For the e-zine this week, I delved deeper into the work done by the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force than I had been able to do for an earlier post (“Is Tysons Corner Beyond Redemption.”) My conclusions are largely the same, but they’re better documented — and they come with cool graphics and maps!

The point I emphasized in the e-zine is that while the task force’s vision (“Tysons Corner: Path to the 21st Century“) for redesigning Tysons Corner is awesome, it is also incredibly expensive. Over and above the multibillion-dollar cost of constructing the heavy rail line, the initiative entails an estimated $1 billion expenditure for road and highway improvements to improve ingress and egress from the area, rebuilding the internal road network into a grid system, setting up a “circulator” route served by bus or trolley, bike lanes, stream restoration, storm water controls, fire, police and rescue facilities, a performing arts center — even public art. As I said: Awesome.

If someone has tallied up what it will all cost, however, I could not find the summary on the task force website. I’m expecting that the grand total will make jaws drop…

Which leads to the question of who will pay for all those improvements. Inevitably, property owners will bear a share of the burden. Although the task force has identified some conceptual options — Community Development Authorities, Tax Increment Financing, and the like — there are very few details. The job of assigning particular costs to particular constituencies has yet to begin. When people learn what they have to pay in higher taxes, proffers or whatever, the howling in Fairfax County will sound like the dungeons of Mordor.

Inevitably, landowners will conclude that the benefit of increased density is largely illusory. Consider, the “prototype B” scenario that members of the task force appear to like the best would add 83 million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space. If half of that is commercial, we’re talking about 40 million square feet — nearly double the commercial space there now. Projecting 600,000 square feet annual absorption rate between 1990 and 2006 — an optimistic assumption given the likely slowdown in federal spending in Northern Virginia — that space will take about 70 years to absorb.

I question whether it all adds up. For details, see “Salvaging Tysons.”

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18 responses to “Salvaging Tysons”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    gee.. what a straight man… :

    "Fairfax County officials are looking into a plan that would give local landowners more authority over financing development projects.

    The plan calls for allowing those who want to redevelop their properties a chance to petition the county to set up small governing groups called "community development authorities."

    Those authorities could tax themselves to pay for additional roads, utilities and other infrastructure.–developmentauthor0824aug24,0,2353876.story

    There's a problem here though… unless the law has changed.. it takes 51% of the owners to agree.

    that could be solved if some want to buy out the others but it would be a "willing seller/willing buyer" transaction.

    the other problem is the larger one … of having a larger area designated to have more infrastructure for higher densities.

    So.. you could not accommodate one set of owners who want higher densities and a CDA sitting adjacent to others who would not agree.. i.e a "patchwork" of owner coalitions rather than contiguous properties.

    then we also have this:

    "Fairfax County plans to sweeten the pot for Edens & Avant, allowing it to be the first developer in the county to borrow against future property taxes to help redevelop a large section of Merrifield.

    The county is considering a proposal to issue $40 million in tax increment financing to help Columbia, S.C.-based Edens & Avant build Mosaic District, a 30-acre project at Lee Highway and Gallows Road. County officials envision a miniature Reston Town Center in Merrifield, just outside the Beltway and a little more than a half-mile from the Dunn Loring Metro station. The project was formerly known as Merrifield Town Center.

    Although tax increment financing is a commonly used economic development tool, it would be the first such TIF project in Fairfax County. Under TIF, jurisdictions issue bonds to pay for redevelopment; new taxes generated by the improvements are used to repay the bonds."

    so .. it looks like Fairfax is going to get into CDAs and TIFs for development… which surprises me a little … because both CDAs and TIFs are becoming fairly common in other communities smaller and less urbanizing…

    of course the major fly in any ointment is how much infrastructure will be needed…

    A developer might say.. that a current road does not need more lanes .. and the county says different.. and if the developer wants the CDA/TIF – they're going to have to go along with the county.

    CDAs are very different critters than TIFs … CDAs are essentially EXTRA taxes on top of existing taxes – the proceeds to pay for infrastructure/etc – while TIFs allow whatever increase in value due to additional development to be diverted to pay for the infrastructure.

    Both usually count on the county to provide incentives for financing on the good faith and credit of the county – which does affect their credit worthiness and how much overall borrowing they can undertake without eroding their credit rating….

    So.. I guess I wonder if either of these two are part of the Tysons kerfuffle… or separate …


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    You mean define the property rights for all, and then let them buy and sell?

    Never heard of such a thing. It is preposterous. Bizarre, even.


  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think the Tysons issue demonstrates clearly – the perception that density is more efficient use of land – with little more than that as any kind of understandable rationale.

    for myself – I’d like to know why Tysons.. and not Great Falls or Woodbridge or for that matter – Fort Belvoir post BRAC…

    Why Tysons and not Belvoir?

    If much of the economy of NoVa is dependent on the Feds – wouldn’t the BRAC decision with regard to Belvoir suggest that the area around it is destined for growth?

  4. Groveton Avatar

    “Why Tysons and not Belvoir?”

    Because the buildings already in Tyson’s are too big to move to Belvoir?

    “If much of the economy of NoVa is dependent on the Feds – wouldn’t the BRAC decision with regard to Belvoir suggest that the area around it is destined for growth?”.

    Ft. Belvoir has been around for a long time. And the Rt. 1 corridor has been a mess for a long time (both in Prince William and Fairfax Counties). I know. Groveton High School drew its student body from that very corridor. If Ft. Belvoir was going to attract cool, high technology business – why is it the centerprice of economic strife in Fairfax County? And if you don’t believe me, ask Donna Dixon. You know – Miss Virginia, actress, Bosom Buddies, married Dan Akroyd (still married I believe). Donna went to Groveton. She was hot as the sun and nice as can be. Probably still is. Her Dad owned a Belvoir based business. A Rt. 1 bar/nightclub called Hillbilly Heaven. They wanted to film an episode of Hee Haw there once but none of the actors had enough guts to go in the place. Ole Earl Dixon knew the right kind of business to bring to an Army base – and it wasn’t software.

    Hillbilly Heaven. Right here in Fairfax County. You RoVA guys got nothin’ on Rt. 1.

  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Revised post.

    Jim Bacon:

    I have to disagree with your “It’s a wonderful vision” assesment…

    It is not a “wonderful vision” for the very reasons you state — adding some housing but more jobs means more “commuters.”

    METRO Orange Line is already over capacity due to station area imbalance in the rest of the corridor and throughout the METRO system.

    There is no mention of Balance, ANYWHERE.

    There is no recognition of the components or extent of the real Greater Tysons Corner.

    No one even talks about building OVER the stations and over the existing public rights of way. Selling the air-rights would go a long way toward paying for the stations and other improvements that are needed.

    Not a “wonderful vision” this, just more nightmare with a few “grid streets” and, as you point out, no way to pay for any of it.

    In the “Transmission Line Saga” string TMT said:

    “An alternative, which has not been tried, would be to take the existing situation, the existing plan, the infrastructure needs, and try to figure out what types of improvements, including both development and associated infrastructure make sense.”

    Now with the items we mentioned above —

    Realistic Boundaries for all of Greater Tysons Corner

    Alpha Community wide Balance

    Station Area Ziggurats with Balance

    Component Balance, including Balance in the two lower density /non METRO Villages of McLean and Vienna (Vienna / GMU / Fairfax METRO station area belongs in another Beta Community along with Merrifield and 495/50)

    and the TMT strategy could result in not just a “wonderful vision” but a great place — one we would call an Alpha Community.


  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ed, Rest assured that I meant “wonderful” only in comparison to “Business As Usual” as opposed to the “wonderful” by the standards of Balanced Communities. The preliminary plan does call for significantly more development than in the past — about half of all new development would be residential. That’s not enough to bring it into an ideal balanced, but I think it’s fair to say that Tysons would be “less unbalanced” than the past.

    As for the ziggurat configuration around the Metro stations, I fully agree. The plan could use many improvements…. Even so it represents an extraordinary advance over what exists there now.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I am so sick of Tysons Corner, but it seems to be one of my tasks in life.

    The Task Force, having generally failed to plan anything substantive for Tysons over the last several years, is writing its vision statement for presentation to the BoS on September 22. I’ve read several versions of the vision. They each would make a seasoned cattle-butcher squeamish.

    But lest you accuse me of being too hard on the many grifters who make up part, but not all, of the Task Force, let me quote from one of the few thinking members of the Task Force, who actually thought he/she was going to plan to make Tysons better.

    “This document is so poorly written that reading it is painful, largely because it veers back and forth–without apparent rhyme or reason–from describing the vision as though it already has materialized to predicting what could happen, to identifying the conditions for achieving the vision, to presenting recommendations.”

    “But after more than three years’ work, do we want to publish a document that’s rife with linguistic inconsistency? A document that does not clearly distinguish between gauzy dreams and good ideas that will take many dollars and decades to implement?”

    “This document needs to explain that the Task Force has yet to determine whether the transportation network contemplated as a key part of the redevelopment of Tysons Corner will be adequate to support the anticipated growth without unacceptable negative impacts on traffic in and around Tysons Corner. Explanations of, and the timetables for, the GMU and Cambridge Systematics projects must be included in order to make the Board of Supervisors and the public aware of the work still be done. We should neither conceal nor disguise the fact that significant uncertainties remain to be resolved.”

    “The document fails to acknowledge some of the real obstacles to achieving the Task Force’s vision. Yes, it’s good to be optimistic, but optimists don’t achieve their goals by ignoring the roadblocks in their way. Take, for example, the grid of streets. Task Force members have noted many times that the grid concept shown in many of PB’s presentations has streets going through existing buildings. Constructing a grid of streets that even comes close to PB’s conceptual design will require extensive interaction with landowners and will necessitate many compromises. Nowhere in the document is there any acknowledgement of this issue.”

    “. In the section entitled ‘Provision of Parks’ on Page 31, the document says that development proposals must be accompanied by commitments to contribute to a fund for green space and parks or to provide them on site. Are such commitments currently required by Fairfax County? If so, the requirement should be referenced and explained. If not, how does this requirement fit into the implementation plan? Will such commitments also be required for other infrastructure needs?”

    The Task Force has not even determined whether the “network contemplated as a key part of the redevelopment of Tysons Corner will be adequate to support the anticipated growth without unacceptable negative impacts on traffic in and around Tysons Corner.”

    I must respectfully decline to agree with Jim that “Even so it represents an extraordinary advance over what exists there now.”

    I know that the Descendants drive Groveton crazy, but living among Fairfax County’s many grifters and multitudes of the clueless might even be scarier.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry – both TIF and CDAs could be used in Tysons in a way that might benefit both the landowners and the overall county. But it won’t happen.

    There are two goals (at least) at work here among the Task Force’s grifters. One is to avoid paying for the true costs of the public facility needs being generated by the massive increases in development. CDAs can help in that area since they substitute a public entity for what is normally paid for by developers (except, of course, in Fairfax County).

    Here’s what the Virginia Supreme Court had to say on this point. The Henrico County BoS “passed a
    resolution creating the CDA “as a body corporate and politic” for the purpose of “financing, constructing and developing, and owning and maintaining if necessary, certain improvements in connection with the development” of the Center. Those improvements, as listed in the petition, are the extension of a sewer trunk line and water main line, storm water management facilities, a left turn lane and traffic signal on roads abutting the CDA, a ring road around the Center, entrance roads, lighting, landscaping, a plaza, parking, excavation related to
    the improvements, soft costs, and

    “In the past, commercial developers in Henrico County were required by county zoning ordinances to provide, at their own
    expense, the parking, lighting, landscaping, entrance roads, sidewalks, and pedestrian
    areas that were associated with a development.” Short Pump Town Center Community Development
    Authority v. Hahn, 262 Va. 733, 554 S.E.2d 441 (2001).

    The second goal of the Task Force grifters is to wrestle control of the regulatory process from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and put it in the direct control of the grifters. I have been told as much by both Task Force members, as well as county officials. Not that the CDAs will necessarily work. But the grifters are trying.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    “Why Tysons and not Belvoir?”

    While I agree that the buildings are too big to move, the real reason is that the really big boys and girls own land in Tysons. And they, in turn, have bought most of the elected officials. Why else would we be paying $5 billion plus to build rail to Dulles through Tysons?


  10. Groveton Avatar


    I was with you right up to the point that you discounted Belvoir because the “big boys and girls own land in Tyson’s”. The big issue in the Belvoir area is that it is too far from the governmental and commercial districts. For all of Fairfax County’s problems they have been trying to redeem the Rt. 1 corridor along Ft Belvoir (and north to Alexandria) for decades. The Metro goes to some of these areas (Huntington Ave. for example). However, redemption has been slow. There is progres but it is slow progress. Why? Location, location, location.

    The big boys and girls who own land in Tyson’s could easily buy land around Belvoir. However, they know that a poor location cannot be overcome by an upgraded Army base. Now, if you moved the Pentagon to Belvoir ….

  11. Groveton Avatar


    Also, I do think you are being to hard on the Tyson’s Land Use TAsk Force. Developing a conceptual design followed by a pricing model is perfectly reasonable. Until you have a basic view of what you want to do how could you estimate the cost? You friend’s points about “linguistic inconsistency” are a bit superficial but the point about “more work to be done” is right on the money. In my opinion, the Fairfax BoS should be looking for citizen approval of a complete plan by the 2009 elections – a bit over one year from now.

  12. charlie Avatar

    Again, I have to ask: Is Tysons important?

    1. Capital infrastructure: Yes, there are some buildings at Tysons. But I can’t find an easy valuation of them. Less than a billion dollars?

    2. Location: OK, it is near the beltway and dulles. But Springfield, for lack of a better example, is also near the Beltway and National.

    3. Brand: Tremendous; only Tysons and Reston are known HQ locations in NoVA. Dulles is moving onto the map.

    All I am saying is I don’t think “Saving” Tysons is an important public policy goal. If Tysons starts to go down in value, something else in NoVA will take off. Rosslyn as a downmarket location hasn’t hurt the growth of the Rosslyn-Wilson corridor.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Saving Tysons – It’s probably worth some public investment to keep Tysons from deteriorating into a slum or a ghost town. But is it the most important business location in NoVA or Fairfax County? Should a disproportionate amount of public resources be devoted to Tysons? Are there other locations that should also receive public resources? To whom is Tysons most important — the current landowners or the general public?

    These questions have not been asked and answered. Tysons is priority number one, not because of the answers to these questions, but because of the political clout of the current landowners and general disengagement of most people.

    It might be a better solution, for example, to build Dulles Rail solely in the DTR’s median or to limit Tysons to two rail stops. We might get a bigger return on public investment by spending 1/3 or 1/2 of the money on Tysons and the rest elsewhere. But we’ll never know, because of politics. That’s my beef with the process.

    Second, Groveton states: “Developing a conceptual design followed by a pricing model is perfectly reasonable.” I would agree if the prior Task Force had not tried to match the infrastructure with the size of the development. It’s efforts were not the most sophisticated, but it did tie public facilities and additional development together.

    The discussion essentially starts at page 8 , gets serious at page 14 and addresses cost issues at page 16. This is not detailed analysis, but it’s more than has or will be done by the current Task Force.

    I might be wrong, but the reason why is likely the fact that the additional public facilities necessary to support 100 M or 200 M or more square feet simply are unaffordable. If the report were to state or even suggest that, the huge densities would not be approved — even by the Fairfax County BoS. The goal is to get massive densities by avoiding the public facilities issues. That’s why the commenter and I are being so hard on the Task Force.

    This is not a simple disagreement over where the lines should be drawn, but rather, a deliberate attempt to get some type of approval for massive increases in density with addressing the impact on the county and its residents.

    Assuming that Gerry Connolly is elected to Congress this fall, his window to deliver is quite narrow.


  14. Groveton Avatar

    OK TMT –

    I’ll buy your argument that the process is broken. You may be right. But your observations (and the observations of the commenter) are pretty straight forward. Essentially, you (and Jim Bacon for that matter) want to know what this will all cost and who will pay for it. Isn’t that so fundamental a question that it would have to be answered before the Fairfax BoS approves anything? I guess I see this whole process at something of a mid-point and you see it at something of an endpoint. If it really is at an endpoint then I would agree that the fix is in. Where do you see things going from here? The Tyson’s Land Use Task Force is going to present something to the BoS in September. The presentation will lack cost and financing plans. Work from VDOT and GMU is still underway. So, what happens in September? The BoS approves the increased density without cost estimates or a financing plan and without VDOT commentary or completion of the GMU study?

  15. charlie Avatar

    Again, my **impression** is that office space in Tysons is still cheaper than prime office space in downtown DC.

    I’ve known three companies that moved to Tysons — a major incentive for each of them was parking was free, instead of $150 a month for each employee. These were small 10-20 person firms.

    Lower taxes for employees also made a difference.

    Given increased density, would the average office space price in Tysons go up or down?

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Before I respond to a couple of questions, I thought I should add some of the remarks sent to the county staff by another Task Force member of the non-grifter variety.

    “For the record, I have major concerns with the proposed documents. Most importantly, it is premature to include recommendations for density levels and certain other components of the new Tysons. How can we be making such recommendations when the transportation analysis and the infrastructure study have not been completed? And with all due respect to those who feel otherwise, there has not been an opportunity for public comment on the proposed increase in density levels since the public workshops.

    “It is also worth noting that the recommended density levels were a reaction to the perceived need to provide incentives to developers to ensure desired amenities were provided. Yet, there is no analytical basis for the identified density levels (just the views of some Task Force members), meaning that there is no assurance that the density levels are a fair deal for all parties. It was also my understanding that the density levels would go thru the transportation analysis before any final decisions were made by the Task Force. Yet, they appear in the document as if they have been fully analyzed and everyone agrees with them. I certainly do not. …”

    What a place Fairfax County, VA — government by campaign contribution and planning by grifters! Too bad the MSM isn’t interested in this type of news.


  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Groveton asked what happens next? First, its important to note that state law requires any proposed amendments to go before the planning commission, which must hold a public hearing, and then to the BoS, which also must hold a public hearing.

    So, despite the dreams of the grifters and Chairman Connolly, the BoS cannot approve the Task Force’s recommendation on September 22.

    Also relevant to the process is that state law prohibits the BoS from approving any major land use changes, such as this one, until VDOT has had the traffic study for 100 days. This is the 527 process. So far, VDOT seems to have been following the statute, which has more than one grifter quite upset.

    If major increases in density are approved, there will also be substantial restrictions on the amount of free parking at Tysons. I was talking with a commercial real estate manager last winter. He fears that restricting free parking, at least before 10 or 11 am, will doom his building. But urban areas have paid parking and other restrictions. A bigger Tysons will too.


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    One more comment from a Tysons Task Force member.

    “I know it’s a day late, but I have one additional comment.

    “I am concerned that the FARs approved last month as input to the transportation analysis were based largely on a few members’
    recommendations. I respect those members, but I also recognize that they represent landowners and developers. The rest of us have no way of knowing how much FAR is necessary to support our vision of the future of Tysons Corner. Nor has the Task Force been given any independent analysis of the issue. To me, that is the most significant weakness in our work. This issue has bothered me for a while, and I wish I had raised it earlier. Now that some of the same FAR figures appear in the Vision document, I want to register my concern. I do not think the Task Force should even appear to endorse any FAR recommendations until the GMU and Cambridge Systematics work is completed.”

    Instead of just entering Fairfax County government in contests evaluating the quality of day-to-day management, the BoS should also toss its hat into the ring for a “government-by-campaign-contribution” award. Notice that, at least, so far nothing from the WaPo. I guess that the Paper is only interested in land use corruption when the GOP controls a county board — Loudoun County last year. Wouldn’t want to upset Gerry Connolly’s congressional campaign.


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