Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

While the people of the County weren't looking . . .

. . . The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a "strategic plan" that quadruples the area now intended for high-density commercial and residential "transit-oriented development" by doubling the radius of high-density development around key transportation nodes, such as Metrorail stations.  

Specifically, under the section outrageously and incongruously titled, "Create Places Where People Want to Be," the plan establishes the following goals:
  • Section 2.2a:  "Explore creation of 20 Minute Neighborhoods where a variety of housing options and jobs are linked by high capacity transit to support clusters of opportunity and innovation."
  • Section 2.3:  "Support higher density mixed use development in the designated revitalization  areas, as a way to attract new businesses and residential growth.  . .
    • 2.3b:  "Include the concept of expanded Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in future planning efforts by increasing the radius distance recommended for higher densities from ¼ mile to at least ½ mile around mass transit stations, such as Metrorail, light/ heavy rail, or other rapid transit stations." 
At present,  the totality of a TOD area is called the "half-mile circle" around a Metrorail or other transportation hub under the County's Comprehensive Plan and is the foundation of transit-oriented development analyses and recommendations expressed by every smart growth group in the world.   The reason for the "half-mile circle" is pretty simple:  People won't walk more than a half mile (or ten minutes) to or from transportation hubs.  Indeed, inbound workers are generally reluctant to walk more than 1/4-mile while outbound residents will walk up to 1/2 mile to a rail station; hence, "the half-mile circle."  This fact was well-documented by the County's own TOD committee that led to the County's TOD plan more than a decade ago and was reinforced in a WMATA study of Metrorail usage in 2006.

But the County's Economic Advisory Commission (EAC), comprising only 12 citizen representatives--one for each supervisorial district (appointed by guess who)--out of the 40 member commission, doesn't care about the reality of human behavior, only the opportunity to increase development, profits, and maybe tax revenues.   So rather than acknowledge the limits of human willingness to walk to mass transit rather than drive, they simply doubled the radius of the proposed boundaries for high-density development.  The notion that people will walk 20 minutes--a mile--is utterly ridiculous, and doubling the internal ring from a 1/4 to 1/2 mile of predominantly commercial (office) development is equally fallacious in terms of the reality of "walkable neighborhoods" and even "places where people want to be."

The critical implication of these changes (and the others in this strategic plan) is that they lay the foundation for developers to advance changes for high-density development in the Comprehensive Plan in Reston, Tysons, and elsewhere across the County that have major transportation nodes.  As developers move forward with the changes in the Comprehensive Plan, they can then build up to four times as much office space, retail, housing, and more--all with limited parking because of alleged "walkability"!--and quadruple their revenues and profits as well as increase the property taxes paid to the County.  And the plan ignores totally the fact that office workers are now using about 1/2 the space per worker that they have historically--meaning that office jobs could expand eight-fold!   Of course, all those taxes and profits will, in fact, be paid by residents, consumers, and other tenants of the high-density developments. 

And, oh yes, people will drive to work, to shop, and to other places they need to go because their "walkable neighborhood" will be at least twice the size they are willing to walk.  Expect greater congestion, not better roads.

How any of this will "Create Places Where People Want to Be" defies logic, analysis, and history.  It certainly will not improve living, working, shopping, or playing in Fairfax County.  The only people who appear to benefit from these changes are developers and maybe County tax troves.

For those who are interested in reviewing the "strategic plan" approved by the Board, here is a link to it.

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