Saturday, October 01, 2005

Are NoVa Communities Restoring Residential Balance?

The root cause of Northern Virginia's transportation woes is the imbalance of jobs and housing at the community level. Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax have been incredibly successful at attracting commercial development but have restricted new residential development, with the consequence that workers have been forced to seek housing in outlying jurisdictions -- and rely upon a handful of increasingly congested transportation arteries to get them back and forth to work.

A wave of large mixed-use developments in the inner- and middle-ring suburbs, however, promises to rectify the jobs/housing balance to some degree. As reported in the Falls Church Weekly Focus:

Most of the larger and most successful mixed use development projects in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region are far more than 60% residential, the Falls Church City Council learned last week in a special briefing from Rick Goff, the City's economic development chief....

The Market Common on the Clarendon district of Arlington is now 64% residential, and will be 79 percent by the time its third phase is completed, he said. Pentagon Row, with 2.3 million square feet, is 69% residential. The 2.37 million square foot Metro West project in Vienna is 85.5% residential, the Merrifield Town Center, at 1.95 [million] square feet, is 68% residential, the Silver Spring project is 55% residential, and the Midtown Springfield project is 79% residential, Goff reported.

Goff delivered the report as the Falls Church council considered changes in the city's comprehensive plan to permit a major redevelopment of the city's downtown area. The report strengthened the city staff's recommendation to allow a higher residential component.


At 11:26 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

This is good news for the inner areas and a welcome change from the long held administrative view that residential housing is a net loss to the jurisdiction.

However, it seems to me that the middle ring needs more jobs, not more housing, in order to get closer to a balance.

It seems to me that the situation described here is a recipe for even more clogged arteries in the innermost areas. It is also a recipe for creating a requirement for metro spending that will dwarf our present plans for transportation spending (whatever our candidates decide they will be, eventually).

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Unless one's home and place of work are close to each other, adding more of either simply increases traffic. I not seen any indication that people who live in mixed use communities also work there. Why do our officials presume that they will?

The bottom line is that Northern Virginia does not have the infrastructure to support today's population, much less any more growth. In this environment, both sprawl and smart growth just make matters worse.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

Our officials have seen indications that many individuals who live in mixed use communities also work there. You can try looking at COG’s Journey to Work reports. The big difference is that density of mixed use communities is greater. You get a synergy that allows more individuals to work and live together. Density in itself shortens commutes for those who live in the mixed use communities. These communities are popular with both the starters and the empty nesters.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Jim Wamsley: No one has yet addressed the issue of whether development of any kind pays for itself, especially in Northern Virginia. We don't have the infrastructure to support today's population. Yet, local officials keep approving zoning applications that make things worse. Fairfax County supervisors refuse to obtain sufficient proffers to pay for this infrastructure; our state senators and delegates vote for legislation that sends more and more money to Richmond without getting a fair return ($108 M net tax increase for Fairfax County from Warner's tax changes, with $13 M in new school money in return). If growth were good per se, why have Fairfax County property taxes increased on a double-digit basis for five years in a row? Lord knows we seen incredible growth.

Part of the answer is the marginal cost for adding infrastructure needed to support the growth significantly exceeds average costs; ergo, tax increases year after year.

Growth in Northern Virginia is very good for the Commonwealth. It pours cash into Richmond, but for most residents of Northern Virginia, growth is a fiscal nightmare.

Is it too much to ask for local taxpayers to be held harmless from development? I think that is the fundamental question.


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