Friday, October 14, 2005

Fighting Infill Development

Some Fairfax County residents have had enough with the new development projects that are crowding into space they thought would always stay open. The Wash Post has an article today on the conflicts going on as more people try to move in.

'Twenty-five years after a backlash against suburban development threw the county's leadership out of office, homeowners are rising in revolt again, this time over an urban future they never envisioned when they moved in.
As developers press to fill space in subdivisions and office parks to create denser collections of homes and offices, neighbors from disparate corners of the county have established a network called FairGrowth to fight back. They want to protect their quiet streets and driveway basketball hoops from condominium and office towers and big new homes crammed into the last slivers of buildable land.'

Doesn't sound like the county supervisors are too intimidated, though. They're pushing for more density around the county's Metrorail stations. One supervisor, Lynda Smith, told the Post, "We're not encouraging growth; it's happening because of the job market."


At 7:53 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

I'm curious about the thinking of these NIMBYs. What gave them the idea that their neighborhoods would always stay the same? Urban and suburban areas are constantly undergoing change -- whether slowly falling to pieces or continually upgrading. Now, if these people lived in the historic district of Fredericksburg, say, I could understand their dismay. Homeowners in downtown Fredericksburg live in a historic district. Needless to say, most people don't live in historic neighborhoods, much less historic districts.

I also wonder where these people got the idea that their desire for stasis trumps the rights of other property owners to develop their property. I shake my head in amazement.

The good news from the Post story is that the Fairfax supervisors seem to understand the big picture. "County leaders ... are steadfast in their view that people filling the 25,000 jobs created in Fairfax last year have to live somewhere." Yes, they do. The alternative is to force these people to seek housing in Fauquier County or Clarke County, or, who knows, West Virginia.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Fairfax County Supervisors are playing a wicked game against their constituents. The Supervisors admit that the County lacks the public infrastructure to support today's population, but rather than negotiate sufficient cash proffers to build more infrastructure, they grant virtually every rezoning request with minor proffers and then blame the General Assembly and the Dillon Rule. I know some fine legislators of both parties who are quite angry because they are falsely accused of failing to give the Supervisors the tools to handle growth.

To make matters worse, the Supervisors fund the County Economic Development Authority each year with at least $6.8 M. That agency, which has never been subjected to a performance audit, then advertises to bring more businesses to Fairfax County, which, in turn, creates the need for more commercial and residential development and makes the infrastructure situation even worse.

The quality of life in Fairfax County is rapidly deteriorating, and the Supervisors are doing their level best to make it worse every year. Real estate taxes rise by double digits each year. While many incomes are up, the growth is not universal. Also, most people have not seen their personal incomes rise by double digits annually. Schools are overcrowded despite consuming a growing share of the County's budget and relatively flat enrollment growth. Parks are overused. The wastewater treatment system must be replaced with a much larger one if the County allows development beyond what is in the Comprehensive Plan. Yet, the Supervisors keep approving more rezonings.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Fighting development has become socially acceptable in every jurisdiction.

I agree with Jim "I also wonder where these people got the idea that their desire for stasis trumps the rights of other property owners to develop their property. I shake my head in amazement." If they want to keep the land the way it is, they are free to buy it, but it is a lot cheaper and easier to simply steal the use of your neighbors property by showing up at the planning board gauntlet party.

With an estimated population growth of 2 million, every jurisdiction is going to have to accept some. Not all of them will wish to live in New Urbanist neighborhoods, and apparently those neighborhoods don't want them any more than any place else.

Proffers can only do so much, and some people think the proffers are going to get passed through to the general populace anyway. It is reasonable to ask developers to provide turn lanes, adequate drainage and othe items local to their developments. It is quite another thing to expect developers to pay for all of society's ills.

Promoting growth around terminal Metro stations that are already magnets for traffic is probably a mistake.

For places like Fairfax, (and Tokyo) a question that must be answered is whether sufficient infrastructure is possible. Fairfax is about ten % parkland. If parkland is over used, it may be an indication that we need more open space, and further development can only cause more problems. Somewhere there has to be a middle ground between how much parkland (or any infrastructure) the county can afford and how much development the county can afford to prevent.

In Fauquier county, the land is 1% developed, yet people there are rabidly opposed to ANY new housing. They are actively supporting agriculture which provides almost no income, no decent jobs etc. This position has got to be just as screwed up as the Fairfax position.

While we quibble about the right answer, those people are still coming. There is a right way and wrong way to do this, but we haven't a clue as to what it is. But at the very least we can try to make whatever we build beautiful, and low impact.

And we can try to get along with our neighbors, existing or new.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde - You make some good points; if only the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors would balance competing interests! While no one wants to lose any open space in their neighborhoods, most people would accept reasonable development that contributed to the infrastructure costs. But what we have is supervisors bending over backwards to insure that development pays less in Fairfax County than elsewhere. For example, developers are paying $15 K per new house for schools in Stafford County and $16 K per house in Loudoun County for schools. Yet, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors seeks only $7 K per house for schools. It seems reasonable that, if builders can make these higher payments in two counties where they charge less for new homes than in Fairfax County, they could pay comparable amounts in Fairfax. The last time I looked, builders were still operating in Stafford and Loudoun. However, our esteemed leaders actually approved a formula that provides discounts for builders because the county uses trailers for classrooms. At the same time, real estate taxes have increased by double digits annually for the last five years. We have trailers at most schools and kids eating lunch before 10 a.m.

Had Fairfax County officials been acting in the public interest to the same extent that officials in Stafford and Loudoun Counties had, some--but not all--of the animosity against development would not have occurred in Fairfax County.

Likewise, the Board of Supervisors adopted a very tough stream protection ordinance in Fairfax County, only to permit administrators to waive the requirements for developments. Why not adopt something more reasonable and then enforce it?

The County Executive wrote a memo to the BoS warning that the wastewater treatment plants cannot handle additional growth beyond what's already in the plan. Some of us believe it was written in an unsuccessful to pry money from Richmond. But now that it's become public knowledge, county officials are trying to deny its validity.

Give the residents of Fairfax County some reasonable behavior re development and a lot of the anger would likely subside.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Yeah, but doesn't fairfax already have most major infrastructure in place, whereas those other, newer, and relatively faster growing (as a %) counties are basically going to have to build ALL their infrastructure from scratch.

Anyway, the main reason homes cost less there is that land costs less there. I also know from personal experience that a contractor (the same one even) will charge you more for building in Fairfax because he now has to deal with all the extra costs that traffic congestion causes him.

I'm not disagreeing with you here, remember, I'm a fairfax owner too. I'm just trying to understand your position.

Now the wastewater treatment plant is a sleeping bombshell. That is the sort of thing an adequate public facility law is designed for. Why should the entire county have to build a whole new wastwater treatment plant just because someone wants to build one house over the number that was called for in the comprehensive plan.

On the other hand, if a new plant is called for in order to meet higher Chesapeake Bay standards, then why shouldn't the board consider whether the higher costs can be better spread among more people? I think the stream bed plan was also in anticipation of CBay requirements. How it gets waived is beyond me, but this is another of those creeping requirements that is going to bite us one day.

I'm not sure I buy your argument about animosity to building. It seems to me that it is pretty universal, and , if anything, it is more vociferous where people think they still have something worth saving.

You are right about trailers though. County administrators work in a Taj Mahal they built for themselves. Let them work in trailers for a change.

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Senator Blutarsky said...

The real issue for most is not development per se but rather more dense development that comes as a result of rezoning. I doubt many would strenuously object of infill development if it occurred as a result of by-right use, that however, is not what is generally happening.

Rather, developers are filing rezoning applications to develop the parcels at greater density and increase the profit margin for the landowners. That type of growth and its impact on the infrastructure is the primary reason we moved from Chantilly to western Prince William several years ago.

There too however, the same development pattern is occurring, aided by a County Board that is even more spineless and irresponsible than the one in Fairfax.

This group of Fairfax wannabes consistently hides behind the Dillon Rule and blame the legislature for their failure to adequately plan for infrastructure improvements be they roads, schools, fire or water service. What they seemingly fail to understand about rezoning is that they can simply say no and state that in their opinion it is not in the better intersts of the residents to approve it. End of rezoning application. What's the developer going to do? sue, based on what?, their right to exacerbate existing problems. Theirs is a right to develop their property not to develop their property at a density level of their choosing.

The Gainesville sector serves as the best example of their shoddy planning.

1. Public water service that is almost at capacity
2. A fire department that can not adequately handle the existing structures
3. Roads that are jammed twenty four seven
4. Overcrowded schools

I could go on and on. The underlying problem, above and beyond their inability to say no to overly dense development, is the "advice" the board gets from both the Planning Office and the County Executive.

The Long Range Planning Office is a misnomer of epic proportions, its chief, Ray Utz, a myopic tool of the developers. Similarly, you have the County Executive who approve a toxic waste dump in his mothers backyard in exchange for some proffer money that will ultimately be spent on his pet projects in other locations.

As for animosity, lets wait and see. The next election cycle in Prince William promises to be very interesting and the board already seems to sense it and by some measure may already be dividing.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Don't get me started on by-right development. By-rights are as subject to downzoning as they are to up-zoning. If the proffers for upzoning are inadequate, the compensation for downzoning is absent entirely.

There are no land rights except what the county grants.

Regarding density, aren't the developers going in and promoting new urban developments, or what they claim are such, in response to those that claim density is the cure-all for all our ills, transportation and otherwise? And if the county planners have bought into this isn't approval what we can expect?

Even with by-right development, if you cut down trees that someone thinks is their viewshed, they are going to complain, whether it is by-right or not. At some point peoploe should be told to kwitcherbellyaching.

What that point is, remains open to discussion.

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Senator Blutarsky said...

The funny thing about "by-right" is that it is more often used as a threat than an option. Problem is no one ever calls their bluff, rather they acquiece and allow them to build at higher density without adequate measures to offset the impact. Which is worse, the by-right use without proffers or higher density with inadequate proffers.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I don't think that is true. I can recall several instances where developers requested zoning changes, and when they didn't get them, proceeded with by-right plans.

We can argue about what amount of proffer is adequate to offset the impacts, except no one really knows what the impacts are. In addition, there is a kind of cumulative impact that can't be targeted to any one project.

It is nice to think that we can get someone else to pay, but as I see the evidence, we all pay in the end anyway. Supporting bloated planning staffs and holding endless public hearings is a dumb way to collect money.


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