Libraries as Liberators

This week’s column was inspired by a recent trip to Arlington County. Squiring me around their remarkable community, Arlington officials explained how they approach local development and re-development. I was especially attuned to anything that might shed light on a notion frequently expressed by commenters in this blog: the idea that increased density necessarily translates into greater traffic congestion.

Arlington irrefutably proves otherwise. Poorly planned density may aggravate traffic conditions, but well-planned density can have quite the opposite effect. All one has to do is visit the high-density development around Arlington’s Metro stops to see the proof of that. For all the retail, the high-rise offices and the apartment/condo complexes, the streets around Clarendon station are are freer of traffic than any suburban commercial corridor. The traffic statistics convey the same message.

That may be so, skeptics may say, but Arlington has a huge advantage that most other Virginia localities do not: a heavy rail system largely paid for by someone else. Maybe Arlington escaped the density/congestion trap, but no one else (with the possible exception of Fairfax County) can afford to build a Metro line. Arlington is the exception that proves the rule.

Board Chairman Paul Ferguson has heard that argument, too, and in refutation, he points to the re-development that’s taking place in the Shirlington Town Center — an emerging “urban village” that has no Metro station. Shirlington, he says, is a model that can be replicated in any metropolitan area in Virginia.

Some of the tools used by Arlington planners are known to anyone who reads this blog: Greater density, finely grained mixed uses, and special care in the design of pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. Arlington planners are big believers in narrow streets, wide sidewalks, plazas and other small public spaces, and ground-level retail in large office and apartment buildings — whatever it takes to avoid presenting a blank wall to the sidewalk.

But pedestrian-friendly streetscapes are not the entire solution. Vibrant communities should not just avoid dead spaces, they should avoid dead times. Arlington planners envision a town center that’s jumping 24/7. Well, maybe not 24/7, but definitely 18/7. The trick, which seems to be working, is loading up the town center with major traffic generators including a quality urban grocery store (though with a smaller, urban footprint), a theater and a public library. The formula seems to be working. Shirlington is a happening place.

My visit to Shirlington and its library, which is housed in the same building as the popular Signature Theater, prompted a closer look at the role of libraries in defining human settlement patterns. Sadly, I found that an otherwise marvellous new facility in my Henrico County neighborhood reinforces the community’s old auto-centric habits. An opportunity to create enormous added economic value was lost. In today’s column, “Libraries as Liberators,” I explore what different communities are doing — or not doing — to capture libraries’ phenomenal economic value for the public good.

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38 responses to “Libraries as Liberators”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not sure we know enough about Arlington in terms of claims that it can be ‘replicated’ and I think further that if Arlington is a Mango in terms of mixed-use that other mixed-use projects are not mangos and not Arlington despite the fact that they are promoted as if they are mini-Arlingtons.

    Clearly – we are not going to replicate a slice of Arlington in Spotsylvania county no matter how many artist renderings we might see at a rezone hearing.

    Not so clear – is how you’d clone Arlington in Tysons.

    My point is that we don’t know what truly makes Arlington – Arlington – enough so that we have a forumula by which to judge new mixed-use proposals.

    A scorecard if you will.

    … a scorecard that is used for other places that seem to be like Arlington – for instance Portland.

    Are all “good quality” mixed-use places – MANGOS?

    How do we build more mixed use and find out later that they are not only not Mangos but unfit fruit?

    so .. if we had a magic make-over wand and you waved it at Henrico – what exactly would change in Henrico to help it become a MANGO?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    One way to avoid dead places and times is to make sure people have plenty of disposable income.

    In Arlington meadian Household income is $80,433 and median home price is $581,900.

    In Warrenton the comparable numbers are $52,800 in income and $172,600 for homes.

    Maybe the traffic in Arlington is low because they can’t afford to go anywhere.


  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m interested in finding a way to “score” mixed-use/TND in exurban greenfield locations.

    We all know how the artist renderings look (a lot like a nirvana version of Arlington).

    and most of them are sound-bite advertised as places to live, work, play and shop, reduce auto trips and provide affordable housing.

    So – we are told that such projects are “worth” the higher density – because:

    1. – they are located near transportation hubs

    2. – they use existing infrastructure

    3. – they do not require extending infrastructure

    4. – they provide market-priced housing that “may” entice folks who are considering “sprawl” homes by offering more convenient access, high levels of service and more/better amenities.

    Two items for scorecard –

    1. – verifiable data that auto trips are reduced and retroactive proffer penalities if car trips end up higher than claimed.

    2. – median home prices that are within 10% of median incomes within 10 miles of the project.

    3. – 70/30 mix of commercial/residential

    4. – others?


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What exactly – might distinquish Arlington from the proposed Tyson’s vision or perhaps … what does the Tyson’s proposal lack with respect to Arlington?

    some folks in this blog have asked what the “out-commute” is for Arlington – a fair question.

    Is Arlington more a balanced community where folks live and work or is it a residential enclave for well-to-do commuters?

    what is the current mix of commercial to residential in Arlington – and what would be the mix of commercial to residential in the proposed Tysons vision?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, My main point is that higher density does not necessarily translate into more congestion. I think that point is irrefutable. The germane question, then, is whether the experience of Arlington can be replicated anywhere else.

    Of course, the vast majority of Fairfax County is nothing like Arlington at the current time. Hells bells, even the Arlington of 30 years ago wasn’t much like the Arlington today. Transforming human settlement patterns is like changing direction of a battleship — it takes years, even decades, to complete the change.

    You need a clear vision, and you need to stick to it. That was another of Paul Ferguson’s points. He argued that the structure of Arlington’s board of supervisors — at large representatives with staggered elections — allows for less parochialism and more continuity than has been seen elsewhere, with the consequence that Arlington had been able to pursue longer-term strategies.

    Arlington as a whole has a high proportion of commercial development. But that doesn’t apply across the board. It certainly doesn’t apply to Shirlington. It has *some* commercial but it’s not unbalanced like Crystal City.

  6. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Let us not forget that the “clear vision” that Arlington leaders had and have is based on what they saw during a 60s trip to what was then called “Western Europe.”

    The trip was paid for by the German Marshal Fund and laid the foundation for the support for the RB Corridor.

    Larry, what needs to be in the mix is rocket science but many of Western Europes small urban agglomerations – places like Frieburg and Gotesburg – have the elements on display for those with a Comprehensive Conceptual Framework into which to fit the ideas.

    Back to libraries: Planned New Communities of the 70s had Neihborhood schools and the school library had a media center that was open for many Cluster and Neighborhood activities. Every Village Center had a library. We have suggested every Cluster needs a “common resource space” and a common stroage space for shared tools.

    With current technology every common resource space at the Cluster scale could be connected to every other Cluster and to the Neighborhood-scale and Village-scale resources.

    Oh yes. Jim you mentioned an augmented pathway system for Segways. The advocates for thay system should check out the augmented cartway system we designed in Peachtree City PNC in the early 70s.

    Did not someone report here or somewhere else that it is still a vital part of the Community?


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “The germane question, then, is whether the experience of Arlington can be replicated anywhere else.”

    Yes, that, and why would you want to?

    No doubt, you can have higher density and less automotive traffic congestion. We don’t actually have many examples of that, but still, it could be done. Particularly if you have enough other people paying huge amounts to support your alternate transportation system of choice.

    If what it takes to create such a place takes so long and costs so much, can it really be worth the effort? If you were designing a place from scratch, would it look like Arlington?

    And there is the matter of change: What is to keep Arlington from turning into a ghost town any more than Tyson’s?

    Isn’t the Segway just a really small personal vehicle?

    Don’t at large representation and staggered election just mean less representation?

    As for Libriaries, growing up in New England I spent a lot of time there. It was warmer than home.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    You can see the data on where people living in Arlington worked in 1990 vs 2000 at

    Since 1990 the numer of people living and working in Arlington ahs remained pretty constant. Those working in Alexandria and the District have declined.

    Those working in all the other jurisdictions have increased, even as far away as Anne Arundel and Baltimore, not to mention Loudoun, PG, PW, and Montgomery.

    Maybe the reason traffic has declined in Arlington is that they drove someplace else.


  9. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    The internet has made Libraries obsolete. The Library folks are desperate to find a new mission in life and to continue living off the public dole. I no longer need to travel to a building away from my home to do resesearch or to find something to read. The whole WORLD is availble at my computer.

    Libraries are buggy whip manufacturers.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    From RH-provided LINK

    Where folks in Arlington work:


    DC 42,263 36.4
    Arlington Co. 34,379 29.6
    Fairfax Co. VA 20,476 17.6

    so for my Exurban Greenfield multi-use scorecard –

    to get a “good” score – 30% of the people who live in that development would have to work in that development.

    and that would mean that the cost of 1/3 of the units would have to be within the income reach of the 1/3 who work there.

    and it would also mean that there would be 1/3 less auto trips than a conventional development.

    see how easy this is?


  11. Anonymous Avatar


    Does Arlington have a Party Patrol funded via the head of their Board of Supervisiors?

    If not, maybe you should direct thme to President Pantele who I’m sure can extol the virtues of enforcing that 18/7 rule.

  12. Single Avatar

    Jim Bacon said “Transforming human settlement patterns is like changing direction of a battleship — it takes years, even decades, to complete the change.”

    And if I’m lucky, if I’m very lucky, I’ll be dead and buried by the time the ‘direction’ has changed. Again, if you like living like you did when you first moved out of your parent’s home; then by all means go ahead. I work on these urban habitats and find NOTHING appealing about them. You can wheel me into one when I’m in a coma, until then I’d like my 10 acres and lots of fresh air.

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Single, It’s a free country. If you don’t like urban environments, no one is making you live in one. The converse cannot be said. There are many people who would like to live in an urban environment but are unable to do so because the zoning-restricted marketplace is unable to meet the demand. You are more than welcome to your 10 acres and fresh air — as long as you are willing to pay the attendant cost of providing utilities, roads and public transportation to your location.

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: ” “zoning-restricted” marketplace unable to meet demand.”

    well… multi-use/TND in exurban greenfield locations is NOT urban environments.

    They are Disney-like Urban allusions.

    Single like 10 acre lots.

    If exurban localities actually limited density and encouraged 10 acre lots – could it be said that – that would result in a “zoning-restricted marketplace of urban home locations?

    .. which goes right back to whether multi-use/TND in exurban greenfield locations is, in fact, marketplace offerings of homes in an urban environment.

  15. Jim Bacon:

    I agree with Reid at 4:44.

    Developers love libraries in their new mixed-use projects because it is an excuse to get their hands in the cookie jar of public money.

    Usually this takes the form of tax dollars to build expensive parking garages that are used for both the libraries and the retail portion of the project.

    Many of the New Urbanist mixed-use developers freely admit that these projects are often unprofitable without public subsidies in the form of Publicly (read taxpayer subsidized) provided parking.

    I am all for mixed-use development. I am opposed to subsidies for wealthy capitalists.

    Following up on Reid’s comment, I would wager that there is more intellectually stimulating information available in your average Barnes and Noble bookstore where you can sit and read for free, than at your average Fairfax County Public Library.

    Walk into any public library and you will be shocked at the amount of floor space filled with junk fiction provided at taxpayer expense.

    Check out the new public library at Rockville Town Square for a perfect example of this rip off.

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Reid and FW… If libraries are so worthless, how come so many people visit them? Clearly, they do fulfill a genuine public need.

    The legitimate question you ask is, why should government fulfill that public need? I would ask the very same question. That was not the purpose of my story, which was to show the connection between libraries and land use, but I think the issue is a worthy one.

    If developers think that libraries are such tremendous draws, why don’t they build and operate them themselves as an integral part of their development projects? Or, to take a slightly different tack, why don’t they outsource that function to a local entrepreneur or civic group to run a combination bookstore/coffee house/literary club/meeting center?

    If people value “library” services, surely they would be willing to pay a modest subscription or support them through philanthropic contributions — especially if the developer was willing to subsidize them by providing a building shell and parking space.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    There are ALSO many people who would like to live in an less urban environment but are unable to do so because the zoning-restricted marketplace.

    I submit that there are far higher restrictions against more rural development, and that the push for more urban environments is just one manaifestation. Jim’s statement that no one is forcing you cuts both ways. I once had a nice young couple who wanted to buy a lot from me, which I was willing to sell.

    They absoluteley had tears in their eyes when I had to tell them the county would not allow me to sell to them: not at any price, not at any proffer. They now live in a town house in Manassas, saving their money for another chance, someday.

    So, Jim, I either don’t buy it, or claim it has to cut both ways. You simply can’t claim in one breath that it is a free country and that the regulations inhibit only one kind of development.


    I always found the Fairfax libraries to be helpful, and well stocked. If you don’t see what you want, you have only to ask and it will be found for you, without a sales slip. I think bookstores and libraries serve different purposes, just as the community rec center and the commercial gyms do. Just because there are things that private enterprise can do is no reason that they should not also have to compete with the government.

    No doubt private contractors in Iraq do the best they can under the circumsances, but lets face it: they are not the Marines.


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “I am opposed to subsidies for wealthy capitalists.”

    OK, how about poor capitalists? Wealthy individuals? Poor individuals? Wealthy philanthropic organizations? Poor philanthropic associations?

    Maybe I’m all wet here, but I really don’t get too exercised about WHO gets a subsidy. AS I’ve said, a subsidy is just an incentive that we happen to disagree with.

    I get exercised when the subsidy results in a net loss to the society providing it. I get exercised when negative subsidies are not included in the discussion.

    My argument is that if you draw the boundaries around the subsidy large enough that you can account for the secondary, tertiary, and quaternary effects, MOST of the ripple down, if you will, and if considering all of that we still come out ahead, then you have passed phase one of the test.

    Next you make a list of all those and compare it to how much money you have. Select the ones that give you the best payback and use them until you run out of current funds.

    Forget about who gets the inital money. Forget about liberal or conservative, wealthy or poor. Forget about Dogma and preferences.

    It is all about spending the money well. It’s all about raising all the boats.


    If we suddenly had a magic subsdy that worked perfectly and made everybody fabulously wealthy, we couldn’t environmentally execute it.

    Somewhere in that cost equation for subsidies that pay we have to figure the environmental costs. But we can’t do that until we figure out what we are willing to pay for environmental benefits.


  19. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    RH, I quite agree that zoning also discriminates against certain types of low-density development, such as the example you cited. Here’s the difference: Many people who like the fresh air and privacy of 10-acre lots also want utilities, public services and uncongested roads. As long as they are willing to pay the full cost of those amenities, they should be free to live as they choose. If they want to shift the costs to others, then I have a very big problem.

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “If they want to shift the costs to others, then I have a very big problem.”

    I agree, but I think that argument has been overblown. Those shifted costs are not nearly as high as frequently represented, AND they need to be mitigated by the reverse problem: people who are avoiding OTHER costs and gaining benefits by restricting their neighbors.

    I don’t claim to know the answer, but I do know people get hurt either way. The goal should be to minimize the total hurt, and that means you have to enlarge the boundaries of the system under study. And then study it equitably.


  21. Anonymous Avatar

    I think Larry is on the right track. But I don’t think you actually get 1/3 less auto trips.

    If you actually got, net net, 10 or 15% less, then that would be a home run, in my opinion.

    What if it takes some public parking subsidy to get that? Is it worth it?

    What if you find out that you can’t get it? Arlington now has fewer people working in Alexandria and DC (Metro Destinations) and MORE people (probably driving) out to other destinations.

    Call me harsh, but I’d say that was a thirty year long failed experiment. (as far as transportation goes, saying nothing about economics). Maybe after a hundred years of this we conclude that any development, no matter where is going to result in more congestion.

    We don’t want more congestion, so we simply add the full cost of congestion mitigation to all new development.

    That ought to work just fine.


  22. Jim:

    Developers who aren’t on the dole often do include libraries in their project. They are just called by a different name – bookstores.

    In fact, one of the most successful mixed-use projects in Arlington, Market Commons in Clarendon, is anchored by a Barnes and Noble Bookstore. It functions as a library and comes complete with a coffee bar.

    The free market pays for it, not taxpayers.

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: young couple living in a townhouse.

    hmmm… thousands of acres of land and clearly thousands of people who have found a piece of property (but not from RH) and who did NOT go back to townhouse living…

    forgive the cynicism…but methinks it was not the inavailability of a lot that drove that train…

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    There was money on the table. They wanted that lot. It was unavailable, not because of the cards on the table, but because others (not directly involved) didn’t want it on the table. There are thousands of acres, there are not thousands of lots.

    The parents involved even offered to sue the county. They were from another state and simply could not believe this was happening.

    I’m sure they will find something, someday, somewhere. They can afford it. I hope the owner they get it from catches a better break from his neighbors than my wife did.

    Meanwhile, I’m still selling boards, hay, flowers. Shouldn’t take me more than a hundred years to make up the difference.


  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Perhaps the powers that be would let you put a library on that land and you could charge for books.


  26. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, we can speculate all we want about where people prefer to live, and that’s all it is — speculation. That’s why we need to let the marketplace decide. Most of the commenters on this blog agree about that. The trick is figuring out how to make the marketplace work most efficiently — to provide the kinds of communities that people want. My argument is twofold: (1) trim back zoning restrictions in order to give developers more latitude, and (2) make people pay their locational costs.

    Now, we can legitimately argue about which locational costs should be altered, and how. The devil is in the details. But we should be focusing our attention on those questions rather than dog-chasing-its-tail arguments over whether people prefer one type of settlement pattern over another.

  27. Anonymous Avatar

    I’d be happy to, that, or any of fifty other things. Zoning prohibits it, and there is zero likliehood that will change in my lifetime.

    In fact, parents wanted to fund a local business, so hubby could work locally. They ran into such a roadblock at the county, they threw up their hands in disgust.


    The county claims I’m saving them money by doing nothing. Fine, I’ll accept that. But doing nothing is doing something for their benefit, and that has value. The value of the money they claim I’m saving them is called interest. If they would pay me the interest on the money they claim I’m saving them every year, I’d call it a fair deal and shut up.

    But, if they want me to save them money at my expense, forever, with no recompense whatsoever, then they are stealing, pure and simple.

    I’m not even asking for the interest on the money I’m losing, just on what they claim I’m saving them. If it comes down the the interst on the money I’m losing every year, shucks, I’d take a payment in kind chit. The interest on the money I don’t make every year amounts to an additional tax to me, that they don’t get to spend on services to me. It is a payment in kind.

    Fine. I’ll accept that, too. Just give me a receipt, and I’ll deduct the local “taxes paid” from my federal tax.

    I also happen to think they are wrong: I’m not really saving them money by doing nothing, but that is another argument. I believe that they are actually making a tax expenditure to get what they want: continued open space. On top of that tax expenditure which costs all residents money, there is the direct penalty to the owners.

    I believe it is actually costing the county taxpayers money to have all that open space sitting there underemployed: working at below market rates.

    And, since the county claims I’m already paying more than I cost in services, it is costing me more than most, not even counting the direct loss.

    It is not only unethical and unfair, it is stupid, in my opinion.

    Having said that, there is still the question of sustainability. If that is really the issue, then pay the interest, and I’ll shut up and the situation will be sustained. The costs will be on the books where taxpayers can see them. I’ll concede it gets fuzzy here: what do we do anywhere that’s really sustainable?


    I talked before about enlarging the boundaries. Here how I see it.

    The first level is my wife and the couple. By now their new home might have doubled in value (and then decreased ten percent). My wife might have made fifteen percent annually in the market, since then, more than she makes from the farm.

    Second level is my suppliers and theirs. I buy less fuel, less sawblades, less mower teeth, less tires, etc. My suppliers lose somethng. Their suppliers gain: groceries, fuel, tires, apparel, supplies for their jobs.

    Third level is my immediate neighbors. None of them would be here if the present rules were in force fifty years ago, and neither would I. There probably is some small and short term negative effect on them (us).

    Fourth level is the rest of the county taxpayers. For them you need to consider the near term costs, and the eventual benefits ie the value of the couples new home doubles over time.

    Fifth level is the county employees who survive on the taxes paid.

    Sixth level is THEIR suppliers.

    Do all that math, and then decide who is subsidizing whom.

    This is already done. There exist input output tables which show the effect of various taxes and how they ripple down to the real payers. I don’t think the models used are very elegant, but bad as they are, they are not very well advertised to the general public, or what the end result is.


  28. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Jim – there’s a cure for speculation about land-use. It’s called demographics.


    Is the question at hand – “Can an unfettered marketplace provide the kind/type of housing/settlement pattern sought by those who would like to live close where they work?”

    In other words – all things being equal would most folks choose multi-use “urban-style” 1000 sq foot flats over 3-acre lots within 3000 sq foot homes within walking/biking distance of their job and is the reality that these things are possible but that the government is interfering with the markets ability to provide?

    The marketplace simply does not provide them with what they want – as opposed to not providing them ANY options.

    Again, as often stated,
    we’re not talking about folks making 80K+ a year who would have to live in tents behind Best Buys because they could not “afford” a real house.

    We have folks that can already afford “more” house that most Virginians outside of our urban areas can afford who want much, much more than what the marketplace provides even for their inflated salaries.

    If government were going to unleash the power of the marketplace – what exactly would government cease and desist from doing… ????

    remove zoning laws?

    stop having comp plans?

    refuse to collect proffers and impact fees?

    My understanding by the way is that Va Law does not require a locality to have Zoning ordinances in the first place…

    someone correct me if I’m wrong..

  29. Anonymous Avatar

    “what exactly would government cease and desist from doing… ????”

    Well, lets see.

    Suppose your grandfather owned a house, and later your father, and then you.

    Now suppose in all that time, a bunch of new people moved in, enough to control the government.

    Suppose they decided, “the county doesn’t have enough laundry facilities.”

    Suppose the new government passed a bill that says, retroactively, from this point forward all old residences must operate a public laundry facility. You must provide the government with receipts for $1000 dollars worth of laundry activities every year, or else we will raise your taxes by 400%. Otherwise, you are allowed to continue live in your house, just as before (except you gotta do the laundry).

    The bill is legal, because it is supported by a majority, that want cheap laundry facilities they don’t have to own.

    This is precisely what happened to my wife, only they call the laundry facilities “open space”.

    I’d say you could start by ceasing and desisting doing just that. Shucks, If they’d let me do Nothing, I’d be better off than if they require me to do what they want.


  30. Anonymous Avatar

    The comp plans are mostly a joke used to prop up and further delay changes in zoning. They are wish lists, not plans. Plans have a goal, a schedule, and a budget. Around here the goal is nothing, the schedule is forever, and the budget is zero.

    I can stand the first two, but not the last one.

    there is nothing wrong with the zoning laws, unless they are fronts for some other purpose. They should be standards based: you meet the standard, you get the go ahead. The standards can include reasonable proffers, but like all taxes, they should have some connection to the ability to pay.

    If I order you to jump over the moon, and you don’t do it, then whose fault is that? Setting a proffer so high it can’t be paid is the same as using zoning for some unstated purpose. Exclusionary zoning comes to mind.

    So Keep the zoning, make them standards and fee based, and DROP THE PUBLIC HEARINGS.

    That is where you can cease and desist. And save a LOT of money.

    Instead, have a private hearing or arbitration with the principals and their nearest neighbors. The goal going in is to find a mutually acceptable way forward.

    Everyone else has no standing.

  31. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    Here’s a question for RH and everyone else…

    Why do you think Public Hearings are required?

    What is the fundamental premise behind the law that requires them?

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: mixed-use standards/requirements.

    In terms of living AND working in a mixed/use TND – aside from the claimed benefits of having a settlement pattern that supports that goal….

    what is a reasonable percentage?

    what is not enough?

    Same question with regard to auto trips.

    Standard number for conventional developments = 10 trips per day.

    What is a good number for a well-designed mixed use development?

    We know what a bad number is…

    As I had advocated previously – why not have performance standards incorporated as part of the approval process – with penalty clauses if the development fails to perform as claimed?

    The key issue is how many folks will live there .. and work there.

    It’s the number one claimed benefit and I’ve yet to see performance bonding as part and parcel of the approval process.

    For those that think this is going beyond the pale – keep in mind that we’ve set a precedent for this when we agreed to the concept of over-55 developments which pay substantially less proffers because of the claim that such developments will generate far, far less school children.

    Why not have similiar performance requirements for multi-use?

  33. Anonymous Avatar

    I think they are required because it has become politically correct to allow every bonehead with a chip on his shoulder to claim some tangential interest in something that is fundamentally none of his business.

    If they want to go to public hearings, let them go to the ones on the comp plan and zoning regs. Then shut up.

    When they go to the ones on the comp plan, make it a requirement to come up with a budget and a schedule to go with the wish list.

    That ought to give them plenty of meetings to attend.


  34. Anonymous Avatar

    “What is a good number for a well-designed mixed use development?”

    I really hate to say it, but it might be 8.5.

    “It’s the number one claimed benefit and I’ve yet to see performance bonding as part and parcel of the approval process.”

    Well, right. If we had performance bonding, we would need agreed ways to measure whether the performance was met. Eventually, you would have enough data to show whether the number was 8.5 or 8. Or maybe it turns out to be 12, on account of added density.

    You can bet that the actuaries who set the price on the performance bond will want to know.

    What if we find out the whole idea is a bust? A figment of someone’s imagination, unsupported by fact?

    What happens when some 55 year old gipper gets a new trophy wife and has quadruplets? You gonna kick him out?


  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well you could monitor the mixed use with electronic toll technology – either transponders and/or license plate readers.

    no problem.

    same deal with 55.

    allow it – but assess a penalty – reinstate the original proffers.

  36. Anonymous Avatar

    Just what we need. More technology to watch over ourselves. More “Public Participation”.

    My point is that officials would have to set the standards. In order to be fair about it they would need some reasonable expectation that the plan has some hope of working.

    I don’t believe we have any evidence anywhere, that such a plan has ever worked. I believe that the whole idea that one can ever reduce congestion anywhwere with density is BOGUS. I believe that the patterns we design may eventually have nothing to do with how people actually live, and consequently we are fooling ourselves. I believe the idea we can do much of anything with existing infrastructure is bogus, because the existing residents have never paid enough to keep it up, and it needs to be replaced. I believe we allow (even invite) too many people to blather indiscriminately about supposed hidden costs while not requireing equal disclosure about hidden benefits.

    If that is actually the case, then allowing retroactive proffers is like setting a trap. That is not a legitimate function of government.

    If that isn’t the case, then we ought to be able to point to someplace where it works, and plan accordingly. If it isn’t the case then there is no reason we cannot replicate Arlington in Spotsylvania county.

    Suppose that Arlington with all its benefits was suddenly recreated in F’burg. Would thousands of Spotsy residents benefit? Would you say the cost should be borne only by the new construction?


  37. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: …ever reduce congestion anywhwere with density is BOGUS…

    I’m a fellow skeptic but haven’t we seen several recent blog subjects where folks who chose to live in Arlington.. shed their cars?

    Haven’t some recent proposals for Tysons offered incentives and penalities for whether or not car useage went down or up or stayed the same?

    We DO have experience right now with existing mixed-use – Arlington being one and I’m sure there are many others.

    So.. we know that it does “work” in some urban locations.

    The question is.. will brand-new mixed-use developments in exurban greenfield locations … PERFORM .. like Arlington in terms of car use?

    AND .. are there developers willing to agree – as a condition of rezone to agree to performance standards and performance monitoring with incentives/penalities per the performance?

    Some developer somewhere is going to agree to do this – and when they do – they will help establish defacto standards that future proposals will be judged against.

    Just announced in Spotsylvania (Jim may be blogging this) is a truly MASSIVE mixed-use proposal.

    3 million square feet of office space. 14,000 new jobs. Workforce housing in the 140-160K range. $127 million in transportation proffers, 2 new schools and library AND a 12 million dollar VRE Station.

    If this project is financially viable – it just could be the proposal that sets the standard.

    Developments like this directly address the challenges that skeptics have issued….

  38. Groveton Avatar

    Jim’s comments:

    “RH, I quite agree that zoning also discriminates against certain types of low-density development, such as the example you cited. Here’s the difference: Many people who like the fresh air and privacy of 10-acre lots also want utilities, public services and uncongested roads. As long as they are willing to pay the full cost of those amenities, they should be free to live as they choose. If they want to shift the costs to others, then I have a very big problem.”.

    My edits:

    “RH, I quite agree that zoning also discriminates against certain types of low-density development, such as small scale farming in rural communities. Here’s the difference: Many people who like the fresh air and privacy of 10-acre farms also want good schools, public services and serious police departments. As long as they are willing to pay the full cost of those amenities, they should be free to live as they choose. If they want to shift the costs to others, then I have a very big problem.”.

    What’s the difference?

    If it’s needed by a suburbanite it’s an amenity.

    If it’s needed by a rural person it’s a requirement.

    Amenities should be paid by those who use them (so long as Jim gets to define amenity).

    Requirements should be paid for by everybody (so long as Jim gets to define requirement).

    The roads of these arguments all end up at the same intellectually congested intersection:

    1. The rich counties who lead lesser lifestyles working busy jobs they moved to get, using congested roads, in communities full of illegal immigrants running amok should take a lot of the extra money they earned through being willing to inconvienience themselves and pay for

    2. Poor counties who lead lovely lifestyles where their families have lived for generations working on an economic basis which started failing the day the first tractor replaced the first mule team in the 96% white, All American, uncrowded communities.


    Example 2:

    Some guy lives in rural Virginia not being able to make ends meet trying to do the same thing his Daddy did and his Daddy’s Daddy did. Like blacksmithing, the economics don’t work. He and his fellow countymen can’t produce enough wealth or tax to pay to educated their children. They stay right where they are and look for ways that others can subsidize them.

    Some guy lives in rural Mexico not being able to make ends meet by trying to do the same thing his Daddy did and his Daddy’s Daddy did. Like blacksmithing, the economics don’t work. He and his countymen can’t generate enough wealth to pay for the education of his childreen. So he gets up one day, leaves his family, pays a shady guy called a coyote to get him across the border where he then sneaks 1,200 miles up to Northern Virginia. He sneaks around, takes whatever job he can get, lives 12 to a room but pays for himself and sends money back to the family in Mexico.

    Surmise that the state can only afford to send one of these guys to college.

    Which one do you send?

    The Mexican gets my vote.

    At least he’s trying.

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