Land Use and Tax Revenue in Fairfax County

Reston Town Center: highest tax revenues per acre in Fairfax County.

by James A. Bacon

Last year I published research documenting the vast discrepancy in property tax revenue per acre between commercial development in low-density versus  high-density settings in Sarasota, Fla. A mid-rise tower with retail on the ground floor and condominiums above could yield literally 100 times the property tax revenue per acre as a Wal-Mart. (See “The Fiscal Fix.”) What Virginia needed, I suggested, was more “tax literacy,” to borrow the phrase of Joe Minicozzi, whose Asheville, N.C.,-based Public Interest Projects, compiled the Sarasota data.

It turns out that a couple of enterprising young women in Virginia have conducted research showing comparable results here in the Old Dominion. I highlight one of those now: Alanna McKeeman, who performed an in-depth analysis of the Fairfax County tax base for her 2012 Master’s Thesis in urban planning at Virginia Tech, “Land Use, Municipal Revenue Impacts, and Land Consumption.” McKeeman now works as an Associate in ICF International’s Washington, D.C., transportation practice.

Massaging data on more than 357,000 properties in Fairfax County using ArcGIS software, McKeeman calculated the property tax revenue per acre for 159 categories of land use.  She published two sets of figures: “basic” revenue, based upon the then-current rate of $1.07 per $100 of assessed value, and “total” revenue that included special taxes and fees aimed at financing specific projects such as Route 28 corridor improvements and the extension of Metrorail to Dulles airport.

Click for larger, more legible image.

The chasm in revenues per acre is mind-boggling — high-rise condominiums yield literally 100 times more taxes per acre than single-family dwellings, which occupy over half the county’s land area. Unfortunately for Fairfax County, the highest grossing land uses comprise only a tiny fraction of the county’s land.

While tax revenues-per-acre soar with higher density, the cost of providing roads, utilities and other infrastructure does not. In fact, McKeeman cites a Brookings Institution study that found the up-front capital cost of installing infrastructure in high-density settings to be nearly half that of low-density settings, and the ongoing maintenance costs to be nearly 20% lower.

In her Master’s Thesis, McKeeman compared property tax revenues for Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner, two of the county’s major commercial centers. In Reston, high-rise apartments and condos generate property tax revenue as high as $2.8 million per acre — almost double the revenue from comparably zoned properties in Tysons Corner. While density may be the major reason for the discrepancy — the Reston apartment towers might be taller and contain more units, for instance — McKeeman suggests that other factors may be at work:

Clearly, the land and buildings in [the Reston] study area are quite valuable compared to County averages for the same land uses. Extremely high-value, dense housing and office space surround the Town Center, suggesting agglomeration benefits and perhaps a premium on the pedestrian accessibility of these properties to various amenities in the surrounding area. … The denser, walkable nature of Reston Town Center, combined with proximity to Dulles airport, appears to result in higher property values.

In other words, Reston is a walkable, mixed-used community and Tysons is not. Tysons grew not because of its hodge-podge pattern of low-rise buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots but because of its strategic location near the intersection of Interstate 66, the 495 Capital Beltway and other major arterials. In other words — and this is me speaking, not McKeeman — Tysons grew despite its dysfunctional land use patterns. The coming of the Metro may provide the impetus to reconfigure Tysons land use to a more tax-efficient arrangement but the cost of making that transition will run into the billions of dollars.

The link between Reston’s walkability and its higher property values remains a hypothesis, McKeeman cautions. Additional research or modeling is necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.

House in Great Falls. High taxes? Think again. On a per-acre basis, Shady Grove homeowners pay less than Fairfax County’s trailer parks.

In another interesting close-up, McKeeman looks at the Shady Oak neighborhood in the Great Falls area bordering the Potomac River.  The average single-family home value in the area exceeds $1.5 million and the average lot size is almost five acres. Homeowners pay what they undoubtedly feel are high taxes — averaging $3,463 per acre. (At nearly five acres per house, that implies the average homeowner pays roughly $17,000 yearly in property taxes.) Yet on a per-acre basis, McKeeman says, Shady Oak homeowners pay less than property owners of Fairfax’s mobile home parks. Given the higher infrastructure costs per unit in Great Falls, her data imply that Fairfax’s property tax system is more regressive (tilted against those with lower income) than commonly thought.

To be sure, local governments must consider more than property tax revenue yield-per-acre when making land use decisions. For instance, McKeeman’s numbers do not include the sales tax generated by commercial property (although other studies suggest that including the sales tax makes a relatively trivial difference.) Moreover, the tax yield must be weighed in conjunction with the cost-per-acre of installing and maintaining infrastructure, public services and schools. On a per-acre basis, houses in Great Falls place a tiny fraction of the burden on public schools that a high-rise condo in Reston might. Bottom line, property tax revenue-per-acre is only half the equation. But it is an element that is almost entirely missing from the public discourse.

Among her policy recommendations, McKeeman suggests reforming property tax structures to incorporate long-term infrastructure maintenance costs rather than charging one-time impact fees. “Under such a system,” she writes, “two equally-valued properties with different demands on infrastructure and rates of land-consumption would not pay the same amount of property tax revenue.”

To rephrase her suggestion in the argot of Bacon’s Rebellion, property owners should pay their location-variable costs. The political reality is that potential losers from any proposed restructuring of property taxes would mobilize to thwart meaningful reform. But at the very least, Virginians should demand that local government leaders consider the property tax revenue-per-acre implications of their land use decisions going forward.

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80 responses to “Land Use and Tax Revenue in Fairfax County”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Now with these numbers we are beginning to get into the heart of what “real’ Smart Growth is about. Why it can be the solution to many of our current problems.

    And why, for example, Tyson Corner is no more akin to Rosslyn / Ballson Corridor than a goat is to a race house. And why rampant low density is far too often not the solution to what ails us, but at the core of our problem.

    There’s much to explore in these numbers. And many ways to go far beyond these numbers to find a multitude of hidden benefits.

    But the underlying key to smart growth is it quest to build the optimum mix of densities and uses to generate the greatest synergies, reducing costs, maximizing benefits, within a given locale for the benefit of its region.

    There is no simply formula. Each case is different. It’s complex, full of variables, and judgements. Its all about many things – land, markets, transport, locales. So its art and craft, and math, and much more.

    But at its core smart growth aims to unleash human potential and creativity, spinning off benefits for folks instead of thwarting their future.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Ahhh, Jim … so close to facts but so far from truth. Since I live in Great Falls, let me help you with a few insights. The road on which I live is owned by my neighbors and me. We built it and we maintain it. There are no streetlights on my road and the police do not patrol it. The county does not remove the snow and the trash collection is done by a private service. The Great Falls Fire Department is a volunteer fire department. The water I drink and use in the house comes from two wells on my property. There is no county water. Waste disposal is accomplished via a septic system. There is no county sewer. When I wanted a natural gas connection I had to pay the gas company thousands of dollars to run the gas line to my house.

    There are 13 homes on my street. Three have K-12 aged students. Two send their kids to private schools and one home sends their two children to public school.

    I’ll use your $17,000 per year estimate of property taxes. Times thirteen homes, that’s $221,000 per year in property taxes.

    Please help me understand your estimate of our location-variable costs.

    As for land use decisions – high rise condos like those that surround Reston generate a great deal of property tax revenue per acre. Let’s say that one of those condos takes up 5 acres, is 9 stories tall and has 10 units per floor with 3 people per unit. That’s 270 people on 5 acres.

    Fairfax County has 395 sq mi of land. There are 640 acres per sq mi. So, Fairfax County has 252,800 acres. Since we want to leave some space for schools, parks and roads, let’s only plunk 9 story condo buildings on one half of those acres. At 5 acres each, that’s 25,280 condo buildings. At 270 people per condo, that’s 6.8M people. Or, about 5.7M more people than actually live in the county. We could move everybody living in Los Angeles to Fairfax County and still have enough units to move the entire Richmond MSA in as well. That would also leave 250,000 units for future growth.

    Let’s review:

    1. You have no Earthly idea what the actual location variable costs are. None.
    2. Your property tax revenue optimization scheme assumes nearly infinite demand for condo-based real estate in Fairfax County.
    3. You omit the myriad of other taxes that people pay beyond property taxes – personal property tax, for example.

    Let’s see if we can put your recommendations into practice.

    1. The county would have to assess my direct location-variable costs. Since they don’t maintain my road, remove snow from my road, provide water, supply sewer or educate any of my children I am guessing that those location variable costs would be pretty low.

    2. The county would then have to assess my indirect costs. I pay the gas tax for every gallon of gas I buy. However, the gas tax doesn’t cover all the costs. My wife and I (combined) drive about 30,000 miles per year. So, you can charge me back a road infrastructure fee equal to our milage based costs times the number of miles we drive per year. As long as you do the same for everybody in the state – fine by me.

    3. You would then have to assess me an “excess property fee”, I guess. Let’s say I own 7.5 acres. You could decide that my land really should have 1.5 nine story condo buildings on it given your theory of infinite demand. Given the fact that there is no county water or sewer – that could be a challenge so I assume you would immediately agree to bring in sufficient water and sewer for about 400 people. And, since my land is only zoned for one dwelling you’d have to rezone it for high density dwelling. Oh, right – you’d also have to agree to build all the roads required for high density condo buildings.

    Now, where would that leave me?

    1. I’d be paying far less in taxes for direct location-variable costs since I don’t really have much in the way of direct costs.

    2. If the extra transportation costs were $.10 per mile I’d have to pay another $3,000 per year. But, so would everybody else.

    3. You’d want to charge me a fortune in “excess property fee”. However, in fairness, you’d also have to let me build a 9 story condo on 5 acres of my land or sell those five acres to a developer who would build the condo. Since you assume infinite demand, I assume there would be a ready buyer. If I had to guess, I’d guess that my land would be worth 5 – 10 X what it is worth with today’s rules.

    Is that about right, Jim? After all the huffing and puffing – is that what you propose?

  3. Wow, Don, you really went on a bender this time!

    Let’s review some key points.

    1. You have no Earthly idea what the actual location variable costs are. None.

    That’s correct. As I wrote, “Bottom line, property tax revenue-per-acre is only half the equation. But it is an element that is almost entirely missing from the public discourse.” One cannot draw conclusions about the economics of specific land uses with only half the data… and I did not endeavor to do so. A lot more study needs to be done to nail down location-variable costs. Unfortunately, no one is doing that on a systematic basis that I know of.

    What I said about houses in Great Falls is still true — they generate the same tax per acre as a trailer park. It may be true, as you say, that Great Falls homeowners pay for their own subdivision road maintenance, snow plowing, water and sewer. But that’s mostly irrelevant in an analysis of property taxes. Nobody pays for water and sewer with property taxes — they pay for it with their monthly utility bill. As for subdivision road maintenance, that represents a pretty small part of the total cost of transportation. In any case, Fairfax County doesn’t maintain subdivision roads — VDOT does. As for the volunteer fire department, well, you’ve got me there. In that regard, you pay less than your location-variable costs.


    2. Your property tax revenue optimization scheme assumes nearly infinite demand for condo-based real estate in Fairfax County.

    Sorry, but that’s a ridiculous statement. I have never suggested blanketing Fairfax County with condo towers. As you say, the demand for that many condo towers simply doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist any time in the next 50 years. What I am saying is that market demand probably would support more condo towers than currently exist and that, if built, condo towers would provide a lot more economical to provide with public services than housing for a comparable number of people in single-family dwellings in 5-acre lots.

    3. You omit the myriad of other taxes that people pay beyond property taxes – personal property tax, for example.

    True, I did omit any lengthy discussion for matters of space. But, as I briefly alluded to in the post, there have been studies (by Joe Minicozzi) suggesting that including sales tax revenue changes the disparity in per-acre tax yield of land uses by a relatively small amount.

    Because the rest of your response proceeds from those three mistaken assumptions, I will not deal with them. So, to answer your very last question, no, that’s not what I propose.

  4. Urban development is expensive. See the 574 page staff report for one part of the recent rezoning granted to the Georgelas Group in Tysons.

    While I am not ready to agree that the proffers satisfy “location variable costs,” the proffers connected with the Spring Hill Station development proposals are probably the most significant ever negotiated by Fairfax County.

    All development is very expensive in NoVA.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    “What I am saying is that market demand probably would support more condo towers than currently exist “.

    Why do you believe that? There’s plenty of land in Fairfax County and plenty that is zoned for high density. Has the free market broken down?

    1. There is no “free market” for land, so you cannot say that the “free market” has broken down. According to McKeeman, there are very few mixed-use buildings in Fairfax right now. That is changing, however, as developers start building around the new Silver Line metro stations. So, I suspect that my statement that the market demand exceeds the current supply will be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. At some point, supply will catch up with demand. But we have to build a lot of buildings to get there.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Of course there is a free market for land. There is an entire industry dedicated to connecting buyers to sellers in that market. Claiming that there is no free market for land because it is regulated is like claiming there is no free market for alcohol because it is regulated.

        The market demand you describe is not for land. It is for proximity to mass transit. There is an absolutely crying demand for proximity to mass transit. However, this has almost nothing to do with land. That same land existed ten years ago – before the metro was planned. The reason nobody built condos there ten years ago is because there was no demand for condos without the mass transit.

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    “But that’s mostly irrelevant in an analysis of property taxes. Nobody pays for water and sewer with property taxes — they pay for it with their monthly utility bill. As for subdivision road maintenance, that represents a pretty small part of the total cost of transportation. In any case, Fairfax County doesn’t maintain subdivision roads — VDOT does.”.

    So … there are no location-variable costs that are paid with property taxes?

    First you claim people should be forced to pay their location-variable costs with their property taxes and then you struggle to name a single such cost.

    $17,000 per year per home for location-variable costs and schools. Are schools the only cost. C’mon Jim – give me a few of these unpaid location-variable costs. Just a couple.

  7. Location-variable costs paid for with property taxes. Fire, police and rescue is the big one. Response time is critical, and response times take longer in low-density settings where the police/fire/rescue squads have to drive longer distances along oft-congested roads. That means a choice of either failing to respond in a timely fashion or building more police/fire/rescue stations.

    Schools have a location-variable component — school buses and parking lots.

    Ed Risse has an expansive list. But those are the big ones in my mind.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      You are getting confused again. Your ever-so-clever analysis of how much in property taxes are paid for 5 acres in Great Falls vs 5 acres of Fairfax County trailer park is contradicted by the very examples you give. How much do you think it costs Fairfax County to police 5 acres of trailer park vs a single home on 5 acres? Remember, unlike you, I have spent time in both the trailer parks and Great Falls. Trust me when I tell you – on a “per acre basis” Fairfax County spends a lot more on police, fire and rescue in the trailer parks than in Great Falls. I am sure they spend more on police, fire and rescue for the 5 acre condo in Reston than they spend for a single house in Great Falls. You seem able to remember that property taxes pay for the total cost of police, fire and rescue but then only cite travel time as a location-variable cost.

      I am now beginning to wonder if there is any value at all in your comparison of per acre property taxes among Great Falls houses, Reston condos and trailer parks. I suspect there is no value or purpose whatsoever in that comparison.

      On school buses – again, remember what you originally considered such a clever analysis – per acre property taxes. Now, how many kids do you think live in 5 acres of trailer park vs a single home on 5 acres? Once again, you want to slice out a teeny weenie additional cost of longer bus rides to bolster your argument. However, you and I both know that the cost of buses is a very small component of the total cost of educating a child. And, on a per acre basis, Fairfax spends a whole lot more educating children in 5 acre of trailer park than one home on a five acre lot.

    2. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
      Ghost of Ted Dalton

      It’s interesting that the General Assembly has “land use taxation” that allows for lower real property taxation for land used in agriculture and timber production.

      The theory is that the larger the parcel, the fewer gov’t services the parcel will require.

      Obviously there’s a bit of apples v. oranges in agriculture v. 5 acre subdivisions in Great Falls. However, I’d be interested in your thoughts on “land use” taxation.

      I’m new to your blog, which I think is the best blog in VA, so if you’ve covered this before, just direct me to the post.

      1. Hi, Ghost, welcome to Bacon’s Rebellion. We may or may not be the “best” blog in Virginia, but we’re definitely the feistiest.

        No, we haven’t addressed the specific issue you raise, but you bring up an interesting point. Insofar as farmland and timberland requires less in the way of government services, I think there is a justification for “land use taxation” that would tax such land less.

        My proposition is that households and businesses should pay their location-variable costs. If the costs are low, the taxes should be low.

        If you have been following this thread, my friend Don Rippert (DR) seems to think I want to sock it to his neighborhood in Great Falls, an area dominated by single-family houses on large lots. Not at all. I am agnostic as to whether Neighborhood A or Neighborhood B is paying its location-variable costs. That is a matter that requires research to determine. But I feel safe in saying that — other than the need for occasional fire fighters — a 200-acre stand of timber requires very little in the way of government services and should not be required to pay much in the way of taxes.

  8. Greystar Management is building a 25-story high-rise residential building near the new Spring Hill Metro Station. The building will have 404 units. I believe it’s a rental building. It will be interesting to see how supply and demand work.

  9. Maybe I missed it.. how much tax revenue would DJ’s acreage generate if it was condos or THs instead?

    but you don’t make acreage generate more taxes by making it more densely developable.

    You have major infrastructure costs – water/sewer, roads, schools, libraries, parks, EMS, etc…

    I’m persuaded by DJs defense… what is the case for his property being converted to something that “pays it’s location variable costs”?

    how do you do that?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Since we’re hallucinating – why stop with a condo? How much more in taxes would be paid if there was a gold mine or a series of high production oil wells on my property?

      If you bulldozed my house and zoned the land for “9 story condo only” there would be nothing on my land. No house, no condo, nothing. There are many, far better places to build that condo in Fairfax County than where I live. Until there are condos in those places, there would be nothing on my land. Maybe in 100 years somebody would consider a condo where I live. Maybe.

      This is the infinite demand myth.

      1. Don, forgive me for saying so but you are the one who is hallucinating. Nobody ever suggested that someone should build high-rise condos where you live. Where did you get such an idea — not from anything I wrote! If there were a demand for such a thing, it should be permitted (as long as it doesn’t conflict with the neighbors by creating a nuisance, blocking views, etc.) But I highly doubt there is a demand.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Your entire article was about how much property tax can be generated per acre. By coincidence, you used my neighborhood to illustrate the “low” property tax per acre where I live. Since you used my neighborhood as an example, I used my house as an example.

          My points are simple:

          Property tax per acre is irrelevent for two reasons:

          1. You cannot generate demand and there are plenty of “acres” left in inventory relative to demand. So, observations about property tax per acre are not valuable unless you have a mechanism to create more demand for high density development. At this time, that demand is well met by development on available land.

          2. Property tax collections per acre are irrelevent because the vast majority of services paid for by property taxes have nothing to do with lot size.

          However, if you insist on discussing property taxes by acre, you should recognize that expensive single family homes on large lots generate vastly more in property taxes then they cost in the services funded by the property taxes.

          The crux of you fallicy can be found in the following sentence:

          “While tax revenues-per-acre soar with higher density, the cost of providing roads, utilities and other infrastructure does not.”.

          This is simply wrong. First, let me clarify your statement. I’ll assume the “tax revenues” you are concerned with are property tax revenues. Second, since you focus on revenues-per-acre, I’ll assume that you also analyze costs-per-acre.

          1. Roads, utilities and other infrastructure are not funded by property taxes.

          2. However, regardless of how they are funded, the costs of roads, utilities and infrastructure certainly do soar ON A PER ACRE BASIS with higher density. Our exemplary 9 story condo with 10 units per floor and two drivers per unit adds 2.7M vehicles miles per year assuming 15,000 VMT per driver. That same 5 acre lot with two adults and 3 children living in a single family house adds 30,000 VMT per year.

          3. If you do care about the cost of services provided through property taxes, the costs absolutely soar on a per acre basis. The biggest cost is K-12 education. If two of the three children living in the single family house attend public school then the cost for that 5 acre lot is about $25,000 per year. If one half of the units in the condo have one public school child then the cost of education for that 5 acre lot is $1,125,000 per year.

          He who lives by the “un-useful” per acre property tax calculation dies by the “un-useful” per acre property tax calculation.

  10. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I once built a large office building on spec. (without tenants).

    Tenants signed up for all the space in the building before any of it was completed. 18 corporate tenants began moving in the day its doors opened.

    This seldom happens with large multi-tenant office buildings built on spec. Why did it here? The two most important reasons by far were:

    1. The tenant decision maker (boss) already lived in (or could move into) a communities like Don’s less than 13 minutes away rush hour driving.

    2. His employees, ranging from Boss’s right hand man to receptionist, could also rent or buy the place they wanted and could afford (incl. houses, townhouses, lofts, low or highrises) also within 13 minute commute (often much quicker even walking), not to mention nearby bars, restaurants, ect.

    These people (and those 18 corporations) likely would have gone up the road into Fairfax Country but for 1 and 2 above. Without a Don like neighborhood within 13 minutes, many likely would have anyway. Instead they went to Arlington County. Don like communities are worth their weight in goal to any community, as are the smallest cheapest apartment.

    More and more, good Real estate development need be holistic. Types and uses need feed off close neighbors. So the whole far exceeds the sum of its parts. So 2+2=8. So the wealth and benefit ripple out in endless ways across streets, the town, and the region. So neighborhoods are anti-fragile. (Read that book or ask Jim if you need definition.)

    We need to find ways to better appreciate and build to these essential ingredients into our communities for their long term success.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      I couldn’t agree with you more. We need to think in terms of relatively high density “towns” located on high speed transit nodes. There needs to be a connection between the town node and the core city and between town nodes. There also needs to be enough parking at the transit nodes for people who live outside the walking radius of the node. Some of this should be light rail, some heavy rail, some high speed buses with dedicated lanes, some individual car lanes and some bike lanes.

      Where Bacon loses his way is his insistence that people will all migrate into the old city center. Therefore, as Bacon logic has it, no new roads should be built because everybody is headed back to the city centers. Yeah, yeah – he’s a little more subtle but that’s the gist.

      I see Tysons, Reston, Rosslyn, Clarendon, Huntington, Falls Church, etc as “towns”. They should have high density dwellings around the transit node with mixed use development. Which is exactly where the local governments in NoVa are headed, with the Richmond “elite” kicking and screaming the entire time.

      1. Don, you read me carelessly. I have never said, or meant to imply, that “people will all migrate into the old city center.” That would be a ridiculous statement if I had ever said it, but I never did.

        What I have said is something alone these lines: “growth is shifting back toward the urban core.” Not *to* to the urban core. *Toward* the urban core. There will continue to be some development on the metropolitan periphery, though a lot less than before. There will be loads of development in “updown,” or the older suburbs. And there will be revitalization of the urban core itself. That represents a stark departure from what had occurred in previous decades, in which the vast majority of population movement and investment was toward the regional periphery.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          The Slums of Tomorrow …

          “Clearly, small lots, grid streets and corner stores are no magical formula for prosperity. I would argue, however, that they do at least lend themselves to revitalization. Neighborhoods with good bones have the potential to become places where middle-class families want to live, which means that they will be gentrified eventually. Indeed, large swaths of Church Hill in Richmond’s east end have been salvaged, largely by households of young, educated professionals who place a premium on the near-downtown location and the architecture of the 19th-century houses, and who are willing to put in sweat equity and brave the hazards of living in high-crime neighborhoods.

          By contrast, who is moving into Richmond’s aging, close-in “suburbs”? Poor people. There are some neighborhoods where no one else wants to live.Built in the 1950s and 1960s, these neighborhoods have nothing worth investing in, nothing worth salvaging. Thus, as the City of Richmond is progressively gentrified, poverty is leaking into Henrico and Chesterfield counties. Unless there is a sudden resurgence of middle-class demand for 1,500-square-foot ranchers on dead end streets, these forsaken neighborhoods will become the slums of tomorrow.”.

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      In light to commentary found elsewhere on the article, it’s important to elaborate on an Comment #1 above. Namely, that the building be less than 13 minutes away from high priced housing.

      The better way to express this from a developer’s point of view (which its whether to build a building “on spec.”, or indeed buy the land at all), one must first analyze a proposed buildings access to the homes of decision makers. Here, given competition in the numerous markets surrounding the building, the developer’s judgement was that “Building must be no less than 13 minutes from as many high wealth neighborhoods as possible.”

      Then comes the question of what opportunities those communities offer?

      Here the building in Arlington County would be less than 6 minutes from the expensive Larkham Lane Area. It’d also be 8-9 minutes away from extremely wealthy homes Va Palisades area overlooking Chain Bridge. And it’d be less that 13 minutes from far side of Spring Valley and Foxhall road area in Washington DC. Access was even tolerable from Alexandria Va.

      This oversimplifies. Many aspects go into such decisions. But the tipping point for going spec. (typically very high risk) was the access to the high wealth DC homes. These DC decision makers historically leased space in down-town DC. They hadn’t considered Arlington County before. Nor had they been marketed to. Here was the big play, a grand opportunity to open up a new untapped market for Arlington’s just emerging new downtown.

      Once convinced of the potential power of the land’s location and its well planned surroundings, the challenge was to build to the identified market and to effectively market the property to its untapped market.

      All these decisions are imaginative acts. Ones that must be buttressed by demographics before a judgement can be reached based on experience. It’s about seeing opportunities and controlling risks. This requires experience learned the hard way, by making often painful errors.)

      But, whatever the experience risks and speculation can never by totally removed. There are too many uncontrollable variables. Markets are unforgiving. It’s hard work working in them.

      Someone who has not had the experience will never understand, no matter how close he or she is to the experience. Or thinks they are, whether they be lawyer, architect, planner, lender, neighbor, or whatever. That fact unfortunately far too often leads to bad decisions by well intended people. And allow others using myths to exploit those well intended people.

  11. Reed – a devils’ advocate question for you.

    Wouldn’t “smart growth” have said that your tenets would live within walking distance or transit?

    When you talk about DJ’s place, as DJ would tell you for sure – they’re not for your average office workers. .. maybe the CEO…

    and that’s the problem with middle income folks who do not want to live in a condo or even a TH.. and they want a SFD in a subdivision.

    Such homes in the NoVa / Fairfax region are out of range for many and so they drive…. west or south until they “qualify” and when we talk about “sprawl” in Fairfax it’s a far different kind of “sprawl” that is 50 miles south even though the actual subdivisions are similar – just way more expensive close to NoVa jobs.

    but how about that Smart Growth question Reed? How would you “make” your “spec’ place – a Smart Growth development?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “Wouldn’t “smart growth” have said that your tenets would live within walking distance of transit?

      Not necessarily so. But often. And in this case they did.

      Here, with this building as is often the case, that is key as Don suggests above. The more transportation and housing options that are available close by to the office tenant (bosses and workers) the better. With this building it included nearby subway, bus, main street, inter core transit venues of walks and paths, a nearby cross county road, and spike roads, leading in all directions. The more options the better. More options well designed within matrix of surrounding uses mean far less congestion, more walkability, more efficient mix and operation of uses, all working together to spin off ever more benefits night and day (monetary and social) for less infrastructure cost, whether public and private.

      “When you talk about DJ’s place, as DJ would tell you for sure – they’re not for your average office workers. .. maybe the CEO…”

      Exactly. But the CEO makes the decision as to where the rest of his or her workers have opportunity to live and work. So the access of his house to his office is critical to his employees lifestyle. Thus, whether his apartment dweller employee enjoys a short commute and convenient work play life style. Or is forced to waste 3 hours of their life a day commuting to work.

      Gotta run for now. Will pick up balance of your questions later.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        and that’s the problem with middle income folks who do not want to live in a condo or even a TH.. and they want a SFD in a subdivision.

        Larry says: Such homes in the NoVa / Fairfax region are out of range for many and so they drive…. west or south until they “qualify” and when we talk about “sprawl” in Fairfax it’s a far different kind of “sprawl” that is 50 miles south even though the actual subdivisions are similar – just way more expensive close to NoVa jobs.

        Response – all employees could find close by housing they could afford.

        To degree that has changed over the years it’s a sign of success – higher local salaries have may for increasing demand, and wealth creation for everyone. That is not bad. Its good. It also means that more of the same needs to get built. This will lower prices back into the range for all by increasing supply. This then allows for more benefits for more people. This do it again and again. Success breeds success.

        Larry asks: but how about that Smart Growth question Reed? How would you “make” your “spec’ place – a Smart Growth development?

        It was Larry.

        1. re: a sign of success – perhaps but what do you say about the 100,000 people that commute 50 miles a day to “affordable” SFD subdivisions?

          re: the “spec” was smart growth

          who pays for the transit – only the people in the smart growth development or a whole bunch of people no matter where they live?

          is subsidized transit a fair allocation of location costs?

          1. reed fawell III Avatar
            reed fawell III

            Larry asks” “who pays for the transit – only the people in the smart growth development or a whole bunch of people no matter where they live?”

            Answer: Smart Growth subsidizes Mass transit.

            Smart Growth pays far more per foot, per acre, per person (per whatever standard) than any other kind of development. Thus the DC Metro is going broke because there’s not enough Smart Growth (Rosslyn Ballson Corridors and Connecticut Avenues) to feed it.

            As a result, many low density riders (like in Tenleytown DC) are taking trips subsidized by better planned urban areas. Yet those very same people oppose density in their neighborhoods.

  12. while it’s true that condos generate more taxes than 5 acres of SFD, DJ is correct also… Condos in outer mongolia won’t generate ANY taxes!

    further – you might ask what it would take for Fairfax to make Great Falls a place appealing to developers to build condos.

    And DJ answered that… there basically is probably not a thing that Fairfax could do to to get developers there…

    or is there… ??? How and why did Reston get built where it got built?

    If the people who built Reston had decided the build it in Great Falls instead would it had still been Reston?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “If the people who built Reston had decided the build it in Great Falls instead would it had still been Reston?”.

      Give or take the challenges of dealing with a parcel of land bordered by a river and steep gorge (Great Falls) – yes. Great Falls woould be Reston.

      However, Reston wouldn’t be Reston.

      There wasn’t enough demand for 2 Restons.

      In fairness, had all of Fairfax County been built to “the Reston spec” with town centers, grid streets, mixed use development and affordable housing we would have been much better off. However, the man who bought and developed Reston (Robert E Simon) was able to make the purchase in 1961 because his family had just sold Carnegie Hall.

      Interestingly, Simon did exactly what Jim Bacon would say not to do. He bought farmland “in the middle of nowhere” and began developing an edge city. The equivalent today might be buying farmland out by Leesburg. Considerable road infrastructure had to be developed in order to get the residents of Reston to the jobs in DC. But RE Simon’s vision had legs as they say. As more and more people moved into Reston companies began to locate there. Along with employers and workers came stores and restaurants. Strict zoning forced a high density town core surrounded by decreasing density “suburbs”. Eventually, the rest of DC sprawled out to Reston. When that happened, the planned design of Reston became something of an oasis amid the unplanned sprawl all around it.

      Reston will turn 50 on April 10, 2014. Even today construction cranes are continuing to build high density mixed use buildings in the town center. Most of the tall buildings in the town square were built in the last 15 years.

      In other words, it took between 35 and 50 years for Reston to reach “critical mass” and come of age. Today, it represents all the mixed use, walkable, grid streeted, mid to hi density living that Jim Bacon so loves. I find it ironic that if he had been blogging back on April 10, 1964 – when Reston was officially founded – Jim would have been at the front of the line to criticize this “disconnected exurb that does not pay for its location-variable costs.”.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        Actually, Don, for years Reston’s was a financially failing venture that got bailed out money wise by the unexpected arrival of the Dulles Toll Road and the explosive growth that pushed out along it from Tysons Corner.

        This of course does not mean Reston was otherwise a failure. Quite the contrary. And Robert Simon deserves huge credit. I remember walking Lake Anne Center the day it opened. The place was amazing too see. It struck me as Mediterranean in concept. A highly modernistic version of a Bay of Naples waterside town. It multi-story mixed use ring of shops and vertical homes clustered round a stone plaza at lake’s end with water feature. I expected instant success. And went back regularly to watch it happen. But it didn’t.

        I vividly recall going in through the Lake Anne archway one day, only to discover the water feature was off by reason of disrepair. And many shops were vacant, cracked walls, paint pealing, plaza stones askew.

        That water feature was off duty a long time. So were the shops. Lake Anne was far ahead of its time and place. People didn’t buy. We’ve yet to catch up with Robert Simon’s original vision. Which is too bad. But many keep at it which is of course Mr. Simon’s enduring legacy.

        Columbia Maryland started up a roughly the same time. Ground breaking in its own right, but less bold in concept, it was far more traditional. It’s building was also better managed from the get go. The outlay of up front infrastructure costs were far better calibrated not only to anticipated but actual sales and revenue streams. The huge project went smoothly from phase through phase (to an outsider at least.)

        So Columbia worked financially. Its owners built it front to back. Reston traveled a far rougher road and longer road. In between a lot of money was lost before good fortune and hard work got things right.

        I suspect that one reason for the difference between the two projects was the Robert Simon had a far easier and more convenient start. To greatly simplify, he had only to buy the huge (by Va standards) Bowman estate. So he arrived from out of town knowing very little about his market. And his great reliance of outside experts who knew less about the market than their boss compounded the problem. Their design demanded large outlays of upfront infrastructure costs which demanded quick sales. That didn’t happen because they failed to build to the market.

        Whereas the Rouse brothers had a long very complicated assemblage to put together. It gave them far more time to work through the plans for land and its region that they already knew from years of building in that market. And of course what was learned during the assemblage itself.

        It’s a remarkable story. Reston and Columbia.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          It’s worth noting who built and saved Reston, Virginia, as we know it.

          1/ Robert Simon acquired Sunset Hills farm in 1961 to built it.

          2/The Gulf Oil Company bailed out Reston, taking it over in 1967.

          2. With the project still encountering strong financial headwinds, the Mobil Oil and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance company acquired Reston and saw it through more financial turbulence.

          3. Local real estate interests, of course, played important rolls as well, throughout the development which is still ongoing.

          So, in brief summary, Reston was made possible by:

          1/ The 6,750 acre fox hunting estate (Sunset Hills Farm) acquired by a wealthy family of distillers who moved their operations from Kentucky to Virgina’s hunt country in the 1934, after Prohibition;

          2/ A wealthy New York real estate mogul who inherited his family’s New York real estate holdings and development company, which enabled him to buy 6,750 acres of the Sunset Hills Farm in 1961, after he had sold the family business’s crown jewel, Carnegie Hall.

          3/ Two huge international Oil Companies (Gulf and Mobil), and John Hancock, one of the nation’s largest financial institutions, bailed the project out financially.

          4/ Many other local, regional, & national developers took substantial risks and frequent financial losses to develop, market and sell individual properties after building what the market demanded.

          5/ The unplanned and unexpected building of the Dulles Toll road opened the way for Tyson’s Corners excess office space demand to push further west toward Dulles Airport. This was first fueled largely the Federal Government’s growing policy of outsourcing its work. The related high tech dot com boom of the late 1980s and 90’s accentuated this demand for ever more commercial office space, and residential and commercial buildings to serve influx of residents.

          Without the government expansion and the toll road, Reston would surely have survived, but taken on a more residential cast.

          1. reed fawell III Avatar
            reed fawell III

            It’s also important to note that without Gulf Oil, Mobil Oil, and John Hancock, Reston would surely not have survived. Only their active commitment & deep financial resources kept Reston going.

            Despite Reston’s ongoing losses, the oil companies brought to the table the financial resources and real estate expertize essential to finding and implementing the solutions to Reston’s problems and it was they who carried on the job per an overall master plan.

            Without these oil companies and John Hancock (or their ilk), Reston’s failed master plan surely would have been thrown out the window altogether, and the huge parcel would have been broken up into many smaller pieces. Thereafter these random pieces would have been built in a far more, disjointed haphazard way.

            The result then would not be Reston, but more typical sprawl.

  13. so Reston was NOT built as “Smart Growth” because it did not build for optimal location variable costs?


    and IF Mr. Simon had chosen INSTEAD a location near where DJ lives (not on the cliffs but further back) then Reston would still have been Reston even though it would not been anywhere near the current CBD at that time?

    Okay – so now the money question – Do the people in Reston pay their fair location variable costs?

    bonus question – if people in Reston have 8 mile commutes like DJ has – what is the difference in location variable costs?

    double bonus: when we talk about the amount of property tax that is generated according to what is built on something – how does that metric related to location variable cost?

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Since nobody knows how much money must be paid to cover “location-variable costs”, nobody knows whether anybody is covering those costs. As a matter of fact, there doesn’t even seem to be a comprehensive list of “location-variable” costs nor an established definition of the term.

      Beyond that, I don’t see how you can reasonably ask whether “the people in Reston” pay their location-variable costs. Reston is a concept, not an entity will clear boundaries and an established governance structure. There is no mayor of Reston. Given that, I think you have to ask whether individuals pay their “location variable” costs.

      Consider this example:

      Two identical houses built at the same time sit across the street from one another. One house has been meticulously maintained and improved (without adding any square feet). The other house has been neglected and become dilapidated.

      Both houses hold two children – one of which attends public school.

      The first house has an assessed value of $500,000. The second house $250,000.

      Presumably, the two houses have very similar location-variable costs. However, the $500,000 house pays double the property taxes. In addition, we can assume that the more expensive house also pays more sales tax, income tax, personal property tax, etc.

      This is the challenge for the Smart Growthers – they have no Earthly idea of what the location specific costs are and they have no Earthly idea as to who is covering those costs and who is not. Yet they incessantly ramble on about “failure to cover location – variable costs”.

      There are certainly differences in location costs based on property. One example is the amount of impervious surface and the cost of dealing with runoff. When one of my neighbors bulldozes four acres of trees to make a grass pasture for their horses they have definitely added to the costs that property creates. The cost of complying with TDML regulations just went up. But, nobody seems capable of estimating that impact and nobody has any plans to collect the cost.

      Location-variable costs are a great academic theory. However, until somebody drives those theories into actual costs they are of minimal use.

  14. I think there has to be a “sweet spot” of tax-revenue for building the 1-4 story, mixed-use building type. Especially if this were expanded to 5-6 stories, which is the typical limit to traditional, non-elevator walk-up buildings. This is solely my opinion and I have not done any calculations towards these ends yet, so I may be totally off-base, but I believe this could be successful because the payback period for these smaller buildings is shorter than a medium to high-rise condo tower. Also, these smaller building types are feasible for a smaller developer with limited means to build. On top of being an economic boon to the town (with the relatively high property-tax/acre), with developers focused on building up to 5-6 stories and a Form Based Code in place, the streets would naturally develop a nice look to them with minimal negative effect from ugly buildings. I think this might also alleviate some of @DJRippert ‘s initial concerns about construction of too many condo buildings.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      This is excellent point. Mixed use low and mid-rise development (including additions/restorations) is key building block to injecting life into many dysfunctional and under performing streets and neighborhoods.

      A prime example is the comparison of Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues in DC. Connecticut Avenues success on mixed and interactive uses of low and mid-rise generate much of Connecticut Avenue’s success. Lack mid-rise (5-6) amid low rise throttles Wisconsin Avenue. It’s one of the most abuses streets, and greatest lost opportunities, in urban US. (see comments to Fiscal Fix article on this website.)

      These sorts of mixed use structures can successfully go many places.

  15. It’s nice to see that my article generated so much discussion! I appreciate all the comments, including the critical ones.

    One of the points I wanted to get across that perhaps I did not stress enough is that land is arguably one of the most precious and certainly one of the most finite resources we have. Given that the supply of land in reasonable proximity to employment centers is very limited, I’m not sure it makes sense that consuming greater quantities of land should mean that you pay less for that consumption on a per-acre basis. Every acre of land that one person or household occupies exclusively is land that is taken away from the supply of land everyone else can occupy, and there is an opportunity cost associated with zoning land for 5-acre lots. If you divide that 5 acre lot into 20 quarter acre lots – setting aside for a moment the additional impact those residents have on other public services, which could certainly be accounted for through other formulae – why does it not make sense that each owner of a quarter-acre lot pay one-twentieth of what the 5-acre lot owner pays? I.e. how about a flat fee per year per acre of land consumed by residential uses? I’m not sure I think that’s a perfect solution, but it’s something to think about.

    One other thing I noticed in the comments above is the mistaken assumption that people who live in denser environments own as many vehicles or drive as much as those who live in more remote locations on larger lots. There is plenty of data out there to support the argument that people who live closer to frequent public transit service do not own as many cars or drive as much as those who live in suburban and exurban areas. So these people, on average, place a smaller burden on our roads, cause less congestion, and have a smaller carbon footprint when it comes to the impact of their transportation choices.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Congratulations on your fine work. I hope you keep at it. There is much to explore, and its critical that such work be done. The results help mightily to exploding the many myths that surround development issues. One of the great obstacles to good development is that so many folks lack understanding. Thus a few can often thwart solutions for the many by exploiting these chonic myths.

      One of those myths you puncture in your last paragraph. High density done right does not increase traffic. It reduces traffic. Low density far too often around here does not reduce traffic, but vastly increases traffic.

      Much work needs be done. King among them, I think, is too better measure and/or at least describe and appreciate the litany of benefits good development creates (often out of thin air) versus the harm bad development imposes. Thus correcting societies problems today rests in large measure on improving dramatically how we live, work, play, and socialize with one another. People meeting, interacting, networking, dating (is word now obsolete?), has huge social value, or cost, depending on where (thus how) they spend their lives daily.

      You find this everywhere. Take for example the Broken Streams, Broken Dreams article that revolves in Banner of this website. The heroes here are now rebuilding a broken neighborhood (and how it works) so as to mend the broken dreams in their children.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        ADM – I should add that the idea you pose in your second paragraph is a very dangerous one, if I understand it. Free and open markets should determine the cost of land as between citizens, not the government. These sorts of schemes are very slippery slopes. Once governments controls how much land you own and what you pay for it – they control you.

        1. Yeah, you make good points. I am not arguing that the government would be determining the cost of the land, only that the property tax would take the amount of land consumed into account rather than JUST the cost of the property, and not charge less on a per-acre basis for occupying more land. I.e., there would be one component in the property tax formula that accounts for the land consumption. I definitely do not suggest that agricultural land would be charged at the same rates. And I’m not even sure that this is an ideal solution, but I definitely think there could be improvements. My biggest hope is just that my study will further this conversation!

          As for the argument that transit is heavily subsidized (from below and maybe above somewhere too)… highways are too. Government at all levels, especially in recent years, has borrowed from general funds (paid for by all of us) to pay for road projects (according to one estimate, $600 billion since 1947). And considering that the alternative to subsidizing transit is that current transit riders would otherwise be clogging up roads that are already quite congested… I’d think the cost of not subsidizing transit would be even higher.

          1. If people pay fuel taxes, how do you figure roads are subsidized?

            okay.. it’s true at the Fed level that the gas tax generates about 30 billion and the Feds spent 60 but the word is that they’re going to push it back to 30 and cut non-road spending because the original premise of the gas tax was as a user fee for roads.

            In Virginia .. .5% of the sales tax goes to transportation – that’s about 500 million. not chump change but a good chunk of that goes to the Dept of rail and transit.

            and when you say you “think” transit would be “even higher” have you got any real metrics to back up that idea?

            but the point is that subsidies for METRO come from farmers in Kansas and coal workers in Appalachia.. people who do not benefit from it- EXCEPT if you say that their contribution is the basis for taking money from NoVa for rural education.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “why does it not make sense that each owner of a quarter-acre lot pay one-twentieth of what the 5-acre lot owner pays?”.

      Since you don’t specify what “pays” means I’ll assume it’s property taxes.

      In Virginia, property taxes don’t fund roads or utilities. They fund schools and public safety.

      It costs far less to educate the children of one family living on five acres than 20 families living on five acres. The appropriate basis for costing education is children in the school system, not acres. However, if you do want to look at taxes paid vs costs incurred by acre for the education part of property taxes – the single family on five acres is getting absolutey robbed compared to the 20 families on 5 acres.

      On the public safety side, the single family on five acres is getting robbed again. How many police calls are made to the twenty families living on 5 acres versus the one family living on 5 acres? How many fire department dispatches? All things being equal, the 20 families generate 20 times as many police and fire rolls. That’s because acres don’t have domestic disputes, acres don’t fall asleep while smoking and burn the place down – people do.

      In fairness, there is truth to the argument that less density requires more police stations per capita since the police have to be able to get to crime scenes more quickly. However, if you fairly allocate the full costs of public safety to the one family on five acres versus the 20 families on five acres I have to believe that you will find the 20 families cost multiple times more.

      “There is plenty of data out there to support the argument that people who live closer to frequent public transit service do not own as many cars or drive as much as those who live in suburban and exurban areas. So these people, on average, place a smaller burden on our roads, cause less congestion, and have a smaller carbon footprint when it comes to the impact of their transportation choices.”.

      Absolutely. Which is why the costs of roads are bourne primarily through the gas tax. The people who live close to mass transit, own fewer cars and drive less buy less gasoline and, therefore, pay that 17.4 cents per gallon (state) gas tax far less often. Since transportation is paid for through fuel taxes I am not sure how this impacts lot size or property taxes. People who live far from their jobs buy a lot of gas and pay a lot in gas taxes. Thsi is true whether they live far from their jobs on five acres or far from their jobs in a trailer on 1/5 of an acre. As an aside, mass transit is heavily subsidized so those people living near transit nodes are getting an economic benefit.

      Now, let’s get to the crux of your argument. Namely, there is so liitle land available that it’s a tax revenue shame to not use much more of it for high density housing. In New York City I would heartily agree. But Fairfax County is not New York City. There is a lot of undeveloped land and land ripe for reuse. Once the new Metro system was announced there was a stampede to acquire land and build very high density buildings around the Metro stops. To the best of my knowledge, no developer had to turn away becuase land was impossible to find.

      Years ago Manhattan had farms and sheep meadows. There was lots of low density housing. But as the population grew that low density housing was converted to ever higher density housing. This densification didn’t happen based on some tax scheme or government regulation. It happened when the population growth increased the demand for land to such a point that the value of the land skyrocketed. Then, the owners of the low density buildings found it irrestible to sell to developers wanting to build high density structures.

      You are doing good work. If you want a further challenge – try to calculate the location-specific and location-variable costs that accrue to different housing schemes – low density, town home, condo, etc. How much does runoff from large lawns cost in pollution clean-up bills? How much does the lack of county sewer and water in North East Fairfax County contribute to low density development and longer, more expensive commutes in Eastern Loudoun? But don’t foget the big picture – it’s not just the costs that count. It’s the taxes collected minus the costs. Is that fair?

      1. Thanks for your comments. I agree with your distinction between acres and people when it comes to education, fire, police, etc. As I said above, I do not propose that the property tax be based solely on the amount of land consumed (perhaps I didn’t make this clearer, but that’s what I meant about accounting for other services through other formulae), only that this be one factor in calculating property tax rather than JUST the cost of the property, i.e., there would be one component in the property tax formula that accounts for the land consumption.

        Your point that Fairfax is not like NYC is also well taken and something I’ve thought a lot about. I do think, however, that large-lot zoning (well, most exclusive single-family zoning for that matter) reduces the supply and thus increases the price of multi-family housing – even the National Association of Realtors has acknowledged that there is unmet demand for denser housing in most US cities. In my paper, I cite a study from suburban Lansing, Michigan that looked at what the average lot size would be if zoning did not dictate the size of the lot – those researchers found that it would be smaller. Ed Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko have also done studies on factors that drive up the price of housing – these also get to this point. I’m definitely not advocating getting rid of zoning completely, only that it could be improved to more closely align with the housing needs of a population that is much larger today than it was when the area was developed according to low-density patterns. To summarize, I think there are negative externalities associated with larger-lot and exclusively single-family zoning that could be accounted for through a land consumption component in the property tax formula.

        From a local government standpoint – even though many areas have even less development pressure that Fairfax County, there is still not an infinite supply of land – i.e. if a county has 200 square miles, it does have an interest in enhancing the average property tax revenue per acre it takes in. Clustering housing together to a greater degree – i.e. enhancing property tax revenue per acre in some areas by, say, 10 or 20 times in some areas, can produce fiscal benefits for the local government, even if the land that goes undeveloped outside that area generates slightly less property tax revenue per acre than your average single-family neighborhood. I.e. 20 families living on a large lot would definitely put a larger burden on schools and police, you’re right, but I’m not sure I’m convinced the burden would be 20 times greater – that would be an interesting study, though! I think you’re right that more research is needed on location-variable costs… I’ll definitely give this some thought and look at what data is available.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          This is an interesting discussion. Several points.

          First,I earlier interpreted your idea to suggest fixing the cost of acquiring a small lot to the acquisition price of a larger parcel, rather than a real estate property tax adjustment. This moderates my views somewhat. But my reservations are still considerable. Here’s why.

          Land is not consumed. It acquired and held for a period then sold. Holding periods vary. Often this depends on owners changing circumstances. Or a change in market values by reason of outside circumstances. But the land is not consumed, or used up. He held by one owner for a time. This raises several important points.

          If it is not consumed or used up, what happens. Typically it is preserved. And the larger the parcel and the more natural its state, the higher its future benefit might be, not only for the owner but also for society and the surrounding community as well. This is critical.

          What’s happening here is a banking of the land until its highest and best use is found given changed circumstances. It pure preservation for the future, what best use than my best, when best it can be determined. Examples are endless. Some quite spectacular.

          A Rockerfeller vacation home becomes Tetons National Park. A. Smith Bowman’s fox hunting estate becomes Reston, Va. Others spin off critical local benefits. Wolf Trap Farm. Local schools built on five acre parcels recently surrounded by bedroom communities. Same with hospitals, well planned community centers of commerce, or a town park, library, or a future subway station. The list is endless.

          Secondly, your suggestion have may be have pernicious unintended consequences. If there is anything in land holding akin to the consumption, its the small lot subdivision of built houses.

          Whether urban or suburban, these uses are highly resistant to change. Even when change is greatly needed. When change had forced pressing needs on the community at large, the subdivisions often prevent it without good cause. (See Fiscal Fix article on this website.)

          So the small subdivision are often great obstacles to progress. Large landholdings are often opportunities for progress, and solutions.

          Here again examples are endless. I’m mention only one to illustrate. Contrary to what Don suggested, our Metro subway runs in the red in material part because the homeowners surrounding the metro stops thwart the very densities necessary to make Metro financially sound. This includes owner of homes adjoining commercial centers in DC. Imperious to change, such subdivisions often give rise to and perpetuate intractable and growing urban / suburban blight.

          Final point. Be careful how you tax. Taxing it because it walks, or remains unchanged is dangerous business. Good intentions often blind folks to the historic reality of unintended consequences. Free markets of many people making endless decisions in light of changing needs works best. So long as we give that market the space to work. This deserves a far longer discussion.

  16. and use less fuel and pay less fuel taxes and pay less personal property taxes.

    I suspect two things:

    1. that these sundry costs can be calculated
    2. – that they’re not when advocating smart growth – because the
    numbers likely don’t support the basic premise of smart growth.

    TMT has stated on a number of ocassions that dense development is not cheap.

    You can stuff a bunch of people in a condo – but they’re going to need transportation services – if not their own cars, heavily subsidized transit, water/sewer, schools, libraries, EMS, parks, etc.

    and to a certain extent – they’re going to need those services – no matter where they live geographically.

    location specific costs are not the same as generalized development costs… but so far.. the advocates of charging for such location-specific costs don’t seem to be able to isolate them from other development costs – that would apply to any/all equivalent development.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Larry – insofar as good development is concerned, you are totally and absolutely WRONG!

  17. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I’d suggest a detailed cost/benefit analysis of DC Upper Connecticut Avenue. This northern segment of avenue begins at the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park. It ends miles north at Chevy Chase Circle on the DC line.

    Remarkable its the creation by visionary entrepreneurs (akin to Reston’s Robert Simon), the idea for the bridge and avenue bloomed in the late 19th century. Centered around the idea of mass transit, streetcar, they first built the bridge that opened up the NW Quadrant of Washington DC to high density residential. Then they built the avenue whose mass transit drove the early 20th century boom of great apartment buildings now along the Avenue. This changed the face and nature of all Washington DC. In many ways it was a key to inventing a new middle class for the city. This in turn generated thriving commercials centers built in the 1930s. Like pearls strung along the Avenue, places like Cleveland Park have thrived ever since. Opened in 1976 the DC subway completed the transportation mix.

    A cost benefit analysis of this Avenue will astound. And demolish myths.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Ms. McKeeman’s charts and study detail property tax revenues generated by low-to-high rise residential buildings in Tysons and Reston, Va.

      Here’s a list of some other factors inherent within such residential buildings that impact their cost / benefit analysis if such buildings are part of a large, efficient mixed use commercial center served by mass transit. Like, for instance, part of Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC, or within Arlington County Virginia’s new downtown, the Rosslyn – Ballson Corridor.

      1/ Compared to types of housing, multi-unit residential buildings generate by far the lowest auto trips per day. The reasons are obvious. Tenants rely on walking or mass transit, whether for work, shopping, or entertainment. Even the few auto trips taken to or from such buildings are typically far shorter, given the abundance and variety of nearby services. Thus typically high density tenants own fewer cars, and require less parking per unit.

      2/ The interior living space, and exterior walls, per occupant is typically far smaller and more efficient than single family housing. Electric, oil, and water consumption is far less. Less roof, less outside hard-scape plus underground garage = far less storm water runoff per unit. The advent of Leeds building codes compound these natural advantage exponentially. As do fire and safely cost given more compact populations at risk. And all these advantages apply to all nearby stores, shops and restaurants.

      3/Such residential tenants also typically put far less demand on schools. The reasons are obvious. They tend to be young, middle age, or elderly singles (whether alone or in groups), or couples whose children are grown.

      4/ Such tenants also use far more mass transit, and use it far more efficiently. So, to a great degree, they subsidize the mass transit system for outlying low density areas whose far fewer riders heavily burden the system, given the far higher capital / operating costs incurred to serve them.

      5/ Many such tenants lead far more efficient lives that most suburbanites. They have far shorter commutes, far more local conveniences, far fewer kids, so enjoy far more “free time” to work, play, and spend money locally. Plus more are single. So they often tend to go out more, to restaurants, bars, movies, galleries, plays, etc. than suburban cousins. Hence they pump vast sums into down-down local economies that would otherwise be dark and dangerous. These monies radiate throughout the city, whether tips to waiters or sellers of expensive art, and everything imaginable in between. Much of all this would be lost without these multi-unit buildings.

      6/ Also many tenants in these buildings are not able to afford to rent or buy a home on a lot, or a townhouse in high priced downtowns. Thus these tenants would likely be living outside Wash. Dc. or Arlington Country but for these down-down rental units and condos. So instead to living and paying their taxes “in town,” they’d be paying sales, income, and property taxes to an outlying county while commuting daily into Washington or Arlington, often by car. This would clog the streets and poison the air of DC and Arlington after they’d lost the tenants’ tax revenues to maintain them, and their consumer buying power for the local economy to boot.

      7/ In addition, without such rental and condo units in-town, many such otherwise tenants would refuse to waste their time on long commutes into town. They’d find jobs elsewhere, outside DC and Arlington. DC and Arlington then would lose not only all the benefits that go along with these vibrant and highly productive citizens, they’d likely lose their employers as well. Without nearby affordable employee housing, many companies would move out of Arlington and DC or refuse to move in town in the first place. More and more employers today need locate where the best workers for them are, if they’re to complete, given ever increasing commutes into single use commercial areas. Indeed bosses demand it for themselves as well.

      8/ Imagine if these multi-family units weren’t in Arlington’s downtown. Or on Connecticut Ave. I guess that roughly 18000 low mid to high rise units front Upper Connecticut Avenue alone. Without them, where would their occupants go. Many elderly depend on their convenience for the lives. Many others can’t afford living any where else in Downtown DC. If DC lost these thousand of units, the already ungodly high housing prices in all the rest of NW Washington would sky-rocket yet again. It’d cause a forced migration by the thousands, including many our most vulnerable citizens. Only the richest among us would be left. Connecticut Avenue, because of its high density apartment stock, is our last barrier to the exclusion of all but the rich in NW DC. Its been doing this invaluable service for generations.

      These are only some of the benefits such intense residential buildings bring to urban down-towns. And its only half the story. Because it doesn’t explain how such housing works in tandem with nearby office use to exponentially compound the benefits they spread throughout a city.

  18. […] Land use and tax revenue in Fairfax County Bacon’s Rebellion (VA) – February 19, 2013 James Bacon examines how in Washington DC’s suburbs high-density developments produce significantly more tax revenue per acre than low density developments. […]

  19. re: “precious and scarce” land.

    there is a LOT of land but as real estate and developer folks say: “location, location, LOCATION”!!!!!

    I’ve been amused of the land “conservation” incentives the state and some localities have engaged in the last decade or so.

    drive to the rural parts of Virginia and ask yourself 2 questions:

    1. – why does that land need to be “saved” and what exactly “threatens” it?

    the people who live there WOULD LOVE for some kind of development to occur.

    2. which brings us to – what makes most any location appealing/more valuable for development and the answer is government sponsored/paid for infrastructure.

    you won’t be building no “smart growth” or “transit-oriented” unless the government (other taxpayers) have provisioned the infrastructure.

    yes.. there are gated communities and planned developments that do their own infrastructure but invariably they are not for those with modest incomes.

    my view is that if we really want to better understand ‘smart growth’, transit-oriented and the like we have to be brutally honest with ourselves with respect to the role of the govt.

    the truth is, there simply is not a true “free market” when it comes to any growth – smart or not and I believe we are deluding ourselves if we don’t use an honest perspective about it.

    sidewalks, trails, transit, highways, water/sewer, fire, EMS – of the scope and scale needed for dense growth – does not come from the “free market”.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      No, Larry it does not. See a few reason why listed above your post.

      1. Reed – I’m saying there is an important role for govt on these issues and that without it – you normally do not get the kinds of infrastructure needed.

        Smart Growth is a creation of govt – not the free market. Govt has to plan and provision for it and it generally does not happen except in specific locations where the govt wants it.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          No, Larry – government, who works for us people, taxes the wealth that us people make and allow them to take, and spends it as we people tell them to spend what we give them.

          So government is not a business. It has no rationale to exist but to serve us, the people on whom its revenues and livelihood depend. The rationale for what government does, and all that government should not do, is based on these obvious principles.

          All this being said, government has an important, but limited, role to play in certain arenas, such as road building. But even there, the governments functions is engineering compliance and paying out monies we give them to private construction companies who take all the financial risk and do the hard work of building that road on time and on budget per their winning low bid, if the government does an efficient job in engineering oversight and monitoring construction and draws, which I gather it oftentimes rarely does, thus wasting our money.

          I’m afraid government is running amok in your mind, Larry. But that seems a rather common affliction these days.

          1. reed fawell III Avatar
            reed fawell III

            Regarding land use / city planning, ordinance / code development and enforcement, I have spoken numerous times here on this site on the valuable and critical roll good government plays, particularly good local government. I have used Arlington county as a fine example. There are others I could mention as well obviously, both the good, bad and ugly – depending on the competence of those serving in government at the time which like all other human endeavors varies widely depending on who’s in the game. So I think I get your point and position, Larry.

  20. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    DJ I love how your interpretation of your jurisdictional demands and costs are based on only things you can see from your front window.

    So you would be fine if there werent any police in the county… because they dont come to your direct door? Or how about how much work do you get done only driving to the end of your shared neighborhood road? Tough getting anything delivered to you if thats the only place Amazon can plop down their trucks too ay?

    My condo building sold out in 18 months after opening in Tysons. It has 400 units that average $400,000 per unit. That means it generates $1.7 million in tax funds (not assessed, actual funds) to the county every year. On top of that, because it is next to a transit center and directly adjacent to 100,000 jobs in Tysons the average resident of our building drives far less than for instance a resident of your neighborhood. We in the condo also have some children, but for the most part are childless, and therefore demand less from public schools than the average house.

    Bringing in utilities is absurd, everyone pays utilities to utility companies not fairfax except in the case of Water Authority which we all pay whatever the usage is anyways.

    Do you see where I am going?

    No one is saying replace everything with condos, but Fairfax county has 23% of people between the age of 18 and 35, a demographic that has either very small families or no family and could live in Condos. Thats 250,000 possible urban residents and growing since the economy is doing well here. That population has shown an affinity towards condos and apartments. Not all of them, but enough that for instance my building sold out quite quickly.

    Having even half of that 250,000 living in condos/apts would equate to about 500-600 highrises. At 1.7 million each like my building that would mean about a half billion in tax revenue with FAR less demands on infrastructure than your home in Great Falls needs (see Route 7 widening coming for 500 million soon to make you happy).

    Look at the numbers and stop with your preconceived notions of what is efficient. This will make your life better by keeping less people invading the natural areas of Fairfax, less people pushing out to outer suburbs and clogging roads, it is a pressure relief valve for the population that DOES want this type of lifestyle

  21. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    For comparison, (sorry double post poor form)

    100,000 people would create 500 million in tax revenue annual, there is no chance those 100,000 people (compared to the 1.1 million in fairfax) will use 500 million in needs. This is reality, you dont have to take my word for it. Look at the macro example. NOVA is the urban part of Virginia (as is Richmond and Tidal) and it subsidizes the rural parts of Virginia. NYC has always subsidized the rest of New York State, as do every other city in the world. Cities are where commerce and business and land value are created.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      You make some excellent points. Well said. We need to keep thinking as you do. All the ways good development improves our lives, and/or messes them up, and why. Only by figuring them out, understanding and appreciating these things, can we find solutions and make them work better.

  22. good points from Tyson Engineer.

    let’s say we taxed people instead of land and land was not the primary means of funding infrastructure and services.

    how big would NOVA have to be to support a million people living the way that DJ does – land-wise?

    next – how many people would willingly choose to live in a Condo, TH or other multi-tenet dwelling if for the same amount of money they could afford to live in a subdivision in a single family detached?

    The problem in NoVa is that the average middle income earner has been priced out of the conventional single family detached and they have basically two options – find a condo or other multi-tenant dwelling they will compromise to live in – OR commute 40,50,60 miles to that single family detached that they can afford.

    and it has a perverse impact on not only NoVa but just about any urban area because commuters bang the hell out of infrastructure – just like they bang the hell out of the cars they drive – 100K in 3 years … same level of intensity use and damage to their cars which they replace but you cannot replace infrastructure at least not cheaply and getting “more” in an urban area is damned near impossible for less than 100 million a mile (rural roads are 10 million a mile).

    People like DJ are twice lucky. They likely have owned the land for a while and got it for far, far less than what it is worth now – AND they are wealthy enough to pay for the continuing operation of it.

    but Tysons is totally right about location. If DJ’s house was 100 miles away – his private road would front on some rural road not much better than his private road and “driving to work” would not be 7 miles away but a half day ordeal.

    DJ is right – because his land will never be in his lifetime depriving anyone else of the opportunity to live in NoVa … there is nothing at all that DJ can do to fix that problem.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Wrong again Larry, on every count, charge, and particular. It’s hard keeping up with you. Not enough hours in the day. When time allows, I’ll try.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        Actually, Larry, I read your above post the wrong way first go round. But do think it makes case for large Smarter Growth policies since they will, if given a chance, reduce the price and increase the variety of housing stock far better than any other solutions.

        Regarding DJ house lot, see my recent reply to AMF’s last post above.

  23. actually my question was – would the free-market without govt involvement in infrastructure, roads, transit, water-sewer build smart growth?

    I believe Smart Growth would not survive without govt involvement much less thrive.

    bonus question – what is Smart Growth without transit?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Been there, done that one Larry. See my above February 22, 2013 at 7:37 am | Reply to those questions.

  24. not to my satisfaction. I ask a hard question and get back a bunch of ideological beliefs.

    I see the truth here. What is the truth about the free market building fixed guide-way transit upon which virtually all Smart Growth scenarios are based on?

    I don’t need a Reed view of how the world ought to work – just a simple answer of how many private developers actually build the transit that their Smart Growth proposals depend on?

    what’s the answer?

    1. Once upon a time, Larry, all transit was built by private developers. Now, private developers build nothing. Why the change? Why was it feasible then — back before the government decided to start regulating and subsidizing everything — and not now? I want hard facts!

  25. I agree Jim – and from my understanding Japan has private, for-profit high speed trains, etc … but probably subsidized I bet.

    My bigger point here is that Smart Growth as currently practiced is not a free market endeavor and if you look hard – it’s not likely to be.

    It REQUIRES govt investment – which comes from taxes….


    Can I push you one step further and say – No govt transit = no Smart Growth?

    or.. give me a strong counter-argument how Smart Growth can happen with govt-paid-for transit.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Here is the translation of your own answer to Jim direct question.

      It’s either “I do not know the answer, so I will avoid it but asking another question without addressing your question, Jim.”

      Or, alternatively, your non answer amounts to: “I know the answer. But I can’t face or otherwise admit the facts that my answer would reveal. So I choose not to answer Jim’s question, but will aggressively avoid it by asking another question of my own.

    2. Larry, my presentation to the New Partners for Smart Growth conference was entitled “Smart Growth for Conservatives.” I do think it is possible to achieve smart growth in accordance with free market principles. I will agree with you, though, that smart growth, as currently practiced in many places, is advanced by the heavy hand of government.

      In my spare moments, I am working on a book proposal to elaborate the “Smart Growth for Conservatives” idea. I don’t know if anyone will be interested, but I’m going to give it a try.

      1. I’d be interested Jim but this has the “feel” of “what is possible” vs “what is the reality”.

        and my questions deal with the here and now, not “what is possible”

        Is there such a thing as Smart Growth without transit ? examples?

        on the entire planet – does transit get built and operated by non-govt entities that (for instance) control the adjacent real estate and recover their transit costs from real estate taxes ?

        This is not an idle question – it goes back to our very history.

        the original national rails got free right of way from the govt to INCLUDE additional adjacent real estate – that they sold for top dollar to fund the cost of the rail infrastructure.

        now how the land came to be “free” to start with is a bit of a conundrum especially if we bring in Native Americans to the conversation but govt does have a modern day equivalent of CDAs, transportation districts.

        so what would keep a private entity from drawing a line on a map and proceed to buy right-of-way and put in transit and charge top dollar for the adjacent land?

        It’s one thing to write a book on the “possibility” of this – it’s another to ask for current examples and an genuine explanation as to why it’s just not a reality in the US.

        bonus: – identify the govt involvement that inhibits this or makes it impossible. Is it govt or is it just the reality of the marketplace and economics that has little to do with govt?

      2. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        God Speed on this project, Jim. The deeper I look into the issues such a book might raise, the more I believe their proper solutions are critical to dealing with much of what ails us. And that our failure to act, or should we go it the wrong way, will likely will do more harm than good.

  26. geeze…!!!! how Smart Growth can happen WITHOUT govt-provided transit.

    are there any current examples of “Smart Growth” that are not feeding off of govt-provisioned infrastructure such as transit, roads, water/sewer, stormwater, etc?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Larry, see above 7:46 reply to your first question to avoid answering Jim.
      Regarding your latest effort to avoid Jim’s question, also see my earlier reply.

  27. Reed – your earlier replies are non-answers guy.

    they evade answering the question itself.

    there are just two 7:46 here that I can find BTW – the time stamp on my question and in your reply – do you actually want to deal with the issue?

    this is a pretty simple question. all it needs is a simple yes or no right here…

    and what question that Jim asked is not being answered? put it here if you really want a response.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Funny, I have the same sense of much of your commentary.

      I often find it very hard to get sensible replies to anything you disagree with. You either do not read or understand or are unwilling to consider anything you emotionally disagree with. And thus to avoid replies to your questions you simple ask more questions. This often forces one to confront a closed circuit. Life’s too short to answer endless questions. This is particularly so when the questioner seems not to have digested or given thoughtful consideration to earlier answers.

      Here’s perfect example. “geeze…!!!! how Smart Growth can happen WITHOUT govt-provided transit. are there any current examples of “Smart Growth” that are not feeding off of govt-provisioned infrastructure such as transit, roads, water/sewer, stormwater, etc?

      Answer – yes, thousands of smart growth projects have been so built. So your question illustrated that you still have not a clue as to what smart growth is. Do a bit of open minded reading on your own, Larry, and you’ll find them. That is if you open up the closed loop in your thinking.

      1. re: ” nswer – yes, thousands of smart growth projects have been so built. So your question illustrated that you still have not a clue as to what smart growth is. Do a bit of open minded reading on your own, Larry, and you’ll find them. That is if you open up the closed loop in your thinking.”

        what kind of relevant response is that Reed? I asked a simple question which is can you build Smart Growth without govt and what do you say? ” you don’t have a clue about Smart Growth”.

        that’s non-answer Reed.. and it evades the primary question asked.

  28. Here’s an even simpler question.

    If you admit that CURRENTLY Smart Growth cannot work with Govt-provisioned infrastructure – do you SUPPORT the CURRENT path of Smart Growth simply not being viable unless the govt backstops the mobility and other infrastructure needs?

    Isn’t Smart Growth – just code for centralized govt planning in the current environment?

    why am I being such a booger about this?

    because we have in our world today – an EPIDEMIC of wishful thinking rather than looking at hard realities – from BOTH the LEFT and RIGHT.

    when I hear folks talk about “Smart Growth for Conservatives” my head explodes!


    At BEST, it’s a concept, at worst, it’s living in LA LA Land if we truly believe that Smart Growth can occur on it’s own solely through private equity without govt-provisioned infrastructure.

    TO attempt to spin it any other way is IMHO just evading the simple truth …

    I do not begrudge those on the left or right for dreaming, for thinking there has to be better ways – more power to them and yes.. change happens most often when people do believe it can but at the same time to be unwilling to admit the current realities just punts the whole idea of thinking about change because you cannot start with wrong views of what the current realities are.

    if you really want to change – you have to be willing to confront the hard truths that are evident right now – AND THEN – move from there to a better place.

    when you jump off the cliff from the get go – thinking about what “might be” on the way to your demise is… well … funny…..

    let’s work off of realities… as a baseline… please… no matter how ugly they are or how terribly they contradict your own wishes and beliefs.. do it – because for me – if you start off in pretend mode – what you advocate after that – is just a continuation.

    If we want REAL change – we have to be willing to accept the good, bad and ugly of the current realities and try to work from that point forward.

    and the reality is that on almost no place that I know of on earth are there “private” cities… where the free market rules and user pays reins.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      There we go again!!!! Yet, more questions!!!!

  29. they’re more than questions. they are direct challenges to the idea that Smart Growth is built by the private sector.

    It is not.

    it’s a tall order to develop a framework where Smart Growth becomes a free market-only endeavor but I’d sure read any/all reasonable ideas about how it might be down – if you first agree that’s it’s not what we do right now.

    that’s fundamental.

    some of this involves the purpose of govt and that’s where things get different.

    Just imagine a modern densely-populated city where transit is provided by the private sector and not govt.

    is that really possible? show me how that might be….

    it’s not impossible. the private sector now builds highways and bridges where user-pays is how they are funded.

    Can we do that with transit ?

  30. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Here’s some answers. The new and ongoing renovation of the Ballston Common Mall highlights several facts critical to Arlington County’s urban development success, as distinct from Tyson’s Corner’s failures.

    First, very early on, Arlington County came to understand, and found solutions to deal with, the fact that commercial development generates far more traffic than residential housing. In contrast, the development of Tyson’s Corner acerbated this basic problem. It built a suburban city.

    Think about it. One person typically occupies far more space at home than in his office. Plus a doctor sees far more daily visitors in his office than at home. So does a store clerk. So does the typical office worker. So does someone working in a convenience store, at a hairdresser’s, or flower shop.

    Suburban uses, dependent on the automobile, turbo charge these realities, traffic wise. Here, shopping centers, regional malls, and big box retail are the worst offenders. Their sales depend on auto visitors. So does their value, should the owner sell his asset because its traffic volume proves the drawing power of its stores. So suburban retail centers are designed to draw auto traffic, the more cars from the more far away locales the better. (Potomac Mills is an example. Tysons Corner Mall is another mega example. Ballston Common Mall is not an example for the reasons explained below.)

    As a result, within suburban malls, shopping centers and big box outlets, a single parking space can “turn over” 65 times in a single day. One space makes possible 65 visits (each one by a different car that comes and goes) during business hours. In contrast, a parking space within a typical urban residential high-rise might generate only one turnover a day. Office buildings also substantially outpace residential. Distance between uses in suburbia drive this traffic.

    Herein lies some of the secrets Arlington County discovered early.

    1/ Density of development does not create traffic.
    2/ An imbalance of separated uses creates traffic, irrespective of density.
    3/ High density development of synergistic uses properly properly placed relative to one another, within an urban center, will drive traffic down. And it will keep reducing traffic until, and so long as the optimum mix of uses is achieved and maintained, and varieties of mass transit is steps away.
    4/ Mixed uses are best developed in tandem. Then your “city will find itself.” Then its best mix of uses, their variety, proportions, and nuance emerge in time to be captured. Thus, tandem development fuels best opportunity for market and financial success for all involved – whether office, retail, or residential tenant, owner, worker, or store clerk.

    Complexities are involved in building a successful urban center. But at base and speaking generally, Arlington learned that office space should never exceed nearby walk-able residential. That retail commercial should be built at same time as office and residential. That commercial space – office, retail, hotel – should best not exceed total nearby residential space.

    And, that the proper mix and match of uses can be used to drive traffic down as far as possible, by creating synergies that take visitors out of their cars, put them into mass transport, and/or on the streets walking instead. This in turn creates vibrant many faceted neighborhoods. This attracts ever more tenants, residents and shoppers. This throws off ever more revenues to pay for expanding public amenities and necessities. This becomes a spiral that feeds on itself, throwing off ever more benefits for all involved.

    Tyson’s Corner’s did the opposite. It tried to make a city living off an Interstate by building an suburban office park next to a suburban mega mall, and strip retail And so built itself into a dead end. Fairfax County knows what the solutions are. Now it should follow the Arlington example.

  31. I think there may be a little bit of a disconnect between residential, commercial retail and commercial office (jobs).

    Fairfax clearly sees activities that generate tax revenues as things they want to provide the things that citizens want – good schools, lots of parks and green spaces/trails, and similar.

    my impression is that they have boosted the value of property too high for a lot of workers to afford to live there – so they commute to cheaper residential not in Fairfax and that in turn at least adds to the twice daily peak hour traffic.

    Most localities shoot for at least enough commercial retail to serve the people who live there – and capture the sales taxes for their coffers.

    In some areas – there are retail construction “contests” between adjacent localities for retail commercial that results in one locality getting the others sales taxes until they get their own retail built – then there is too much and end up with vacant properties.

    what I would want to see would be the traffic on Fairfax streets AFTER rush hour is done because that traffic would be local residential ( and perhaps regional with origins outside of Fairfax coming to retail in Fairfax).

    I know this – there is nothing in Fairfax that attracts me there with the sole exception of REI and an accompanying side trip to Trader Joes and once a year is more than enough for me.

  32. […] rising demand in Arlington County.  Greater investment in our area, especially in medium to high density housing, is a tax revenue bonanza, and thus can place moderating effects on marginal property tax rates for the rest of […]

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