APFOs and Unintended Consequences

Many local governments in Virginia would like the authority to enact “Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances” (APFO) giving them more power to block undesired development projects. In theory, APFOs would ensure that roads, public schools, water, sewer, fire/police/rescue stations and other public facilities are “adequate” to support new development. The goal: no more overloaded connector roads, no more kids attending classes in school buses, no more slow response times for fire and police.

Now comes a report from The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, affiliated with the University of Maryland, which takes a close look at APFOs as applied in Maryland. Some 13 counties and 12 municipalities in Maryland have enacted APFOs. The result: Things didn’t always turn out as planned.

As it turns out, APFOs can accelerate the spread of the very dysfunctions they were designed to curb. Due to inappropriate applications and inconsistent uses, concludes the Smart Growth Research group: “APFOs are being applied in ways that often deflect development away from the very areas designated for growth in county plans to other counties, other states and often rural areas never intended for growth.”

There’s a lesson here for Virginia. The solution to our disastrous land use policies isn’t giving local government more regulatory authority, it’s reforming the sprawl-inducing complex of zoning codes, subdivision ordinances, comprehensive plans so as to give developers more freedom to devise creative solutions. We need more balanced communities, more mixed-use development, more transit-friendly design, more bike/pedestrian-friendly design. As Pulte Homes and KSI Services have demonstrated, developers want to build these kinds of communities, and the biggest obstacles are NIMBYs backed up by the power of local government. Giving NIMBYs more power through APFOs will not help build Smart Growth communities.

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31 responses to “APFOs and Unintended Consequences”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I agree with all except the transit friendly part. That is throwing money down a black hole, for the most part. Transit should be considered with a highly critical eye unless it can really pay. It need not be fully self supporting: after all autos aren’t either. But it should show real community benefits to everyone who does have to pay, whether they ride or not.

    The fact is that it is very difficult to get it to work. People just won’t walk more than a thousand feet, mostly. Then, if you have to stop every thousand feet, you have asystem that is slow. If the system needs stations, then it is slow and expensive.

    Same for paths. There will be a new path along the C&O where there is already a path. The new path will cost $1.3 million for 1650 feet of trail. Considering the use this area gets, it is probably worth it, but that path is not taking anyone to work.

    While we are building communities that have all those assets, we can’t forget that those people are going to want cars, too. If transit friendly design means car unfriendly, then it will fail. Several places that have been built with parking restrictions have failed to sell, with the result the restrictions had to be removed, and the developments retrofitted with sufficient parking.

    But most of all, we need to get the jobs to where people live. Even then there is no guarantee that people will co-locate, but at least they won’t all be trying to get to the same place at the same time.

    The other effect of AFPO’s is likely to be higher home prices, which is not mentioned in your post.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    The forgotten in this discussion are the people who live in these existing communities and who suffer negative impacts when more development occurs in the face of inadequate infrastructure. Not only do they put up with more traffic, crowded Metro trains, overused parks and athletic fields, deteriorating air quality, trailers for classrooms, 7th graders eating lunch before 10 am, etc., but they also must pay higher taxes to fund infrastructure. They need and want APFO.

    Frederick County, Maryland has an APFO. Its schools are crowded. A McLean-based developer wanted to build more than 3100 new homes, but could not because of inadequate public facilities. The developer then offered Frederick County approximately $65 M for schools — or more than $22,700 per home. The developer obviously felt that it could make this payment and still sell homes at a profit. The community will clearly be more receptive to the development than if the $65 M were not offered. That’s what the APFO produced.

    Moreover, market conditions determine the price for new homes. If conditions are favorable to the builder, it would be able to recover all of those costs and then some. When market conditions sour, it becomes more difficult to recover impact fees or proffers. Why are builders starting to offer extras without additional charges? Because the market is softening some. Also, please recall the study from Contra Costa County, California indicating that: 1) it was easier to recover the costs for impact fees in higher-priced homes and 2) when the market softened, builders of lower-priced homes ate more than half of the impact fees. I suspect the market works the very same way in NoVA.

    Frankly, there are quite a few people in Fairfax County who don’t want to pay the costs for protecting outlying areas from development. We care more about our ever-deteriorating quality of life and ever-escalating taxes than we do about problems elsewhere. Accepting density in order to protect the quality of life in other areas of Virginia is pretty low on our wish list. Getting authorization for APFO is pretty high.

    Sorry to come on so strong, but many of us still have to live in Fairfax County. We need need to defend it as best we can.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Toomanytaxes, Given the history of Fairfax County, I understand your antipathy toward new development. But I would ask you: Do you think that, from a taxpayer’s point of view, all types of development are created equal? Would you concede that development in locations already served by public infrastructure and services is more tax-efficient than development in green fields? Would you concede that compact, well-integrated development (New Urbanism, for instance) is more tax-efficient than scattered, disconnected, low density development?

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Jim: Let’s assume that a developer is working with builders to construct 5000 homes. The choice is Fairfax County or Warren County. Fairfax probably has some types of public facilities that could support these additional homes (perhaps, police and fire stations), but also lacks others. The purchasers of these new homes would add demand to already overcrowded roads, schools, Metro, parks, etc. And we all know that Gerry Connolly and his colleagues are not going to negotiate and obtain proffers that would come anywhere near what it would cost to supplement facilities. So the addition of these 5000 homes in Fairfax County will further strain many types of infrastructure and force real estate taxes higher. Meanwhile the developers will likely be pushing the GA for higher taxes, a huge portion of which would be paid by Fairfax County residents.

    Warren County, I would guess probably has less spare infrastructure than Fairfax County. The addition of 5000 homes would also likely create infrastructure problems and the need for higher taxes in that county. However, if those additional homes are built in Warren County, Fairfax County parks, schools, Metro etc. will not have these additional burdens; Warren County will.

    The construction of these 5000 additional houses in Warren County would likely add some to Fairfax County traffic as many new Warren County residents would still work here or need to drive through here to get to work. However, as Ray Hyde has correctly stated, not all driving is commuting to work. Thus, putting these additional houses in Warren County will keep some traffic (shopping, church, school, weekend sports) in Warren County and not in Fairfax County.

    Under the existing rules, I struggle to see what ordinary residents of Fairfax County get from “accepting” this additional development. We could, of course, change the rules so that additional development in Fairfax County does not create such a burden on existing residents. But no one seems willing to do this; hence, more and more people from Fairfax County are opposed to development.

    From a macro perspective, you may well be right. It might be more efficient to build the 5000 homes in Fairfax County than in Warren County. (Or it might not, I strongly suspect that infrastructure costs are much higher in Fairfax County than in Warren County.) But the costs of this overall efficiency (if any) must be paid by residents of Fairfax County. I don’t see why we would want to do that.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    who suffer negative impacts when more development occurs in the face of inadequate infrastructure. Not only do they put up with more traffic, crowded Metro trains, overused parks and athletic fields, deteriorating air quality, trailers for classrooms, 7th graders eating lunch before 10 am, etc., but they also must pay higher taxes to fund infrastructure. They need and want APFO.

    And yet the new urbanists would have us believe that none of this will happen with properly planned communities.

    Fairfax can’t win, because even if the homes are built in Warren county, those people will travel to or through Fairfax to work. You have to have a plan to move the jobs, or Fairfax becomes still more intolerable. But as TMT notes about 80% of travel is not work related.

    It is said in the shipbuilding business that no ship can adequately feed and house the crew required to run it. Our communities are much the same, none of them have truly adequate facilities. It is claimed that residences pay only 80% on the dollar of what they cost, which is just another way of saying the facilites aren’t adequate.

    APFO’s are not a way to guarantee adequate facilities so much as a way to guarantee they don’t get worse, and to protect existing homeowners. A developer simply adds up all his costs, adds overhead and profit and then decides if the homes will sell at the price he needs to get. He might reduce his profit, but he cannot reduce his costs or overhead. Both the developer and the buyer look at the situation and if they can’t afford to deal with it they either move on or move down.

    Existing homeowners hate it if you try to move down, especially if that means building up. The smart growth crowd finally figured out that those who were promoting APFO’s were not on their side in the smart growth battle, and they were disrupting their real agenda, which is conservation.

    Coming out against APFO’s allows them more ability to cram smart growth down the Fairfax throat. If they play their cards right, they can make it look like an affordable housing initiative too.

    So what they are really saying is that we don’t care about adequated facilities, you are going to get smart growth anyway. How smart it is without facilities remains to be seen. In the mean time they are alienating both the people like TMT who live where they want to develop, and (some of) the landowners where they don’t want development.

    They need a better political message. The idea that more density is somehow good is laughable to many people who make the observations TMT has. On the other side, downzoning and other conservation tactics are a long term failure and a short term hardship, as Ed noted in regard to the PW rural crescent, and that is just one example out of many.

    If the smart growth crowd really thinks the market will support their ideas, then they should go buy stock in KSI. It has a far higher likliehood of success than trying to convince TMT that more density is good for him. IF they pull it off and TMT sees a few of his friends get wealthy, he might change his mind.

    I wouldn’t count on it. People hate it when you screw around with their neighborhood – even if it is a sprawling dysfunctional one. For a homeowner the downside is a lot bigger than the upside.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m struck by this statement:

    “Do you think that, from a taxpayer’s point of view, all types of development are created equal? Would you concede that development in locations already served by public infrastructure and services is more tax-efficient than development in green fields?”

    I picked this comment as representative – of the issue.

    I’d ask:

    * – what does “already served by infrastructure” REALLY mean?

    * – “tax-efficient” from the point of view of WHO pays

    Population/Job growth requires NEW infrastructure no matter where it occurs (unless one wants to presume that excess capacity already exists AND new growth will not cause infrastructure deficits.

    Smart Growth/Sprawl is premised on the concept that there ARE settlement patterns that require larger scope/scale infrastructure than more compact development.

    Taxpayers don’t make decisions about where to work and live based on “efficiency” but rather direct costs to them.

    Accomodating increased growth does have infrastructure consequences – no matter where it occurs. There are no free lunches.

    More people – not matter where they choose to live – require water/sewer, schools, libraries, health care, and… transportation/mobility.

    I think I can safely guarantee that if a locality and/or developer promised “free” commuting would have broad appeal.

    That sounds silly on it’s face but it is, in fact, the premise behind public highways.

    It’s been pointed out that 80% of car travel is local but that is misleading because it’s the peak-hr capacity of highway infrastructure that is at issue with commuters.

    And RayH correctly points out that because NoVa has the jobs that no matter where people choose to live that it WILL impact NoVa transportation infrastructure.

    So – the logic behind “stopping growth” (which includes density) or more correctly – having it occur somewhere but not where YOU live will not result in less congestion on NoVa roads though it probably would result less degradation of other infrastructure/services but what is really and truly at issue is roads and congestion. Schools, et al will be built and NoVa taxpayers (which includes new folks) will pay.

    Moving/displacing growth to exurb greenfields does have consequences for NoVa.

    Smart Growth advocates point out (I think correctly) that auto-centric commuting – especially the exurb 100 mile per day round-trip version is not sustainable.

    This is not a hollow assertion but instead a vivid reality with regard to transportation – AND – those that think it is not – that the solution is more taxes for more highways are no more in touch with reality than.. say those that think.. we can dictate where people work and live.

    I doubt seriously that true gridlock will occur in NoVa with or without new transportation infrastructure – no matter whether it be roads or transit.

    Transit is NOT about moving people anywhere, anytime to any location.

    Never was.

    But neither is airline travel.

    Attempting to expand roads to accomplish this goal is not only ungodly expensive because you’re buying pavement that only will be used during rush hour and becomes an empty parking lot at non-peak hour but it’s simply not cost-effective.

    The issue is whether rail/transit is more cost-effective than the additional road capacity that would be needed to serve peak-hr commuting.

    Here is where we are headed IMHO (in my humble opinion).

    1. – sufficient money to build enough additional peak-hr road capacity in NoVa is NOT going to come from the Va Ga Assembly – not now and not in the future.

    Wish it all you want but the reality is if NoVa wants additional peak hour road capacity – NoVa taxpayers ARE going to have to pay for it and in doing so – they will also be paying for all of those exurb commuters who do not live nor pay taxes in NoVa.

    2. – NoVa residents WILL willingly pay for transit. Surveys and Polls show broad support.

    Politicians who support transit are not thrown out of office.

    The argument about whether transit is “too costly” or “too limited” does not have “legs” in that no major urban area in the world operates without it.

    It’s a lot like arguing that schools, libraries water/sewer are “too expensive” and not cost-effective.

    I think NoVa folks given the prospect between building mega roads for non-NoVa commuters to use verses building transit for NoVa use will not have that much difficulty in deciding which direction they want to go in.

    There are also two HUGE closely-related dynamics that are going to render moot the entire issue of Smart Growth, Sprawl and dysfunctional settlement patterns in the NoVa/exurbs area:

    First – gasoline is NOT going to come down in price – at least not in our lifetimes. The likelihood that it will go to $4 a gallon is not being debated but rather acknowledged.

    Second – New roads in NoVa will not be built by VDOT who is broke and whose prospects of being “adequately” funded enough to build mega infrastructure in NoVa is a non-starter.

    Major new highway infrastructure WILL be TOLL Roads which will be quite expensive for those that choose to drive long and far.

    The phrase “taxpayer-efficient” WILL come into play – as individuals will assume directly the responsibility for the costs of commuting.

    Those that CHOOSE to commute will also be CHOOSING to pay dearly for the privledge.

    A 50-mile exurb commuter will very likely in the not-very-distant future pay $20 a day for gasoline and $20-30 a day for tolls.

    And here’s an irony.

    NoVa taxpayers who support steep rush-hour tolls – will – be the winners in this contest.

    First – they’ll cut exurb commuting.

    Second – they’ll get to use relatively uncongested roads during non-peak hour.

    Third – they’ll use those tolls to build transit for NoVa.

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry & Ray: Thoughtful comments.

    Traffic Peaks. I strongly agree that peak period traffic is the most important. We’re back to busy hour capacity, which, in NoVA, is affected by “local” and “exurb” commuters. So long as I live in Fairfax County, I’ll probably need to deal with this.

    But, as with telecom networks, often there are also multiple spikes in traffic that occur during non-ruch hour periods that are less than the busy hour spikes. These traffic “mini-peaks” can be related to shopping, weekend recreation and youth sports (or other youth activities), church services, etc. If the 5000 houses in my prior example are built in Warren County and not in Fairfax County, I won’t experience additions to the mini-peaks.

    Roads versus transit. Voters in NoVA overwhelmingly rejected a sales tax increase for transportation in 2002. (I was fairly close to that event as I helped opponents frame arguments against the plan.) Most people clearly saw it for what it was: a scheme to help open more areas to development at taxpayer expense and not to “fix traffic problems.” I do, however, still strongly believe that had the funds been dedicated only to transit, it would have passed. Everyone generally likes transit, but often only for the reason suggested by Ray now and then — they want transit available so that everyone else will take it, leaving them an easy drive to and from work.

    Few people in NoVA expect anything good from VDOT. VDOT will not be able to pave NoVA into commuting paradise. Thus, any big road projects in NoVA would likely need to be funded by NoVA itself. However, given the views (each held by a significant minority in NoVA) that: 1) road-building projects are designed by, and for, developers; 2) transit is better than roads; and 3) we’re already overtaxed; I think that it would be very hard to garner the political support to obtain a local tax increase large enough to build significant increases in road capacity. Thus, we are back to public/private partnerships and toll lanes. Further, Larry’s observation that “NoVa taxpayers who support steep rush-hour tolls – will – be the winners in this contest” may well be true for the reasons he suggested. I hadn’t thought of this, but it makes sense.

    I also believe that Ray’s observation that APFOs prevent things from becoming worse is well stated. Many people that I know, both Democrats & Republicans, would like to see APFO legislation that would completely tie the hands of the Fairfax County BoS. As I’ve noted before, there is absolutely no trust for the BoS on anything related to land use. As a consequence thereof, I think people would prefer a law that allowed little or no flexibility — which is a shame.

    So-called “smart growth” appeals to me more than so-called “sprawl.” But that appeal quickly vanishes if the added density only provides me with further deterioration in what’s left of my quality of life and higher taxes. The smart growth crowd’s failure to acknowledge these factors is creating rifts with “ordinary people” who live anywhere ground zero. The other weakness in the smart growth argument is that it tends to ignore market factors — many people want the single family home with the big yard and will move to wherever that can be found.

    My final comment is that, as suggested by Ray Hyde, we need more places — more jobs need to be located outside the NoVA metro area.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I suppose I have been guilty of couching my arguments in a cars vs transit mode, but I do actually believe we need both. What I object to is the mindless selling of transit as if it will solve all our woes.

    I merely suggest that we evaluate it on what is and what it is not. It does not and can not provide an equivalent level of service, period. As Larry points out it can relieve some of the peak hour problem, and thereby reduce the cost of providing an equivalent peak road capacity, which is probably impossible anyway.

    Larry seems to think that roads are offered to the public for free and that transit can provide more peak hour capacity for the dollar. Even if you throw in every imaginable external cost for the use of autos, auto users still pay a higher proportion of their own costs than transit users. I can’t buy the idea that auto users are getting a free ride, even if it is true that they should pay more, maybe considerably more.

    Transit is so expensive that peak load issues for them are even more expensive to solve than for roads. I simply think that we need to carefully examine whether transit is really a less expensive, higher capacity solution, all things considered. If standing room only is the answer to peak hour crowding on Metro, then that is simply an admission that Metro cannot come near to meeting the measure of equivalent level of service. They can’t even offer you a seat!

    Then, if it turns out that the additional density transit need to survive increases the other 80% of travel that is not work related, what have we really bought, with billions of taxpayer dollars? We bought more peak hour capacity at the expense of off peak mobility and many, many other costs. I should point out that the other 80% of travel is not necessarily local. It includes trucking, trips to grandma’s house, visits to the countryside, and trips to suburban shopping malls by urban residents.

    Winston and Shirley calculate that if transit was used only where it really pays, then we would cut it’s percentage of use by half. Considering how small the use is to begin with, that is not as big a change as it sounds, but it is billions in wasted money. The corresponding increase in auto traffic is miniscule, like from 82% to 83%.

    Larry also points out that wherever you put people they are going to need infrastructure, and someone is going to have to pay for it. While there is some economy to be made by keeping the infrastructure compact I’m convinced that argument is overstated. As TMT points out equivalent infrastructure costs more in Fairfax: complexity is a huge cost driver. Once you go over four stories, the per square foot costs of construction more than double. And it is pretty hard to make the green infrastructure people demand either compact or compatible with density.

    We know that the densest places have all the detrimental conditions TMT noted, and they are higher cost and higher taxed. Yes, there is “a” market that will support some of this, but it is not logical to assume that building a lot more of it will somehow lower the price or increase people’s desire to live there, very much. People are pretty much convinced that growth brings detrimental conditions and higher costs, in other words growth can’t pay for itself.

    So here we are. Autos don’t pay there own full costs. Transit doesn’t pay its own full costs, (or provide the promised benefits, in my opinion). Growth doesn’t pay its own full costs. And current residents are only paying 80% of their full costs (no matter where they live, Ed). I don’t like taxes either, but that sounds like a tax increase is needed (all around) to fix infrastructure problems all around.

    APFO’s are not a guarantee that infrastructure will be provided, anymore than conservation easement guarantee that farming will continue. What they do guarantee is that the situation won’t get any worse (at least locally, we can always beggar our neighbors). The smart growth crowd has figured out that conditions have to get worse in order for their plan to “succeed” and so they are now against APFO’s. BTW, anyone think that, maybe, Smart Growth Education has a dog in the fight?

    We are about to spend $4 billion on the rail to Dulles, and probably another $100 million for trolleys on a few miles of Columbia Pike. I f we exceed our wildest dreams and those projects wind up carrying 20% of local traffic, that would imply that the other modes still need another $10 billion, just to maintain equivalency. If we were considering a total traffic network and this kind of funding was proposed, then we would at least make some attempt to maintain balance. If we don’t, then the 80% rule means we are working backwards.

    If we have toll roads and HOT lanes, and a bias against building in green fields, then we will create some inducement for people to choose TOD living, even if it doesn’t actually reduce auto use much. We have to assume that some (most) people will choose to pay the cost, or else the toll roads won’t raise much money. Maybe, if we are lucky, we can induce 25% of new residents to live the way we wish they would. But if the HOT lane tolls are part of the inducement, then what that means is that people who are not using Metro or living in TOD are paying the costs of the inducement.

    It is hard to see how this is a market oriented approach. All you are doing is reversing the present argument against the supposed subsidies for sprawl. You are violating the idea that user pays, and you will be doing against the wishes of (some) present residents as Fair Growth Fairfax and TMT’s remarks show. At the same time, you may be wrecking the opportunity for new players to enter the field. That applies to infield play (infill growth) as much as it does to the fringe greenfielders. That cost needs to be factored in the smart growth economy. A lot of baseball action occurs on the infield, but you don’t have a game without the outfield.

    I don’t happen to believe that growth does not pay its own way, or that residences are a net loss to the community. If that was true, we would never build a city, town, or residence. It might be true that the reason it pays is that we are withdrawing from our environmental accounts without putting enough back: it might be that what we are doing is unsustainable. All that says is that in addition to raising taxes for infrastructure, we are going to need a lot more money to pay the environmental tab.

    But, in the end, our city, and county, and state, accounts have to balance, so who is paying for all the costs that none of us are adequately supporting? Businesses pay a big chunk, farms if you are in a rural area. But guess what? Those people live in houses, too.
    Since none of us are paying our share now, it is unrealistic to think that we can solve our problems by shoving all the new costs off on the developers and newcomers: even if they cover their initial costs, they then join the pool with the rest of us who aren’t paying enough.

    My argument boils down to this: if you want to make the user’s pay argument, then make it uniformly. If you do that, the end result might not be so different from throwing all the money in a pot and spending it as needed, but it might have much higher transaction costs. Maybe not, if we run collective things the way we run VDOT. Either way, if we are going to do anything, it is going to take more money. JAB is going to jump in and say that will wreck the economy. Maybe so, but government spending is a third of the economy now, and lack of infrastructure will surely wreck the economy.

    We need balanced spending plans as much as we need balanced communities. Taxing property leads to the kind of imbalance reported by TMT and experienced by many of us. Taxing cash flow (income and spending) encourages thrift and industry, and it puts the most money where there is the most activity. Thrift, by the way is good for the environment, and good for the economy, because it makes capital available for projects that might actually pay. That way we have to go to the public pocket less often.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t think we should ever “force” anyone to do anything with respect to transportation and/or where they want to live.

    But I do think:

    1. – that each individual should directly be responsible financially and othewise (congestion, loss of time, etc) for their personal choices.

    2. – that when we collect tax dollars from ALL Taxpayers and then direct those dollars in such a way that favors behaviors that have deliterious consequences everyone – that the equation is quite the opposite.

    Imagine what would happen if we collected tax dollars from everyone to pay for an Airline Trust Fund designed obstensibly to “serve the public” (thus the justifcation for taxing the public).

    Then those that prefer air travel would become, in fact, an advocate constituency to tax everyone more and more to provide benefits specific to them.

    That describes perfectly the situation with roads – especially roads that exurban commuters want.

    In essence, exurban commuters want NoVa to pay for more/better roads for them to use to commute to NoVa jobs.

    Why should they care if NoVa citizens pay and NoVa citizens bear the brunt of the adverse impacts of more traffic on the NoVa transportation network?

    And it also describes perfectly the quite irrational expectations that many communities (like NoVa) have when they think that the State of Virginia is going to return MORE transportation tax dollars to their jurisdiciton than they actually contributed – with a weak justification that since they provide “more jobs” that it is it’s only fair that ALL other Va communities become net transportation dollar donors to No Va for jobs – that do not benefit their own local citizens.

    When I hear the Mayor of Charlottesville (or pick your city) AGREE that Cville should acede to this logic – I’ll take back my assertion. 🙂

    Though they are taking a beating in the Press, the GA is actually peforming painful due diligence in trying to craft a fair and reasonable policy with regard to transportation.

    First – they want the USER to be more personally responsible for the consequences of their own decisions about where to live and work. I one wants to drive a long way to work – then fine – but pay the costs associated with that choice.

    In other words – TOLL Roads.

    Second – they want each jurisdiction to be more responsible for transportation priorities – for their own respective jurisdictions – i.e. Regional Transportation Authorities.

    If NoVa residents decide they want more roads OR more transit – then let NoVas make that decision – not the GA and certainly not VDOT.

    I think there is an honest question as to whether transit is cost-effective but I have the same question with regard to more road capacity primarily to serve folks who want to drive at peak hr.

    But at the end of the day – that decision should truly rest with the people who will be affected by those choices both in terms of mode choices, functionality, AND financial responsibility.

    Two things happened in 2002 that have direct bearing on this issue.

    First, voters rejected a referenda to send more cash to VDOT obstensibly to build more infrastructure in NoVa.

    Down it went not because voters did not want their transportation infrastructur improved but because they did not want VDOT doing it.

    More than a dozen local transportation referenda in the NoVa were APPROVED by the same voters that turned down VDOT.

    Second, JLARC – the Joint Legislative Auid and Review Commission – Virginia’s version of the Feds OMB did an excellent analysis of the dysfunctional nature of VDOT in addressing transportation issues.

    Read the report – but the bottom line was that they recommended that VDOT be responsible ONLY for roads of Statewide Significance, that regional localities be responsible for regional significance roads and that localities be responsible for roads in their jurisdictions.

    Earlier this year, Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts reinforced the JLARC report by pointing out that VDOT has no rational transportation policy to determine priorities within the context of a legitimate cost-constrained budget.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    It might be useful to point out the link between NoVa residents and exurban commuters.

    They are – TA DA – one and the same separated only by time and place.

    In Pogo’s Parlance – “we have met the enemy…. ” and DOH! …..

    But I think useful in terms of understanding the dynamics of the need for “more places” as a prospective solution.

    The Fredericksburg Area would LOVE to have some of those NoVa high dollar jobs. We’d bite off the heads of live chickens to get some of them. 🙂

    Alas, much of the influx of residents in the Fredericksburg Area are:

    1. – escapees from NoVa

    2. – new teachers, EMS, medical and retail employees – all lower paid to teach the kids and service the medical and shopping needs of those escapees.

    3. – Lower paid individuals in the NoVa area who can no longer afford to live there even though their jobs are there.

    People did not come to the Fredericksburg “Place” for high dollar jobs. In essence – they came here to find a more affordable place to live.

    But one might ask the question:
    “affordable to whom” because only those with high-dollar jobs have true options in that regard.

    The service sector employees whether they be imports or folks who have lived here all their lives are both with much fewer options.

    The obvious solution espoused by some in this blog is also embraced by local officials in the Fburg Area.

    But.. we’ve already agreed that it’s wrong and impractical to force people to live where they do not want to and I’d posit.. it’s similarily wrong to attempt to force employers to locate somewhere they don’t want to locate.

    So – an obvious question I would think is… what things can and should be done to attract companies to the Fredericksburg Area rather than the NoVa area – or more specifically – would NoVa government leaders and their constituents.. be willing to turn down new jobs and send them instead to the Fredericksburg Area to locate?

    If someone has a good answer to that question – I would start a mega letter-writing campaign to support their appointment to Gov. Kaines Transportation and Land-Use Taskforce.


  11. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry: Would NoVA elected officials and their constituents favor seeing good-paying jobs show up in Fredericksburg? Elected officials — probably not unless they understood the dynanmics of their constituents better.

    Constituents — depends on the circumstances. For most of those 42% plus or minus of the residents of Metro D.C. who work or operate businesses in the local economy, probably not. This is, of course, a sensible position for them.

    People in the real estate, personal service, retail, etc., businesses clearly need customers, who come from others working and/or living in NoVA. The Washington Post recently reported that Fairfax County, despite still working its way out from a significant glut of commercial space, is again seeing a substantial increase in the construction of more commercial buildings on speculation. Do those people and their contractors and agents want to see a single job move to Fredericksburg from Fairfax County or elsewhere? Not hardly.

    But I strongly suspect that many of the other people (58%) who work for the federal government, government contractors, trade associations, national or international businesses would just as soon see a halt to the NoVA job magnet. Keep in mind that these people don’t make their living from others in the ares, but from others living and working around the U.S., the world or from the federal goverment. Given both Virginia’s spending and tax structure that spends huge sums of money generated in NoVA outside NoVA and the already overstressed infrastructure here, a growing number of existing NoVA residents view new businesses and residents coming to NoVA simply as a cost. Again, this is a sensible position for many people to take.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    There is an air transportation trust fund. We don’t collect from everyone, but from evertone that uses the system. It is supported by fuel taxes (AV gas is close to $4.00/gallon), ticket taxes (tolls), and user fees. There is additional support that does come from everyone. The money is used to provide infrastructure at remote airports to take the congestion out of the majors. Landing fees are set high there to discourage congestion. As a result Manassas, Wichester, St. Mary’s and dozens of othe rlocations have fabulous new terminal buildings, which are for the most part unused or used for other civic uses. It also funds precision landing systems etc.

    As a result when I fly to New Jersey, I get the same courteous, expert, and efficient flight service as the majors. However, I may be routed around major airports to prevent congestion, and be discouraged from going there. Also, because I am slower, the controllers know they can service me last on the list of things they need to do.

    But the real point is that there is a very real effort to move traffic out of the centers. Even if you don’t have to provide pavement, not everyone can go to the same place at the same time.

    All that may be changed to a user fee system. If that happens I might be charged something like $25 every time the controller has to talk to me, and because it is the same amount of time, I’ll get charged same as a 727. When that happens GA is going to take a hit.

    Traffic on 66 near Front Royal is about one sixth what it is at the beltway, and the traffic density increases almost monotonically all the way in. Yet this blog frequently blames the 50 mile commuters for the problems. There is an air transportation trust fund. We don’t collect from everyone, but from evertone that uses the system. It is supported by fuel taxes (AV gas is close to $4.00/gallon), ticket taxes (tolls), and user fees. There is additional support that does come from everyone, and at some level everyone benefits from air transport, whether they fly or not.

    The money is used to provide infrastructure at remote airports to take the congestion out of the majors. Landing fees are set high there to discourage congestion. As a result Manassas, Wichester, St. Mary’s and dozens of other locations have fabulous new terminal buildings, which are for the most part unused or used for other civic uses. It also funds precision landing systems etc.

    As a result when I fly to New Jersey, I get the same courteous, expert, and efficient flight service as the majors. However, I may be routed around major airports to prevent congestion, and be discouraged from going there. Also, because I am slower, the controllers know they can service me last on the list of things they need to do.

    But the real point is that there is a very real effort to move traffic out of the centers. Even if you don’t have to provide pavement, not everyone can go to the same place at the same time.

    All that may be changed to a user fee system. If that happens I might be charged something like $25 every time the controller has to talk to me, and because it is the same amount of time involved, I’ll get charged same as a 727. When that happens GA is going to take a hit. Aviation contibutes $900 billion to GNP.

    So, just as with roads, the questions are how much do you want to want to charge to the actual users, how will they distribute that cost to their customers, and how much of hit to the economy will it cause?

    Traffic on 66 near Front Royal is about one sixth what it is at the beltway, and the traffic density increases almost monotonically all the way in. Yet this blog frequently blames the 50 mile commuters for (much) of the problems.

    I agree with your points 1. and 2. But at some level, everyone benefits from roads whether they use them or not. If the Front Royal users, only, paid for that stretch of Route 66, there might not be enough money to support it. that stretch of road is also used by city dwellers escaping to the countryside for the weekend, so some argument can be made that your points are not exclusive.

    I think it is unfair to claim that exurban commuters want the roads. If they all became city residents, they will still want the roads (remember that 80% of non work travel). We probably cannot pave our way out of congestion in the city: it is too expensive and there is not enough space. But, the FAA will put precision landing at Farmville, exactly because when you need it, it is too late. At some level, we have to do the same with roads. Those exurban commuters would be glad to stay closer to home, if there were jobs, it seems to me. So we have to ask if saying “they” want the roads, or if we are really building the roads to supply the job centers with labor. The job centers subsidize the residential taxes in that area, so it isn’t at all clear who is really getting the subsidy from roads. In any case, the traffic flows on 66 clearly show that the far exurban commuters are a small part of the problem: a big portion of the problem is the near suburban commuters.

    The reality is that NOVA and HR are such big tails on the dog, that it is unrealistic to expect the rest of the state to contribute very much to solve their problems. At the same time, it is probably true that NOVA is sending more money out than they really get the benefit from. NOVA’s need are also much more expensive to fix, and probably cannot be fixed. Both sides have an interest in this, and both sides have needs so the end result is that it is going to take more money.

    If toll roads are the answer, fine. But the portion of the toll paid on the Front Royal section should stay in that section, if that’s the way you want to play the game (regional transit authority). If it turns out that oranges cost more because of the new tolls, then pretty quick the city will find out where their produce comes from. I firmly believe that if you get your wish, you may not like the result.

    We see the results of the 2002 referendum somewhat differently. That referendum would have left the current situation with respect to distribution of funds stand. On top of that NOVA would have paid more money that would have been controlled by a non-elected body, and spent on a plan that was totally undefined at the time of the referendum. No one in their right mind could accept that. Since then, voters have taken in hand projects that they think will help them, so I accept your criticism of VDOT.

    If that was all there was to it, we would be in agreement. But the fact remains that people are not free to choose where they live and how much they will pay, for all the reasons Jim Bacon represents. Even if I wanted to subdivide (I don’t), I am forced into not subdividing my property, and the people who might buy there are forced to live someplace else. Maybe 30% of them elect to live in smaller and more expensive sites closer in, and 70% skip over Fauquier and move to Warren County or someplace. There is no place that openly welcomes development, unless it is in Wise or someplace, and I’m not sure of that.

    You have land use rules that don’t give people a choice and then you want to penalize them for making bad choices. We recognize and admit that rail to Dulles and Trolleys on Columbia pike won’t address or alleviate congestion problems. The sole reason for those investments is to promote development, and those that benefit are only contributing 25% of the cost. The reality is that people who prefer to drive are paying part of the cost, and that is OK to the extent that they really do benefit by fewer cars on the road. Since the roads are full, and Metro is full during rush hours, what that benefit is, is subject to considerable debate, just as is the question of how much the city should pay to be able to visit the Valley when they want.

    If you prevent people from living where they choose, and penalize them when they make a choice you don’t like, and support that with cost arguments that are not adequately supported, then you undermine your position on free markets. If the end result of all that is to subsidize urban residents through job place taxes, and to create windfalls for urban developers by eliminate the outlying competition, then your argument is further undermined. If the underlying motivation is to preserve open space, then what you have is a situation the opposite of what you propose: paying for what you get. Instead, you are pawning off the costs for that, on those that own the space.

    I agree with what you say, up to a point. All I’m saying is that we don’t really have the numbers to go 100% one way or the other. I’m kind of convinced that when we do have those numbers, the alleged economies of the city won’t look so hot. If we don’t get those numbers as we go along, as I have suggested with Metro West, then we may find that we will keep on getting what we have if we keep on doing what we are doing.

    This is going to take dispassionate observation and measurement, if there is such a thing. Otherwise, down the road we may be looking back at a situation comparable to the church and Copernicus. It is also going to take more money.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m opposed to forcing anyone – from the ability to choose where to live and work nor landowners restricted from using their land which includes selling it at the best price they can get for it.

    However, individuals should accept responsibility for the financial consequences of their choices with respect where they to work and live.

    Choices do have consequences and some folks accept those consequences and others do not.

    For every person who claims they have no choice but to work in NoVa and live somewhere else there are two others. One who has chosen to live and work in NoVa (paying higher taxes and higher housing costs) and another who has chosen to earn less but work locally in exurban communities – AND live in a much more modest home.

    I have absolutely no problem with someone who wants BOTH – a high dollar salary AND a big home in exurbia but paleeeze .. don’t tell me you have no choice and don’t tell me that because you have no choice that it’s now MY responsibility to pay for your commuting and infrastructure costs.

    There are no free lunches here.

    Pay your money and make your choice.

    Ditto with landowners. Do what you want with your property but your property rights end at your property line about where my property line begins.

    If you want to “use” your property in a way that materially and/or financially affects others where those others are subject to bear the costs of runoff from your land or the cost of supplying infrastructure needs to your land then we DO have a basis for a discussion about fairness and equity.

    Now.. if you want to build your own water/sewer and your own roads, and schools and pass that cost on to prospective purchasers then great – but if you want me to take money out of my pocket and give it to the county, who, in turn, gives it to you for infrastructure then, again, we have a basis for a legitimate discussion about the difference between your “rights” and my “rights”, fairness, equity, et al.

    So , I DO AGREE with developers and landowners about the wrongheadedness of APFOs.

    APFOs basically say “you cannot build on your land nor live here if you don’t already own land start with.”

    It’s an ethically bankrupt notion that has no business in our society.

    We should never tell someone that they cannot build a place to live nor should we ever tell a landowner that they cannot sell their land to someone who wants to build a home.

    But let’s keep the financial aspects of that transaction between the buyer and the seller – as it should be.

    But… when you and the buyer head down to the county courthouse to figure out how county taxpayers are going to serve your infrastructure and service needs it should not be a conversation where taxpayers are “informed” that their dog in that hunt is to fork over dollars to make that deal “work”.

    I think that is what almost all of this dicussion is about.

    It’s about population growth and where folks are going to live and who has financial responsibility and who should pay and who should suffer a loss of quality of life if there cannot be an agreement about fairness and equity to all parties.

    Do existing residents have a responsibility to provide financial support for new residents infrastructure needs?


    Now.. what is fair and equitable?

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I like your other comment: the mother of all uncrackable nuts.

    If I knew what was fair I wouldn’t be insisting on more proof.

    So, at my Alexandria house there is a stream that runs along the back of the lot. the land there is low and swampy, and may have been a gravel pit at one time. The subdivision is old, and as a result every home built along the streambed backfilled to maximize their yard. Later shopping malls an subdivisions were built where there was formerly open space and a golf course. All of this increased the rate of runoff, not necessarily the amount and led to flash floding on the stream which uses the swampy area as a diversion and a means to slow the water for everyone down stream.

    By the time I built watershed restrictions were in place, so I cannot backfill alike everyone else already has. I pay the same tax rate on my “land” as they do, but my land is underwater much of the time.

    Who do you think is getting treated unfairly? If I were to backfill, someplace else would get marginally more flooding. As it is I’m providing a service which not only do I not get paid for, I can’t even get tax relief.

    Same thing goes at the farm. It has been there since early 1800’s. Lately a bunch of new people came in and built on parts of other farms, but they have since changed the rules to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My rights end where your property line begins, but that is only because your property line was allowed to be recorded, whereas mine will not be. It looks to me like my property rights end when your property line begins, not where.

    APFO’s will work against my wife, and she has had the land forever.

    The fact remains (or so the argument goes) that residences don’t pay their own way. None of them, new or old. That being the case your argument about paying for your own infrastructure rings hollow. What you are really saying is that I can’t enjoy the same benefit you have of not paying your own way.

    Anything anybody does is going to affect someone else negatively, or at least offer the possibility of making a claim to such. Pretty soon someone will claim that my breathing is making them short of breath, same as smoking.

    If we were all paying our full costs to begin with, we might have enough infrastructure and it would not be such an issue. Frankly, I think it is a red herring argument: what we really don’t want is more neighbors, whether they pay or not.

    If it is about population growth, I’m getting screwed a third time – I don’t have any children.

    If somebody can solve the fair and equitable question we can pick up our lives and move on without having interminable and expensive public hearings on the color of my door or whether the roof is authentic.

    One way to do it is to stop looking outside your property line on the basis that someday, someone might like to do something with your property, and the likliehood that they will be able to will make it worth a lot more sooner.

    Or at least that seems to be Jim Bacon’s argument.

  15. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Re “Smart Growth and APFO” See the following link: http://www.smartergrowth.net/issues/landuse/apfo/index.html, where the Coalition for Smarter Growth urgges: “Take Action: Contact your VA State Delegates and Senators and ask to support APFO legislation that would allow counties and cities to pass local ordinances.”

    The Coalition’s web page continues:
    “Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFO) allow local governments to deny or delay new developments if existing government services (water and sewer, roads, schools, fire and police) cannot support it. An APFO can ensure that new development does not negatively impact a community’s quality of life by overburdening public services.

    “APFOs put the burden on developers to ensure that there will be adequate services for new developments they propose, and delay development until such services are in place. APFOs alone are not the solution to poorly-planned growth, but they are an important tool for local governments to manage the pace of growth. Virginia counties do not have authority from the state to pass local APFOs. Maryland counties have this authority and many have passed some form of APFO legislation.”

    Could there be some sort of “business arrangement” between those seeking to dump more development on Fairfax County to protect their “rural lifestyles” and those companies that want to build density in Fairfax? Interesting!

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: property rights, “new rules”

    With regard to more restrictive rules especially with regard to storm water runoff – we know more know that we did before and now that we know, we must do those things necessary to not further damage the environment.

    The argument is the same with regard to power plants where what we have learned with regard to mercury compels us to do more to keep it from getting loose in the environment.

    I don’t see this as “unfair” unless one wants to see a heart attack at 49 in the same light or the fact that 100 years ago it was okay to keep blacks out of your business.

    The new storm water rules apply to everyone but it is not retroactive.

    It WOULD be unfair to tell the 3rd or 4th owner of a property that they have to backfit something that they did not have anything to do with to start with.

    In some cases, the only effective remedy would be to remove the structures completely including the impervious surfaces.

    That would be even more unfair than new rules would you agree?

    Having said that – there are two fundamental issues:

    1. – the first is legacy shortsightness as discussed

    2. – the second is that the State and local governments until only very recently did not set their storm water standards according to “cumulative” development but rather only considered a specific development.

    Localities are now moving to establishing storm water authorities where the facility is sized according the the amount of undeveloped but developable land with a pro-rata share plus taxes to all property owners to pay for retrofitting where feasible.

    It’s not perfect but at some point, you have to:

    1. – stop the practices that ARE known to be destructive.

    2. – attempt to correct what can be corrected – on a fair and equitable basis

    3. – acknowledge and accept that some past development cannot be undone easily.

    But I am struck by the argument that it’s “unfair” to be “forced” to protect the environment – because we didn’t used to do it.

    Heck.. many years ago.. I actually thought it was okay to put my used motor oil on my driveway!

    Is it unfair that I no longer can do that? No.. not really.. I still could and no one would find out even though my drive is 200 yards from a water supply reservoir but now that I do know (and probably should have known)… I see it as a personal responsibility as proper stewardship of the land.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: growth, infrastructure, APFOs

    If in a year, one or two folks show up for every one hundred living there – then you have a 1% or 2% growth rate than can be accommodated on a shared fair and equitable basis.

    If 4, 5, 6 or more show up in that year – you cannot defer some of the infrastructure such as schools and public safety – it must be built.

    What I think is fair and equitable is that existing residents should not have to pay MORE and MORE if the growth rate goes higher and higher.

    They’re willing to continue to pay their fair share but at some point – the new folks that need the infrastructure have to assume that responsibility.

    Folks move here from NoVa, in part, to evade high taxes, – which should be to no one’s suprise closely linked to infrastructure costs – both new and operational.

    When they move to exurbia with it’s lower taxes – there is a reason why the taxes are lower and that is because the infrastructure costs are lower because the infrastructure is both smaller in scope and scale but also operates at lower levels of service (a case in point – rural winding roads, older schools with lower paid, lower skilled teachers, etc).

    When new folks move in – there is not only a need to ramp up the scope and scale of the infrastructure to serve them but there are also often strident demands that the levels of service be upgraded to match what they were used to where they lived before.

    The folks who lived here all their lives and who earn quite a bit less working locally simply do not earn enough to pay for massive infrastructure upgrades while the folks that moved here – for lower taxes – actually FAVOR higher taxes because of their higher salaries made possible by commuting.

    Local folks on the lower end of the economic scale – those on fixed incomes, those who work as school and county maintenance workers, retail, etc are literally being forced out of their homes because of higher and higher taxes – not for infrastructure for them but infrastructure for new folks.

    Some of the existing residents actually have to move to more rural adjacent counties.

    So.. what I am saying is that from local residents point of view – AND – believe it or not – new residents (will explain below) THINK that the answer to higher taxes and substandard infrastructure and a lower quality of life (compared to previous) is to NOT allow growth unless ALL of the necessary infrastructure is either in place or will be in place by the time they move in to their new homes.

    This is why I say this argument is all about infrastructure – who will pay and how much AND what infrastructure will be degraded and not upgraded because of cost considerations that drive the cost of housing – of which you cannot separate “affordable” for local citizens. All house prices go up because of the demand from new folks moving in.

    There are a couple of ironies here (more than two, but I mention two):

    1. – First – the newcomers are among the MOST ardent of those who want to “stop growth”.

    Their plaintive cries often heard at rezoning hearings is that the “special place” that they moved to is being “ruined” by rampant growth.

    2. – Local landowners – which includes existing residents being adversely impacted by the higher and higher taxes for new/upgraded infrastructure end up having to SELL their land to keep from being forced to move further out.

    Their land is their only safety net and not a person can or should blame them for wanting to retain their full property rights to subdivide and to obtain the most value they can for their property – because the dollars will become their only means to survive as they get older and taxes keep rising and eventually they’ll need more health care – of which many of them do not have because they never had a high-dollar job with full benefits to start with.

    So – from my point of view – I see folks who want BOTH a high-dollar job and a home in exurbia that also requires high-dollar computing infrastructure to serve them as more consumptive of public resources and infrastructure than others who choose not to have it all – and yet the others he make those tough compromises with respect to living near where they work – STILL get nailed for the higher infrastructure costs.

    So, we’re back to what is fair and equitable and I frame the argument in terms of when one chooses a particular lifestyle – it has infrastructure consequences and if they choose a lifestyle that is much more consumptive of resources and infrastructure – they should pay their fair share rather than expecting ALL taxpayers to pay into funds that will build essentially as much infrastructure that the most consumptive among us desire.

    That is why I favor TOLL roads, full-mitgation proffers, level of service standards that REQUIRE a developer to FULLY mitigate the impact of their development – not only for schools but for ALL infrastructure to include roads.

    Some folks are living far above their means – if they had to pay full boat for the infrastructure that their own lifestyle requires.

    Infrastructure should be allocated and priced according to useage.

    If you use more – you pay more – just like you do with electricity, gasoline, water/sewer, food, bad habits, et al.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: TMT AFPOs business arrangement

    I think the calculation is fairly simple –

    either build more dense in No VA or build mega commuting roads to exurbia.

    I think the increased infrastructure costs while not a straight-up “wash” are close because in NoVa you have the level of service already and the cost is more with respect to upgrading capacity as much or more than expansion of scope/scale (brand new infrastructure) whereas in the exurban areas – both are needed.

    For instance, there is a limit to how many brand new roads can be built in No Va but that’s not true in exurbia where many rural winding, hilly, 2-lanes have to be essentially re-built to 4-lane cut/fill roads to handle traffic that is double/triple and more from previous levels.

    I’m not arguing in FAVOR of higher density in NoVA nor discounting the cost of doing so nor the degradation of quality of life as more net growth – whether dense or otherwise won’t degrade the existing levels of service

    … I’m just saying from the point of view of folks in exurbia – THEY THINK that the costs of adding NEW infrastructure exceeds the cost of expanding existing infrastructure.

    That’s the main theory behind increased density whether it occurs in NoVa OR Exurbia.

    I’d point out that the Reality Check exercise BOTH in NoVa and Fredericksburg (exurbia) – that participants in both said that increased density BOTH in NoVa and along I-95 in Fredericksburg was THEIR preferred solution to growth.

  19. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry: re Ironies. “‘1. – First – the newcomers are among the MOST ardent of those who want to “stop growth’. Their plaintive cries often heard at rezoning hearings is that the “special place” that they moved to is being ‘ruined’ by rampant growth.”

    From the 5/2 Washington Post article on Loudoun County residents appealing tax assessements.

    “‘We’re going to be forced out of the neighborhood,’ said Tara K. McKenna, a stay-at-home mother near Leesburg who protested her assessment in an e-mail to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors. ‘We moved out of Arlington to have a better standard of living, a little bit bigger house and yard. Do we have to go farther west now?’

    “McKenna never questioned the accuracy of her assessment; her home in Lansdowne rose in value from $619,600 to $830,400. What bothers her, she said, is that the Board of Supervisors didn’t lower the tax rate enough to keep her tax bill even. And that is what she and so many property owners across Northern Virginia are upset about.

    “‘Tax the developers,’ she said. ‘Tax the companies that are moving out here. Why should the citizens carry the burden of the tax when they’re just trying to raise their families and have a good, moderate lifestyle?’”

    My comment should not be read as a criticism of Ms. McKenna or anyone else — just anecdotal confirmation of the inconsistencies in all of us at times.

    But Ms. McKenna’s story does illustrate the feelings of many residents of NoVA, whether they live close or far from D.C, development under Virginia’s existing rules makes existing residents feel assaulted.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    But I am struck by the argument that it’s “unfair” to be “forced” to protect the environment – because we didn’t used to do it.

    Look, I concede I don’t know what is fair and what isn’t, but this isn’t my argument at all.

    Infrastructure, whether it is green ifrastructure or hard infrastructure benefits everyone to some degree. The farther you are located from the facility, the less you benefit. At the same time, for many of these items there is a cumulative benefit, as you point out: this is evidence that the benefits do accrue to all.

    I don’t see how, on the one hand, you can claim that anyone who causes a disbenefit, no matter how remote, should be expected to pay the full costs for infrastructure that benefits everyone, whereas anyone who provides a benefit, or is prevented from unproviding a benefit, should get nothing.

    I actually like my lttle swamp, and I wouldn’t dream of filling it. It has giant trees, ferns, wild berries, and it makes a great buffer from my neighbors.

    At the same time, it helps alleviate flooding downstram from me. If there was a comprehensive flood plain management plan that allocated the cost of runoff control strategies, my little half acre drainage basin would cost a lot of money to construct someplace else. Unlike a constructed drainage basin, it is not fenced, so the wildlife has full access to it. Neighborhood kids have access, too. If one of them manages to drown down there, or gets stuck in the muck, no doubt I will hear about it.

    But, that little swamp is worthless for anything but flood mitigation and wetlands habitat. For that purpose alone it is so valuable (to everyone else) that I am prohibited from ever using it. With some drain tile and a foot of dirt, it could make a nice productive garden, maybe, but that will never happen.

    That half acre of swamp is assessed at something like $80,000 dollars, which means I’m paying $750 a year in tax for the privilege of providing a benefit to everyone else (less the value of the buffer and pleasure it gives me).

    Suppose some developers come in and put up a bunch of stuff that causes a drainage problem. Then, to remediate the problem the county goes out and has to build a bunch of flood control that winds up costing me $750 in taxes. By your argument, the second situation is a valid basis for complaint because it is caused by someone else, and the developers should pay. And they would pass the costs forward to the newcomers.

    Either way, I’m out $750 a year, and the situation is caused by others. I really don’t see the difference between your argument and mine.

    Why should we pass costs forward and not back? We all benefit from flood control, because it makes more land available and usable. We can avoid those costs by taking land out of action: using the land for flood control. But that has a cost associated with it.

    What we have essentially done is say that the cost of flood control is equal to the value of the taxes and appreciation that might have resulted from whatever other options were available, minus the cost of manmade flood control.

    In other words, we have raised the price of flood control and passed it back to everyone who wasn’t smart enough to fully develop first.

    Suppose the county came to me and said, look, we think that swamp is a hazard to the neighborhood kids. We want to excavate half the area and put in a properly engineered pond for flood control, and fence it off. We’ll put the soil on the other half and rise it up above the flood plain to a level equal with your neighbor. We will “take” a quarter acre to do this and “give” a quarter acre of usable land.

    Now, my taxes would be reduced by $375 a year and I’d have something usable. The county got a quarter acre, and I got a quarter acre: a fair trade. But your taxes would go up, incrementally, and you would refuse the deal because you see it as unfair. But, what if now I can do something with my quarter acre that increases it value further: I put my workshop down there, or something?

    You argue that taxpayers at large should not have to pay incrementally for something that benefits primarily the newcomers, and by extension their builders. But it also benefits everyone at large by expanding the tax base, providing new customers for businesses, and providing the cumulative benefits you mentioned.

    At the same time it causes disbenefits because those new people join the ranks of those like the rest of us who are paying 80 cents on the dollar for services, we have more congestion, etc.

    In the other case, one taxpayer pays entirely for benefits that are diffusely enjoyed by all, and you think thatis OK.

    I don’t get it.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Folks move here from NoVa, in part, to evade high taxes, -“

    And yet Bacon and Ed Risse claim that urban areas are more efficient and cheaper, in the end. Why don’t more people move there, they ask?

    People say they want more density the same way they say they want more transit: for someone else.

    “either build more dense in No VA or build mega commuting roads to exurbia.

    I think the increased infrastructure costs while not a straight-up “wash” are close”

    I don’t think this is an either or situation, first of all, and we ought to know what the difference in infrasturcture costs are: “I think” is not good enough.

    And finally, when we are considering the costs, we should consider ALL the costs, including those to privat landowners, and then figure out how to deal with new knowlege equitably. We are not doing that now.

  22. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, you raise a legitimate point: If urban areas are more efficient to provide with infrastructure and services, then how come their taxes are higher?

    I would hypothesize a couple of reasons: (1) Dwellers in urban areas demand a higher level of municipal service; it comes with the territory; (2) urban areas (even Arlington and Alexandria) have larger numbers of low-income residents who require greater expenditures on social services.

    For an apples-to-apples comparison, it might be instructive to compare per capita expenditures on public works.

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: swamp

    well I’ll be danged. We BOTH have swamps – mine buffers the water supply reservoir and they DID give me a tax break because it was unbuildable (after I appealed).

    re: newcomers being forced out of their homes.

    think about the folks who lived there most of their lives and paid 40K for their house – now assessed at 300K.. and their local job still pays substandard wages compared to high-dollar NoVa commuting jobs.

    The increase in taxes is to buy new/expand existing infrastructure and to upgrade levels of service to be more like where folks moved from.

    The reason taxes are high in high density areas is because they are large in scope and scale to serve the increased number of residents who are settled ‘dense”.

    Exurbia taxes will eventually be as high or higher because first they’re behind and have to catch up and second because they are spread out – sprawled – more roads, longer water/sewer lines, more fire/rescue geographically to assure reasonable response times, etc.

    All things equal – more sewer and water pipe costs MORE than less water/sewer pipe so in dense areas you simply have more efficient use of the water/sewer – i.e. more users per lineal mile.

    re: allocating the costs of infrastructure

    How about everyone pay a set amount for electricity no matter how much you use?

    or.. how about water/sewer service for a set price no matter how much you use?

    This is why roads are deficient, and that we have an unfunded backlog – because the “set” fee does not cover costs.

    The Senate wants to tax everyone for more roads – continue the current paradigm.

    Wrong Direction. Start allocating the true costs according to usage and we’ll get back on track.

    People who make a choice not to drive as much will reduce congestion and those that choose to drive will generate enough funds for upgrading.

    re: building dense in NoVa vs building dense in Exurbia.

    The fly in the ointment is the additional cost for commuting infrastructure.

    All things being equal… in terms of increased costs of infrastructure for population growth – you have to ADD the cost of the commuting road to/from exurbia

    .. AND NoVa STILL gets the increased traffic AND has to pay their tax dollars to upgrade their roads for the commuters.

    re: everyone uses infrastructure so everyone benefits.

    Why should a car owner who works locally in exurbia pay increased taxes on their car that then goes into a statewide fund to upgrade roads that will ultimately be decided by who has the most votes in the GA – i.e. the urban areas?

    The local guy drives 15K a year. A commuter who buys the same model car pays the same exact tax but drives 30K a year or more.

    Both buy the same car and pay the same tax. Go figure.

    re: stormwater/protecting the environment.

    I AGREE. If we say that wetlands ARE vital to a good environment – the preservation of wetlands should NOT be placed on the back of individual landowners.

    This is not equitable at all.

    That is why I support a “flush” tax where everyone pays their fair share including those with well/septic.

    And I support the state compensating landowners whose land functions for the benefit for all – and actually saves money in setting aside land and/or cleanup costs.

    And finally – if someone owns land zoned at one unit per five acres – and they have 20 acres – but 10 are steep and/or wetlands then the landowner should be allowed to have his 4 units on the 10 acres
    BUT if he sells – new buyers should pay full boat for instrastructure costs. 🙂

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: per capita expenditure for infrastructure.

    Very Excellent!

    This is the kind of performance data that is missing from the “we oughta do things this way because…” followed by assertions and unsubstantiated claims.

    This kind of info, by the way, IS available for school costs in Va at the Standard and Poors website
    http://www.schoolmatters.com. Not only financial, info but cost effectiveness and performance based info on SOLs and NCLB.

    Also useful might be a comparison of total lane miles for a jurisdiction and region compared to per capita transportation taxes.

    So.. yes .. if the compact/density folks could bring to the table some salient cost data it would bolster their claims and might even convince some who have yet to be convinced.

  25. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Per capita for public works/infrastructure. Good idea to compare costs based on density. However, another relevant factor, which I’m not sure how to address, is the “do without factor.” In many locations around Metro D.C., because of high costs or other priorities, many public works projects/infrastructure are simply not undertaken or are postponed for many years.

  26. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    tmt – yes… must agree.

    in fact, THE issue with most existing residents when it comes to growth is that they will suffer a loss of quality of life and lower levels of service.

    If adequate infrastructure was provided at the time that new folks showed up… existing folks would not have that agnst in many cases.

    And there ARE examples of dense growth that HAS adequate infrastructure and good levels of service.

    Unfortunately in many areas, especially those experiencing high levels of growth… the infrastructure not only does not come online in a reasonable timeframe but sometimes never.. everyone just takes a hit.

    I think that THIS is the dynamic that turns people against growth and against density.

    and of course.. the impetus behind calls for legislation that new growth cannot happen without adequate infrastructure.

    An planner once told me that if growth was:

    1. – added VALUE to a community
    2. – was not ugly
    3. – did not penalize residents financially or with quality of life deficits

    .. that folks would WANT growth – just like the developers tell us.. that it is “good”.

    sort of like a chocolate candy with a hairball inside.

    You only eat one.

  27. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: growth brings “prosperity”

    Maybe true if you get net new jobs, i.e. an AOL or Northrup Grumman, Lockheed, IBM, Toyota et al but if what you get is rooftops and then commercial retail and service jobs then you lose because those jobs don’t pay enough for folks to be able to pay the high taxes necessary for the infrastructure.

    I’ll give an example.

    In my county, it cost 10K for a school seat for one student. The county funds about 4-5K of that and the State most of the rest of it.

    Our tax rate is .62. A 200K house or the equivalent rental will generate about $1300 in annual taxes and believe me folks that work at retail or for that matter even starting school teachers or police – that’s about all they can afford.

    Anyhow – if they have a kid – they pay about $1300 toward the $4-5K actual annual costs for that student.

    See where this is going?

    Those without kids – have to ante up the rest – and after all is said and done – quess what – nothing left over for transportation.

    The only way you break even on growth if in someone makes 80-100K and can afford a 600K home which will then generate about $3900 in annual taxes and even then there’s still no money left over for transportation.

    I don’t know what the tax rate in NoVa is. Can anyone blogging here say? How about Richmond and environs?

  28. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I couldn’t get them to even talk about a break. I tried.

    “I would hypothesize a couple of reasons: (1) Dwellers in urban areas demand a higher level of municipal service; it comes with the territory; (2) urban areas (even Arlington and Alexandria) have larger numbers of low-income residents who require greater expenditures on social services.”

    They need a higher level of services because otherwise you can’t live that way, and the services are more expensive to supply. Urban areas have more low income people, yet your claim is that the market shows those places to be most highly valued. Except the problem is they are not most highly valued by anyone that can live anyplace else.

    If my house catches fire, I can go out front and watch it burn while I wait for the volunteer fire department to show up and attach to the water main I don’t have.

    But if my house is an apartment and it is going to endanger 50 other families, then you better have professionals, ladder trucks, and a water supply. I don’t think you can blame that on resident “demand”.

    My tax rate in Fairfax last year was 96 cents, I think. In Fauquier it was 99 cents. Maybe that is what efficiency buys you. Except this year it will be 76 cents in Fauquier, because of growth, I guess.

    I know that growth argument, and I’m not convinced either way. At the end of the day the taxes get paid by someone, and that someone lives in a house. What’s the problem?

    If you look at one house and the costs it generates vs the taxes it pays,it looks bad. But that isn’t the whole story. Residential taxes are only one third of county revenue, so you should only expect a house to pay one third of whatever county costs are perhouse. If your community is only bedrooms, then you have a problem, and again, I submit the answer is to move the jobs where the beddrooms are.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – you had me until the last line…. move jobs…

    didn’t we say it was wrong to move people to where they did not want to be?

    Should we tell AOL to get their butts down to Fredericksburg and no back talk?



  30. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Fairfax County’s tax rate for fiscal 2007 was set at 89 cents per hundred of assessed value, an increase from the equalization rate of 83 cents per hundred. The tax rate for fiscal 2006 was $1.00 per hundred. The average home is assessed at $540,746 and produces an average real estate tax bill of $4,812.

    Fairfax County’s fiscal 2007 CIP, including the Schools, NoVA Regional Park Authority, Fairfax Water and contribution to VDOT’s Six Year Plan, is $710.1 M. The estimated CIP for fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2011 is $4.164 B.

    I hope this information is useful.

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good one, Larry: you got me.

    Have a nice river trip and let me know when you want to graduate to open ocean.

    No, I don’t think we can order companies around or forcibly move jobs. That is probably even harder and less popular than ordering individuals around.

    I think if we want them to move we have to offer incentives. If we want to move thousands of sprawling residents we will have to offer them incentives. Offering negative incentives for what we don’t want is stealing, in my opinion, and it indicates that we are being cynical when we insist that everyone pay for their choices.

    One belief that is floated here is that we are subsidizing urban sprawl, and if we just stopped that people and the market want to create thriving, vibrant, highly dense, and walkable communities that can support mass transit. They would demand it so much that the price of city living would come down. If we just made everyone pay their full costs then this would happen naturally and all our problems would be solved.

    As pointed out here, the big money prefers less dense areas; cities are generically and necessarily more expensive to build and maintain, and to retrofit with needed infrasturucture. I believe (without proof) that if everyone really pays their own full locational costs the cities would empty out faster than they have.

    It may be that the real subsidies are to businesses that need workers transported in, and we have all been looking at this backwards. It might also be that we really do value the open space more dense cities could provide, and we are willing to pay the costs involved with achieving this goal. I don’t see much evidence of that.

    Whatever we do, we should be willing to put real money behind what we want, as opposed to simply punishing what we don’t want. We don’t want building along the streams (any more), so we’ll just (effectively) take that land from the owners.

    So, if we want to subsidize urban areas to make them cost competitive, in order to save open space, then we should be willing to raise the money to pay those subsidies, and not simply banish people from the countryside.

    If, instead, we decide that we are not using all that much land, but we could travel less, maybe, then we need a different plan. We might raise money to encourage companies to move to where the residences are.

    Whatever it is we decide we want, we should be willing to pay for it, or else our original starting point is merely cynical. If we are not willing to pay for what we want, then we should just shut up and let the market work its wonders.

    In the end,that is probably the best way for the most people to come closest to what they want: allow them to sell what they don’t want, and buy what they do want.

    If that means we have to spend money on infrastructure to support life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, well, guess what, you have to pay for what you want.

    We have an infrastructure system that is based on subsidizing residences: if you want everybody else to pay their own full costs, then you should be willing to do the same, not just charge an exhorbitant initiation fee to join the club of subsidized homeowners.

    One way or another, you have to be willing to pay for what you want. My beef here has been that each side seems to cynically support that idea in principle while actally supporting an agenda for pawning their costs off on someone else, restricting otherwise legal activities that they don’t happen to like, making economic arguments that don’t seem to be supported, and generally ignoring any idea of environmental and economic justice.

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