Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Board of Supervisors takes vague commitments & abandons its workforce housing policy in Tysons.

(UPDATE & CORRECTION:  In a comment we've chosen not to publish, Navid Roshan-Afshar, who routinely seems to see himself as the defender of all things Tysons, calls this post "a flat-out lie" in his usual tactless manner.  (Yes, this is not the first time he has made such an assertion--and sometimes he is "flat-out" wrong.)  The post isn't a lie, but it is inaccurate, for which we apologize to our readers.

In fact, the developer has pledged to provide 65% of the workforce housing sometime, somewhere in Tysons--almost certainly not in The Arbor luxury condominium complex--and put some funds aside for the rest to also be built sometime, somewhere in Tysons.  According to Fairfax County:
As with other major, new projects in Tysons, affordable housing will be offered. The developer will pursue providing 20 percent of its total units as affordable. In a unique strategy, they may be offered either in The Arbor or other buildings in Tysons.
As approved, at least 65 percent of the promised units will be provided onsite or offsite. For the remaining 35 percent, the developer may make a cash contribution instead. The money, which ranges from $75,000 to $85,000 per unit, will go to the county’s affordable housing trust fund for Tysons.
We doubt the prospective construction of this workforce units will be anywhere near the Metro stations--or anytime soon.  This amorphous commitment is inconsistent with the County's policy plan for developing workforce housing county-wide which calls for a minimum 12% onsite with extra required to achieve higher overall densities (an additional FAR 0.5) in places like Tysons and Reston's station areas.  And the per unit money falls significantly short of what it will actually cost to build these units.  Moreover, the Board decision gives the appearance of an intent to segregate workforce housing in less desirable locations with less desirable construction--call them "slums."  The deal was opposed by the County's professional staff, but the Board overruled the staff.  

It sets an ugly precedent not only in Tysons, but also for Reston, where providing housing for all walks of life has been a cornerstone planning principle for more than a half century.  We are deeply concerned that this kind of deal making at the cost of workforce housing will undermine the County's workforce housing policy broadly as well as Reston's planning principles.  Why should any other developer now be treated differently?

We thank Navid for pointing this out, but hopefully he can do so in a more civil manner in the future.)

In a decision made Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an application to build a 25-story condominium building at Tysons called "The Arbor" WITHOUT any workforce housing as called for in Tysons plan and County policy planning.  Instead, the Board settled for a contribution of cash to a fund for future workforce housing construction in Tysons.  

Here is how Michael Niebauer of Washington Business Journal reported it:
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved plans for The Arbor, a 140-unit, 25-story condo tower with more than 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at Arbor Row, Cityline Partners' 2.2 million-square-foot redevelopment of the West Park office park. Developer Renaissance Centro is the contract purchaser of the Arbor Row condo pad. . . .
In approving the project, the board rejected staff's recommendation of denial, which was based on Renaissance Centro's ability to provide affordable workforce dwelling units, or WDUs, on site.
As we wrote on Monday, the developer has proffered to provide up to 20 percent of its units as WDUs, but it has only guaranteed that 65 percent of the so-called "Proffered 20" will be actual units, and none of them necessarily have to be within The Arbor (though they must be somewhere in Tysons). In lieu of the units it does not provide, Renaissance Centro will make a payment to a Tysons affordable housing fund.
Staff did not agree that Renaissance Centro should be awarded bonus density in return for cash. . . .
So it turns out, pretty much as we expected, that the Board of Supervisors cares less about its commitment to workforce housing than it does about its balance sheet.  While the funds the developer contributes are intended to build workforce housing in Tysons, we doubt that they will ever be used in that manner.  At best, they will be diverted to workforce housing in a less desirable place, quite probably remote from Metrorail which makes Tysons such an attractive place for workforce housing.  

As WBJ reported in January (as did we):  "The second option is simply a cash contribution to a new Tysons Affordable Housing Trust Fund, generally equal to 1.5 percent of the sales prices of all units at The Arbor, plus 1 percent of the net base sales price paid in installments. But the Tysons Plan is wary of cash in lieu of affordable housing, noting explicitly it is "not desired.""

In general, housing developers in Metro station areas are expected to devote at least 12 percent of their dwelling units to workforce housing and that percentage can rise to 20 percent if the developer wants extra density--which is definitely the case in Tysons.  Yet, instead of obtaining 12-20% of the net sales price of The Arbor sales toward future workforce housing, the County settled for one-tenth of that sum (1.5%) in cash.  How does the Board presume to provide the number of workforce units required by its own workforce housing policy with so little funding?  Its decision virtually assures that the County will not be able to provide workforce housing at a level that even remotely achieve the goal of the County's much touted effort to create workforce housing.  We have not seen such a cynical forked-tongue decision by the Board of Supervisors in some time, but it continues to surprise--in a bad way--especially now that the Board elections are behind us. 

Restonians and their leaders need to be aware of this sellout by the County Board because it provides a benchmark for future housing development in Reston's station areas.  We must insist that the County live up to at least its established commitment to affordable housing in Reston to preserve Bob Simon's goal of housing for everyone.  



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