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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Reston Performing Arts Center: Placemaking or Profit Taking

In what now seems like the distant past of the Reston Master Plan Task Force’s work on Phase 1, members of the task force had a head-snapping moment in one meeting about 2012 when Boston Properties’ Pete Otteni committed Boston Properties to building a performing arts center across the street from the Town Center Metrorail station.  People would actually be able to take the Metro to Reston and walk a short distance to a major theater and see a top-tier stage performance—drama, musical, ballet, opera, you name it!  No one expected Boston Properties to step up and make an unsolicited offer to build a major theater for Reston and the region.

The building of a major performance center was an idea the Reston 20/20 Committee offered in in its paper “Planning World-Class Transit-Oriented Development in Reston Town Center: The Community’s Alternative Vision.”   Reston 20/20 said, “We envision the Reston performing and fine arts center sitting directly south of the Metrorail exit, enabling ready theater access. The center would comprise a substantial performance hall--one seating on the order of 800-1,200 people, a second small (possibly “in the round”) theater for experimental and educational purposes. . . Whether integrated with the performing arts facility or not, the fine arts portion of the center would be large enough to house a quality permanent collection as well as host temporary exhibitions of world-class art. It should also house artist studios and art class rooms on the upper level(s). The studios, in particular, should face south and be open to natural light. It would probably be about the physical size of the National Postal Museum (75,000 SF) in Washington, DC. The fine and performing arts center would adjoin a large park-like plaza with trees, shrubs, benches, and possibly a sculpture garden that could include an underground parking garage beneath the park area that would serve commuters and arts center audiences alike. We anticipate such a theater-museum complex would require about 200,000GSF of development.”

And that offer showed up in Boston Properties’ presentations after the Reston Master Plan was approved.  In a series of presentations to the regional business community, Mr. Otteni presented a concept plan for the development of the area just north and west of the Town Center Metro station featuring a large circular theater just feet from the station entrance.   (See below.)  It appeared that Boston Properties was going to follow-through on Mr. Otteni surprise commitment to the Reston Task Force.  

And then, poof, the proposal was gone.  At the April 20th “Reston . . . Blueprint for the Future” community open house sponsored by Supervisor Hudgins, Boston Properties had a new concept plan rendering with nary a sign of any planned proposed performance center.  When asked about the absence of the performance center, Mr. Otteni said that the area (“RTC III”—gray in the rendering above) was the most valuable land in Town Center and that the County had agreed to build a performance center in Town Center North.  Town Center North is, of course, a mile from the station and Mr. Otteni pointed out it would be served by shuttle buses, just like the Kennedy Center.  

Subsequently, we checked with a representative of Supervisor Hudgins’ office who said she was unaware of plans to build a performing arts center in Town Center North.  We joked that TCN would be quite crowded with all the County facilities proposed to be built there.  I told her that a knowledgeable attorney told me at the open house that there had been some kind of agreement between the County and Boston Properties to build a performing arts center near the Metro station, but that the agreement had expired.  The Hunter Mill representative was unaware that any such agreement had existed.  Nonetheless, she offered to follow up to find out any details.  

So, not only does it appear that a major performing arts center will not be within easy walking distance of the Town Center Metro station, it also means that, if one is built, it will likely be built by/for the County in Town Center North.  And that almost certainly means that it will be managed by the Reston Community Center and funded through added Reston Special Tax District #5 taxes.   To build such a major performance facility would require a huge investment and large operational expense, especially with the many parameters RCC has already laid out as requirements/features of such a performing arts center.  The prospective impact on STD#5 tax rates would be huge.   Of course, as usual, none of this will be publicly disclosed until it is too late for Reston taxpayers to stop if from occurring. 

NOTE:  When or if we obtain additional information on this situation, we will update this post and write new ones. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Backgrounder: The Proposed Reston Transportation Tax District, Reston 20/20, April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016

Backgrounder:  The Proposed Reston Transportation Tax District

What is the proposed special Reston transportation tax?

The County Transportation staff (FCDOT) has proposed to the Supervisor-appointed Reston Network Analysis Group (RNAG) that a special “transportation service district” tax be created just for Reston to help pay for street improvements in Reston’s station areas.   The tax would apply to both Reston’s commercial and residential development and the rate could be altered by the Board of Supervisors any time.   
  • One version of the tax would impose a $.035/$100 valuation tax on the station areas.
  • A second version would add a $.025/$100 valuation tax to all Reston homeowners. 

The funds generated by the tax would be used for the construction and maintenance of roadways in Reston’s Metro station areas, including the new “grid of streets” within each area and improvements to through streets, such as Reston Parkway.  FCDOT puts the cost of these improvements at $2.6 billion.  The goal of these improvements would be to achieve a peak hour intersection delays of 55-80 seconds, worse than the current County goal of 30-55 seconds delay, even on Reston’s major through streets.   

How much would this transportation tax district cost Reston homeowners?

Like a property owners’ regular property tax bill, the cost of the tax to Reston homeowners would vary depending on the value of their homes.  Here is a table FCDOT has provided on the annual cost in today’s dollars.  We’ve have highlighted the two tax rate proposals FCDOT has proposed: 

What the above “constant” 2016 dollar table does not reflect is the impact of home appreciation on tax assessments and out-of-pocket tax payments.  Three percent appreciation per year at a tax rate of $.025/$100 valuation over four decades on a $600,000 home would more than triple the tax cost:

Over the next 40 years of a community-wide transportation tax fixed at $.025/$100 valuation, Reston homeowners would pay more than $350 million in special Reston-only transportation taxes.

Who benefits from the new Reston transportation tax?

The short answer is that Reston residents would have an added tax burden with no discernible benefit while landowners’ for-profit development is subsidized by homeowner taxes and the County has a new tax revenue stream. 

Reston residents would be paying for roadways that everyone else uses for free.  Free users include more than half of the daily commuters who live elsewhere as well as shoppers and diners in Reston’s station areas, present and future.  If taxed, Restonians using the roads would receive no unique benefits in the station areas, including free parking.  And, as stated above, homeowners would be paying added taxes to drive in worse traffic conditions than they now experience.

On the other hand, the transportation tax subsidy from Reston homeowners would lower the costs Reston’s developers face in building the needed streets their for-profit endeavors, generating more tenants, customers, and rental and sales revenues.  Yet even if Reston homeowners do not pay a special tax, the developers will still build or improve the roads to meet County requirements.  The road improvements would cost them less than five percent of their forecast $53 billion in profits in the next four decades.  Of course, if the developers choose not to develop, the added roads and improvements will be unnecessary.

For the County, the new Reston transportation tax district would mean a new tax revenue stream at its disposal whose rates the Board of Supervisors controlled.  Not only would the new $.025/$100 valuation tax mean an added $4 million per year to start in revenues from Reston homeowners, but the County revenue tax stream will grow as Reston home values appreciate and developers construct their high-density buildings.  

You must act now.  The proposed Reston transportation tax district provides no linkage between who pays and who benefits.  It is grossly unfair and inequitable to all Reston homeowners.  Please contact these key County and community officials to share your views on this deceptive Reston transportation tax proposal.

Name                                                                                    E-Mail
Chairman Sharon Bulova                                          
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins                                         
Tom Biesiadny, Chief, FCDOT                                  
Kristin Calkins, RNAG Project Manager                    
Cate Fulkerson, CEO, RA                                          
RA Board of Directors                                               
Andy Sigle, Chief, RNAG Advisory Group                

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Op-Ed: Reston Transportation Tax Proposal is Grotesque County Corporate Welfare, RestonNow, April 18, 2016

The following is a re-post from RestonNow.

Op-Ed: Reston Transportation Tax Proposal is Grotesque County Corporate Welfare

This is an op-ed by Reston resident Terry Maynard. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now. Something on your mind? Send a letter to

Restonians are once again faced with the prospect of the burden of an added local “tax service district  that could add hundreds of dollars to their annual property tax bill every year. The one we already have, Small Tax District 5, supports our Reston Community Center in providing cultural and educational activities for the community. The proposed new one would solely subsidize developer profits while increasing county tax revenues.

As this discussion continues, Reston Association has shared a questionnaire online with its weekly RA NewsLine (click on “Transportation Tax Survey) for residents to provide feedback on the Reston special transportation tax district idea. I urge all Restonians to vote “NO.” The following provides an explanation why.

The basis for the proposal lies in planned development in Reston’s station areas, growth that will exclusively benefit Reston’s station area landowners. Assuming that all Reston developers are as successful as Boston Properties per its 2015 annual report, their likely profit will total more than $53 billion over 40 years after building costs. That includes more than $9 billion from their future development as well as more than one billion dollars per year from their existing Reston holdings. That is an average of $1.3 billion per year!

Yet these same developers, backed by the County, want Reston homeowners to pick up as much as half of the $2.6 billion tab — about $65 million per year — for needed station area road improvement even though their total cost will be less than three percent of their profit from their Reston properties over the next 40 years.

The forecast annual road improvement cost is less than five percent of the future annual profits of the Reston station area landowners and can be easily absorbed as part of their investment in offsetting the impact of their development, but the County is proposing that residents pay some of the road costs.

One of the transportation tax options the County has proposed is that all Reston homeowners pay $.025/$100 residential property valuation to help defray the road improvement costs. Today, with the average Reston home valued at $428,000, the added cost of that Reston special tax would be $107 per year to start.  This special tax would be in addition to the average $202 Restonians already pay to operate the Reston Community Center, a County public facility committed primarily to Restonians’ use.

With 3 percent annual appreciation in the value of a family home and/or general inflation, the average added transportation tax cost would be more than $200 per year per household over the next 40 years for an average-priced home — assuming the mix of home values remains constant (and it is more likely to increase with thousands of new high-priced condos in the station areas). On a community-wide basis, that three percent annual growth in assessments would mean the average Reston homeowner would pay more than $8,800 and the total residential community tax contribution would be more than $350 million over 40 years. And that is without any shift in housing mix or tax rate increases by the Board of Supervisors.

The Board is driving the transportation tax idea because it believes that by encouraging the growth of taxable real estate values, it can solve its budget problem. Another Reston special tax district at $.025/$100 valuation Reston-wide tax rate would bring in about $4.4 million in new revenues in the first year — and grow every year thereafter — even if there is no development. Moreover, from the Board’s perspective, to the extent these taxes encourage developers to build sooner because of lower investment costs, it will create even more high-tax value high-density real estate. It’s a win-win situation from a Board perspective: More tax revenue through subsidized corporate development.

And all of that special Reston tax money would go to Reston’s station area landowners in defraying the road infrastructure costs of their for-profit development. Specifically, the taxes would be used to improve roads that go to, from, within, and through the station areas to serve developer properties that would be required for their profitable high-density development.  Yet–
  • If the developers believe they will earn an adequate return on their investment, they will build the roads needed to help make their new construction profitable anyway without a special Reston residential tax subsidy.
  • If they choose not to build for whatever reason, then Reston won’t need improved roadways (except to meet existing standards) and, therefore, we won’t need any added transportation taxes.
If the transportation tax is approved, Restonians would have no special access or other benefit to anything in the station areas despite paying a significant sum for these new or improve roads, even free parking. People from all over the county, the state, even beyond Virginia, including most of the 60,000-plus Reston station area employees who commute here daily, will use the station area roads for free while Restonians pay for them. Even those Restonians who choose not to go to the station areas (or go there rarely) such as retirees on fixed incomes and younger, less affluent Restonians will still have to pay the full transportation tax.

The ultimate irony of this road “improvement” tax proposal is that the County literally promises worse congestion as a desirable traffic “goal.”   So Restonians will be taxed to experience worse congestion, even those who only drive through the station areas, say, on Wiehle to/from the Dulles Toll Road, with no intention of visiting them.

The bottom line is that the transportation tax proposal completely detaches who pays the tax from who benefits from it. Residents pay more for less usable roadways; developers pay less and profit more. It is unfair and inequitable to Restonians by any measure.

The idea that taxing Reston homeowners, whether they live in the station areas or beyond, because they will garner some unidentified, much less quantifiable, “benefit” from the development there is a deceptive scheme and the County knows it.   The proposed County transportation tax is, in fact, nothing more than grotesque corporate welfare, the Reston property owner paying more taxes so major Reston developers can increase their profits and the County can increase its tax revenues.

The transportation tax idea should be opposed vigorously by the Reston community, the RA Board of Directors and other community leaders and organizations, the County-appointed RNAG advisory group examining Reston’s transportation options, and ultimately the Board of Supervisors itself. Do what you can now:

Terry Maynard

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Least Surprising Survey Results of All Time, Restonian, April 15, 2016

Restonian has done it again!  Re-posted below is his excellent post on proposed special Reston tax for transportation and the survey RA is circulating regarding residents' views.  Read it below or read it in its native state on the Restonian blog.   And thanks, Restonian, for letting us re-post this!  We have nothing to add other than all readers should go to the RA survey and cast their "NO" vote.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Least Surprising Survey Results of All Time

From our BFFs at the Reston Association:


No word on whether the "yes" responses all came from people at JBG, Boston Properties and Northwestern Mutual frantically mashing the reload buttons on their browsers.

This is all part of a push by Fairfax County to figure out how to pay for all the roads and much-delayed bridges and never-to-be-built bridges and whatnot needed to support all the sweeeeet sweeeet bollardy goodness that's popping up around the Metro stations. Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:
At a meeting in February, county officials said Reston is going to need more than $2.6 billion in transportation improvements to keep up with development and population growth in the next 40 years. High on the priority list are an urban-style street grid around transit stations and additional spots to cross the Dulles Toll Road, according to the advisory group. At that meeting, the possibility of a special tax district was first discussed. Tysons has a special tax district in place since 2013. Businesses and residents of Tysons are taxed in order to help raise about $810 million of the estimated $3.1 billion necessary for longterm changes.
The Tysons Special Tax for FY2016 is $0.05 per $100 of assessed real estate value.
Which is funny, because RA also asked the people willing to pay this special assessment how much they'd be willing to pay. The "suggested minimum," as charities like to put it, was less than half that amount, but then again, Reston ain't Paris:


Again, not exactly a shocker how people voted. That 2 cents/$100, BTW, adds up to an additional $120 a year in property taxes on a $600,000 house.

Bear in mind the RA really has no say in this. The county's Board of Supervisors does, and they can basically impose the special tax district by fiat. And we already have one for the Reston Community Center, which subsidizes the building and various cultural events, while most of the rest of the county's rec centers are funded by the entire county.

And that's the rub. It's kind of galling that Fairfax sees Tysons and Reston as the future of the tax base that supports the entire county, yet is asking those of us who already live here, and not so much the developers, to foot the bill to grow that tax base responsibly, in a way that doesn't lead to utter gridlock. Virginia just enacted a law that makes these kinds of developer proffers tougher to do, but still. If what's good for Reston and Tysons is also good for the rest of the county and its deteriorating basketball courts, then shouldn't we all foot the bill?

Even if you live in Springfield and would never dream of paying to park at our elite chain retail emporium, the sweeeeet taxes from all Reston's vowel-free development should (in theory) pay for upkeep of your sprawling suburban street network. Right?

Want to take the poll yourself? Apparently you have to be signed up for the RA's fancy "news letter" to get a personal link, which already kinda sorta favors the folks most likely to be willing to cough up extra money be involved in community affairs -- which makes the 70 percent "no" vote to date even more clear. There was talk of sending it to everyone, so we'll see if that happens. Or if county officials listen to what we're saying. There's a first time for everything!

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.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Is Suburbia coming back? Did it ever go away? What does it mean for Reston?

The Atlantic has a major article on the demographic shifts in the nation's urban areas.  It's headline pretty much tells the story:

American Cities Are Booming—For Rich Young College Grads Without Kids

Everybody else is moving to the suburbs.

And the opening to the article amplifies the theme.
Americans aren’t moving back to the cities. Just 20- and 30-somethings.
But actually, not all 20- and 30-somethings are moving back to the cities. Only those with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are.
And not even all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are moving back into cities. Mostly the ones without school-age kids are.
And if you thought that was it, it turns out that not all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree in the top 40 percent of income without school-age children are moving back into cities. It’s mostly just the ones that are white.
Such is the Russian nesting doll of myth-busting from the housing researcher Jed Kolko in a post today on urbanization. There was a period, shortly after the collapse of the housing bubble, when it really did look like the United States might collapse back into dense cities, in a dramatic return to pre-1950s America. Instead, it turns out that America isn’t ready to abandon the suburban project. They just like sun and space too much. In fact, most American cities wouldn’t even be growing today if not for immigration. . . .
And ends:
In the meantime, if you are a 20- or 30-something white college graduate without children earning more than 60 percent of the country, it might seem to you like everybody is moving to the cities. That might be because the only micro-demographic that’s pouring into cities is the one that perfectly describes you.
The demographic group this article does not seem adequately to address are empty-nest seniors who may be looking for smaller residences in an environment with all of life's needs within easy walking distance--and maybe even a chance to take advantage of the excitement of urban living.  

All of that suggests Reston is ideally situated to take advantage of the shifts in living patterns among America's many demographics.  If they can afford it, Reston's evolving Metro station areas offer the urban living experience for childless young adults, without many of the pitfalls of actually living in a city; hence, Restonian refers to it as our "fake downtown gritty urban core."  It offers (and will offer more) high-rise living, rental and condo, in everything from one-room efficiencies to three-bedroom luxury dwelling units.  Metrorail, if it becomes a reliable and safe transit service once again, will offer easy access to jobs in Tysons, WDC, or elsewhere on its many routes.  Certainly the dining is there (and more will come) and more nightlife, cultural, shopping, and other urban amenities are on their way. 

Reston also offers suburban living no matter what your lifestyle choice--single-family, townhouse, apartment, or condo.  This has been available to Restonians since Reston began along with a wide variety of recreational activities and natural spaces to explore and enjoy.  And the "exciting" urban environment is no more than a 10 minute drive away.

And, as the childless twenty-somethings become 30-something families with small children, they can easily shift from a station area condo to a single-family home elsewhere in Reston.  In fact, some of Reston's neighborhoods (including the one this writer lives in) have undergone a generational change in the last decade.  Ten years ago, there were virtually no children living on our block.  Retirees began moving from the neighborhood, often to warmer Southern climes (something Reston can't offer in the wintertime), and a new generation of young families have moved in.  In this writer's neighborhood, there are now well more than a dozen young children living on our street, including at least four were born here. 

And that's the beauty of Bob Simon's vision of Reston:  There is a place to live for everyone, no matter their age or station in life.  It is one of the key features that helps assure Reston's long-term economic success.  And now, Millennials--once the darlings of urbanologists--are becoming our community's and our country's young families seeking a new way of life--in the suburbs.  All here in Reston.

Are Fairfax County and Reston "fraying around the edges" or "elite"?

In an April 2 article, Washington Post reporter Antonio Olivo writes:
For decades, Fairfax County has been a national model for suburban living, a place of good governance and elite schools that educate children from some of the country’s richest neighborhoods.
But Virginia’s largest municipality is fraying around the edges.
A population that is growing older, poorer and more diverse is sharpening the need for basic services in what is still the nation’s second-wealthiest county, even as a sluggish local economy maintains a chokehold on the revenue stream.
Since the 2008 recession, local officials have whittled away at programs to the tune of $300 million. They now say that there is no fat left to trim.
Instead, they are searching for ways to raise taxes, draw new businesses and revitalize worn neighborhoods. Their effort mirrors the struggle of aging suburban communities nationwide, as a turn-of-the century economic boom settles into a sluggish post-recession status quo. . . .
We strongly recommend you read the full article.  

We agree that Fairfax County's economy is sluggish although Reston appears to have slightly higher economic growth than the county as a whole.  We also doubt this situation will change significantly anytime soon and it could last a decade or more, especially if local taxes--inevitably dominated by property taxes--continue to rise.  Fairfax County relies on the federal government for its strength and growth, and there is little sign that there will be growth in either federal government employment or contracting.

The primary reason Reston has grown marginally more than the county has as a whole is based on its location--as in "location, location, location." The arrival of Metrorail, despite its poor operating condition, is a relative strength as is our location near Dulles Airport.  The recent revision of our community plan to encourage huge new growth around Reston's stations offers a solid reason for businesses to locate here--if they have a reason to locate in the Washington area at all. And residents will have a much-expanded option to live in high-rise dwellings if they choose.

That said, new office demand is extremely limited across Northern Virginia with vacancy rate of 18.2% per CBRE data as of yearend-2015 (Reston has a 16.1% office vacancy rate according to the same source), and the recent blooming of near-vacant high-rise residences in the Silver Line station areas and generally stagnant suburban housing market has shown that housing demand is also constrained.  (Zillow reports a 1.2% drop in Fairfax housing prices over the last year as of January 2016.)  In particular, we believe developers in the Silver Line station areas are too taken with their own marketing language about the attractiveness of their Reston and Tysons locations and so they continue to overprice their business and residential opportunities--and their vacancies remain unnecessarily high.  A prime example:  A Reston Town Center spokesperson said, Reston Town Center thinks it is "elite."

For Reston, the last thing we need to be called is "elite."  Bob Simon's vision for Reston was anything but elitist.  It was as egalitarian and diverse--and still economically successful--as any community vision in the country.  And it remains so.  An attempt to make the community--or any significant part of it--into an elitist colony will undermine the community and likely impede its overall growth.  We have a great community founded on great planning principles calling for, among other things, racial diversity, affordability, inclusiveness, and recreational and cultural opportunity.  We shouldn't be imperiling that foundation by trying to become some version of Palo Alto, the snobbiest small city in the US, or even Chicago's Magnificent Mile. 

That is the other side of the growth story:  It seems everyone except the business community has recognized that regional, much less Reston, growth is sluggish.  So while developers go looking for handouts from the County and the County imposes more taxes on homeowners and others, they are acting as if the boom of the last decade is back.  It's not--and it will not be for quite some time even around the Metro stations.  And, at the same time, homeowners are no better off than they are, so shifting the costs of their initiatives (starting with road, school, emergency service, and other public improvements to sustain service levels) to them is both unfair and inequitable.

Reston may not be fraying at the edges, but it needs to focus on its founding vision to continue to be one of the premier planned communities in the world, not some haughty elitist self-delusion.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Reston doesn't need no stinkin' traffic lights!

Well, we may all need to have self-driving cars.  Anyway, look at this MIT vision of future intersections. 

Maybe RNAG and FCDOT could take a lesson as they work on re-shaping intersections in Reston's urbanizing areas.