Tuesday, June 07, 2005

High-density Blues in Woodbridge

Is Prince William County's road and rail system too crowded to support even transit-friendly high-density projects? Some critics think so, says today's Washington Post.

Rossyln-based IDI Group wants to build three condominium projects on Route 1 in Woodbridge near the Occoquan River in eastern Prince William - but critics say the project, called Rivergate, would just dump more traffic onto Interstate 95, and that the Virginia Railway Express is already at capacity. The project includes a shuttle service to VRE.

"Everybody's stuck in traffic. That's going to be the pattern for decades to come," county Supervisor Corey A. Stewart told the Post. The county rejected a similar project from developer Til Hazel three months ago.

IDI Group representatives suggested that more traffic from Rivergate and other new projects nearby might be a good thing - because it would raise the pressure to improve Route 1. "What it offers is a base for an upgrade," said IDI lawyer Michael Lubeley.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger John said...

" near the occasion River"

Do you mean Occoquan?

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Sure did - thanks John.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Why is it OK to suggest construction that will lead to new road development in some areas and not in others that are less crowded?

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

What I found interesting was the apparent suggestion that raising the traffic load on Route 1 was a legitimate strategy to attract funding to upgrade the road. Surely that can't be a sensible way to distribute a limited supply of money for transportation. Or maybe some think it's the right way. If so, why?

At 9:28 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Bob, I find the proposal perfectly reasonable: Build the housing which will increase the traffic, then widen the road as needed. Where the developer (and perhaps the Supervisors) and I part company is who pays for this.

My perspective is either the developer pays (or pays through proffer), or the the County pays for it and takes the cost out of Prince William citizens' pockets. It's blatantly unfair for the Commonwealth, no matter how distributed or small the cost per person, to shoulder this. The County generated the need, it should remain within the County level.

If insufficient impact fees are collected, County residents would bear the burden; but they also elect (or un-elect as the case may be) their own Supervisors. State residents have no direct means to express their will; so the cycle of responsibility is broken.

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the developer pays (and thus the new homeowners pay) for infrastructure improvements, then perhaps only those new residents should be allowed to avail themselves of the infrastructure improvements ;)

At 10:53 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Sure, Anonymous, if you want to go that route. Of course under your proposed system, the new residents would have to A) pay for the new improvements, and B) pay extra for the use of each piece of existing infrastructure. They'd rack up quite a bill!

It's just as unfair to make the general population cough up extra money for public roads (or schools or sewer) made necessary by a few others, as it is for me to haphazardly buy cars and make you responsible for payment.

Development incurs costs. Subsidizing that is simply unfair.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Studies have shown that proffers and impact fees wind up costing the general public more money than the new residents, on account of the additional costs are added to home prices and reflected in general assessments. Don't think that proffers mean only the newcomers pay.

Gated communities are a situation where newcomers pay for infrastructure and only newcomers can use it. The result is a cul-de-sac situation that disbenefits travel in general.

Development incurs costs, but it also creates opportunity. I believe the idea that any home valued at less than X dollars represents a tax expense to the community is based on faulty accounting, and I have supporting references available.

The Commonwealth benefits greatly from the cash engine that the sum of all those new opportunites generate. I believe that one reason last years special tax referendums were defeated was because NOVA residents perceive that the money they send downstate has been distributed unfairly. The special taxes would have represented more of the same.

Development does incur costs, but it is not clear how they, or the benefits are distributed. It is unfair to say that Prince William or some other county "caused" the costs, but what are we going to do, track down the location of conception?

Since the infrastructure existing residents use was largely built by our predecessors, I don't think we can very well propose subpatre's plan B with a straight face.

Some things are just government's job, and we might be better off concentrating on getting the job done well and economically than sitting on our hands arguing about it while the situation deteriorates.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger subpatre said...

Ray you're pulling the wool over people's eyes; just like Kaine's "Richmond tax cut". Sure, Richmond rates went down, but people ended up paying more tax anyway. Nobody's buying the line, we just aren't that stupid.

Proffering and impact fees do not add cost onto existing housing. Assessments may go up on all area houses, the rising tide effect, but increased value doesn't increase costs or tax to residents.

Previous efforts to show the evil of impact fees is deeply flawed, and I urge Mr. Bacon or Mr. Burke to start a discussion on that subject.

Some things are just government's job, but the cost for decisions should rest on the government that made the decision. Can anyone pronounce "unfunded mandates"?

In this case the ultimate decision is with the Prince William Board; it is absolutely fair to assign them the responsibility for their decisions.

(Please note that Anonymous' post has a 'smiley' at the end. I assumed it was a jest. My reply containing an equally ridiculous --but perfectly fair-- solution was also in jest)

At 6:42 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Oops! After seeing some ads during my mandatory weekly TV, I need to correct the first sentence of my previous post. It should read:

".... pulling the wool over people's eyes; just like Kaine's "Richmond tax cut" and Sean Connaughton's "Lowering Taxes". Sure, Richmond and Prince William rates went down, but people ended up paying more tax anyway. Nobody's buying the line, we just aren't that stupid."

[Some things make you wonder who's running on what ticket]

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Aside from the debate over proffers, isn't it a disconnect to let Prince William make a land-use decision without having to shoulder the infrastructure costs it creates?

At 9:39 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I'm not talking about the assessments and rates situation. What happens with proffers is different, although I'll concede I don't have an alternative.

You have two similar houses, one old and one new, the new one sports a price that includes $15 to 30k of proffers, and the old one doesn't. The proffers are not a visible value like a deck or a garage, so the assessor has no way to discriminate that hidden value. Even though the older house will get a lesser value based on its age, that value is still marked down from the price of the new home with a recent sale.

Since there are many more existing homes than new ones the effect of the higher assessment is multiplied many times over.

Then as you noted, even if the rate is lowered the dollar tax amount is still higher. But the rate still depends on the assessment and the assessment depends on recent sales which are skewed by the artificial proffers.

This isn't my argument, but one that I read and found reasonable. I think proffers are a back door, unadvertized, hidden tax hike disguised to look as if it affects only the newcomers. I'll see if I can find the references.

I'd prefer to see the costs laid out objectively and fairly. I don't think we are disagreeing that the costs of infrastructure have to be paid, it's just how you package the bill.

But suppose PW denies the new construction which would require infrastructure, then what? Those people are going to live somewhere, but right now we have over 11,000 juridictions with some kind of growth control ordinance which all say (more or less) let someone else pay.

Every jurrisdiction in the area has a policy of promoting jobs and not housing. How can that work?

I'm not married to this idea, its not evn mine. If someone has data to show otherwise, I'm listening.

At 1:01 AM, Blogger subpatre said...

Ray, this isn't the place, but neither I nor the simplest math stated "even if the rate is lowered the dollar tax amount is still higher". The truth is "even if the rate is lowered the dollar tax amount could be higher". Or lower, or the same. It would be to everyones' benefit if Mr. Bacon opened discussion(s) on this easily understood economic issue that's in the campaign limelight.

Bob, yes! Call it a disconnect, an injustice, a formula for irresponsible decisions, or whatever abusive name you want to. Anytime decision-makers bear little or no responsibility for their actions, it leads to abuse of the system.

If (and I don't know) Prince William is looking for this Route 1 improvement, then their approval of the condominium project would probably force the state into doing it. The developer's comment, "...base for upgrade" clearly means adding enough voices to politically pressure VDOT, in turn obligating all Commonwealth citizens to pay for this.

It's true that local responsibility isn't a tradition, and it'll be hard to make the adjustment to locally generated solutions. But as the clamor gets louder, people will have to accept that it isn't a Southside peanut farmer's responsibility to make the commute easy for a Woodbridge resident working in Springfield or Bethesda. Especially when the money is spent on the least efficient --for that environment-- mode there is.

On a recent trip into a residential area of the District, it was glaringly obvious that my older model Scout (not a large vehicle) was the biggest thing on the whole street. An Audi was the next largest, then Volkswagens, and so on. It's interesting that with a hard-limit on roads, in this case primarily no physical space for more road, people adapt to the situation.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Subpatre, you are right, my mental shorthand was based on what appears to have been the universal local experience: the dollar amount could be higher or lower or the same after re-assessment.

Right again on how people adapt. for the most part there is no reason for overly large or highly powered vehicles, except perceived personal safety, status, etc. My Hybrid logged 58.6 mpg on the way to work today, because it is a modest car with modest power and acceleration.

But I own five other vehicles which each have their own purpose and mission. While I drive only one at a time, I still must pay registration, insurance, and tax on each one. I'm my own one man Flexcar operation, but without the subsidies. Why can't I be registered and insured and make the tags portable?

I don't think I'm alone with this problem so when people point to the increase in registered vehicles as a problem, I just smile.

The joke around my house is that we suffer from automotive schizophrenia, but the vehicles are dirt cheap compared to the paperwork. Every time I get in a different vehicle I have to adjust for handling, parking brake, position of reverse, and side to fill up, but you can bet my heavy truck goes nowhere unless there is something heavy to move.

I suspect that we could do a lot better with regard to choosing the right vehicle for the mission if we weren't bogged down with financial considerations that cause us to select the single largest vehicle required for one mission without regard to our usual mission.


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