Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Life in the Dulles Corridor, BisNow, December 17, 2014

This article highlights the growing potential competitiveness of the area along the Silver Line in Fairfax and Loudoun counties to compete with DC for new jobs and residents.  We highlight "potential" because a lot of things that are currently going wrong have to go right for that to happen.

Here are some excerpt's from the article:
The road from Tysons to Loudoun once was the heart of the DC region’s tech community. But with tech startups migrating to DC and closer-in suburbs, and the government sector shrinking, it may be taking on a whole new identity.
Gurus tell us the Silver Line is poised to draw a wider mix of companies and bring back some of the tech. EDGE Commercial Real Estate regional manager Scott Rabin says not only are mixed-used TOD projects sprouting around new and future stations, but the whole Corridor has become more competitive for existing buildings. Many landlords are renovating common areas, beefing up amenities (like food trucks), and modernizing vacant spaces with fewer offices and more collaboration spaces. Office vacancy rates range from the low teens to low 20s depending on the asset class, but repositioned properties, new buildings, and those with good amenities and close to public transportation are outperforming others. . .
But with all the silvery hopes and dreams of Metro comes concern. Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh attorney Andrew Painter wonders how housing, retail and office in Loudoun and Fairfax will fit into the Silver Line picture long-term. Andrew says Metro will offer opportunities for both counties to compete with closer-in jurisdictions. But it will take more than rail to turn commercial corridors into dynamic economic development engines. NoVa's office market may struggle to bounce back with federal contractors diversifying away from government work. Plus, mixed-use development is becoming the new standard for office and retail, and most of Loudoun and Fairfax have traditional, single use. 
Andrew says both counties should focus on attracting new residents since housing has driven demand for retail and local-serving office uses in recent decades. They also need to figure out their brand identities and consumer marketing programs to address the needs of seniors and attract the creative class, which has traditionally flocked downtown hot spots like 1776, seen here. 
Mr. Painter appears to have a firm grasp on what it will take to make the potential of this corridor to become a reality.  As he suggests, we believe the key to success is attracting households to the transit station areas.  The fact of the matter is that the County has not made it easier in its planning for Tysons and Reston, having put their plan emphasis on locating and emphasizing space for workers rather than residents.  A couple of examples:
  • A lack of balance in housing vs. employment that discourages new residents:  Both plans effectively call for a four-to-one ratio of jobs to residents, and most of the residential space is on the 1/2-mile periphery of the station area.  The huge focus on office space runs directly against the general business drive to shrink office space per worker into more collaborative, open work spaces as described in this article.  The bottom line is, under the new Tysons plan, the area has the potential for about 400,000 jobs instead of the plan's intended 200,000 jobs if the office space trend continues.  The potential number of residents is 100,000.  In Reston, the station areas will accommodate more than 200,000 office workers under the plan amendment approved last year while the number of new residents should peak at about 50,000, most of them more than a 1/4-mile for the Metro stations. 
  • A lack of much needed public infrastructure (schools, libraries, open space) that new residents will require:  In this case, Reston fares worse.  In Reston's station areas, in particular, virtually no new open space is planned for the 50,000 new residents with the exception of development of 5 acres of existing park land in North Town Center.  The County is now looking at re-locating Reston Regional Library somewhere besides its current Town Center area location.  Moreover, it is not planning any new elementary (or other) schools north of the corridor where the bulk of the population will live.  Open space, good libraries, and great schools are vital features for attracting households to a mixed-use area, and the County has failed to make appropriate plans.  In Tysons, a few small new parks are planned, largely serving as links among Tysons sub-districts.  Two new elementary schools are called for in the plan.  A new library "may" be needed--and co-located with a community center or performing arts center. 
The day has long since passed when simply constructing an office building in Fairfax County will mean hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs and added tax dollars for County coffers.  The County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission need to appreciate that the jobs won't come if people don't move here and have ready access to important public facilities.  New residents will lead to new jobs in the post-commute regional economy, not the other way around.  The County's plans for Tysons and Reston's station areas are good plans for the late 20th Century, not the 21st.  Until the County provides better public amenities and a more balanced approach to development around its station areas, it will continue to lag other counties in the region--and even Washington, DC.

The rest of the BisNow article is available here. 

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