Loudoun Chickens Come Home to Roost in Fairfax

There’s a revealing comment buried deep in a Washington Post story about the furor over VDOT’s traffic estimates of development in Loudoun County.

“There is virtually no development going on now on the Fairfax side of the line,” said James R. Hart, a member of the Fairfax County Planning Commission who lives in the western edge of the county. “The traffic is attributable to what’s happening in Loudoun.”

The chickens are coming home to roost. Fairfax County purchased itself temporary relief from traffic congestion by restricting housing development, even as it lapped up all the commercial development it could. The commercial/residential ratio in the tax base is highly favorable as a result, allowing Fairfax to maintain a lower overall tax rate. But the people who work in Fairfax County have to live somewhere. Increasingly, they’re living in Loudoun County. And they’re driving long distances — congest Loudoun and Fairfax roads — to get to work.

The problem is the inevitable result of the failure to build communities with a balance of housing, jobs, retail and amenities. If I sound like a broken record, I’m sorry: This fundamental principle has to be repeated over and over until people get it.

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29 responses to “Loudoun Chickens Come Home to Roost in Fairfax”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Jim, not so fast. I’ve been informed by a very good source who is closely tracking the proposed changes to Tysons Corner that the data suggest the number of additional vehicles that would be generated by this so-called TOD, mixed use project would be twice as many as those generated by the South Dulles developments. The idea that, given Fairfax County’s over-stressed infrastructure, any development would not make things worse is simply wrong.

    The issue is not sprawl or smart growth, but rather inadequate infrastructure and a refusal by the existing BoS to take any reasonable steps to obtain the cash necessary to provide public facilities necessary to support the added growth, be it dense or non-dense in nature.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Toomanytaxes, One must draw an distinction between localized congestion and region-wide congestion. Yes, increasing density and creating transit-friendly development does increase localized congestion. But, I would argue, it relieves region-wide congestion. You can see the impact of the local density because it’s all concentrated in one spot. What you can’t see is the cars that are taken off all other roads — as in the cars that originate in Loudoun County and drive through Fairfax –an impact too diffuse to be gauged anecdotally.

    In theory, development that takes place in pedestrian/transit-friendly communities leads to fewer, shorter car trips than the alternative of conventional “sprawl” development. I know Ray Hyde will dispute that, or say that it’s unproven. That’s why I think it’s critical, as I’ve blogged before, for the Commonwealth to begin conducting empirical research, which is well within its means, to find out if different patterns of development generate different levels of automobile traffic and congestion.

  3. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Hindsight is always 20/20

    Another current problem is the price of the homes. There are plenty of people that would love to live in these new Transit Oriented Development communities if they could afford it.

    Merrified is/was propably the cheapest and 1 bedroom condos are around 250k now. If you have a family forget about it. Many proposed townhomes in these TOD communities are around 500k and Tysons prices are going to be truly astronomical. You can’t really blame the developers too much because they have to make a profit and the land is expensive.

    for TMT

    so how do we get more inferstruucture we raise taxes kind of ironic based on your name

    This is the foundation of the transportation debate from the 3000 foot state level, should we reward bad planning or should localities face the consequences on their own.

    Its a pretty easy choice for the state when a majority in NoVA agree
    that we need more trasnportation funding and we are willing to tax ourseleves to pay for it

  4. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Toomanytaxes – you’ve completely missed the point. The issue is not growth, but the composition of that growth; the ratio or balance of wealth-creation to residential.

    Residences are [government] revenue sops; they don’t create wealth and the occupants demand from 30% to 210% more service cost that their taxes generate. The opposite is true for industry; it generates far more tax than it demands in service.

    It’s too easy for government to view the issue as revenue generating versus absorbing, and tilt zoning and permits toward … revenue generation. The fallacy of this approach is business needs people to operate. People who have to live somewhere, and must [statistically] live in another jurisdiction.

  5. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Wow – I have much to address.

    Localized versus regional congestion. Those of us who live near Tysons Corner in all directions will bear the bulk of the “localized congestion.” Great news! What’s in it for us? I’ve not heard anyone explain why someone who lives in Fairfax County in McLean, Great Falls, Vienna, Falls Church, etc. should be willing to suffer even more negative impacts on the quality of life and, most likely, higher real estate taxes for the benefit of the region.

    Moreover, as Tysons Corner grows with added commercial and business buildings, which are in the plans, there will be even more people driving to the area from Loudoun, Prince William and beyond. It is a myth that the new housing at Tysons would eliminate long distance commuting. The new housing — mainly high-rise condos — will be expensive. The person making $65 K per year cannot afford to live at Tysons Corner even if she or he wanted to live there. Again, everyone pretends that density means affordability. Why? (Please note that I’m not trashing the landowners or builders. Land costs are high, as are construction costs. Therefore, sales prices need to be high also.)

    There is also the fact that the Census Bureau reported that most people still want a single-family home on a decent sized lot at affordable prices. None of that would be found at Tysons Corner.

    Taxes and infrastructure. There are a large number of NoVA residents who firmly believe that the goal of transportation advocates is to increase development and not to improve traffic congestion. Take a look at my earlier post where I set forth the impact on transportation from spending at least $4 B to construct the Silver Line. Can anyone explain how that effort would be a sound investment of money? Take a look at the requested changes in the comprehensive plan for Tysons that would be permitted were the Silver Line to be built. Would the average resident of Fairfax County be better off by spending the $4 B, having the Silver Line and the added density at Tysons? If so, how? No one is ever willing to address those issues head-on.

    What is Fairfax County’s target for transportation cash proffers? Zero. Back in the 1980s, local residents and organizations in Reston negotiated $100 M in transportation infrastructure improvements in connection with the rezoning of central Reston. Source: Senator Janet Howell. What does the $100 M translate into today for Tysons? Again, the boosters for higher taxes never address these issues. Why?

    Composition of the growth. This is the very same agrument made by the Economic Development Authority for continued taxpayer financing. We’ve certainly had growth in commercial real estate and jobs in Fairfax County. We’ve also had our real estate taxes increase by well more than 80%. That’s much more than most people’s income rose over the same time period.

    Our parks are overcrowded. Traffic needs no further comment. Metrorail cars are jammed at rush hour. We feed 7th graders lunch before 10 am because the school facilities are inadequate. Fairfax County’s wastewater treatment plant cannot handle more development than is already in the comprehensive plan.

    Why would any rational person not connected with these real estate development projects want more people in Fairfax County?

  6. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    Why would any rational person not connected with these real estate development projects want more people in Fairfax County?

    This is a question I keep asking. Why is it in the best interest of the people of NOVA (or the US) to increase our population density? Everyone knows that increased population density leads to more laws, more crime, more noise, more pollution, and less freedom.

  7. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    We’ve certainly had growth in commercial real estate and jobs in Fairfax County.

    Had? Right now within a 5-mile radius of my house in Centreville there are 10 buildings under construction with more than 1.1 million square feet of commercial space – all without pre-signed tentants. Anyone have a clue how many jobs that equates to? Or how many more people are going to be cutting through my neighborhood? There’s no public transporation to speak of here… double Yeehaw.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Jim Patrick’s argument that residences are revenue sops is complete nonsense. If industry is paying far more tax than it costs in services then the problem is tax inequity, not houses: let each party pay what they owe.

    Here is why the argument is nonsense. In Fauquier county the argument is frequently made that any home valued at less than $750,000 doesn’t pay its own way. But the average home is only around $250,000. So, how exactly are the bills getting paid?

    If you take the county budget, and divide it by the number of houses and multiply the tax rate by X unit rate times X equals budget then the number is $750,000.

    But resale estate tax only accounts for one third of the revenue, and one third os $750,000 is $250,000, so there you have it.

    All of te rest of the money comes from user fees, fines, business taxes, state income tax refunded to the county, etc. etc. etc.

    One way or another all that money comes frome someone who lives—-in a house. So Patrick’s argument is ridiculous. If business wasn’t overtaxed, then they could afford to pay more in salaries, and we could turn right around and use that to pay higher real estate taxes. In the end, it makes no difference.

    There are plenty of reasons to be opposed to excessive development and density in any one place, but that is not one of them.

    As for jobs/housing balance, what programs have we got to promote that? Here in Fauquier, the powers that be are opposed to businesses coming in because they are afraid that it will create a demand for housing, and housing (according to the bogus argument) is tax negative. In other words, the answer here is NO. No housing, no jobs, no development, no wealth creation.

    But Loudoun and PW have the fastest job growth in the area, so all hope is not lost.

    The problem TMT decries is lack of infrastructure. Well, If Patricks argument IS correct, then we can’t very well promote giving ourselves a tax gift year after year and then complain about infrastructure. If my argument is correct, then what inadequate infrastructure means is that the combination of industrial and residential taxes is too low.

    I’m sorry TMT, but NOVA-Middle-Man is right on this point. You can’t complain about too little infrastructure and too much taxes, both. You can claim that the inadequate infrastructure is a result of NEW development not paying their share of immediate capital expenses, and you would be partly right.

    But there is simply too much evidence that we have not been taxing ourselves enough right along, and we simply can’t expect the newcomers to pick up the entire tab for our previous gluttony. The gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1986. Planned communities that pay for their own infrastructure are having trouble keeping up, so they are making additional assessments to new residents.

    We have met the enemy and they are us.

    I sit on two sides of the fence. In Fauquier, I’m an industry (farm) and so I provide employment and sales opportunities for several businesses in the area. In return, I get to pay taxes at 300% of the rate I use services, according to county sources. In Fairfax, I’m a homeowner. I still pay more cash dollar taxes in Fairfax than I do in Fauquier, even though the farm is worth twice the value of my Fairfax home.

    The difference is that in Fairfax I at least get SOMETHING for my money. Here in Fauquier, I get NADA. (That is spanish for Not A Damn Anything). I understand where TMT is coming from, but if he really wants to pay a lot for little, he should try Fauquier.

    In Fauquier, the entire county comprehensive plan conists of avoiding, preventing, and denying growth. In the past 20 years they have reduced the area of the planned service districts (where grwoth is supposedly encouraged) from 172 sq mi to 12 sq miles, and some of them have yet to have services. Yet growth still happens, and so we are a poster child for the argument I made above. We are not spending enough as a group to deal with the growth we are having. Having in spite of growth controls.

    What we do have, is very expensive growth: $850,000 homes for childless older couples. Pretty soon we will have our very first swimming pool for our kids, paid for by those childless couples.

    But from where I sit, I can watch exponential growth in Warren County. In Front Royal they just raised the height limit from 40 feet to 60 feet. And because of the increased time and cost of travel, I can watch my property in Fairfax increase in value.

    And in taxes.

    I can also watch my flower garden, my hay fields, and the wild life.

    Now, if I could just convince the bear to stay out of my car……

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – You argue that residents of Fairfax County (& elsewhere) need to pay sufficient taxes in order to have adequate public facilities. At some level, that argument is true. But I wonder at what level of taxes would Fairfax County have reasonably adequate public facilities?

    As you know, real estate taxes have increased 80% plus over the last seven or so years. The sales tax is up. We pay at least 25 or 26 percent of the individual income tax on a statewide basis. The car tax is heading up again. We pay gas tax, plus a special sales tax on gas. Obviously, those taxes are not enough.

    But, at the same time, I strongly suspect that if each of these taxes had been higher, we would still have traffic nightmares, trailers for classrooms, overused parks, jammed Metro platforms during rush hour. Should we have paid 10%, 20%, 50% higher taxes?

    In fact, I suspect that had we been paying even higher taxes, what little additional infrastructure that would exist today would have stimulated even more development. We might be worse off with more infrastructure and higher taxes. The state treasury in Richmond might be booming even more at our expense, but most of us here in NoVA would probably be worse off than we are today.

    What level of taxation would halt the steady decline of our quality of life without stimulating more development that would again push the quality of life downward again?

    The longer I live here, the more I am convinced that nothing can, or will be able to, fix this place. NoVA has been overdeveloped. It has grown beyond its infrastructure and the ability of public officials to devise and fund a plan to remedy the problems. There are now too many people who believe that state and local government’s desire is to make this place even larger, rather than to fix any public facilities problems. This group has every motivation to become a roadblock. We have and will continue to have a stalemate. But that might well be the best we can do.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Jim, to borrow a phrase, all congestion is local. Regionwide, you can pretty much go where and when you want. The vast majority of predictable congestion is during rush hour, on the main arteries, and in the business districts. Otherwise, it is a problem not so much.

    TMT: I agree. Probably the place cannot be fixed without substantially undeveloping it. By now, we have underpaid taxes so long that it is not likely that we can ever catch up: the pain is just too great.

    And you are right, had we paid 10 or 20% more the government would have found 10 or 20% new ways to waste it: the real work is just too hard.

    I believe that more urbanized places are more complex and complexity is a huge cost driver. And that is on top of what nova_middle_man said about land prices, construction costs, and developers profits. It is just harder and more expensive to do anything there all the way around, and one reason is all the energy that is expended overcoming the friction caused by congestion.

    And this complexity has creeped in upon us little by little, one development at a time. And all along we keep fooling ourselves that we can continue to do the same old things at the same old prices. Then we wake up one day and find out that we are not talking about a 10 or 20 or 50% tax increase, now we are looking at 300% increase, if we ever hope to catch up.

    Now that is Fundamental Change for you.

    I suspect a 300% tax increase would spark an instantaneous exit of a lot of people. Then you would see housing prices come down, schools, parks, and roadways less full.

    No one can possible be elected on that platform, no matter how reasonable it might be, so it won’t happen. At least not all at once. But, when you see a million sq ft of office space going up speculatively in Centreville, (which was horse contry when I lived there, not so long ago), then you have to think those speculators have a handle on the market.

    When you see vast acreage of industrail parks, dozens of them, going up in Manassas, then either there is an exodus or less desire for a more central location. There is even a proposal for a million sq ft of class A office space in Warrenton. Manassas has become the new Merrifield, which was previously an outpost of industrial malls.

    Tobias has hit it on the head: Everyone knows that increased population density leads to more laws, more crime, more noise, more pollution, and less freedom. And I would add more congestion. (And, if he lived on a cul-de-sac, then he wouldn’t worry about cut-throughs.) But his ideas are endemic, and so is growth: we simply cannot accomodate them both.

    One thing sprawl does is keep the cities honest by providing at least some form of competition. I’ve also made the point that sprawl puts jobs in locations where they can help support what passes for farms these days. Certainly that is true in my case.

    I do think that Jim Bacon is partly correct in that IF we had less motorized travel then we would have less pollution. But, both Metro and the highway situation show what happens when travel is underpriced – congestion and overcrowding. And that problem is further aggravated when the number of destinations are too few, or too large.

    I don’t know how to make Bacon’s ideas work, and I don’t readily see any good examples, but I do agree that we need real world, nonpolitical, research to understand what is really happening. If Loudoun has enough jobs, then some people will take those jobs rather than drive through Fairfax. But some people will drive FROM Fairfax to get to those jobs. But he’s right, somewhere there must be a balance between fewer shorter trips and more cars in a smaller area. Somewhere there must be a balance between closer opportunities and the correct and sufficient opportunities.

    Somewhere there is a balance between the cost of housing at one house per fifty acres and the cost of constructing high rises. And somewhere there is an intersection of road costs and congestion costs at one density vs the other. It could be that those variables are not strictly dependent, so there are multiple locally optimum mixes to chose from.

    Right now, we just don’t know the answer, so there are a lot of politically motivated theories. Already we see that traffic projections are a political football.

    Consider WalMart, where the destinations are both many and large. How many would we have to build before it would make sense to make them smaller, and closer to home? What would be the cost effect on their distribution system? Does it make sense to have more heavy trucks running to more destinations so we can have shorter auto trips? At what point does shorter distance trips result in longer time of trips and more congestion and pollution? How is WalMart different from Starbucks?If we begin to make the WalMarts smaller and closer to home, does that mean we limit the variety of choices and we have to go to more places to get what we desire? Isn’t that problem exactly what made WalMart possible in the first place? I like my local hardware store and IGA, but…….

    Small is beautiful, up to a point, and bigger and denser *might* be more efficient, up to a point. Apparently there is NO agreement on what that point is. When does aditional development cost you more than you gain? When does additional density cost you more than sprawl? Why do we live with ugly, and how do we legislate taste?

    In Warrenton a major new development was required to use only 25% of the land and effectively donate the rest to preserve viewscape. I don’t see how you will have a walkable society with 75% open space. Even in Tyson’s, one of the major planning goals is more open space.

    In the meantime, Merrifield is moving to Manassas, Downtown is moving to Tyson’s, and Crystal City is moving to Belvoir. Those are the facts that we do know, so now, what do we do about it? How do we raise the money, who pays, and who gets paid?

    Here on the farm I have to build and maintain my own water and sewer supply. I’m pretty sure I can do a better job of it and cheaper than I can if I have to sublet the job out to the county. But that is only true because I have the space.

    I think TMT is right, the Fairfax situation is beyond the capacity of public officials to devise and fund a plan to remedy the problems. One reason is that they don’t have the space. If we can’t fix the problems we can see, why in the world would we think we can devise a comprehensive plan that can avoid all the problems from scratch? How many new problems will it create that we didn’t think of, just like we didn’t think of the ones we have now? How can adding options and alternatives wind up being cheaper?

    In my last copy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation newsletter, they are pushing a recommendation that all of our previously built infrastructure be re-engineered to meet current runoff control standards. That is an enormous task, and they think we should accomplish 25% of it within ten years. No mention of how it will be paid for, but at least they have identified a problem and part of a plan to fix it. But here again we have a situation where the environmental fix is going to need more space, and that conflicts with the argument that the environmentally responsible thing to do is use less space.

    Even if different patterns of development generate different levels of traffic and congestion, it is only a partial answer. What if the result is that we all live in an enormous heat island, and we now use more energy in air conditioning than we used to in driving? What if the result is more costly, and bad for the economy?

  11. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray said, “What if the result is that we all live in an enormous heat island, and we now use more energy in air conditioning than we used to in driving?”

    Interesting thought. I wonder if there’s any way to quantify the heat island effect on energy consumption.

  12. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Ray Hyde said… “Jim Patrick’s argument that residences are revenue sops is complete nonsense. If industry is paying far more tax than it costs in services then the problem is tax inequity, not houses …

    Residences cost localities more than they pay in taxes. That’s not an argument; it’s a cold, hard, documented fact.

    Studies in Virginia and across the nation all have the same result: Dwellings require more services than they pay in taxes; revenue balance is maintained by non-residential uses.

    If you don’t like the tax structure, work to change it; in the meantime deal with reality. You ought to apologize for turning dislike of current tax code into an accusation like you did.

  13. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    But his ideas are endemic, and so is growth: we simply cannot accomodate them both.

    I’m not anti-growth. I’m only in favor of common sense, lower taxes and less government. Simply put – most of my fellow “big business” Republicans do not care to accommodate these traditional conservative views (and my views are not being accommodated so no worries on that front). I just happen to be of the opinion that every now and then the average citizen should have some teeny tiny shred of influence over what is happening in their community.

    Take for example the endless mantra regarding the sanctity of private property rights. I hear this all the time from developers and politicians. But they are all hypocrites. The history of the development of NOVA is one long litany of legislative takings and threats of (if not actual) eminent domain proceedings against property owners who don’t/didn’t want to go along with development. I wonder what percentage of proffers and rezoning applications mention the phrase “eminent domain”? I’d love to see a study on that one.

    I think two small news stories that appeared here in Centreville recently are a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the big government supported development in Northern Virginia.

    When a developer wanted to build houses on practically the only remnant of Civil War history left in the historic district of Centreville (the Confederate winter camps site) what did our Supervisor Frey say? “After all, it is their property”.

    When a developer wanted to put a traffic signal on someone else’s property (actually the front yards of 2 private residences) and threatened to seize the land through eminent domain proceedings what did Supervisor Frey say? “… the traffic light will benefit the total community”.

    I should say though that I live on a private street and I commute from Fairfax to Loudoun County so I personally have it good compared too many. NW Centreville is a wonderful place for my family to live all my protestations aside.

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    It is not a fact.

    Not unless you calculate the costs by dividing the county budget against the number of houses, or some other faulty method, as I described. It depends on how you allocate the costs, and it depends on the period of time you look at. A new home full of kids may be tax negative. But ten years later it has doubled in value, and the argument is less true, twentyyears later it may be quite valuable and home to a couple of empty nesters.

    The studies you refer to are all done the same way, and they all have the same faults. Ususally these are conducted according to a protocol developed by the American Farmland Trust for the express purpose of preventing farmland from being developed. The method is widely recognized as being faulty because it is based on a snapshot in time, among other things.

    Two professors from the University of Colorado Dept. of Economics published a study on this topic that concluded that you cannot say as a matter of first principle that residential housing is tax negative, and that the AFT studies are flawed.

    I still think the argument is ridiculous because in the end, all the taxes that get paid are paid by someone who lives in a house. If we change the rules so that more of our revenue is based on home assessments, then we can collect less in other taxes. We could eliminate the gas tax and car tax for example, but then someone would make the equally ridiculous argument that cars don’t pay their own way.

    You can’t blame housing or development for how we choose to collect our taxes. I’m perfectly happy to have big corporations pay my real estate taxes for me. But I recognize it for what it is. It is stealing, or else it is a sham and a lie. Government knows full well that if they charge Morgan oil extra on their taxes that Molly is going to include part of that cost in my fuel oil bill. So who is paying the tax?

    At best it is an income redistribution scheme that is off the books so that we can’t tell what anything costs. FAuquier County used a bunch of money they got as proffers from Dominion Power for a new power plant to buy up a bunch of conservation easements. The argument was that it was free money because it did not come out of the tax budget.


    I’m perfectly happy to have someone else pay two thirds of my fare whenever I ride Metro or VRE, too. But what we’ve got is everybody standing around in a circle saying the guy next to us isn’t paying enough.

    It is a ridiculous idea, even if it is widely held. I didn’t mean it personally, and I apologize if it sounded that way.

  15. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Jim, that heat island is associated with a pllution island and together they are associated with asthma, heat stroke, heart attacks, etc.

    As you have pointed out, these are offset by increased traffic deaths in the countryside.

    All I’m saying is that at a total system level we have a lot more to consider than congestion and housing prices and runoff. Lord only knows what the best urban suburban rural mix is, and it probably changes faster than we can economically adapt, so we always have some things that are out of balance, for a while.

    We don’t have any good way to measure and evaluate all these things. The closest thing we have is the market, where we can decide what we are willing to pay for the situations we find ourselves in.

    TMT has expressed frustration at his situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him trade it in for a different one at some point. You have said your wife might make the opposite choice, and that is what makes it possible for TMT to sell out, at some price.

    But if we mask the costs by undercharging for housing and overcharging for business, then it just makes it harder to determine what you are paying for, and it leads to bad decisions like “housing doesn’t pay.” or “Autos are highly subsidised.” Each taken alone doesn’t mean a thing.

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, an area where you and I agree is our skepticism of the ability of central planners to appraise all the variables and calculate an optimal settlement pattern. That’s why I think it’s important to let the market make decisions about where people work and live, and the type of communities they live in. To accomplish that, however, at least two things (maybe more) must happen:

    (1) Planners need to relax their zoning codes to allow developers greater flexibility in the types of the communities they think will appeal to consumers.

    (2) To the greatest extent possible, people must pay the location-variable costs of their decisions where to live, work and play. That’s easier said than done, of course. But if we could create a level playing field, people would make more rational locational decisions and the market would devise the optimal solution.

  17. nova_middle_man Avatar

    #1 won’t fly because most people currently living here in NOVA land are fighting against higher density. As an example there is obvious market demand for the Development in Loudoun but the climate is very anti-growth/density

    #2 is sort of being accomplished via the proffers that developers must pay which are then passed on to consumers. Another interesting note on this is the discounts/ incentives that are given to businesses to influence where they will locate. As an example, the Fairfax organization dedicated to bringing international business to the county.

    The main “problem” in NoVA is that our economy has been “too” robust. As more and more newcomers come to the region they move further and further out to find a dwelling they can afford. And as any fruther growth is quickly shot down the problem continues to grow as we all watch I-95 or I-66 or the Dulles Toll Road. 20,000 jobs are coming and the people will have to live somewhere.

    There is a glimmer of hope with Tysons Corner the Springfield redevlopment and Metro West which are all being done in an open fashion with community input.

    I’ll end with my favorite broken record. More housing in the core and more businesses at the edge for a better Virginia in all regions.

  18. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    NOVA MM – I still would like someone to explain to me how tripling the density and more of Tysons Corner helps what I’ll vaguely call the “public interest.” It’s pretty clear that the new housing will be quite expensive. Therefore, all those who cannot afford to live there won’t — and will still commute. Moreover, not all who can afford to live there want to live in high-rise condos — and will still commute.

    The argument that building the Silver Line and adding density to Tysons will help with traffic is simply flat-out wrong. The state’s own data, which I reiterated in an earlier post, shows that, even after spending at least $4 B, traffic is just as bad as if nothing at all were done. Keep in mind that if there’s no rail, there’s no density and no additional 130,000 residents. Also, the number of proposed parking spaces (9000 for Tysons I alone) is inconsistent with traffic improvement. Indeed, I’ve been informed by someone who follows Tysons more closely than I do that the number of new automobile trips for Tysons (even with the Silver Line) is double what would be generated by all of the 28,000 new houses in Loudoun County near Dulles Airport.

    Then, there are the issues of other infrastructure (schools, parks, sewer, libraries, police, fire, etc.) and the fact that, unless Tysons is delayed until the voters toss the current BoS, most of the costs for adding public facilities on a delayed, catch-up basis would be borne by Fairfax County real estate taxpayers, the bulk of which are homeowners.

    I don’t think that anyone can dispute these factual statements, so I ask as respectfully as I can: How, under these circumstances, can one argue that Tysons would serve the public interest? I’m not trying to be flip or unreasonable, but the entire Silver Line/Tysons Corner proposal is designed to benefit private interests.

    If I were working for the other side, the first thing I’d do would be to stop selling these projects as “for the benefit of the public,” and simply state that the landowners at Tysons are trying to get as much money as possible from their holdings. It’s the truth. Moreover, it’s what businesses try to do all of time. I think that some of the hostility towards the Tysons Corner landowners would lessen a little if they stopped playing pretend on all fronts.

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good posts gentlemen. Little by little I think each of us is absorbing some thoughts from each of the others.

    Tobias, what I meant was that a lot of people concur with your statement, and that is why people are opposed to more density. Problem is that they are opposed to density everywhere. Even where there is next to none, and even where it is supposedly planned.

    I’d like to build one lousy house, and I can’t do it, because of the planners. I can put it where no one but the owners or pilots will ever see it. It will empty onto a road that has more deer than autos on it, after that, no one knows what congestion it will cause, or where. As a “developer” I think it would appeal to a consumer. Yet I can’t do it because someone thinks it is environmentally irresponsible or that housing doesn’t pay. In short, it doesn’t fit someone else’s plan.

    It is interesting to hear that you have a reverse commute. I was doing that for a while, from Annandale to Gainesville, which was slightly more than my current commute to the same location. But while I was reverse commuting it was at first very easy, but over the years I found more and more people going my way.

    This is evidence that nova_middle_man’s prescription is gradually being filled. I think he is dead on correct. It is evidence that the market is making itself heard. I think (but cannot prove) that if we had to pay our true location costs that most highly dense places wouldn’t happen, the evidence is that they are more expensive, have higher taxes, have all the problems Tobias mentioned, all the goods have to be shipped in and the waste shipped out, and in addition, I claim they place unwarranted and unpaid demands on the surrounding areas.

    Fauquier, despite it disdain for building, has been doing a bumper trade in accepting construction scrap at their landfill. Some day it will be full of urban trash and the real bill will come due when Fauquier has to find a new dump site. It took four years to site a school, just imagine what a dump will take. And what hapens if the best dump site turns out to be a place that they previously placed a permanent conservation easement? The next dump is going to cost many times what the last one did, but are they dedicating dump revenues towards the next dump acquisition? Nope, it goes to the general fund to keep real estate taxes artificially low. After Fairfax fills up our dump, are they going to buy us a new one?

    I think Jim’s comments are correct, especially the easier said than done part. But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that the best answer isn’t what we wish it would be.

  20. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Ray – residences demand services, and they require more than they pay for. It’s odd to claim “widely recognized” when it’s “two professors” who allegedly refute hundreds of studies, decades of analysis; and (above all) commonsense logic and experience.

    Yes, most studies are a snapshot in time –a single year of local finances— with consistent results decade after decade. The criticism is faulty.

    Houses demand services –structure and occupants— which industry doesn’t require or needs less of. It’s the reason localities try to attract industry, why counties have Economic Development departments.

    First principles (“all the taxes … are paid by someone who lives in a house”) is not even true on its face. But localities can only tax as permitted; the remaining 300 words are pointless.

    Statistically, in the whole, and for policy; residences absorb tax.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I concede your position is widely held. I don’t care one way or another, but I’m suggesting that maybe we create our own problems based on the way we look at them. Maybe we are precluding the solutions by choosing the wrong tools to work with.

    Look, if I mark up a six inch stick as if it was a foot it will measure the same thing every time, and it will be wrong every time. I only need one standard measure to disprove all of the measurements ever made with the six inch stick.

    I only reference these two professors, because I have their paper in hand, but the criticisms of the AFT method are widespread but not nearly as well advertised as the AFT “studies”.

    And, AFT has even sponsored studies of studies that, not surprisingly come to the conclusion that, yep, they all say the same thing, so they must be right. When I go look these things up and you find hundreds and hundreds that say virtually the same thing, word for word, and the results are similar in varied communities, then I begin to get suspicious that maybe this is more of a propaganda campaign in favor of their interests than it is necessarily a fact.

    The professors at least have a veneer of disinterest, so maybe it is worth a look. The six inch stick by which these measurements are typically made was invented by the user and promoter for their own purposes, and the professors are simply pointing out that, maybe, the emperor has no clothes. If they are right, then all of the studies are wrong.

    When you put up a house, it will be there for a hundred years. Yet the proffers and chances for building approval are based on a snapshot in time and a bunch of gross assumptions that may not hold true. In the last ten years Fauquier county has denied permits for over five hundred homes, yet based on the last round of reassessments all of them would have now met the requirement of being valued at or near $750,000.

    The county has denied positive cash flow that it could have had, and it has denied prospective residents the increased wealth they might have had. Or at least they have caused those things to occur someplace else, maybe to a lesser extent.

    What is really going on is that some people don’t want development, not at any price, and they are using a bogus financial analysis to support their view.

    One thing industry does need is workers, and workers need houses, and roads so they can get to work and schools to educate their kids so they can go to work for industry some day. To say that industry doesn’t need the services that support their workers is foolish.

    Also, workers have the votes. So if you are government you have an incentive to make it appear that home taxes are low. The way you do that is to artificially shift the bill to business.

    As I said, Morgan Oil pays more than than I do, probably. But Molly gets the money to pay that be from me and her other customers, and Molly lives in a house, too. So, either her house makesit pssible to run her business and her house is responsible for a huge tax positive business account, or else the money that is used to pay the Morgan tax account really comes from all her customers, and the deficits for all those houses is lower than claimed. You can’t have the commercial accounts without the houses to support them.

    But, if Fairfax is exporting houses to Loudoun, then it merely supports my argument that the urbanized areas are sucking resources out of the surrounding areas, and they are not paying their full locational costs. If Loudoun is fighting back by trying to attract industry, it is because Loudoun government wants to stay in power by playing the same game as Fairfax. They want to make real estate taxes appear low and provide jobs so they can stay in office.

    This is an artificial deal that was put in place for political purposes. Now the apparent facts in place are as you claim, and I don’t deny that. But these “facts” are artificially contrived to begin with, and they are being exploited by those who are against residential growth. Let’s make the new folks pay full cost through enormous proffers, they say, because housing (as any intelligent person knows, look at all the proof), is tax negative.

    It is only tax negative if the communities are not balanced. Or, as EMR points out, the boundaries are wrong. Or, if we aren’t playing on a level palying field, as Jim points out.

    The other way to look at it is to consider the revenue sources. OK, so real estate tax accounts for one third of the revenue. Pick some cost centers that amount to one third of the budget, and attach those accounts to the real estate revenue. Then, those accounts are what houses pay for. Whatever they don’t pay for doesn’t matter, because those other costs are assigned to other sources of revenue. Saying that housing doesn’t pay its way, depends on how you assign the costs.

    If the cost of those accounts go up, raise the real estate tax to cover them. Under this scenario houses would pay the full costs assigned. Then you can stop worrying about what they don’t pay for, because that comes from other sources anyway.

    That still leaves you with the problem of the other two thirds, which you point out are mostly uncontrolled. About a third is state contributions kicked back or school support from income taxes, but those come from someone who lives in a house, somewhere. So while the arguement may not be true on its face, it is true in the final analysis.

    Around my place the farm pays for the farm and other income pays for my house and living expenses. Neither the farm or the house can continue to exist with out both sources of income, just as businesses and residential can’t exist without each other.

    Do I say to myself, gee, the house isn’t paying its own way because the income associated with the house is insufficient to support the farm? Do I say, gee, the farm is losing money because it doesn’t provide enough income to pay my housing and living expenses? No. Each one has its own requirements, its own benefits, and its own budget, and its own revenue stream.

    But together they have to balance out or management isn’t doing it’s job.

  22. nova_middle_man Avatar

    I got a chance to reread Ray’s long post (just skimmed before) and it does a great summary of what we are all trying to grapple with and say I think

    The main question remains in my mind is what do we do now. There are plenty of examples of what not to do.

    I’ll try to work in some answers to your question TMT

    In a normal developing area Jim’s ideas would work perfectly and I think one of Jim’s main points is that the more data and planning tools we have the better so that we can do a better job of growing and learning from out mistakes.

    We all know that the NoVA area is truly unique. The fact is road inferstructure has not kept up with developement but the growth has/will continue to come.

    On the one hand we have more and more people coming who have to go somwhere and on the other hand we have an area near capacity in most areas and overcapacity in some areas.

    Economic theory would state that eventually people and businesses will stop coming here until the area balances out.

    But the federal government AND associated beltway bandits ever-expanding growth throws that theory out the window.

    So, I base my theory on the fact that people are coming no matter what. This pits the current residents verses the planners and business owners who are trying to invest and accomodate the future

    The powers at be have decided on a silver line (think a majority of us disagreed with the approach BRT anyone but not the concept of taking cars off the road imagine rush hour without Metro) and with it a major “potential undefined overhaul” at Tysons.

    This is key Tysons is a very open process. Fairfax Focus Blog has more details among other places. There have been several meetings and the scope of the project is still being worked out. It might even impact the results of a certain election (thats off topic for this blog 😛 )

    Anyway, the new Tysons is going to be very expensive. But, isn’t it better than creating another “Reston” place somewhere in Loudoun and then having people drive in creating more traffic and sprawl or adding in more McMansions and having more people forced out to WV.

    I will end with this

    “Keep in mind that if there’s no rail, there’s no density and no additional 130,000 residents.”

    My response would be those 130,000 residents are coming anyway

    The real solution… move the Pentagon to Fredricksburg or Kansas. Fredricksburg keeps the income in Virginia. (Yes I stole the concept from somewhere maybe here?) In all seriousness the move to FT Belvoir creates an opportuniy for close-in housing in Crystal City where all that business space used to be.

  23. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    NOVA MM – Thanks for considering my issues, which are shared by many people in Fairfax County. I do agree that this area is unique. It’s the federal capital and attracts people and businesses. (Which by the way is a good reason why taxpayers could stop being forced to subsidize the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.)

    However, I don’t think that this area is immune from becoming less attractive as a business location. The quality of life has clearly diminished and the cost of living or operating a business has increased. That said, there will still be lots of people here. But to paraphrase Bill Clinton: “It depends on what ‘here’ means.”

    My statement “Keep in mind that if there’s no rail, there’s no density and no additional 130,000 residents” is still correct. But for the Silver Line; huge campaign contributions to the BoS, especially to the Chairman; and the corresponding land use zoning changes, most of those new 130,000 people would not live in Fairfax County, or if they did, they would displace other residents of the county. But for adding dense developments, there probably isn’t room for 130,000 people. They would be living elsewhere.

    What does that mean? It means that their children won’t be in Fairfax County Public Schools. They won’t be in our parks or libraries. They won’t be connected to our wastewater treatment system. And they won’t be making most of their non-work commuting trips within Fairfax County. These 130,000 people will not be burdening Fairfax County’s public facilities or forcing up real estate taxes.

    They will be on our roads going to and from work. That is a downside, but probably an overall smaller burden than having this many people live in Fairfax County under today’s “groundrules.” The downside to existing residents of Fairfax County of having more people live in WV, as you suggested, is not that great.

    Metrorail. I’m not arguing that we should tear down Metrorail. I ride it regularly and have generally done so, even when I had free parking in D.C. But for Metrorail, traffic to and from D.C. would be much worse.

    However, none of this argues for the expansion of Metrorail at a cost of $4 B (before cost overruns — think Springfield Interchange, Wilson Bridge & the Big Dig), when the project’s sponsor’s, the Commonwealth of Virginia, best evidence in favor of spending this small fortune in tax dollars clearly shows that there is no improvement in traffic congestion than if the Silver Line were not built. In other words, spending $4 B plus provides absolutely no benefit to commuters.

    How can this be? People would clearly ride the Silver Line. However, officials from the Commonwealth of Virginia have stated the reason traffic will not improve is because the construction of Metrorail will trigger the rezoning that, in turn, permits so many more people to move to Tysons Corner and along the Dulles Corridor that their added automobile trips will put the roads in as bad of shape as before the Silver Line was built. Clearly, if the Silver Line is not built, the same number of people and their cars will not be living in Fairfax County than if the line is built. This means fewer children in schools, less use of parks, libraries, police, etc., etc.

    My question to you (assuming that you live in Fairfax County and have no business or financial interest in the supersizing of Tysons) is: Are you better off with these additional 130,000 people living in or outside Fairfax County and paying higher taxes for that privilege? What is in this for the average resident of Fairfax County?

  24. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good points. However I’m not sure I believe traffic would be much worse without Metro. Certainly it is not much better WITH Metro, and won’t be any better with the new addition. I don’t think traffic would be much worse without Metro because, how could it get much worse?

    Before that happened those 130,000 people would go someplace else, and the county would be less atractive to business, as you say. The $4 billion would be spent someplace else. We would have made other accomodations, and probably we would have made them without huge public expenditures.

    The problem as I see it is that you are correct: we would be just as well off or better without another 130,000 people. And every other jurisdiction sees it the same way, so they don’t want those 130,000 either.

    Now, EMR would say Fairfax is nowhere near capacity, so there is another side to the story. Yet PW is ordering developers to provide school sites because of a lack of available land. So what is the truth?

    the truth appears to be that we will continue to add more and more requirements, highr proffers, and more restrictions on those that wish to build. The result will be higher home prices and higher wages to be paid to attract employees. Eventually either the prices will get so high that the area is unattractive to business, or else the property will become so valuable that you HAVE to make it denser because you can’t afford to keep it all in one piece. And all the while there will be an exodus of people who have had enough. Assuming they can find a jurisdiction that will let them in, they will then turn around and try to slam the door behind them.

    As Jim states in his post, the philosophy is rarely stated in its baldest terms: new growth should fully pay its own way. I would extend that to say new growth should fully pay its own way even if we all know that existing residential growth is not and has not paid its own way. (If you believe that argument.)

    We might get away with this for a while, but I don’t see how any ssytem that is so blatantly unfair will be allowed to survive. i don’t see how we can accomodate growth we know will occur when every jurisdiction is against growth and when people believe as Tobias stated that density has known bad consequences.

  25. nova_middle_man Avatar

    In all honesty, there is a bit of devils advocate in this.

    The proposed development is unique
    It looks like most of the residences will be high-priced condos designed primarily for singles or couples without kids.

    So, it actually looks like a win-win. These units will be paying high real estate taxes due to the high cost of the units. To stereotype I envision yuppie land. Assuming these people will either work in Tysons or take metro cars will be taken off the roads which is a good thing.

    As far as traffic is concerned on weekends Crystal City traffic is fairly light. I “hope” the plan is to turn Tysons into a Crystal City model. I do not know all the details of the plan but if a decent grid structure is added and the Route 7 corridor is improved I see potential positive results

    As a full disclosure, yes I do live in Fairfax County and you could not pay me to visit the Tysons mall on a weekend. I am also a recent college graduate so I bring the bias of new people moving to the area and trying to afford a place to live.

  26. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    You can never assume you know who will be living in those condos 20 years after they are built.

    There are a lot of neighborhoods in Centreville (and actually all over Fairfax County) where the planning was that a single family would live in this residence (e.g. husband/wife/2.275 kids).

    Because apartment buildings in Centreville (the only low cost housing available) are being either being razed and turned into luxury town homes or remodeled and turned into condos it is driving the low income folks into multi-family residences (legal or not). Streets where there are nearly twice the number of people living on them as there were 15 years ago are experiencing severe parking problems and of course when you have two low income families per unit i/o one family the number of school kids increases as well.

    Things change.

  27. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    NOVA MM – I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, as I think many of our goals are similar. But I must challenge some of your arguments.

    I don’t think that there’s any evidence whatsoever that the new Tysons will reduce the number of vehicles on the road. The facts suggest just the opposite. The Tysons I rezoning application alone would add 9000 new parking spots to the area immediately surrounding the mall. That’s more than 2000 more parking spaces than exit today — and look what happens to traffic around the mall on a busy shopping day, especially if it’s also a work day. Now let’s add enough vehicles to justify 9000 new parking spots to the traffic. It becomes almost inconceivable.

    The company that owns Tysons is not foolish and isn’t about to waste its money by building parking spaces for the new office and condos that will not be used. The facts strongly suggest more traffic. How much more?

    First we must add the additional automobiles from the other 20 applications to amend the Comprehensive Plan for Tysons Corner. The proposed density is huge, as most proposals would go from a FAR of 1.0 or less to 3.0-3.5. That is not downtown Chicago, but remember that today’s FARs of about 1.0 are producing the traffic volumes that most people believe are gridlock. Triple the density and, even with the Silver Line, the transportation implications are mind-boggling. A knowledgable person has told me that the added automobile traffic from Tysons would be twice the volumes that would be generated by the Loudoun County Greenvest, et al proposals, which would put a number of Fairfax County roads at stop and go conditions for more than 6 hours a day. Now double that.

    Singles or couples without kids. Fairfax County Public Schools does a survey every two years to determine the number of students living in different types of housing. The student yield factor for high rise condos is not negative or nil. It is a positive number, smaller than the SYF from other types of housing, but positive nonetheless. There will be more students from Tysons. Who will pay for the facilities necessary to educate these students?

    Some people argue that the people living at Tysons will also work there. How do they know that? It’s pretty easy for someone who could earn huge bonuses if Tysons is rezoned to argue that everyone who lives there will also work there. But that’s quite self-serving. Let’s see some data or at least a solid study based on data from some place else.

    By agreeing that most, if not all, of the new housing will be high-priced, we are essentially agreeing that lower-income Tysons workers will live elsewhere and commute. That’s a breakthrough!

    I would agree that some, but certainly not all, of the lower-income workers will take the Silver Line, as will some upper-income people. But there will be many people from both groups driving to and from Tysons. That’s why many people, including employees of the Virginia Department of Rail and Transit, believe that the construction of the Silver Line for at least $4 B will not improve traffic congestion.

    The facts suggest that the proposals for Tysons Corner would only make a bad situation worse.

  28. nova_middle_man Avatar

    This will be the last one and I think we actually agree that Tysons has the potential to make a gridlock area even worse if it is not planned very carefully. Like I said before I am partially playing devils advocate

    My main point has always been the 130,000 people are going somewhere. For every person closer in that is one less person that clogs up a longer stretch of roadway somewhere else which benefits the entire region. There is a giant NIMBY situation occuring across NoVA for development.

    As far as the parking spaces are concerned crystal city has tons of parking spaces also but it works somehow. The parking is underground which is a fallacy with the Tysons plan having parking above ground.

    As far as traffic is concerned “hopefully” the grid will alievate some of the bottlenecks once again like a Crystal City model.

    We agree that the silver line is not worth it but it is coming so we must deal with it and TOD is the most efficient use of the land along the metro line

    I guess my approach was trying to take a situation and make it the best possible although there is a huge risk it could be a disaster

    Fairfax Loudoun PW and Fauquier can’t all declare a moratourium on growth and it appears we are fast approaching that prospect.

    All of those nominations are just that nominations there is ample time to attend meetings and lobby to impact the final outcome of this.


  29. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “For every person closer in that is one less person that clogs up a longer stretch of roadway somewhere else “

    This is one I don’t buy. It certinly doesn’t match my experience. My commute now is both shorter and faster than when I lived in town. My previous commutes were a little longer, but they were North and South, not downtown. And anyway, I’m only clogging up 60 feet of road at a time, no matter how far I drive. But If I’m driving in an area with four times as many cars, then I cause four times as much congestion, even though I’m doing nothing different. Even If I drive one quarter as much I’m still causing as much congestion as in a less congested area.

    Cars don’t cause congestion, congestion causes congestion.

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