Category Archives: Land use & development

“We Are All Keynesians Now”

John Maynard Keynes

By Peter Galuszka

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, advocated government spending and monetary intervention as suitable for modern economies.

When I was a student at a liberal college in New England in the early 1970s, we were taught that Keynes very much had the right idea. As evidence, we had the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson and, strangely, the Vietnam War. They all relied on vast amounts of deficit public spending.

Since then, free-market types came into favorable light and it all became the magic of the market, little regulation and other panaceas.

According to whom you read, pro-capitalism economist Milton Friedman admitted the necessity of Keynes’ thinking by stating, “We’re all Keynesians now.” President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is also credited with the quote when he took the U.S. off the gold standard.

The phrase is taking on increasing relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is no exception. Continue reading

Photo Project Spotlights Pipeline Impact


By Peter Galuszka

Veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who grew up in Norfolk, has a brilliant online project that shows the human and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

She is a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit group that funded her project that centers mostly in rural Nelson and Buckingham Counties that would be dissected by the natural gas pipeline.

She combines spectacular aerial photos with deep close ups of people.

One of her subjects is Ella Rose, a retiree who lives in a small house in Union Hill. She was living a quiet happy life in her natural setting until she got a letter from Dominion Energy stating that they would be routing the ACP about 150-feet from her house.

Union Hill is a touchpoint for pipeline controversy since it is largely African-American community that ACP officials have selected for a compressor station. It is one of similar localities that seem to be targeted with other loud and disruptive equipment along the pipeline route. Continue reading

Suburbia Is Swell

by Kerry Dougherty

There are at least two groups of babbling fools that have been mercifully silent during this emerging pandemic: anti-vaxxers and the so-called New Urbanists.

No one wants to hear from the nuts who refuse to vaccinate their kids right now. The world is praying for a COVID-19 vaccine and these crazies don’t even get flu shots.

The New Urbanists have also slunk away somewhere. To their high-rise co-ops, I suppose, where they’re trying to figure out how to ride the elevator while staying six feet away from their neighbors.

You remember the New Urbanists, don’t you? They were the urban planners who polluted Virginia Beach’s strategic growth office and tried to foist a billion-dollar light-rail system on us, insisting that the only way millennials could be persuaded to stay in our fair city was if we provided them with ant colony living.

The rail stops would become dense hubs of “mixed use” activity where people could live in tiny boxes above high-end stores and markets. While these visionaries praised sardine life, they also scoffed at the suburbs. Continue reading

Virginia’s New Suburbia

Not your grandfather’s suburb. Artist’s rendering of The View at Tysons re-development project.

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s suburbs are undergoing profound demographic changes with tremendous implications for politics and real-estate development strategy, argues Greg Weatherford in Virginia Business magazine.

The suburbs are less white than they used to be. Northern Virginia, unsurprisingly, is leading the way. As of 2018, 49.4% of Northern Virginia residents identified as members of a racial minority, up from 36.5% in 2010. NoVa residents are younger, and a higher percentage, 27%, have been born in another country. Youth and ethnic diversity are demographic attributes that are strongly affiliated with Democratic voters.

The demographic shift is accompanied by changing tastes of suburban dwellers, many of whom no longer place a premium on living in a single-family dwelling in a subdivision. Increasingly, suburbanites are seeking “walkable urbanism” — enclaves where they can live in apartments or condos, don’t have yards to care for, and can stroll down the street to a pub or grocery store.

Weatherford argues that the new suburbia signals a complete reshaping of what we traditionally have thought about the suburbs. Virginia, he quotes Rachael Bitecofer at Christopher Newport University as saying, is “in the middle of a long-term realignment. It is going to have big ramifications.” Continue reading

Richmond’s Pulse Stimulates Mid-Rise Development

Artist’s rendering of proposed Broad Street tower

by James A. Bacon

Sometimes it seems like the City of Richmond can’t do anything right. City Council just nixed a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for the Navy Hill district in downtown. And no one can figure out where, or how, to build a new minor league baseball stadium. But the city has hit a couple of home runs. It’s preserving the James River as a magnificent park running through the center of the city. And, overcoming considerable controversy, the city managed to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the Broad Street corridor.

Not only did Richmond find $65 million to cover the Pulse’s capital costs, it created the appropriate zoning along Broad Street to encourage the re-development of fraying urban and suburban land along the route. The fast-bus service was designed to support the kind of mid-density, mixed-use “walkable urbanism” that many Richmond residents are looking for. It took a while, but it now appears that the city’s foresight is paying off.

Minneapolis-based The Opus Group has filed for a special use permit to erect a 12-story residential tower on the corner of Broad and Lombardy streets near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. The 168-unit apartment would replace a Sunoco gas station and convenience store. The top floor would sport an outdoor terrace with commanding views, while the ground floor would provide 3,400 square feet of retail space. Continue reading

Consistency? Seek it Not at the General Assembly

The Virginia Constitution grants exemption from local real estate taxes for veterans with 100% service-related disability and for the Gold Star families of those killed in action, a move enthusiastically endorsed by voters in 2010. But in a House Finance Committee subcommittee this morning Virginia’s local governments presented the General Assembly with a bill.

The subcommittee endorsed two bills to provide localities reimbursement from the state treasury for the real estate taxes foregone. House Bill 363 from Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would allow the reimbursement once the tax exemption amount exceeds one percent of the overall local real estate tax revenue. House Bill 1496 from new Del.Martha Mugler, D-Hampton, did not set a threshold and would reimburse all lost revenue.  Continue reading

Why Navy Hill?

The most controversial issue facing Richmond City Council these days is the proposed Navy Hill project, a $1.5 billion urban renovation project in downtown Richmond backed by the NH District Corp., Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, and Mayor Levar Stoney. Backers argue that transforming under-utilized land, much of it surface parking lots, into mixed use development will generate $1 billion in incremental new revenue for the city over 30 years and support 9,300 permanent jobs. The key sticking points are whether to build a new Coliseum, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the project cost, and whether to extend the special tax district, which would generate tax revenue to pay off the project bonds, far beyond the boundaries of the project itself. — JAB

by Brian Glass

I’ve been  a Commercial Real Estate Broker in Richmond since 1986. I’ve seen the failure of the 6th Street Marketplace, The Farmer’s Market makeover, and the restoration of Main Street Station and train shed — the latter two with buckets of federal money — none of which have worked out financially for the city. These fiascos show that the City of Richmond needs the private sector when it comes to re-development projects. NH District Corp. fits the bill. Here’s why:

Blight. The area proposed by NH District Corp. for re-development is blighted, with the Coliseum, built in 1971, at the epicenter. We refer to the Coliseum as “functionally obsolete.” The City has an opportunity not only to replace the Coliseum but to provide approximately 2,000 apartments, a percentage of which would be dedicated to “workforce housing,” a high rise hotel, commercial office space of up to 1 million square feet, the renovation of the historic Blues Armory, a long-sought GRTC bus transfer station, infrastructure improvements, and some retail. Continue reading

Now the Cherokee Want to Build a Casino in Virginia


by James A. Bacon

Indian ancestral lands are sacred — sacred, I tell you!

Until they’re not. As is apparently the case in Washington County, where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the vast majority of whom live in North Carolina, have proposed to build a casino.

The eastern Cherokee, who operate the Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Hotel and Casino on tribal land in western North Carolina, have called the proposed Washington County side part of its “beloved ancestral home,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Sure. Just the place for a casino, resort hotel, 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue, recreational facilities.

As RTD writer Michael Martz notes, the proposal complicates a policy challenge facing the General Assembly as it considers the legalization of casino gambling and other gaming ventures in the state. Last year, the state enacted a law allowing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino in either Norfolk or Richmond, and permitted the construction of commercial casinos in Danville, Portsmouth, and Bristol on the grounds that they experienced declining population, high poverty and high unemployment rates. Needless to say, developers of a proposed casino in nearby Bristol are vehemently opposed to a Cherokee-related casino very nearby.

I haven’t delved into this deeply, but my gut reaction is that this Indian casino thing is a racket. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: $$$$$ Edition

They didn’t ask this question until now? Will the wave of Amazon-inspired development in the Pentagon City area of Arlington County overwhelm the region’s transportation network? “Arlington planners, and nervous neighbors, want to know,” reports the Washington Business Journal. Some neighborhood groups are wary that the point of the planning review is to clear the way for a major up-zoning in the area. “They fear the county could determine that the neighborhood has the transportation infrastructure to handle more residents and allow for density increases — even though they believe the opposite is true.”

Meanwhile, JBG Smith Properties and other developers are pitching massive new projects around the new Amazon HQ. Not coincidentally, the WBJ reports, “JBG Smith ramped up its political giving in Virginia with control of the General Assembly on the line.” JBG Smith’s Virginia campaign contributions this electoral cycle: $34,206.

Glad to hear that “Black Enterprise” is still a thing. The Mount Olive Baptist Church in Culpeper wants to create a network of support, mentorship and information for African-American small business owners. Black business ownership is increasing, but black entrepreneurs face big challenges. The goal of the network is to help them gain knowledge about finances, start-up capital and the industrial/managerial skills it takes to grow successful enterprises, reports the Star-Exponent. As the politics of grievance and victimhood have taken hold nationally, we don’t hear much about black enterprise these days. I cannot help but note that this initiative comes from a black church, not a foundation-funded think tank staffed by white intellectuals.

Can you say “overreach”? Virginia Tech will spend $5 million to $10 million to launch a biomedical research facility in Washington, D.C. by early 2021, the university announced yesterday. On a campus of a new Children’s National Hospital campus, four or five Virginia Tech research teams will conduct research on cancers of the brain and nervous system. Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands said in a statement the partnership fits Tech’s ambition “to solve big problems and create new opportunities in Virginia and D.C. through education, technology and research.” Continue reading

Chesterfield’s Slow-Motion Suburban Suicide

by James A. Bacon

The traffic engineers, it appears, have won. Chesterfield County is doubling down on suburban sprawl with plans to build a series of “superstreets” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. While the massive infrastructure investment likely will reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic flow on the streets themselves, they will literally cement into place the county’s dysfunctional land use patterns.

This article in the Chesterfield Observer lays out the rationale behind the superstreet concept. “It provides for a high-capacity roadway, and also safety because you don’t have these intersections where [cars] cross paths in front of each other. It’s a way to eke out additional capacity without widening,” says Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director. According to the Observer, work on the first project, on Iron Bridge Road (Route 10), will cost $64 million and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2022.

Greater Greater Washington critiques Chesterfield’s superstreet in a recent blog postGGW questions whether the added transportation capacity is needed, argues that the superstreet design rules walking and biking in the corridor, and contends that the money could be spent more effectively elsewhere, such as mass transit. The critique is worth a read. I agree with much of it, but differ in important respects. Continue reading

How Walkable Urbanism Is Guiding NoVa Growth and Redevelopment

Image credit: Virginia Business

by James A. Bacon

Between Amazon, Micron Technology, and smaller deals too innumerable to list, Northern Virginia continues to dominate the economic action in Virginia. In previous business cycles, economic growth unleashed disconnected, low-density, auto-centric development that served immediate needs for office space but literally embedded in asphalt, concrete and steel one of the nation’s most dysfunctional transportation systems. This time, there are indications that the region will get it right — well, maybe not entirely right but better than before.

Fast-growth metropolitan regions everywhere are afflicted by two inter-related diseases: unaffordable housing and overloaded roads and highways. A consensus has emerged in much of Northern Virginia — and, trust me, after 35 years of monitoring NoVa growth issues, I haven’t seen such widespread agreement — that the old suburban-sprawl growth model is no longer viable. Northern Virginia must evolve toward walkable urbanism.

Indeed, local economic developers are expressing the hope that walkable urbanism will enable Northern Virginia to move from a second tier technology center to a Tier 1 center without choking on its own growth. In a profile of the massive activity occurring in Tysons, Arlington, and Alexandria, Virginia Business magazine quotes Christopher Leinberger, the professor of urban real estate at George Washington University who popularized the concept of walkable urbanism. Northern Virginia “is sitting pretty,” he says. “It’s a remarkable thing it has pulled off. … It’s nailing its audition for the part by busily creating precisely the kind of high-density, multiuse neighborhoods this new world demands.” Continue reading

More Restrictions Proposed for Culpeper Solar Farms

Off limits to utility-scale solar? Civil War battlefield locations in Virginia.

by James A. Bacon

Culpeper County prohibits construction of solar farms on Civil War battlefields. Now a proposal under consideration by the Board of Supervisors would discourage large solar projects adjacent to battlefield land held in historic easement, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. And that restriction is just one of many changes to the county’s Utility Scale Solar Facility Development Policy under review by the board.

Last year the board approved the 1,000-acre Greenwood Solar project over local opposition. Since then resistance to the land-consuming facilities has gotten more organized. One group, Citizens for Responsible Solar,  has actively pursued a policy of delay and encumber to restrict development of large-scale solar farms. Last month Cricket Solar pulled a proposal for a 1,600-acre solar farm in the county. Meanwhile, local opposition has stalled progress on utility-scale projects in other counties.

On the state level, it is the policy of the Northam administration, the General Assembly, the environmental community, and Dominion Energy to boost the contribution of solar power to Virginia’s energy mix. People may disagree about how far and how fast to go, but just about everyone agrees on the desirability of having more solar than we have now. But opposition at the local level has emerged as a significant barrier to large-scale deployment of solar. Continue reading

Richmond’s World of Secrecy and Collusion

VCU President Michael Rao

by Peter Galuszka

There’s long been the “Virginia Way” of ruling oligarchs making decisions in backrooms while leaving the public out of the picture. But then there’s also the “Richmond Way,” which is the same thing on steroids.

The key focus today is the so-called Navy Hill District Corporation, a group headed by Dominion Energy chieftain Tom Farrell that wants to replace the aging Richmond Coliseum and build a $1.4 billion mixed-use project on 10 blocks just north of Broad Street downtown.

With Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney complicit, the group which involves some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers has worked mostly in secret and has gone to great lengths to keep the public as far away from planning as possible.

Richmond has had its share of flops when it gets into top-down, centralized economic planning somewhat reminiscent of Moscow, where I used to live and work. One was the 6th Street market, a failed project not far from Navy Hill. The city, which has a poverty rate of about 25%, is paying millions to the Washington Redskins, one of the richest firms in the National Football League, to train at a city facility for three weeks every summer.

Navy Hill also had an inauspicious start. When the city sent out requests for proposals for replacing the Coliseum a few years ago, it got exactly one proposal – from Farrell’s group.  Continue reading

Should Virginia Beach Buy Out Flood-Prone Properties at Fair Market Value?

by James A. Bacon

As Hurricane Dorian bears down on the South Atlantic Coast, the Virginian-Pilot reports that Virginia Beach officials are considering a program to buy out residents who want to move out of homes that have flooded or face a risk of flooding. The land would be converted into parks, planted with trees, or used as a flood-control projects.

That’s just one of the strategies city officials are pondering to deal with sea-level rise. The seal level in Hampton Roads has increased by a foot since the 1960s, and some climatologists claim that the rate of rise could accelerate. If the city does not take preventive action, writes the Pilot, a projected three-foot rise in the sea level could cost $330 million yearly by 2065.

The Virginia Beach plan would be based on a similar program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., which spends $3.8 million yearly in voluntary acquisitions, funded through stormwater fees, to manage local floodplains. The city assesses which properties are the most vulnerable and targets those first. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Numerological Edition

$6.5 billion. That’s how much Dominion Energy estimates it will cost Virginia ratepayers if the state signs up with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program designed to reduce CO2 emissions. The utility said it would have to shutter four coal-fired power plants and replace their generating capacity with additional solar, natural gas, and/or possibly a pump-storage facility in Tazewell County, reports the Daily Press. The figure exceeds the $3.3-$5.9 billion previously estimated by State Corporation Commission staff, and conflicts with arguments by others that under the RGGI electric bills actually would go down.

Thirty percent. That is the percentage of police-involved-shooting incidents that local police and sheriffs departments failed to report to the Virginia State Police for compilation on its annual Crime in Virginia reports, concludes the (Lynchburg) News & Advance in an investigation of the data since mid-2016. (In the 2018 Crime in Virginia report, state police listed 28 state-involved shootings.) Law enforcement officials attributed the missing data to routine errors and confusion over recent changes in reporting requirements. Civil rights advocates want to expand the data reported to include the age, race, and gender of the victim.

14,000 acres. That’s how much farm and forest the Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund (VFPF) has conserved since 2008. The Fund surpassed the 100th-tract mark this summer, an event that Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated with a visit to Messick’s Farm Market in Fauquier County last week, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. The governor touted the value role of conservation in promoting agriculture, tourism, and forestry, Virginia’s three largest industries. The VFPF has helped 16 local governments finance purchase-of-development rights for 102 easements on 13,917 acres. The purchases cost $32.8 million. The preservation fund provided $11.9 million; the rest came from local government and other sources.