Reston Spring

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Tysons Impacts Our Silver Line Future, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, August 22, 2012

Earlier this week, I took my own advice about the importance of working together across organizations for common goals.  In that spirit, I had lunch with Sally Horn, president of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA).  My previous post focused on the importance of Reston organizations working together, but RCA and MCA are also facing a shared issue: the coming of the Silver Line, and how the development around the Metro will change our communities.

Currently, MCA is engaged with the Fairfax County Planning Commission on the infrastructure plan for Tysons Corner. Tysons is undergoing an even more significant redevelopment than Reston will, as the County hopes to use the Silver Line as a spur to transform Tysons from a suburban business and shopping mecca to a mixed-use urban community.

Last week, the Planning Commission's Tysons Committee released its Strawman III document, outlining how the costs of needed transportation infrastructure at Tysons will be paid for.  MCA has been working closely with the Planning Commission on the Strawman document since the first version was issued in June.  Sally asked me if RCA would support MCA's fight to ensure that the infrastructure plan is fair to the residents and taxpayers around Tysons.

Although the Tysons plan does not impact Reston directly, I believe this is an issue worthy of RCA's attention as well.  We wish to support our fellow citizens association on an important issue.  But also, the decisions being made now in Tysons are a preview of similar decisions that will be made in Reston in the near future.  Future development in Reston will also require infrastructure to support it, and that infrastructure will need to be paid for.  The precedents established now will affect us, so we want to make sure they are good precedents.

With the idea of precedent-setting in mind, I see three concerns about the Strawman III document that potentially impact not only the residents near Tysons, but us in Reston as well.
First, the share of investment in Tysons’ infrastructure should be consistent with the expected share of the financial return.  Tysons developers stand to reap virtually all the financial return there, through selling and renting of space in the planned new buildings.  Their clients and customers will willingly pay what the market requires, and likely will be satisfied.

In contrast, the residents of Fairfax County, current and future, will likely see little financial gain from the prospective development in Tysons.  To require the residents to carry the bulk of the infrastructure costs would be unfair and inequitable.

Which brings me to my second point: I agree with the MCA that the contribution of County taxpayers to the required development and construction of Tysons infrastructure should be capped at 25%.  RCA endorsed MCA's position back in March 2011, and the position is still valid today.  This is consistent with the taxpayer share of transportation improvements in the Route 28 corridor, as well as the 25% share that RCA believes should be borne by Dulles Toll Road Users for construction of the Silver Line.

The decisions made regarding funding of infrastructure at Tysons will likely serve as a template for future infrastructure funding plans in Reston.  And as a County taxpayer, I am very concerned about establishing a precedent for potentially unlimited taxpayer financial obligations to construct infrastructure to support Tysons.

Finally, Page 16 (of) the Strawman III document states that “it is likely” that the County’s share of the Tysons infrastructure cost will be financed via the sale of bonds, and that the bonds are “not anticipated to contribute to an increase in the tax rate.”  I wonder whether it will truly be possible to finance the County’s share of the necessary infrastructure in Tysons without raising the tax rate.  If a tax increase will be needed, the document should state this honestly.

And whether or not a tax increase is needed, I'm concerned that using bonds to finance the infrastructure at Tysons will crowd out the possibility of using bonds to finance infrastructure further along the Silver Line, including Reston.  Building infrastructure at Tysons is critical, but the need for additional infrastructure in Reston is equally important. We will need additional road improvements to ensure that Reston’s streets do not become ensnared in permanent gridlock.  If Tysons takes up all of the available bonding capacity, how will we pay for needed improvements in Reston?

I know that we've got a lot of Reston-related Silver Line issues to worry about, like the Toll Road rates and the Master Plan Task Force.  But it's also important for us to pay attention to what's going on in Tysons.  Whatever infrastructure funding deal is worked out in Tysons will likely be similar to the deal we get in Reston.  If the Tysons plan winds up being a bad deal for the citizens there, we'll have a much harder time getting a better deal for ourselves.

Fortunately, RCA is on the case, and we're ready to stand with MCA and stand up for the citizens of Reston.  At next week's RCA Board meeting, we will ratify our position on the Strawman III.  The Tysons Committee will meet to review the latest draft on September 6th; RCA will submit its statement to the committee, and we will plan to deliver our testimony in person at their meeting.

This RCA-MCA alliance is one example of how community organizations can support each other for the common good.  In the coming weeks, I'll describe some examples of how we're coming together in Reston to stand up for the community's future.

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