How Do You Deal with the Loss of 17,000 Defense Jobs?

If you’re Arlington County, you create a new vision for the boxy buildings and subterranean passageways in Crystal City that will be emptied by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In place of the sterile monoculture that now characterizes the office complex near the Pentagon, members of an advisory task force see a more lively street-level scene with a greater mix of shops, restaurants and offices. Writes WaPo reporter Annie Gowen:

[Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris] Zimmerman and others speaking yesterday said that the vounty sees the empty space as an opportunity to “reimagine” and “brand” Crystal City as an attractive destination. Though close to Reagan National Airport and dense with hotels, the area has long been seen as a gloomy 1960s era enclave of offices connected by underground passages. But parts of Crystal City have lately seen a rebirth, thanks to an influx of trendy cafes and a new streetscape. …

Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, which owns 7.4 million of the 11 million square feet of office space in the neighborhood, has spent $40 million on improvements to enliven the streets and attract new businesses. It turned Crystal Drive into a two-way main street and has recruited new shops and chic restaurants such as Jaleo and McCormick & Schmick’s.

Reading between the lines of Gowen’s story, however, there seems to be one big missing piece: Housing. Creating a livelier commercial district is a worthy goal. But creating a balanced community with a mix of housing, offices, shopping and other amenities — allowing people to live close to where they work and play — is an even more worthy goal. As Ed Risse has pointed out, the relocation of 17,000 jobs creates a rare opportunity to create a genuine balanced communities in Northern Virginia.

The problem, I surmise — it’s not discussed in the story — is that Arlington is concerned about protecting its tax base, which means replacing the vacated offices with new offices, not housing. It’s hard to fault Arlington for pursuing its short-term self interest. But everyone needs to recognize that Arlington’s decision not to pursue a balanced community means that housing will end up somewhere else, presumably in outlying counties. And employees working in the buffed up Crystal City will wind up commuting long distances and clogging Northern Virginia thoroughfares. And the cry for new transportation revenues will grow ever more deafening.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


16 responses to “How Do You Deal with the Loss of 17,000 Defense Jobs?”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Right on.

    Didn’t I read somewhere that some of those office buildings were considered worn out and that they would be demolished and replaced rather than refurbished?

    Would that be an opportunity for more mixed use? Is it an example of “existing infrastructure” that is worn out and outlived its usefuleness?

  2. C. P. Zilliacus Avatar
    C. P. Zilliacus

    Jim, minor point – unlike most other Virginia counties, Arlington County does not have a Board of Supervisors.

    It does have a County Board. Members of the Arlington County Board are addressed not as supervisors, but as Board Members.

  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    If Arlington has sufficient public infrastructure to support housing at Crystal City, adding housing to that area would be an excellent idea. The question that the Arlington community needs to answer is: Whether the supporting infrastructure is sufficient? If not, what is the incentive for Arlingtonians to dig deeper in their pockets to pay for public infrastructure so that the housing does not get constructed in outlying counties? The funds run one way from Arlington, just as they do from Fairfax — down to Richmond and then around the state.

    Moreover, while I’m sure that many people would enjoy the urban life of a newly revitalized Crystal City, many others would not. Many people simply want to live in single family, detached homes that will not be available in Crystal City. Further, any housing built in that area will likey be quite costly given the price of land and the costs to construct high-rise buildings.

    Ray Hyde has persuaded me that we need to provide incentives for good quality, higher paying jobs to locate in outlying areas. There probably aren’t enough tax dollars — even in the mind of John Chichester — to fix NoVA’s transportation and other infrastructure problems that are, in large part, based on the high concentration of good-paying jobs here, along with a lack of both affordable housing.

    Unless builders are going to supply affordable housing at a loss — which, to me, seems absurd, there won’t be affordable housing here without even more tax subsidies. (Of course, every tax dollar spent on subsidizing housing isn’t available for other purposes.) That suggests sprawl will continue, as will the demand for more and more roads and other infrastructure. Virginia needs balanced job growth.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    In theory, the loss of these jobs presents an opportunity to do something different in terms of settlement patterns.

    Perhaps to replace commercial businesses with housing and/or more balanced mixed-use.

    Lots of questions here but I do agree .. just the potential concept is provocative…

    But, what would be the benefit to Arlington to do this? More specifically – what would be the benefit to those who already live and pay taxes in Arlington?

    What would Arlington have to provide in the way of additional infrastructure? (I’m not sure that I would agree that more infrastructure would be needed for residential vs commercial but let’s explore it. It would seem to be that if you took an office building in Crystal and converted it to apartments.. you’d not have any more people (perhaps less) so you wouldn’t need any more water/sewer capacity… and ditto for parking places… at least it would seem so).

    Ditto with commuting… instead of a hoard of folks “in commuting” from outer jurisdictions to Arlington every morning, wouldn’t you have instead – more “out” commuting.

    Finally, the folks who actually own the land – would they agree to a change in the zoning from Office Commercial to Apartment Residential? What would be the economics of this with respect to those who hold those properties as investments?

    It would seem – that Arlington and the other area jurisdictions have already had such a choice for years – and that they chose commercial development over residential – in effect – letting more remote jurisdictions figure out how to provide residential for folks who wanted to work in NoVa and commute to the outer suburbs to live.

    To a certain extent – one could say that No Va jurisdictions have a responsibility to provide housing for those that work in the same area and NOT force workers to commute to outer jursidictions for housing in the first place.

    In the end – every worker who, for whatever reason, ends up commuting… that is one more person using the transportation network more intensively than those that live locally with shorter commutes.

    So .. here’s a concluding thought. What kind of an exercise would it be for each NoVa jurisdiction to total up the number of jobs in it’s boundaries verses the amount of housing within it’s boundaries.

    Would we see a big disparity? I know where I live in the outer suburbs that there IS a big disparity in the opposite sense. We have far, far more people in homes than we have jobs for them. In other words a huge percent of our population are, in fact, NoVa commuters.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    With respect to the jobs/housing question – I wonder what the totals would be for the entire NoVa area – all jursidictions with respect to jobs verses housing.

    From an equity perspective – should jurisdictions provide as much housing as they have jobs?

    The mechanism for doing this would be zoning – a certain percentage of areas would be reserved ONLY for residential development or areas designated for mixed use development would have a hard percentage cap on how much residential had to be part of the mixed-used proposal.

    Or to turn this completely around – would folks support the right of any jurisdiction to zone entirely that jurisdiction for commercial/industrial ONLY and let outlying jurisdictions provide residential?

    In some respects, isn’t that essentially what No Va jursidictions are doing – favoring non-residential development and letting other jursidictions handle the residential?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Turning this on its head – what is the incentive for a worker in Crystal City to buy there?

    Most jobs now don’t last for decades – no one expects a career at a company any more. I wouldn’t buy a house for one specific job – but if I bought at Crystal City, I’d be locked in to that area. What happens if my next job is in Silver Spring, or Leesburg, or Quantico?

    Am I supposed to buy and sell my house each time I change jobs? I’ve been through six (high tech) jobs in the past 14 years – all while living at the same house, all good jobs and good career moves.

    If I changed houses like the tech field requires you to change jobs, I’d spend my entire life packing and unpacking.

    Living where you work is one of those “nice idea, not real practical” kind of things.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous, you raise a legitimate point. People change jobs a lot, and no one can afford to move to a new house every time they get a new job. That’s why people pay a premium to live in a central location — it gives them proximity to a wider range of employment locations.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, This is my personal conviction: If local governments were not given the power to restrict housing development through zoning, a free market would provide a much better balance of housing/jobs/retail/amenities than what we have now. The answer is less regulation, not more.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar


    I believe in free markets as well, but I also hold that free markets are equally as free of economic subsidies as well as over-burdensome regulation. What is the argument that letting people develop their property as desired without regard to the impact on existing residents and businesses is a free market?

    None of us would likely support the abolishment of all zoning as is basically the case in Houston. Would we find it acceptable to allow the construction of a foundary in the middle of a residential neighborhood? What about building a 30-story building in the flight path of Dulles Airport? Few of us would likely support that.

    We have a serious problem with public infrastructure in areas of Virginia. Few dispute that. What we argue over is who is responsible to fund the necessary infrastructure; to what amount; and should people be permitted to build in the absence of adequate public facilities. Reasonable people can answer these questions differently. But, at some point, there is a question of basic equity that must be answered: How much “cost” should society be able to impose on an existing resident/business so that someone else can use his or her property as they desire? Since we wouldn’t permit the foundary to built in the residential neighborhood, we all effectively agree that there are limits to how much cost we are willing to impose on existing residents. Stated alternatively, one does not have an absolute right to use his/her property as desired.

    One question we might ask is: Who is the cost-causer? The answer is always going to be “the newcomer.” One might also ask: At what point does it become unfair to load all of the costs on the newcomer? Few would likely argue that, because of the high forward-looking costs for constructing infrastructure, we should not permit any building in Virginia without the upfront payment of the total costs for constructing infrastructure. That would be unfair. But, at the very same time, isn’t equally unfair to load all of the infrastructure costs on taxpayers — especially given Virginia’s tax structure that takes much from NoVA and gives little back?

    One might be able to make a good argument that we could save transportation costs by building densely in NoVA. But what about the other infrastructure costs that are then imposed on residents of NoVA? What’s in it for us?

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Re Dense Residential – See the article in today’s (6/18) WaPo. It offers some interesting insights and observations, including the following: “Gerald L. Gordon, president of Fairfax’s Economic Development Authority, said jobs will keep moving toward the fringes, because employers’ first priority is being near a qualified workforce, and residents continue to seek affordable, spacious homes and good schools in more distant communities.” More evidence that Ray Hyde’s “we need more places” theory has legs.

    People who want to live in New York City tend to move there. Why are we talking about spending billions of scarce tax dollars extending Metrorail when it isn’t going to fix the transportation problems?

    BTW, check out the other story in the Post today about Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald Hyland’s involvement with a developer’s attempt to obtain huge conservation tax credits. What else goes on between segments of the business community and the supervisors?

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: WaPo article. yes, agree it was excellent in describing the issues.

    But I’m perplexed… as usual…

    “because employers’ first priority is being near a qualified workforce, and residents continue to seek affordable, spacious homes and good schools in more distant communities.”

    I found this rather odd in that the concept of “near” is apparently perceived differently depending on whether you were an employer or an employee.

    employers want to be “near” a qualified workforce but employees (note they use the word residents) continue to seek … homes in more distant communities.

    Unless I’m not reading it properly… it sounds like the employers concept of “near” is a very different concept than the employee’s concept of a “near” place to live.

    Wouldn’t one presume that the two concepts be the same… that the employee would want to be near where a qualified workforce lives … AND vice versa?

    Also… discussed in BLOG was the idea that folks don’t want to move everytime they change jobs which is an excellent point but how does that explain folks who move to the outer burbs… and then change jobs that requires even a longer commute?

    Aren’t people who move to the outer burbs… for housing .. locking themselves in to a less flexible situation the same way that someone would in trying to live next door to where they work because in both cases.. if they change jobs – they’ve probably bought themselves a longer commute.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Isn’t it curious the employers want to be near a qualified work force? Wouldn’t that result in less travel rather than more?

    The other comment of interest was that most residents of mixed use communities don’t find employment there. To the extent that some mixed use residents do find local employment that suits their skills, that is a good thing, and it will marginally reduce travel.

    But we should not count on it as a panacea, and it does not conflict with the idea that we need more places. “Mixed use” and “more places” are compatible ideas.

    The article should put to rest the argument that Ed Risse and I have had about job growth. His previous statement was that while the percet job growth in PW was high the absolute number was small. Today we see that the absolute numbers are also higher.

    If we choose to have a successful transportation plan then we should design the plan to meet the needs which will occur as a result of what is happening, rather than to meet the needs of what we wish would happen. Otherwise you have to design not only a transportation plan but a way to change everyones decisions in such a way as to make it work.

    Today’s article shows how difficult that is, so why choose a plan that is bound to fail?

    Metro will not ease congestion and it hasn’t done so for the last thirty years. What it does do is allow more people to travel to some places than can be acommodated by highways. It does that by offering a lower level of service and less comfort (standing room only). It might be that there is still sufficient reason to spend billions of scarce dollars on Metro, but easing traffic congestion isn’t one of them. We should evaluate the expenditure for what it does do and who benefits and assign the costs accordingly, if the expenditure is still reasonable. Clearly, that does not include billing the tollroad users for Metro construction.

    Making Route 7 sixteen lanes is probably just as bad an idea as Metro. That is just another plan to take everyone to the same place, which we know will fail. The difference is that those who use that route will have individually controlled climate, music, and seats. And they can eat or smoke if they choose.

    Aside from Gerald Gordon’s comments, you have Jay Fissette saying that we have not fully made the connection between land use and transportation. I’d say that most people have made the connection and that the one Jay is proposing is just wrong.

    Then, of course, there is the apparently obligatory and generally clueless comment by Stewart Schwartz that such articles always seem to include. In this case he makes the completely unsupported and obviously wrong statement that the conditions cited in the article “leave everybody worse off”. If he wants to voice the opinion that the wrong people are making money in the wrong places, that’s different; but the claim that everybody is worse off is patently false and weakens the rest of his arguments accordingly.

    As for conservation easements, don’t get me started. When hundreds of organizations are founded to accept gifts from thousands of people, then stories like Hyland’s are inevitable. If conservationists want to conserve land, then they need to raise the money and go buy it. That means that they will need to set priorities as to what land is most worth saving and give up on the idea of saving 95% of it, for free.

    Or, we can come up with some method of providing continuing income to those that are already conserving the land. A one shot, partial payment in the form a conservation easement can not possibly conserve the land forever.

    Even when land is publicly owned, we can’t count on conservation continuing. Maryland has proposed selling land to raise money, Fairfax to support affordable housing, and The Vint Hill Economic Development Authority is arguably the largest developer in Fauquier. In a situation where the public cn’t afford to keep their lands clear, what chance is there for the private individual?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: infrastructure costs and newcomers

    all things being equal.. a newcomer in NoVa needs infrastructure to support them in not very different ways that – that same newcomer in the outer burbs would need similar infrastructure – and it IS the infrastructure costs that are much more at issue than density per se because discussions of density.. seem to always flow back to infrastructure and not focus on density itself as a good or bad thing.

    If a newcomer did not have enough money to have a garage on their new house – people would be up in arms if their property taxes were taken to pay for that new garage but apparently folks views of this become less clear if we’re talking about taking people’s money to pay for.. say a new classroom.. or a new library or fire station or traffic light or widened roadways.

    I think property owners are willing for the most part to pay their fair share – but if the growth rate is high – where there is a huge influx of newcomers then we have significant money issues.

    For instance, our locality has to build a new school every year and I understand that Loudoun has to build several new schools every year. Schools are over 70% of our property taxes.

    Without proffers – our taxes would have easily doubled and then some not to mention what would happen to the elected officials who approved those tax increases.

    Everyone needs a place to live but I will point out that when a newcomer buys a home twice and three times as big as the typical house in the outer burbs.. commutes solo in a (usually new) SUV 50-70 miles a day and then expects folks of much more modest means to pick up the infrastructure tab.. that there will be complaints.

    Another way of looking at this is that if new folks had to pay their actual share of infrastructure costs – there would be less money for bigger homes and new SUV and long solo commutes.

    And when we have all taxpayers picking up the tab for these infrastructure costs – there is no incentive on the part of the new folks – to make conservative financial decisions – because, in essence, they are being subsididzed.

    The more that each person has to pay their own fair share of infrastructure costs – the more it will impact the choices that have expensive consequences – for either them.. or for others.

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I pointed out in another post the problems of planned communities. There, the existing residents have not paid enough to support the common use land and common use infrastructure, with the result that these communities are now resorting to assessing additional fees, but only on newcomers. In this case the newcomers are not causing any new requirements, but they are still being expected to pay a higher price than existing residents, and for facilites that were worn out (by existing residents) before the new residents arrived.

    It seems to me that this exposes a critical weakness in what we psychologically view as fair.

    I would agree with Larry if: a) existing residents were already paying enough to support existing infrastructure, which they are apparently not. (At least that is a widely held belief.) b) the additional costs (for proffers and such) over and above ordinary and sufficient property taxes were carefully examined to cover only the new and extraordinary capital costs associated solely with new residents.

    That means that you cannot blame the new residents for increased capital costs that are really in support of new desires or needs on the part of all residents.

    Say crime is up 50% so you need a new jail. At the same time new residents are planned to be up 25%. How much of the cost of the new jail should the new residents pay? Are you going to hold them responsible for the 50% of increased need that is due to existing residents?

    I understand Larry’s point, but I think it is intellectually too easy to be correct. I particularly like this: “Another way of looking at this is that if new folks had to pay their actual share of infrastructure costs – there would be less money for bigger homes and new SUV and long solo commutes.”

    That is absolutely correct, and it corresponds to EMR’s gloomy prediction that we will all face lowered expectations. But what if the choice is a smaller home in the exurbs and a hybrid?

    It is a fine argument, but I don’t think we know anywhere near enough to actually and fairly assess the costs of new infrastructure, on the one hand. On the other hand, if the newcomers pay for their own infrastructure, especially if we *require* them to pay for their own infrastructure, then we should not be too surprised if they claim to own it and wish to exclude us.

    This has already happened with some gated communities. They provided things like bike paths, and now the outside community wants connectivity to those assets without picking up part of the costs. It is the same with riparian setbacks and other increased demands on private income or property.

    I don’t see how we can expect it to be shared infrastructure that we all benefit from unless we share some of the costs. At present, we can’t even agree on what “some of” amounts to, let alone if it is a fair distribution.

  15. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    What if the choice is between a larger home and an SUV in the exurbs or a smaller home and maybe no car in the inner areas, AND AT A HIGHER PRICE, including travel?

    Policy Soup hsa a comment on the same subject that says,

    “I lived in Crystal City for many years after college. The Underground was, and remains, the greatest feature. The only drawback to Crystal City was no yards. The location was great, but the place was too urban for anyone with a family.

    The higher density development that has been going on there for the past five years or so is a crime – you can’t even cross the street on foot, everything is so congested! So much for the “pedestrian friendly” model – Arlington seems determined to kill pedestrians, forcing people who used to walk to drive two blocks like in Clarnedon due to overcrowding. Let’s pray they stop compounding their errors, lest the whole place decline.”

    It may turn out that we need more space not just to live and travel, but to make way for difference of opinion.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: newcomers/infrastructure/longevity

    Well.. I don’t think infrastructure “wears out” in the usual sense but I do accept the premise for some things.

    Roads and water/sewer are not replaced. They are, instead, maintained. Schools and Prisons and other buildings can eventually wear out and need replacement.

    But I am talking about new infrastructure that would not be needed if an area was not experiencing growth. All communities have CIPs (capital investment plans) for infrastructure – both replacement and but replacement infrastructure IS something that can be accomodated in an annual budget – much like figuring out how many buses the school system needs to replace – every year – it’s a known calculation.

    But new infrastructure is not because it depends on the RATE of growth and I think there would be strenuous disagreement with the claim that “That means that you cannot blame the new residents for increased capital costs that are really in support of new desires or needs on the part of all residents.” because existing residents are not getting “better” levels of services but rather expensive measures necessary to simply maintain their existing levels of service.

    Most communities would not willinging choose nor think fair that it is the existing residents financial responsibility to pay for new infrastructure for new residents.

    Remember, we’re not talking about a new classroom to replace the older, worn-out one. We’re talking about a new ADDITIONAL classroom.

Leave a Reply