Tipping Point

As lawmakers deadlock over taxes and transportation, they should pay heed to what’s happening in Virginia outside the state capitol complex — especially to what’s happening in the private sector, where people invest their own money, not the taxpayers’. Vienna-based KSI Services, one of the nation’s 20 largest developers, is totally revamping its business plan. Reversing its traditional emphasis on suburban sprawl-styled development, the company will focus on “Transit Oriented Development.” The company has announced plans for seven new transit-friendly communities near rail and Metro stations in Northern Virginia.

In “Tipping Point,” writer Peter Galuszka finds that the dramatic shift in KSI corporate strategy is illustrative of a national trend driven by changing demographics and consumer preferences, increasing traffic congestion and the rising cost of car ownership. KSI is betting that it can sell and lease more real estate (like Harbor Station, in rendering above) by marketing mass transit and other alternatives to the one-man-one-automobile lifestyle. In an existing project, Residences at Lorton Station, KSI is promoting slugging, van pooling and Flex Cars. Two-driver families can save up to $7,000 a year if they can live without one of their cars.

There is so much underutilized land near Metro and rail lines in Northern Virginia, observes E M Risse, a fellow Bacon’s Rebellion columnist, that redevelopment around those transit nodes could provide enough housing and related development to accommodate the region’s population growth for the next 20 years — or longer. It makes sense to encourage growth to take place where infrastructure — not just roads, but utilities and public services — already exist.

While the private sector is adapting to the new market realities, Virginia’s lawmakers remain committed to the notion that the answer to Virginia’s transportation woes is to find more money somewhere, whether through taxes, tolls, budget surpluses or privatization, mainly to build more roads. Admittedly, lawmakers do seem willing to make transit a larger part of the budget mix, but transit will fall far short of its potential unless the right kind of transit-friendly development takes place around existing and proposed rail stations. Many obstacles to development, especially at the local level, must be addressed.

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3 responses to “Tipping Point”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    I would certainly agree that there is demand for this type of housing. But just as the roads in a traditional suburban community must be adequate to handle new single family homes, so too must transit facilities be adequate to handle TOD development. Of course, any new development of any type places additional demands on other types of public infrastructure.

    What I find interesting is the Census Bureau’s new report that many people (especially families with children) are moving from urban settings to the exurbs in order to find large, single family homes at lower prices. Some people just don’t seem to like urban life.

    From this I conclude that urban density has a definite place, but it probably won’t prevent continued “sprawl.” Nor should policy makers treat urban density as if it provided benefits to society in general. It’s just another form of development.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    All we have to do is fairly and equitably allocate location-variable cost.

    Those scattered location become very expensive and thus very unattractive.

    PROPERTY DYNAMICS coming to a Alpha Neighborhood near you soon.


  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    EMR – Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against more compact neighborhoods. I grew up in the midwest in a neighborhood with streets in a grid, where people could walk many places. Walkable neighborhoods have much about them to commend. True mixed-use neighborhoods can have a positive impact on the quality of life.

    A big problem is that many people, at least many of us in Fairfax County, have absolutely no trust in the BoS to manage development in a manner that would actually create positive benefits for the community — existing or new. People moved to Fairfax County for a suburban lifestyle. While managed density is not necessarily inconsistent with the suburbs, what Fairfax County will probably see is not likely to provide much benefit to the community. The BoS has failed to define TOD, mixed use, etc. Thus, there are no standards by which to judge proposed developments. Similarly, there is no commitment by the BoS to ensure the concomitant expansion of infrastructure to match the development — dense or not. Similarly, the BoS makes no effort to obtain fair proffers from developers, but leaves the infrastructure costs to local taxpayers. In Fairfax County, every type of development overstresses infrastructure and adds to higher taxes for existing residents.

    Similarly, there appear to be a large number of people who simply want large houses on big lots and, accordingly, who would not be satisified with condos, townhouses or even SF houses on small lots that might be found in more dense developments. Unless we pass laws restricting the availability of larger houses on big lots, people will still flock to those communities that sprawl from Washington, D.C. for miles and miles.

    As you suggest, there may be good reasons to impose fees or taxes on sprawlers to recover the costs of ever-expanding roads and schools. But many of those arguments are not necessarily related to distance from a metro area, but rather, are related to development in general. The Fairfax County BoS’ approval of Metrowest will generate additional demands on infrastructure, just as if that same number of housing units were generated on 3/4 acre lots. While the exact nature of the infrastructure costs might vary by the type of development, more people means more demand on infrastructure. Shouldn’t all new development contribute to those costs?

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