Greater Greater Washington

Development


Don't fear change, or the zoning updates

Change can be frightening, especially when it affects our own neighbor­hoods. That's why it's no surprise that the planners who are rewriting the District's and Montgomery County's zoning codes are running into trepidation, misinformation, anger and even conspiracy theories at community meetings.


Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

The District and Montgomery, like most of our region, are indeed changing. But this change is happening on its own, unbidden by any planning official. The walkable neighborhoods of the DC region are growing more popular with residents of all ages, and many people want amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance and a convenient transit line to work.

In response, planners are trying to thread a difficult needle. They want to remove barriers to better, more inclusive walkable neighborhoods, but they also are trying to preserve single-family neighborhoods that remain popular with many others.

Continue reading in my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Plus, this week's other opinion pieces talk about how the height limit hurts housing affordability, injustice in DC's budget, and, for those who live in the single-family homes that aren't facing imminent doom from the zoning update no matter what some people fear, what critters you might see out your window.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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From the HistoricWashington blog:

In 2010, the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of DC called upon the NCPC, CFA and others to recognize the centennial of the Building Height Act. In partial response to that, the NCPC held a symposium on May 18, 2010. Former city planner for Vancouver, BC Larry Beasley gave a compelling presentation which warns against making changes to the legislation which would change the character of our city.

Read the overview/announcement to the event at:

http://www.ncpc.gov/ncpc/Main%28T2%29/PublicParticipation%28Tr2%29/Public%20Participation%28Tr3%29/upcomingEvents/LarryBeasley.html

You can watch a brief, 4 min. interview with Larry Beasley at:

http://www.ncpc.gov/ncpc/Main%28T2%29/Media%28Tr2%29/Video/Speaker_SeriesMay.html

Or, read his complete presentation at:

http://www.ncpc.gov/DocumentDepot/Presentations/Larry_Beasley_Height_Act_Address_May182010_.pdf

William N. Brown, President
The Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C.
4425 Greenwich Parkway, NW
Washington, D.C. 20007-2010
202-342-1638
aoi_of_dc@verizon.net
http://www.aoidc.org

by Lance on Apr 28, 2012 7:14 pm • linkreport

The proposal to increase height limits has some merit, but I struggle to understand how construction of 25-35 story buildings can lower the price of housing. It could possibly attract more commercial tenants and increase District tax revenues. That part of the argument seems reasonable. But high-rise construction is extremely expensive, according to every builder I've ever worked with. Those types of buildings require high rents.

Bill Lecos, then president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, tried to sell this as part of his effort to sell more than 220 million square feet of development at Tysons, but failed as the facts demonstrated the opposite. Indeed, many of the landowners are struggling to include work-force and affordable housing in their redevelopment plans.

Density does provide benefits, but it is hardly the panacea that many suggest. It is expensive to build and requires high rents.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 29, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

@tmtfairfax

You're partially right. Building higher is usually more expensive, with rents that follow logically. That's why Prof. Beasley's lecture was so important (see above). Instead of just allowing additional height by right, grant bonuses to developers for other amenities such as increased affordable housing, building parks/green space, or transit improvements.

by Adam L on Apr 29, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

@ Adam

I can only speak from a Tysons perspective, which I know extremely well. The landowners within a quarter mile received unlimited density, subject only to compliance with other aspects of the Comp Plan/applicable rules and overall caps on commercial and total density (i.e., first come, first serve). They can build to 10.0 FARs if desired and otherwise compliant. The County is insisting on 20% affordable/work force housing for rezonings in the immediate area of the stations and is offering density bonuses to properties outside the immediate TOD areas that have much lower density caps when those properties include higher levels of affordable/work force housing. In other words, policies similar to those you seek.
But despite these strong incentives, many of the landowners are arguing they cannot afford to meet the County's requirements. They cannot charge high enough rents on the market-rate units (residential, commercial and retail) to subsidize lower-income housing. Now some of this is probably just typical push-back, but I've heard support for their positions by other developers not involved in Tysons, including a large developer of lower-income housing. Tysons also carries other tax/proffer burdens that might not be applicable in D.C. But on the other hand, Fairfax County is much more business friendly than D.C., so the District's total extractions might be comparable to those in Tysons.
Bottom line: we might not see as much affordable/work force housing in high rise construction as many believe will occur. Arguments touting this result might be overstated.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 29, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

@tmtfairfax

It all depends on the land values and how high things get built. We'll find out how much the current inclusionary zoning bonuses boost affordable housing in DC. The other thing that must be mentioned is that bonuses may be transferred. So perhaps one particular building cannot be built with x% of affordable housing but perhaps the developer can translate the requirements to another area. There is also an argument that people willing to pay higher rents to live in particular areas would decrease pressure on other neighborhoods would likely come into play as well.

That said, I think you're right that the results may be over stated. That's why I'm much more in favor of other types of public amenities in exchange for height. Need a second entrance built to a Metro station? Done. Want to reserve space for a public park (lookin' at you, "NoMa")? Done. Getting those types of projects in exchange for bonus density may be easier and have greater public benefit than just inclusionary zoning alone.

by Adam L on Apr 29, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

tmtfairfax -- the issue is the time frame. Over decades, having more housing supply means that prices are lower overall.

In the current time frame it's not the case because almost in no circumstance can newly constructed units be cheaper than older units (in strong markets anyway).

By definition, new construction is built at current cost and can't be "affordable" based on the cost of construction (marginal cost reductions can occur by using lesser quality construction materials, e.g., windows, cabinets, appliances, and overall design requirements).

So subsidies are required--free land, greater density, money for subsidization, etc. That being said, offered subsidies may not still be enough, based on the project, market demand, etc.

And yes, the margin on market rate rents isn't so high to cover significantly lower rents on subsidized units.

I am not good at finance, but most projects are working on "cap rates" (capitalization rates/revenue over costs) of under 8%.

Just like retailers can't make money if they pay significantly more in rent than the 4-10% of gross revenues that is an industry metric, you can't make any money if many units are rented at significantly below market.

by Richard Layman on Apr 29, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

"Over decades, having more housing supply means that prices are lower overall." Yes and no.

Clearly, an increase in housing is likely to stabilize or lower the cost of housing. Look at the impact of short sales and foreclosures on real estate markets. And, of course, if builders cannot obtain attractive profits from sales or rentals, they won't build and vice versa.

But the cost of construction also plays a role, IMO. Look at Manhattan. Certainly government extractions play a role, as they can increase the costs to build. Interestingly though, a mid-90s study from California showed that the cost of extractions often couldn't be recovered in lower-priced housing as it could in higher-priced housing.

Steel and concrete construction is very expensive, so it strikes me that it is unlikely to produce significant amounts of lower-priced housing, absent government extractions. Preserving existing lower-priced housing, such as Pimmit Hills in Virginia, seems to me to provide better results than tearing down those houses and building high rises. There is certainly benefit for building high rise housing around Metro stops, but I don't see the case for affordable housing to be one of those benefits. From what Tysons landowners say, they tend to agree.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 29, 2012 5:49 pm • linkreport

@tmtfairfax

The current cost of housing in DC is substantially above the cost of construction. There is plenty of room for prices to come down in real terms.

Furthermore, the point of adding new space isn't that the new space you've added is suddenly affordable - it won't be. However, the new space will allow an already existing building to remain affordable, instead of being renovated to capture the demand otherwise captured by that new building.

by Alex B. on Apr 29, 2012 7:21 pm • linkreport

As a lay person, I wonder why we need to drive more people to areas that are already dense, when there is so much of DC that is not? Such areas close to me include NY Ave, RI Ave, Bladensburg and Brentwood. Why shouldn't we want the entire District to be dense, rather than just established areas? Please explain.

by Bama on Apr 29, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

@bama
I think the answer isn't that anyone is trying to drive people anywhere, rather they are trying to allow for the bulding of what people want. Some people want to live in dense areas, but the zoning won't allow for more of it to be built.

by nathaniel on Apr 30, 2012 8:43 am • linkreport

@Bama, You make such an excellent point. And so does Nathanial.

I think Nathianial's saying 'they want to go to areas that are ALREADY dense' ... i.e., they want to live in an already dense and popular area ... 'cept they may not be able to afford to do so yet. So, the answer has to be 'cram more into the already popular areas'. But there's a problem there that doesn't get acknowledged. Overcram the already dense already popular neighborhoods, and suddenly what made these neighborhoods popular in the first place, their essential character, quickly disappears.

It wasn't that long ago that neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, etc. were no different from areas such as NY Ave, RI Ave, Bladensburg and Brentwood. But the people who back then wanted to be able to enjoy denseness but couldn't afford the already dense and popular Georgetown, Cleveland Park and other 'west of Rock Creek' areas, moved instead to where they could afford to be ... Dupont, Logan, Adams Morgan, etc. And look at the wonderful thing that happened! Instead of just a few dense and popular neighborhoods 'west of Rock Creek', many other neighborhoods got added to the list of dense and popular. AND you could even argue that they eclisped the original popular neighborhoods. I mean, how many hipsters do you hear nowadays saying 'I just so wish I could afford to live in Georgetown'. A generation ago, living in Dupont would have been 'living close enough to Georgetown that I can walk there for all the restaurants and shops' ... That's no more ... And that's because the natural forces at work where height limits exist, spread the city.

by Lance on Apr 30, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

TMT - if dense residential in Tysons is built, where do the folks in the market rate housing there come from? Where would they live if it was not built?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 9:22 am • linkreport

@Lance
That is part of what I am saying, but also the zoning rules need to be reexamined because some of the places that aren't dense can never be dense becuase the zoning rules prohibit it. Does it make sense to only allow for less than 3.5 FAR across the street from a metro stop.

by nathaniel on Apr 30, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

@Nathaniel "Does it make sense to only allow for less than 3.5 FAR across the street from a metro stop.

It really all depends where theat Metro stop is located. Remember, Metro wasn't built to be an urban 'subway' ... it was built to be more of a commuter line. So many of the stops where built in suburban type (and suburban zoned) neighborhoods. Unless you have an overwhelming consensus from the people currently living in those neighborhoods to change the essential character of THEIR neighborhood, then you can't just up and re-zone it to a dense area. It's not only not fair, but politically, it's never going to happen. Fortunately, we have lots of underdeveloped neighborhoods already along Metro stops (for example NY Ave, RI, etc.) that that's not really a concern.

The height argument is a false one when linked with the need/desire for density. It's one put out there every few years by developers.

by Lance on Apr 30, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

Currently development is happening or planned around just about every "undeveloped" metro station in the district, including Fort Totten, RI avenue, and Anacostia - there are still a few EOTR without new development - not to mention that there is now dense development begun or coming around every metro station in the suburbs except PG county, and even @ a few stations there.

To a considerable degree that is pushing new development into areas without metro stations - not just suburban "sprawl" but parts of the district farther from metrto stations (including H Street, for example). Does it make sense for DC to spend on street cars, and for NoVa to spend on the Silver Line, when there are existing metro stations with restrictive zoning?

It may not be politically feasible to change completely, but it seems like it would be sensible to achieve some change.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

@AWitC: The coverage of DC by Metro is actually fairly thin. Most of the city is not within walking distance of a line. To accommodate growth, it would be better to build more subway lines (such as separating the blue/orange and yellow/green lines) than to allow for higher buildings near the existing lines.

by goldfish on Apr 30, 2012 10:04 am • linkreport

Remember, Metro wasn't built to be an urban 'subway' ... it was built to be more of a commuter line.

That's not relevant (or correct). Metro was indeed built as rapid transit.

Either way, the intention of the service back in the 60s isn't important. Today, the service is a high frequency, high capacity rapid transit system.

by Alex B. on Apr 30, 2012 10:14 am • linkreport

The notion that "Change can be frightening" is silly. Change is pretty much the only constant thing in life.

by Jasper on Apr 30, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport

To accommodate growth, it would be better to build more subway lines (such as separating the blue/orange and yellow/green lines) than to allow for higher buildings near the existing lines.

Why would it be better? Allowing higher buildings comes at no expense to taxpayers. Building subway lines is very expensive. It's also much greener to use the existing infrastructure to its maximum capacity rather than building additional infrastructure.

Eventually, we will need more subway lines. The case for building them will be stronger if we first use what we have to its max capacity. Also, bear in mind that building denser in the core doesn't necessarily even place that much more of a burden on existing transit infrastructure since many people can walk or bike to their destination in places like Dupont and Logan.

by Falls Church on Apr 30, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

@Lance
Then you agree with me the 3.5 FAR development I was talking about is the Col Brooks development right next to Brookland which is near the areas you mentioned.

I live in the neighborhood and myself along with many of the neighbors had to fight not to get it reduced even more.

While neighbors should have some say, eveything doesn't need to be open to vote and sometimes the people we elect need to do their jobs and make tough decisions that are good for the city as a whole even if they may have a nagative effect on some people.

by nathaniel on Apr 30, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

@Falls Church: Why would it be better? Allowing higher buildings comes at no expense to taxpayers.

Well, that is a pretty short-sighted way at approaching this. Clearly, allowing taller buildings will have many effects, some foreseen, some not. Taller buildings will focus development in the "better" neighborhoods a the expense of leaving lesser areas fallow. Do not imagine that the some total of these changes throughout DC will not affect tax receipts, compared to the situation where no changes in building height is allowed.

The case for building them will be stronger if we first use what we have to its max capacity.

The lines are already near capacity. If and when silver line is completed, the overcrowding will push this issue front and center.

by goldfish on Apr 30, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

@Nathaniel "Then you agree with me the 3.5 FAR development I was talking about is the Col Brooks development right next to Brookland which is near the areas you mentioned.
I live in the neighborhood and myself along with many of the neighbors had to fight not to get it reduced even more.

Then the neighbors DID agree to keep it as is? I.e., the consensus was not to shrink it as some wanted ... or to grow it as others wanted ... a middle ground was found? My point is that a the wheels of government (aka 'planning') shouldn't have unfeathered rights to be changing things. And they really don't despite what people on all sides of an issue might think. The planners are accountable to the mayor who in turn is accountable to the voters. You and I shouldn't be arguing over what should go where, we should instead be insisting that the wheels of government are transparent and open to discussing by those directly and indirectly affected ... past, present, and future.

by Lance on Apr 30, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

"- if dense residential in Tysons is built, where do the folks in the market rate housing there come from? Where would they live if it was not built?"

If we assumed for the moment the new Tysons Comp Plan did not exist, I suspect people who wanted to live in urban settings might live in the District, the R-B corridor, Bethesda, Reston Town Center; etc. Some people would likely live in suburban areas as well.

I'm not sure anyone really knows where the Tysons residents to be will come from. The developers are trying to attract young singles, young married/partnered couples, empty nesters and some families. But I think there is a strong risk the price levels needed to make profits in Tysons will price a lot of the potential younger residents out of the market, at least for the foreseeable future.
JBG has indicated they will need rents in the range of $2600 per month for an 800 square foot apartment, and that's in a 3-4 story building, i.e., not steel and concrete.
Tysons will be an expensive place to live, especially near the rail stations.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 30, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

"If we assumed for the moment the new Tysons Comp Plan did not exist, I suspect people who wanted to live in urban settings might live in the District, the R-B corridor, Bethesda, Reston Town Center; etc. "

So will the existence of the Tysons plan make housing more affordable in the District, the RB corridor, bethesda, RTC and the suburban areas?

Also the folks who live and work in Tysons and pay the same rents they would in RBC, will be spending less on their commute.

Since that rent is about as high as in RBC, I think, I suppose no one would rent in Tysons and commute in to RBC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

"JBG has indicated they will need rents in the range of $2600 per month for an 800 square foot apartment, and that's in a 3-4 story building,"

My understanding is that rents are lower for similar buildings in more peripheral locations. While it may be more costly to do construction in Tysons due to the congestion, I would guess the difference is land prices.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

"AWalkerInTheCity"

I am quite certain you are correct in that many current rents in Tysons are below $2600 for 800 square feet. I believe JBG stated existing rents in Tysons are around $2100 and around $1800 outside the immediate area.

There are a number of apartments in the immediate Tysons area, but many are not located within a quarter mile of the rail stations and, as such, don't qualify for unlimited density. So far, only the the Georgelas Group's plan for a high rise near the West Tysons station has been approved. I suspect rents there will be generally comparable to what JBG has announced, given any differences in cost, etc.

The Commons of McLean are within the immediate TOD and are seeking to tear them down and replace with a very large mixed use, but highly residential, project. Fairfax County is encouraging residential construction, which makes sense.

Anything new in Tysons (close to the rail stations) will be quite pricing, IMO.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 30, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

by peripheral areas I was referring to new developments far from Tysons, such as one recent and one UC near Huntington, some on Rte 1 in city of Alex, columbia pike, etc. Im not absolutely certain why in Tysons the breakeven rent to redevelop is that much higher, unless its the opportunity cost of the land (existing lowrise housing, or successful car dealerships, at Tysons, vs economically weak shopping centers in other areas). Maybe thats enough to account for rents that sound as high as in, say, NoMa in DC. Or maybe the landowners are bluffing in an attempt to drive off affordable housing/proffer requirements.

Assuming they are not bluffing and those are truely the breakeven rents, I still think they would have positive impacts on housing availability, for the reasons Alex B has cited.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

A little background. When Fairfax County set up the Tysons Land Use Task Force last decade, there was a strong desire on the part of some influential landowners to stack the TLUTF to avoid the balanced TF from the 90s. Their goal was to get huge increases in development as entitlements without regard to public facilities. The last TF proposed more moderate increases in density, but also tied them (more or less) to infrastructure improvements.

The TLUTF operated without public input. The Chairman, Clark Tyler, refused to let the public speak or ask any questions until new Supervisor John Foust forced him to do so. Tyler, aided by then Chamber of Commerce President Lecos, essentially told the landowners everybody would get big increases in density. And the TLUTF refused to do any transportation planning. The County held community input meetings to review proposals that would have increased Tysons from 46 MSF to 116 - 120 MSF. This would have given density to areas beyond normal walking distance and create an incentive to build far from, and not close to, the four stations. The public rejected that concept. Just to show the public who was "in charge," the TLUTF came back with a plan that would have allowed 220 MSF until Supervisors Foust and Smyth blew the whistle, making the 220 MSF public information. This information, when coupled by traffic studies showing that, with the Silver Line, high-quality mixed use development, extreme TDM measures, and massive increases in roads (including 3 to 5 more lanes on the DTR and a one more lane on the Beltway between Tysons and I-66), total traffic failure would occur once Tysons hit 84 MSF. The greed and arrogance of the TLUTF killed its efforts.
The Planning Commission took over and using studies, came up with extremely expensive, but very realistic, cost estimates. There needs to be an incredibly large investment in public facilities to support an urban Tysons. The costs to build infrastructure (excluding Dulles Rail,) even under the County Staff plan that makes the public pay 56% of the costs, creates a huge burden on developers and will force rents and sales prices to very high levels. And there is no certainty that the Supervisors will commit political suicide by dumping 56% of the costs on taxpayers.
TMO, the fault lies with the TLUTF for refusing to plan in favor developing a get rich for free plan. The TLUTF should have taken the old plan and improved on it.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 30, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

You're saying the developer contribution to transp infrastructure is what's driving the break even rents?

"total traffic failure would occur once Tysons hit 84 MSF."

traffic failure that leads to total gridlock, but not to mode switch to the silver line (and to future Gallows Rd transitway), to buses/HOV3 on the HOT lanes, and to cycling from Mosaic, Falls Church, etc. Gotcha.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2012 5:19 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

The developers at Tysons are arguing proffers, fees and taxes necessary to pay for some of the infrastructure costs will be a major factor in pushing residential and commercial rents higher in Tysons than in other markets.

Traffic failure at 84 MSF. The plan assumes all of the Table 7 transportation improvements, mainly roads, are completed by the time Tysons hits 84 MSF. Once they are completed, every net, new trip into Tysons must be by transit. The roads will max out and reach failure, but there is no more right-of-way that can be used for roads. Whether transit can fill the bill is unknown, of course, but it's the only solution left. Growth may move elsewhere when the road capacity is reached.

Table 7 will probably need to increase/change the needed road projects. For example, a "super street" will likely need to be built near Tysons East (new McLean station), replacing what is now planned there. VDOT engineers are now indicating there will likely need to be at least two grade-separated intersections within Tysons proper, replacing intersection improvements. This will push up the price tag.

Biking. Fairfax County has been working extremely hard to develop new and safe bike routes to, from and around Tysons. They are not succeeding well, especially from and to McLean. The Beltway and the DTR are physical barriers that are formidable. Moreover, traffic volumes on 123, 7, Spring Hill Road are such that their use for bike routes is viewed by many as too dangerous. Once inside Tysons, bike routes are moved to the safer grid of streets (which needs to be built), but getting into Tysons in the first place by bike remains problematic and dangerous.

by tmtfairfax on May 1, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

"The developers at Tysons are arguing proffers, fees and taxes necessary to pay for some of the infrastructure costs will be a major factor in pushing residential and commercial rents higher in Tysons than in other markets."

okay, thats all I was asking.

"Traffic failure at 84 MSF. The plan assumes all of the Table 7 transportation improvements, mainly roads, are completed by the time Tysons hits 84 MSF. Once they are completed, every net, new trip into Tysons must be by transit. The roads will max out and reach failure,"

Define failure. LOS F?

" but there is no more right-of-way that can be used for roads. Whether transit can fill the bill is unknown, of course, but it's the only solution left. Growth may move elsewhere when the road capacity is reached."

But where? Anyplace closer in is costlier. MoCo? Reston? Ashburn?

" VDOT engineers are now indicating there will likely need to be at least two grade-separated intersections within Tysons proper, replacing intersection improvements. This will push up the price tag."

This also sounds incompatible with the vision for Tysons, perhaps not surprising coming from VDOT.

"Biking. Fairfax County has been working extremely hard to develop new and safe bike routes to, from and around Tysons. They are not succeeding well, especially from and to McLean."

My understanding is they have not yet announced a plan.

"The Beltway and the DTR are physical barriers that are formidable."

Whe W&OD crosses both, IIUC. There are already bike routes in from the south/southwest on back streets, and IIUC a new bike lane going in on Gallows. I would suggest that Dunn Loring-Merrifield, Falls Church, Vienna,etc are better markets for cycling into Tysons than McLean and Great Falls.

"Moreover, traffic volumes on 123, 7, Spring Hill Road are such that their use for bike routes is viewed by many as too dangerous."

ergo alts must be found - on side streets, or on seperated facilities.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

"Whether transit can fill the bill is unknown, of course, "

Folks coming from nw fairfax and loudoun will have the silver line. Reverse commuters from N Arlington and DC will have the silver line. Commuters from southern FFX and PWC will have express bus service on the beltway HOT lanes. Commuters from the I66 corridor can take the orange line to EFC for the silver line.

Thats all only with transit projects currently UC. As Tysons builds out, there will almost certainly be transitways of some kind on Gallows, and down 7 towards FC - and perhaps along 123 NE to Mclean, and SW to Vienna.

Some of those options will be excellent - some will be less than ideal. But employers looking to relocate elsewhere in the DC region will have to face labor force access issues wherever they go.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

"Moreover, traffic volumes on 123, 7, Spring Hill Road are such that their use for bike routes is viewed by many as too dangerous."

At current speeds. you are suggesting that as Tysons builds out, they will approach perpetual traffic jam.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

Something that needs to be remembered to understand VDOT's proposals, which may or may not become effective, is Routes 7 and 123 are through routes, with significant through traffic. As I recall, approximately 37% of all vehicle traffic on Route 123 is through traffic and the comparable figure for Route 7 is slightly higher. I don't recall the exact number off the top of my head.
VDOT has indicated informally that it wants to reduce as many left turns as possible in and around Tysons.
I am not sure whether the replacement of intersections with interchanges will actually occur, as such proposal was removed earlier from the Tysons plan. But with VDOT considering interchanges, they must be regarded as a reasonable possibility.
It's also important to remember that Tysons was selected for urbanization mainly because influential landowners wanted to make the profits associated with high density, rather than a conscious decision that Tysons was the best and most efficient location for an urban center. I am not arguing Tysons is the wrong place, only that it was not selected after any comparisons with alternatives.
Bike routes will be developed where they can, but unless we decide to tax bikes, special facilities will not be constructed for bike routes. There are too many other costly facilities needed. SOV will remain the chief mode of transportation in, out and around Tysons. Roads trump bike lanes in Tysons.

by tmtfairfax on May 1, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

"It's also important to remember that Tysons was selected for urbanization mainly because influential landowners wanted to make the profits associated with high density, rather than a conscious decision that Tysons was the best and most efficient location for an urban center."

Tysons is far and away the most concentrated employment and retail location in Fairfax County. Doing a formal study to compare the prospects of builing an urban center at Springfield or Annandale sounds to me like it would a complete waste of money on a pointless study.

"Bike routes will be developed where they can, but unless we decide to tax bikes, special facilities will not be constructed for bike routes. There are too many other costly facilities needed."

If expenditure on bike facilities has better payback on reducing congestion than proposed highway improvements, I do not see why they would not be made. You have suggested that the area is headed for LOS F, with little room for further improvements beyond those planned. To refuse to add bike infrastructure - even something as simple and inexpensive as a bike lane - seems bullheaded.

" SOV will remain the chief mode of transportation in, out and around Tysons.'

given the large scale existing road infrastructure, including the about to be completed HOT lanes on the beltway, thats natural. What we are discussing however, is what happens at the margins. Its seems to me that as Tysons becomes more urban, and the roads more congested, biking is a very viable way to reduce the number of auto trips.

"Roads trump bike lanes in Tysons"

Im not sure what that means. If it means bike lanes will never be striped on arterials into Tysons, its clearly incorrect.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fcdot/bike/gallowsroad.htm

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

from the Tysons bike master plan

"Phase 3: 2015-2019. Plan, and implement over time, major new crossings of the Beltway and Dulles Toll Road. Until the communities north, northeast, and east of Tysons
Corner can access destinations in a more convenient and comfortable manner, their close proximity, and opportunity for biking to Tysons Corner will not be fully realized."

"Phase 4: 2020-2030. In later years, transform even major arterials like VA Route 7, International Boulevard, and VA Route 123 by adding bicycle facilities that are
separated from the road for priority cycling, shared use paths for lesser skilled cyclists,and signalization that facilitates safe multimodal travel along and across these corridors"

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

I thought this was about being zoned out of your home.

by selxic on May 1, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

I won't argue with you about the County's intentions about bike access to, from and around Tysons. Nor will I argue against the benefits of bike lanes. My argument is that, given the need for major road improvements, which may now include two grade-separated intersections, the reluctance of the landowners to pay for most of these improvements, and the huge push-back that will come from county residents if they are stuck with higher taxes/program cuts to fund infrastructure in Tysons, when push comes to shove, newly constructed bike paths and other facilities will take a back seat to roads and sidewalks.
To the extent the county can get bike lanes striped in safe locations, it will do so. But I just don't see the county building facilities for bike lanes, for the reasons set forth above.
Back to Tysons as an urban center. Clearly Tysons is a big business center that needed consideration for more urbanization. But no one looked at the feasibility of converting Tysons before it was picked. Clearly one of the reasons the RB corridor was successful is the existing grid of streets. One of the reasons Reston Town Center is successful is streets and other facilities could be created out of open fields. No one truly evaluated Tysons for the feasibility of constructing a grid. Similarly, Tysons needs at least 9 sports fields almost immediately. No one considered that when Tysons was selected. Etc.
Then it got worse, when the TLUTF finalized its vision without doing this analysis either. Only because of citizen advocacy, the stellar efforts of the County staff and the dedication of planning commissioners such as Walter Alcorn, Ken Lawrence, and Jay Donahue, did the mess created by the Vision get turned into a reasonably good plan.
I still hope Tysons will succeed and best the R-B corridor, but there are major, major challenges ahead, most especially building the road improvements needed to handle the increased traffic generated by an urban Tysons.

by tmtfairfax on May 1, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

TMT

As a previous poster said, this thread was about fear of zoning rewrites. I understand you have skepticism about the Tysons redevelopment project, and that you and I have different views of it for many reasons, some of which relate to different views of the traffic estimates, of behavioral change relative to mode choice as Tysons builds out and of VDOT's philosophy. However that has gotten us far afield from zoning and housing.

Tysons got introduced because you mentioned possible high rents at Tysons as a reason to doubt that new hirises would drive down housing costs. Since you seem to believe that whats driving those high rents is high proffers related to the Tysons rebuild, would you agree that discussion of Tysons rents is not relevant to the DC and MoCo code rewrites?

Would you further agree, in support of the filtering theory that Alex supports, that new high rent housing in Tysons to the extent it is built and occupied, will relieve pressure on other housing submarkets in NoVa?

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

Alex's theory is fascinating. He's probably right in some instances. If high-rent residential units in Tysons meets needs, there might be less pressure to build similar units in other areas of NoVa. But we are losing affordable housing in Tysons to build the more expensive housing, for example, McLean Commons. Developers will build wherever they think they can profit and, quite often, replacing older, less expensive rental units with new, higher rent units helps them make profits. Like most things in life, this is a mixed bag.
The costs of extractions in Tysons is adding to the higher rents, but the main cause is still high-rise construction. Even if there are no similar extractions in D.C. or Montgomery County, constructing steel and concrete residential buildings, generally needed for urban density, will push rents higher. Every builder will confirm this. Density provides some very positive factors, but lower priced housing is not likely to be one of them. That was my original point.

by tmtfairfax on May 1, 2012 11:19 pm • linkreport

The costs of extractions in Tysons is adding to the higher rents, but the main cause is still high-rise construction. Even if there are no similar extractions in D.C. or Montgomery County, constructing steel and concrete residential buildings, generally needed for urban density, will push rents higher. Every builder will confirm this. Density provides some very positive factors, but lower priced housing is not likely to be one of them. That was my original point.

I think you've got the causality wrong here.

Higher construction costs don't push up rents, higher costs are higher costs. They require higher rents to cover those costs - but that doesn't push up the rent, exactly. The rent is the indication of demand.

To put it simplistically, if a developer thinks they can get rents that will cover construction costs + land costs, then they will build (if zoning allows them to). If the rents won't cover costs, they won't. That applies no matter what, it is irrelevant to the underlying density and construction cost per unit. But the cost won't suddenly vary along with demand.

In a market where supply was not constrained, you'd expect to see the price for new housing to settle in at or just above the cost of construction. Right now, in DC and other places, the price of new housing is well above the cost of construction.

You're right that density won't suddenly make your rent drop, but no one is making that strawman argument. No one is suggesting that density will suddenly make rents drop below construction costs - rather, allowing the market to increase supply when demand warrants will make the market more efficient, and therefore prices overall will be lower than they are now (since right now they are higher than costs).

The broader point is about how this impacts the entire market. For more, read this:
http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2008/06/filtering.html

by Alex B. on May 2, 2012 12:16 am • linkreport

@ Alex

What I originally responded to is: Stephen Abresch's "How the poor pay the price for D.C.’s height limits." He wrote "And while certainly many factors affect the cost of housing in the city (such as demand, crime rates, school quality and proximity to public transportation), it is hard to ignore that artificially limiting the heights of buildings, and thereby the number of housing units, will tend to push rents higher." A fair read of his op-ed is higher buildings, which require steel and concrete construction," would cause lower rents. More housing units equals lower rent. My position is, "not always," and certainly not with high rise residential construction.
Of course, supply and demand play a key role in determining rents. And a weak market means lower rents, just as a strong market means higher rents. But there is a big difference in building 5000 more garden apartments and 5000 new high-rise apartments.

by tmtfairfax on May 2, 2012 8:14 am • linkreport

"it is hard to ignore that artificially limiting the heights of buildings, and thereby the number of housing units, will tend to push rents higher." A fair read of his op-ed is higher buildings, which require steel and concrete construction," would cause lower rents. More housing units equals lower rent. My position is, "not always," and certainly not with high rise residential construction."

I disagree that thats a fair read, since it ignores the factor of time and building age. The low rent units in Tysons, like those elsewhere are not cheaper because they are stick construction, so much as because they are old and obsolescent. Take a look at new stick construction apts being built in several parts of the region, and while they may be slightly cheaper (in places where land costs are low enough to make them economical - of course in a high land cost location they would have to be MORE expensive) they are considerably more expensive than older housing, including older hi rise housing (for example Southern Towers). The only way to have the market provide truely affordable housing is to build lots of it, and let it age. As we have seen in parts of NoVa where local zoning prevents redevelopment, the older low rise apartment complexes are often renovated to standards that command rents the poor can no longer afford. That probably has not happened in Tysons due to the owners preferring to wait fore redevelopment. The notion that by stopping the tearing down of old low rise apartment complexes, you preserve them as affordable units, is simply not realistic.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 2, 2012 9:06 am • linkreport

@tmt

A fair read of his op-ed is higher buildings, which require steel and concrete construction," would cause lower rents. More housing units equals lower rent. My position is, "not always," and certainly not with high rise residential construction.

The price of construction isn't relevant. Did you read the link I provided? The demand for high rent housing is there. The demand will either be met with new construction, or with renovations of previously affordable housing stock to meet that demand. From the link on filtering:

If you want more affordable apartments, build more tip-top apartments. Increasing the supply of high-quality apartments lowers the rent for high-quality apartments, all else being equal. Falling rents for the good units encourage landlords to let the older ones slide into the affordable sub-market.

On the other hand, if you want to raise the rents for older properties, then discourage the construction of new apartments. Restricting supply will raise the rents for high-quality housing, including older, well-maintained properties. Higher rents will encourage landlords to spend more on maintenance and renovation to move their properties from the low-quality sub-market pool to the higher-quality sub-market.

The fact that the new high rises have high rents doesn't prove your point at all, because the main thing here is the addition to the overall supply.

But there is a big difference in building 5000 more garden apartments and 5000 new high-rise apartments.

Sure, but how is that relevant? If a developer thinks the market is there, then they'll charge the same rent for those apartments, all else being equal. You're confusing the cost to build with the price paid by the user.

Likewise, as AWalker notes, the other key factor is age. It might cost a lot to build a high rise now, but once it's been around for a few years and the building is paid off, it's much easier for those units to filter down to lower submarkets.

by Alex B. on May 2, 2012 9:22 am • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity
I think we will need to agree to disagree. Of course, age and repair condition have a lot to do with rents. Ditto for land costs for new construction. But I cannot agree that high rise construction costs are anywhere near those of stick construction. If a great deal of high-rise residential construction occurs in Tysons, it will be expensive housing for the foreseeable future. I don't know of any factors that would make this different in Montgomery County or the District. If a developer built identical 30 story, 400 units buildings (what's been OK'd for the Georgelas Group in Tysons) there, and in reasonably comparable locations in the District and in Montgomery County, each would have expensive rents. Absent government extractions, few would be available to lower-income people. What happens 40 years from now is any one's guess.
One of the reasons why I argue this point is that the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce argued high-rise construction at Tysons and a large increase in rental units would solve many of Fairfax County's affordable housing problems. That's plain bull.

by tmtfairfax on May 2, 2012 9:27 am • linkreport

"But I cannot agree that high rise construction costs are anywhere near those of stick construction."

but the cost of housing isnt only construction cost, its land cost, and by limiting height we make land, especially well located land, more expensive per unit.

"One of the reasons why I argue this point is that the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce argued high-rise construction at Tysons and a large increase in rental units would solve many of Fairfax County's affordable housing problems. That's plain bull"

Its not. For the reasons we have discussed, expensive new units in Tysons WILL serve to relieve pressure on rental housing in FFX county. There simply isnt land available in Fairfax to build sufficient low rise units to relieve that pressure - maybe there is in Loudoun and PWC and Stafford, but in that case you are imposing a high transportation cost on the poor.

Of course if Fairfax is truely concerned with addressing the issue of housing for the poor, we will create more by mandate or subsidy.

by the way, the constanst discussion of the alleged mendacity of the FFX County Chamber is getting boring, and in a forumm where no one from there is posting to respond, more than a little unfair.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 2, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

"What happens 40 years from now is any one's guess."

one does not have to wait 40 years. If youve actually looked at apt rentals in NoVa lately, you would be aware that hirise units built 15 years ago rent at some discount to those built 3 years ago. those built 25 years ago, ceteris parabis, rent for less than that, and the cheapest hirises are those older than that. Build more rather than fewer units in 2013, and you will relieve demand for units built in 2000 to 2005. Lower rents for those units, and you will IMMEDIATELY relieve pressure on units built in the 1990s, and so on down the line.

For those units closest to Tysons this will likely not be the case, as the draw of the new Tysons will offset that - for those further from Tysons it will probably be the case though. Fortunately for FFX tax payers, many of those units are in other jurisdictions.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on May 2, 2012 9:54 am • linkreport

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