Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

More reasons why Fairfax County shouldn't be using a public-private partnership for TCN

Reston 20/20 has long opposed the use of public-private partnerships (PPP) for development of public infrastructure.  We publicly opposed the PPP between Fairfax County and Comstock that gave Comstock substantial financial benefits and extra density at Wiehle station all for the rat maize-like, traffic-clogged, dangerous parking garage Metro riders must use.  We now worry that the PPP between the County and some as yet unpicked developer for Town Center North will have nothing to do with Reston's planning principles or the specific needs of the community there for, among other things, a sizable regional library, a significantly larger homeless shelter, a regional recreation center, and any public park space beyond the "town green" (more like a dog park) in its midst.  

Our opposition is based on the well-established curtain of secrecy that hangs over these deals.  Indeed, that secrecy is written into Virginia law to protect the guilty in both government and the private sector.  Right now, we view as dim the Reston community's chances of seeing either the draft concept plan or the final plan for community comment and amendment as needed to meet community needs before the County moves forward issuing the RFP and selecting a developer.  The three public meetings held so far on TCN's future have seen little added specification on the County's development intent and virtually no change in any specifics despite significant community input that has been met by the usual soothing words from County staff and Supervisor Hudgins.  Despite the appearance of responsiveness to community needs, the County appears determined to proceed on its own way.

And, of course, the County and RA are working their own side deal that is unlikely to have anything to do with Restonians.  And this deal is being worked in secret--the only way the RA Board seems to know how to act.  In fact, so far as we could observe, no RA Board members even bothered to attend the last community meeting on TCN, probably because none of them  care about either County plans or Reston community concerns.  

So what's a possible RA side deal all about?  It seems that RA and, more specifically, its Design Review Board (DRB) have a covenant going back to the 1960s on some of the land in TCN that would preclude or at least delay any re-development of some of the County's portion of TCN.  So the County needs RA to vacate that covenant before it can proceed, an action the RA Board can take on its own (no referendum required).  We know that there have been secret meetings between RA leaders and Supervisor Hudgins as well as attorneys for both sides, and we can think of no other reason for those meetings to occur.  

Based on recent experience, we suspect that RA is seeking to include all new residential properties built in TCN in Reston Association, generating an ever larger stream of revenues to spend.  Given the absence of Board members from the latest community meeting on TCN, we very seriously doubt they are pursuing the goals of the community which have to do with the quality of the public facilities--the new Reston Regional Library, a new Embry Rucker Homeless Shelter, a promised FCPA Regional Recreation Center, and a real, maybe even "signature," community park worth talking about--that are planned for the area, including the Reston Master Plan.  As usual, we expect RA to look out for itself, not for our community in these negotiations. 

More broadly, PPPs have demonstrably created huge holes in public budgets despite their supposed intent to eliminate additional public costs.  The latest example of this comes from Tidewater Virginia and is reported by the Washington Post.  Here is the lede:
 NORFOLK — The private proposal to build a new underwater tunnel in this congested port city was originally billed as a way for Virginia to get a crucial piece of infrastructure without having to put in a single dollar of state money.
Instead, Virginia officials have agreed to spend slightly more than $580 million on the project, more than twice the investment from the companies behind the deal. With no competition, the companies won the right to collect billions of dollars in tolls over 58 years.
The state also agreed that the companies — Swedish construction giant Skanska and Sydney-based finance group Macquarie — are entitled to large government payouts if Virginia builds or expands other bridges or tunnels nearby, making fixing other traffic woes more costly for generations to come.
Click here for the rest of this story of a massive public giveaway with a huge public expense--all in the name of a public-private partnership.  

While larger than what is planned for TCN, we expect that the results here will be similar in impact, if different in scale.  We could easily see less than satisfactory public facilities as well as higher County taxes and RA dues in our future from this PPP.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. I recently relocated back to the area and am actively paying attention to development trends and policies. This article is interesting and informative - sheds light on the debate and encourages me to look further into the issue of local public vs. private decision-making.

    ReplyDelete

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