquarters. Or more or less identical.
“I gave myself a window cube,” Mr. Pietsch said recently, as he led a visitor into his company’s sprawling new space.
Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing. . . .
Read the full article here.

So why does Fairfax County continue to use the outmoded 300 GSF per employee standard?

First, there is bureaucratic inertia.  If you don't believe this, please read County planning chief Fred Selden's letter on why the County uses 300 GSF.  And also read the three earlier letters Terry Maynard sent to Chairman Bulova noting how outdated that standard is--here, here, and here.

Second, and probably more important reason long term, the County desperately needs the extra property tax revenue that office buildings would generate from greater occupancy generating higher rental rates per square foot.  And it is much easier to make this politically acceptable if your planning allows the space without actually declaring how many people that space will accommodate.

So, in Reston's station areas, the current Reston Master Plan guidance for the three station areas foresees more than 8,000,000 GSF of additional office space.  At 300 GSF per worker, that's about 27,000 new office employees working around the Metro stations.  At a more realistic 150 GSF per worker, that new space would accommodate twice that number or 54,000 additional workers.   

And that doesn't count renovations of the existing 21,000,000 GSF of office space in these areas.  If all these spaces were renovated into an open office environment as many have (see here what Bechtel has done in Reston), the total available space in Reston (29,000,000 GSF) would accommodate more than 190,000 office workers.

Do you think Reston can accommodate 190,000 office workers?

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