Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The toll road troll gets his nose under the I-66 tent.



Yesterday, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) unanimously approved the tolling of I-66 inside the Beltway for one-passenger cars that are headed eastbound during morning rush.  About three hours of tolls for 40,000 autos out of the more than 400,000 that make that trip each workday.   


The tip of the toll road troll nose just barely got stuck under the I-66 tent as the result of some last minute maneuvering to allow toll-free driving in the opposite direction during afternoon rush.  The decision will actually add vehicles to the dreadfully congested I-66 route, especially in the absence of any plans to expand the highway. 

We have no objection to tolling a highway—any highway—for the purpose of providing revenues to maintain and improve the highway, but this plan, like most other tolling plans, is aimed at taxing drivers to provide revenues for other purposes.  In this case, any surplus funds—and the tolls will be high enough to make sure they generate surplus funds—will be used to provide public transit options generally in the inside the Beltway I-66 corridor.   The Washington Post says, “The state expects to generate $18 million in toll revenue in 2018, the first year in which tolls will be fully implemented. The money can be used to support mass transit options on the I-66 corridor, as well as the possible widening of eastbound I-66.”

Well, there are no plans to widen eastbound (or westbound) I-66 and it is unlikely that there will be any for years, if not decades.  Physically, it will be extremely difficult to add a third lane from Falls Church to the Roosevelt Bridge as anyone who has driven that route well knows.  And with that extreme difficulty goes tremendous expense.  Moreover, Arlington County almost violently opposes any widening of the highway into its various neighborhoods and has since the interstate was built decades ago.

We think it more likely that, within a few years, the new toll will be expanded to all users of I-66 inside the Beltway—possibly with the toll break for carpools--and possibly from just peak periods to 24-hours per day with rates varying with peak flow periods.  Once the toll gate spigot begins generating revenues, there is no stopping the expansion of its coverage and increases in the tolls.

Moreover, we expect that the use of the tolls will expand to public transit measures well beyond the Beltway.   In fact, we anticipate that tolling I-66 will expand well beyond the Beltway.  It is easy to foresee that, as Northern Virginia continues to grow, tolling will extend as far out as Gainesville, ostensibly to help sustain the interstate and constrain traffic flows.  Those tolls will, like Dulles Toll Road tolls, be used to extend Metrorail’s Orange Line as far as the tolls—to the Gainesville exit area.

Our state and local leaders see a massive potential revenue flow from these tolls to help offset the huge cost of transportation infrastructure construction and operation.  They may even see future opportunities to extend the use of those tolls to non-transportation uses.  All they have to do is to take one tiny step at a time in moving forward so as not to so upset their constituents that they all get thrown out of office.  The first step is to get the toll troll’s nose under the tent.  That box has now been checked. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Rescue Reston Press Release: In another Reston win, judge denies RN Golf's request to delay issue of Court order.

Circuit Court Judge Devine denied the request of RN Golf, the owner of Reston National Golf Course, to delay issuance of the Court’s order finding that the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) lacked jurisdiction when it acted on RN Golf’s appeal of a County zoning letter earlier this year.  The Court vacated the BZA decision at a hearing last month finding that the BZA should not have heard RN Golf’s appeal because RN Golf had yet to provide a Planned Residential Community (PRC) plan. Earlier this week RN Golf asked the Court to delay issuance of its order implementing that decision for at least three months so as to permit RN Golf more time to consider alternative strategies, a request which was denied today by Judge Devine.  The County, along with Reston homeowners and the Reston Association, are opposing RN Golf.

RN Golf is in its fourth year of attempting to redevelop the golf course with housing units. RN Golf has maintained that it has the right to circumvent required filings and build housing on what the County has affirmed is permanent open space. In 2012, the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator rejected that assertion and advised RN Golf that redevelopment of the golf course would require the submission of a PRC plan, triggering RN Golf’s appeal of the Zoning Administrator’s letter to the BZA. With today’s ruling the Court requires that RN Golf, should it wish to pursue development, file a PRC plan with the Fairfax County Zoning Administer to determine compliance with existing zoning rules. RN Golf has 30 days to appeal today’s order to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Court heard arguments today against RN Golf in three particular areas:
  • Over the past four years RN Golf had consistently pursued tactics of delay and previously sought five additional unexplained delays of a hearing on the BZA appeal which it had filed.
  • No PRC plan currently exists to be considered. Further delay was unwarranted.
  • A judgment allowing needless delay would set a precedent for future delays in other cases. The courts would be flooded with cases if every time an entity lost, they appealed for further delays of the court’s ruling.
Through its counsel, RN Golf has maintained a public position of having no immediate plan to develop the golf course. “We have no plans, we are just exploring our options,” Francis McDermott, a lawyer representing RN Golf, told TV reporters last January.  “If that is true…after today the entire case would be over. But, we have always believed they had a plan. It obviously would be unpopular to the community, otherwise why wouldn’t they have divulged it years ago. That plan and the particular process of circumventing zoning procedures would destroy Reston’s concept of a Planned Community,” said John Pinkman of Rescue Reston.  Mr. Pinkman is also an affected party and attended today’s court proceedings.

 “The affected homeowners and Rescue Reston firmly believe that the destruction of the open space/golf course, re-developed into housing would not comply with zoning or the historical managed intent of that land, that has been in place for over 50 years,” Mr. Pinkman concluded.

Parties to the proceedings do not expect the controversy to be resolved by today’s ruling. “We fully expect RN Golf Management, LLC to continue its attempts to invade our open space. Rescue Reston will remain vigilant and take all steps necessary to prevent that from happening. We will continue to raise legal defense funds and assist the County, RA and Reston homeowners in any possible manner,” said Connie Hartke, President of Rescue Reston.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The future of work space? WaPo takes a photographic look at Facebook's new headquarters.

In an article yesterday, the Washington Post's Todd Frankel provides a photographic tour and article about Facebook's new headquarters (Building 20) in Menlo Park, CA.  The 430,000 square foot workspace is entirely open--the largest open-office workspace in the world.  Housing 2,800 employees means that each employee has about 154 square feet of workspace at the core of which is a small cubicle.  It is not clear whether that square footage is "gross," "interior gross," "leasable," "usable," or some other square footage metric.   The largest the gross square feet (GSF) per employee could be (in the unlikely case that this metric is for usable workspace), however, is 230 GSF/employee--the space actually occupied per employee (not restrooms, hallways, elevators, walls, etc.).  We expect it most closely matches the "interior" square footage metric, suggesting that each employee has 203 ISF/worker.

The main stairs to Building 20. Photo by Nick Otto/For The Washington Post
Yet, as we have noted more than a dozen times in this blog, Fairfax County's Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) continues to assert for planning purposes that office workspace will be generated at 300 GSF/employee.  This example provided by one of the geekiest of the Silicon Valley high tech companies--the kind of technology-driven company that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors would like to see come here--illustrates again how outrageously high that 300 GSF/worker assumption is.  In looking at dozens of similar leases, acquisitions, etc., our finding has been that the average GSF/employee is--and will likely continue to be--about 200 GSF/employee.

The 50% difference between the DPZ office space planning assumption and the reality of new office building usage as reflected in the Facebook headquarters and dozens of other leased or owned office buildings here and around the world will have a profound negative impact on development in Reston and other County TOD areas.  A new 100,000 GSF office building will allow about 50,000 new jobs, not the 33,333 jobs DPZ would assume.  That means 50% more traffic on local roads, 50% more workers using already under-allocated park space in and around TOD areas, 50% more environmental deterioration, and more. 

Until Fairfax County starts being realistic about the office workspace of the future, all of its urbanizing areas will be at risk of being overwhelmed by unexpected and unplanned for workers. 

The article itself provides a good look at both the pros and cons of the open-office workspace--and its seeming inevitability despite the complaints of employees.  You can read the full article and see several more photos here.