Greater Greater Washington

Weekend links: Development starting to roll


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
Vacant building and gas station no more: The long-vacant building at the corner of 7th and H has a new owner and plans for a mixed-use development (DCmud) ... The gas station by the Key Bridge in Georgetown will become new condos after 2012. (WBJ)

Montgomery gets big projects, transit-oriented and not: A developer wants to build a "town square" on what's now a large parking lot in Wheaton; the big office-park area in North Bethesda is getting even more development that's a little more mixed-use. (Gazette via BeyondDC)

Leesburg is form-based: Leesburg has adopted a new form-based zoning code that will encourage expanding the historic downtown with a similar development form that's more walkable than what current zoning allows by right. (Leesburg Today via BeyondDC)

Arlington is the healthiest: A map compares the health of residents in each Congressional district in America. Virginia's 8th, which contains Arlington and Alexandria, is the healthiest in the nation; Maryland's 8th, encompassing western Montgomery, is almost as high. (via ArlNow, MW)

Car sharing gone from Wilson Building: The DC government has a motor pool for employees to share vehicles rather than needing their own, but it was recently banished from the Wilson Building. Signs of Mayor Gray's priorities? No, turns out it was the Council's request. Was that Kwame Brown's doing? (Loose Lips)

A better place to slug: Downtown DC's slug line pick-up spot will move around the corner to New York Avenue, while PRTC buses will use the old slugging area. (Slug-Lines)

Bill Nye, the high-speed rail guy: Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," says the United States "should be embarrassed" that it can't get its act together to build high-speed rail like virtually every other industrialized nation. (Andrew)

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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DC gas stations have a hard time competing with the stations in Va. where the state gas tax is much lower. If we wanted to bring in more revenue and keep stations in the District we'd lower to gas tax to be below Va.'s. I can't remember the last time I bought my gas in the District. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Lance: DC's gas tax is already at or below Maryland's rate and Maryland is looking to increase their tax:

http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/maryland/2011/02/bill-would-create-sales-tax-gasoline

The District needs to wait and see what Maryland does on this. If Maryland raises their tax, I'd strongly advocate for the District to raise its gas tax a dime per gallon and use half of the revenue to pay down the District's debt and the other half of the revenue to build our planned 37-mile streetcar system. Using the revenue from a higher gas tax combined with a value-capture financing system for new development around the streetcar stops and using this money to leverage TIFIA or other low-interest loans would go along way towards building a streetcar network in the District that fills in the gaps in areas that Metro does not serve and that provides capacity relief for Metro rail.

by Ben on Feb 26, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

Lance, a more basic question is why would we want to keep this gas station here on Canal Road, some of the most valuable property in the country. Promoting and encouraging gas stations in the District seems like an early 20th Century economic strategy. Having residential units here that sell for $2M - $3M each will bring the District far more tax revenue.

by Ben on Feb 26, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

@Ben 'Having residential units here that sell for $2M - $3M each will bring the District far more tax revenue.

So would putting businesses in residential areas. But that's not why we have a District government. The residents have to come first. While I agree that in the case of the Canal Road station it's clear that it's highest and best value isn't as a gas station, that doesn't mean we don't need gas stations in the District.

In any case, my point was that at least half of us are buying our gas in Va. because it's cheaper there. If the District really wanted to take in more gas tax revenue, it would lower it's rate below Virginia's and not only recapture the District residents' gas purchases, but some of Virginia's.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

@Lance -- Have you considered that perhaps there is not a huge need for gas stations in DC because people who actually *live* here don't buy that much gas?

by Kate on Feb 26, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

@Kate-- exactly right. Something like forty percent of households in the District do not own a vehicle. Instead of Lance's policy of supporting gas stations, we should be supporting transit-oriented development and building the proposed 37-mile streetcar network.

by Ben on Feb 26, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Kate Have you considered that perhaps there is not a huge need for gas stations in DC because people who actually *live* here don't buy that much gas?

Less ... but not no gas. Only a fairly small niche of people do without ever driving at all.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: I can't remember the last time I bought my gas in the District.

Then why keep gas stations in DC? The free market says: No demand. Then why offer supply?

The residents have to come first.

True. However, that's not what you advocate. You advocate residents as first, last and everything living in a void without commerce, non-profit, education and industry. That's an unsustainable model.

And also: What about the beautiful views of the air around that gas station? Surely, you don't want to have the sky clouded like the Car Barn does? Oh the horror!

by Jasper on Feb 26, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

@Jasper The free market says: No demand. Then why offer supply?

No, it's not the free market. It's shortsighted tax policy. You get greedy and people go elsewhere.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

Well McDonnell is starting to fight for Metro:

"According to the governor's press secretary, Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell supports Congress’ attempts to be fiscally responsible and reduce federal spending but does not believe that cutting WMATA funding was the right choice.

“The decisions on what to cut and how must be made prudently and wisely. While we work to reduce federal spending, we cannot harm vital infrastructure projects and services such as Metro that have a significant impact upon jobs and mobility and our economic vitality,” Caldwell said. “Smart investments in infrastructure can be a wise use of limited resources.”

Caldwell said McDonnell has been meeting with Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and members of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and intends to send a letter to Congress asking that they restore the funding."

http://kingstowne.patch.com/articles/virginia-politicians-respond-to-proposed-cut-to-wmata-2

by RJ on Feb 26, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

No, it's not the free market. It's shortsighted tax policy.

No, it's the free market.

DC's gas tax, $0.235/gal, is actually pretty typical. Regionally, it's higher than New Jersey ($0.145/gal), Virginia ($0.195/gal), or Delaware ($0.230/gal), but it's the same as in Maryland and lower than North Carolina ($0.302/gal), West Virginia ($0.322/gal), or Pennsylvania ($0.323/gal). New Jersey is a particularly interesting example, as in this case lower taxes do manage to attract a meaningful amount of business from New York and Connecticut -- but the difference is something on the order of seven times the difference between DC and Virginia. (Virginia's gas tax is $0.04/gal lower than Maryland's or DC's, while New Jersey's is $0.274/gal lower than Connecticut's and $0.302/gal lower than New York's.)

DC's gas prices are certainly high, but it's primarily a factor of high real estate prices. Land costs account for a larger part of the costs of running a gas station than you'd think, but, even more importantly, the high costs of land in DC means that the stations tend to be smaller. Smaller stations means fewer and smaller mini-marts, and mini-marts are where the real profit in a gas station lies. At your typical northern Virginia station, the gas itself is sold at pretty close to cost -- sometimes even below cost -- as a loss-leader to get customers within sight of the Snickers bars. So long as real estate prices in DC are so high, DC won't be an attractive place for the sale of low-margin commodities.

by cminus on Feb 26, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: It's shortsighted tax policy. You get greedy and people go elsewhere.

US gas taxes are pathetically low. Elsewhere in the world, governments have taxed gas, and used the money to build a great infrastructure, including transit, fast trains, and non-collapsing bridges.

Low US gas taxes

The graph shows that Bulgarians, Poles, the Irish and the Portuguese, all people with way considerably less money than Americans can afford much higher gas taxes.

by Jasper on Feb 26, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

The sad part about losing another gas station is that means fewer gas taxes go into the DC Highway Trust fund that provides the matching money for federal-aid transportation projects. That is becoming a big financial problem as the trend of losing gas stations continues.

The other structural difference is the something like 70% +/- of the traffic on DC roads is from surrounding jurisdictions, so the likelihood that they purchase gas and contribute to funding DC transportaiton improvements is low. So the congestion vs. contribution effect is upside down. [Not suggesting a solution here, just saying the dynamic is difficult on the District's transportation finances]

by Some Ideas on Feb 26, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport

In the past decade, there's been a significant reduction in gas stations in DC, mainly b/c their location made them more valuable as real estate development than as gas dispensaries.

Another thing that has also plummeted are repair bays at existing gas stations. A great number of them have been converted to gas 'n go convenience stores. Which means fewer mechanics, less convenience for residents, and fewer vocational job opportunities for residents.

And, while real estate prices surely affect DC gas prices, I'd say perhaps an equal factor is the near-monopoly in the distribution business by a handful of jobbers. Read last week's City Paper for a great background on the King of DC Jobbers.

And (finally), if I owned a home above the M Street Exxon, I'd be mighty concerned with how high that new condo development will be. I'd much rather have a gorgeous view of the river than of the building's rooftop HVAC systems.

by Fritz on Feb 26, 2011 6:34 pm • linkreport

Am I the only person here who's anecdotally noticed that Gas prices in DC (at least, the ones along NY Ave) tend to be considerably lower than those in the near suburbs (ie. Arlington and Fairfax).

I distinctly remember only buying about $10 worth of gas out in Springfield, because it was so much more expensive than it is in DC.

by andrew on Feb 26, 2011 6:51 pm • linkreport

@Fritz, Good point. One of those homes is the Exorcist house. Given the other adjacent properties on M St, the historic zone will ensure it's not going to be a Rosslyn type highrise. I'd guess it'll go to 5 storys max. Maybe less since that skyline of Georgetown is a fairly defining element, and wouldn't imagine the Old Georgetown Board letting that be lost.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 7:00 pm • linkreport

Okay ... and now I'm getting around to read the linked article ... which says 5 storeys.

by Lance on Feb 26, 2011 7:03 pm • linkreport

@andrew

Yes. Every time i drive into virginia i am shocked at how expensive gas is. I find that the 3-4 gas stations in dc that i frequent are usually cheaper.

by rsn on Feb 26, 2011 7:44 pm • linkreport

@Fritz: Another thing that has also plummeted are repair bays at existing gas stations. A great number of them have been converted to gas 'n go convenience stores. Which means fewer mechanics, less convenience for residents, and fewer vocational job opportunities for residents.

I don't think this makes sense. The total number of cars that break down and have to be repaired is the same. If they are repaired in service bays at gas stations, or at more specialized auto repair facilities, the same number of jobs are created.

I think the main reason for the loss of auto repair jobs is that modern automobiles are more reliable and also more complex to repair when they do need service.

by David desJardins on Feb 26, 2011 7:51 pm • linkreport

Regarding HSR and the Science guy...

I'm for HSR on the Northeast corridor and also California. These corridors connect major metropolitan areas that have subway/light rail systems serving their cities. The local transit networks plus HSR can make car-free intra-city travel very viable.

But these random proposed segments around the country like Tampa to Orlando see like a boondoggle to me. You can't get anywhere in either of those sprawling cities without a car. Shaving a modest amount of time off the intra-city travel isn't worth the $$$ investment.

Atleast one terminus (or destination) in an HSR line needs to be a city well served by local subway/light rail. You can make a case for an HSR line into Chicago from St Louis or rust belt cities but I can't see the case for Tampa to Orlando...

by Paul on Feb 27, 2011 7:59 am • linkreport

@rsn & andrew

I don't know where you're buying gas, but there is a stretch of stations in Arlington that are the cheapest in the entire region. All of the taxis that return from Dulles know this spot.

by TGEoA on Feb 27, 2011 9:22 am • linkreport

GasBuddy is a smartphone application that can help find the lowest prices. (And yes, it's Arlington that seems to have the lowest prices.)

I've noted a gas station in Georgetown on the corner of Wisc. and Q that seems to have low prices. But I've also noted that it's a no-name station. That's not necessarily bad since it just means that just like the name brand stations they're buying their gas from whereever they can get a good deal, but I'm not sure if it means all the quality control mechanisms they have in place for handling the gas once they have it (e.g., ensuring water isn't getting into their tanks, and the 'additives' that go in to the tanks) are as good as those of the brand names stations where they have large and experienced organizations backing them.

Years ago my mom had a car die in traffic because her local station hadn't properly maintained their underground tanks and water had gotten in and mixed with the gas. (They paid to have her tank drained and clean, but the car continued to have problems afterwards until she sold it.) And btw, this WAS a name brand station ... So, I'm not saying these probs can't happen anywhere, but I just personally think they're less apt to happen at the name brand stations.

I think at least some of these 'cheaper' stations on NY Ave are no-name stations ... ?

by Lance on Feb 27, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

Also, let's not forget that 40% of DC households (is that the correct unit?) does not own a car and does not need fuel stations.

by Jasper on Feb 27, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Paul: But these random proposed segments around the country like Tampa to Orlando see like a boondoggle to me.

Tampa-Orlando makes sense as the first phase of a concerted rail building system that would eventually connect Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville.

It doesn't make sense if you're going to build just that and then never build any more high-speed rail in Florida. But I don't think anyone's proposing that is a good plan.

In the medium term we simply have to fly yes, unless someone comes up with hydrogen-powered planes or carbon-dioxide scrubbers. It would be better to start investing in that sooner rather than later, but I don't have a lot of hope.

by David desJardins on Feb 27, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

Oops, "fly less", not "fly yes".

by David desJardins on Feb 27, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

While it's wonderful that 40% of DC residents may not have a car that needs gas, that still leaves the other 60% (what we would normally call a "majority"), as well as hundreds of thousands of commuters, visitors, taxis, car sharing vehicles, etc. Perhaps some have a fetishist dream of a world - or at least DC - without gas stations. But for the rest of us that live in reality, that's not really a good thing, especially for the loss of sales tax revenues from gas station business.

Random question: How is it that NJ has, for the mid-Atlantic, relatively comparable gas taxes, prohibits self-pumping, and yet has cheaper gas prices?

by Fritz on Feb 27, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Self-pumping doesn't lower costs. But where did you get the idea that NJ has comparable gas taxes? Here's some 2009 data (cents per gallon):

NJ 14.5
VA 19.5
DE 23.0
MD 23.5
DC 23.5
PA 32.3
NY 44.6

by David desJardins on Feb 27, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

It's not really fair to compare prices at a gas station in Georgetown to prices off of some state highway in a not-so-ritzy section of Virginia. The prices at that Exxon have always struck me as reasonable-yes more expensive than the cheap places, but not the ripoff as at the Watergate Exxon.

BTW, what happens to the views from the buildings that current look over the Exxon?

by ah on Feb 27, 2011 11:05 pm • linkreport

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