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Development


New developments at Reston Town Center North are closer to breaking ground

Plans are underway for redeveloping the library and homeless shelter that sit on the 50-acre plot north of Reston Town Center. These sites are the first part of a project that aims to build a new street grid with a central park, mixed-use buildings with housing, and a rec center.


The Reston Regional Library will soon get a makeover. Photo from the Reston Association.

To refresh your memory, the boundaries of the fifty-acre area are Reston Hospital on Town Center Parkway to the west, Fountain Drive to the east, Baron Cameron Avenue to the north, and New Dominion Parkway to the south.

The current area will be divided into nine blocks, with a central park of more than two acres. The county will handle redeveloping six of the segments and Inova will develop blocks 2, 4 and 6 separately, which currently has an assisted living facility and a freestanding emergency room.

The only proposed plans to date are the ones from the county for its lots.

The first phase (blocks 7 and 8) will affect the Reston Regional Library and the Embry Rucker Shelter. The Public-Private Partnerships Branch of the Fairfax's Department of Public Works and Environmental Services rolled out a general use plan for the blocks at a meeting last week. The estimated (and optimistic) timeline is to complete the project by 2023.


Rendering from Fairfax County.

Reston Regional Library will be bigger

The proposed replacement library will be 9,000 square feet larger than the existing one, making it one of the largest in the region's library system. In September, residents voiced concerns that the library would get smaller.

The mixed-use building, which will house the library on the ground floor (and perhaps a second level if needed), is expected to have underground parking and also 4,000 square feet for "village model" services such as meeting rooms and space for nonprofit organizations. Additional library redesign suggestions include: enclosed tutoring spaces, separate child and teen areas, a computer lab and flex-use space.


Brainstorming session from the November 4th community meeting. Photo by the author.

The area's homeless shelter will reach more people

The proposed replacement shelter will increase capacity from 70 beds to 90, and will include a new hypothermia center. Per the county meeting handout, "an additional 28,000 square feet [of space] is being considered for use by nonprofits or other entities that are under contract to provide County services."

Residents at the November community meeting recommended making the facility a 24-hour shelter with new daytime and youth programming. One idea I liked was the addition of an onsite thrift shop. Attendees of one breakout group pointed out that shelter residents would need transportation to and from the Reston Metro station.

Some residents thought it might better to locate the new shelter in the other blocks of the redevelopment. This would provide a better co-location with other social services in the area to assist individuals and families improve their quality of living through the Fairfax County Human Services Department and North County Health Center.

The project will include housing, some of it below market rate

The redevelopment will also include retail, office space, and housing. Right now, it looks like there will be between 360 and 420 market-rate housing units, around 50 affordable units, and about 30 supportive housing units, which will transition people out of the shelter..

The amount of office space will likely range from 270,000 to 340,000 square feet depending on the final design plan.

The affordable housing units will be split between residents who make 50% of the area median income (33%) and 65% of the AMI (67%). While the number of apartments might not seem huge, it is a good first step in an area of Reston where new condos can start at $2,040.

Here are some details on the next phase

While it wasn't the main focus of the November community meeting, Fairfax County solicited residents for ideas for the overall development.

A common theme among the four breakout groups of attendees was the need better and safer way to get around by walking. One attendee even recommended that vehicle traffic be put underground. Another wanted to add an underpass to connect the complex to Trader Joe's on the other side of the busy Baron Cameron Avenue.

Other suggestions included a performing arts center, flex space for startups, and rooftop decks. Attendees said they don't want skyscrapers on the property.

Part of Phase 2 will be a 90,000 square foot RECenter developed by the Fairfax County Park Authority; however, there is currently no timeline for this project. Andrew Miller, Project Coordinator from the Public-Private Partnerships Branch of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, said the county hopes to be in the final design phase of the project by 2018. Rezoning, the RFP process and development agreements will proceed the design and permit process. Once into construction, the county estimates a 36- to 42-month timeframe.

You can submit questions via email to restontowncenternorth@fairfaxcounty.gov, and you can follow this development at fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/restontowncenternorth.

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Bicycling


Capital Bikeshare is coming to Reston!

Reston is getting its first Capital Bikeshare stations, including spots at both the Wiehle and the coming Reston Town Center Metro stops. The network will make it a lot easier to get between the area's transportation hubs and its employment, retail, and community spaces.


The bike room at the Wiehle Metro Station. Photo by FCDOT.

Bikeshare facilities are a staple transportation option in parts of DC and other parts of the region, but there aren't any in Reston right now. Fairfax County's transportation department plans is contracting with CaBit to install thirteen stations at locations that include Plaza America, the Bluemont Transit Center, the Reston Regional Library and Reston Hospital. Between all the stations, 130 bikes will be available to rent.

The system will connect residents and visitors to employment, transportation, and shopping districts. In the specific case of getting between Wiehle and Reston Metro stations, which are a mile apart, bikeshare will provide an easy link.


The CaBi stations Fairfax's transportation department has proposed for Reston. Image from FCDOT.

At a recent community meeting, Fairfax Transportation Department Bicycle Program Coordinator Adam Lind said the hope is to have the stations in place by late 2016 or early 2017. That's contingent, though, on the Fairfax County DOT tapping its Federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds for all the capital construction.

The Transportation Alternatives Program provides federal funding to projects other than traditional highway construction. Eligible projects include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, complete streets and safe routes to schools. The funding is typically split 80 percent Federal and 20 percent State or local match from the sponsoring organization. Related to CaBi in Reston, TAP funds would help with building the concrete station pads and purchase the bicycles.

If FCDOTuses a combination of local and federal funds, the stations might arrive sooner. Splitting funding would allow the county to start building the concrete pads with local funds, which typically has a faster approval. The TAP funds would be used to purchase the equipment. Also, some of the sites will require coordination and approval from private landowners, like the proposed station at Reston Hospital.

There is already a potential built-in user base. It was surprising to learn that there are currently around 1300 Capital Bikeshare members in Fairfax County. The county is also considering expanding to the Herndon Metro station. And the system has the potential to grow through systems in Tysons, Merrifield and even Falls Church.

I asked if there was any concern about placing at a site currently under redevelopment, like Reston Town Center North, only to have it soon removed. Lind explained that the concrete pads that are the foundation of the stations can be relocated as needed depending on construction or usage patterns. A fun fact: the pads are 41 feet in length (You'll thank me on trivia night.)

One person at the meeting commented about the current state of the trail infrastructure, which ranges from good to fair. He asked it there would be any improvements. Lind mentioned that they are working to get money from funds already set aside for area Metro improvements.

The next steps include ridership and financial analyses along with the final bike site designations. Updates will be posted to the bikeshare website. You can also submit questions or concerns to Lind at Adam.Lind@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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Roads


Virginia candidates wrongly criticize plans to toll I-66

Many candidates in Virginia's election next week are criticizing plans to add tolls along with a new lane to I-66 inside the Beltway. But, and this is going to shock you, many of the things they are saying are wrong.


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

VDOT's plan would change I-66 inside the Beltway from HOV-2, where there are two lanes reserved (during rush hours) only for cars with two people, to HOT-3, where users would pay a toll unless there are three people in the car.

The plan would also improve bus transit in the area and enhance the bicycle and pedestrian system.

Some examples of what candidates are saying, from Dr. Gridlock, are below:

  • Oct. 19 posting by Loudoun County Republican Jeanine Martin on the Bull Elephant blog: "Governor McAuliffe and the Democrats propose transforming one HOV-2 lane along I-66 into a $17 toll lane. And the tolls won't be used for road improvements; commuters would pay for bike paths and subsidizing mass transit. People in Loudoun would be paying for bike paths in Arlington and their Metro."
  • From the campaign Web site of House Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun): "The revenue from this tolling plan isn't slated to improve I-66 or relieve the massive traffic congestion that Northern Virginia struggles with. Governor McAuliffe's proposed tolls are going to 'multimodal transportation' projects—that means Metro subsidies and bike paths among other things." The message includes links to Bike Arlington to illustrate "the kind of effort Arlington County goes to to force people onto 'car diets' and spend taxpayer money to promote biking!"
  • Manassas Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R), candidate for state Senate in the 29th District, has a 30-second ad in which he says: "The Richmond politicians are at it again. They want us to pay $17 just to drive on I-66 inside the Beltway Elect me, and we'll put a stop sign on any new toll on a road that you already paid for."
  • House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) said this in an Oct. 1 statement issued by GOP leaders in the General Assembly: "Asking commuters from Prince William, Manassas, Fairfax and Loudoun to pay such an outrageous amount for the privilege of sitting in the same unmoving lanes of traffic so Arlington can have nice new bike paths is unconscionable. Drivers who use both I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road could be stuck with $9,000 per year in fees. Governor McAuliffe's plan is a nonstarter."
Martin claims that the tolls won't be used for road improvements, and that is mostly true. What is not true is that they would pay for bike lanes and subsidizing mass transit.

In the report, toll revenue (about $12 million) would be used to offset operating costs for the HOT lanes ($1-$2 million), and the revenue may be used to fund operation costs of transit and bike and pedestrian programs if there is sufficient revenue. And even that is "dependent upon jurisdiction-level constraints on modal application."

It's likely to happen, but it's all a bit of a shell game, and even if tolling can pay for the capital and operating costs of the tolling, it's not expected to be sufficient to cover the transit operations as well, let alone bike and pedestrian projects, Transportation Demand Management, and Integrated Corridor Management.

Approximately $29 million in capital expenditures are required to implement tolling and it has been assumed that toll revenue will, at a minimum, completely offset the cost of operating the tolling system. Approximately $5 million in capital expenditures are necessary to implement the transit program included in the package, with an ongoing $23 million per year operating cost. Later in this section, priorities are offered for bicycle/pedestrian, TDM, and ICM improvements. The full complement of these improvements, included in all packages, is estimated to cost as follows: bicycle and pedestrian, $42 million capital; TDM, $5 million per year operating cost; and ICM, $6 million capital, $1 million per year operating cost....A conservative estimate of $24 million in annual revenue was calculated, determined solely by multiplying the tolls assumed in the model to maintain the LOS C/D level of traffic on I-66 by the number of non-HOV 3+ vehicles forecast to use the facility.
But the toll revenue would be about half as much, the study concluded, if tolling were only done during peak periods—as is now being proposed.

It's also not entirely true there won't be any road improvements since there will be dynamic merge/junction control, traveler information improvements and a future widening study. Also, this plan dates back to 2012, which means it's not really Governor McAuliffe's.

When LaRock says that money from the tolling isn't slated to relieve traffic congestion, he's wrong, and he's ignoring the other goals of the project. By paying for tolling, transit, TDM, ICM and bike/ped projects, the complete multi-modal package is expected to bring down congestion as a percentage of vehicle miles traveled (though total congestion will go up, as there will be more users) when compared to the baseline.

In other words, more people will deal with congestion, but each person will have fewer congested miles.

But despite what Miller says, the tolls will not pay for nice new bike paths in Arlington. Most off those paths are already in the plans, and they will likely be paid for by the same sources they were going to be paid for otherwise. But there will not be a straight payment from toll revenue to Arlington bike paths. People will be tolled and revenue gained (theoretically) and then bike paths will be built. But one does not do the other. In fact, in alternatives without tolling, the same bike/ped projects are still recommended.

In addition, right now no one pays these tolls because no one can. If you want to drive on I-66 inside the beltway in an single-occupancy vehicle, you can forget about it. Under the VDOT plan, you'd have the option of paying the toll. As Dr. Gridlock writes, if you don't want to pay them, "You could just keep doing what you're doing." If you're already "sitting in the same unmoving lanes," you won't have to pay because you must already be an HOV user.

I've probably covered this before, since it's three years old, but just to rehash it, many of the bicycle and pedestrian enhancements in the report come from existing plans in the area and others come from stakeholder inputs or identified needs.

The report includes 60 bike/ped projects which include trail improvements to the Mt.Vernon, Custis, Four Mile Run, W&OD, Route 110, Washington Blvd and Arlington Blvd Trails; connector trails; bike facilities added to the Route 27 bridge over Route 110 and the Meade Bridge; bikeshare expansion and parking additions along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and in Falls Church; Rosslyn Circle improvements, including a tunnel; bike lanes; and bike parking at Metro Stations. The list is too long to go into, so if curious, you should check it out starting on page 3-76 of the report.


Image from VDOT.

They assigned a benefit for each of these projects and those that rated the highest were (and some others just of interest):

  • Widen the Mount Vernon shared-use trail between the Roosevelt Island Bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Four Mile Run Trail
  • Construct a trail to link the sidewalk along the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge directly to the Mount Vernon Trail
  • Renovate Custis trail sections with asphalt cracking and washout, and, where feasible, widen the Custis Trail to 12 feet.
  • Construct a 10-foot wide sidepath from City of Fairfax to existing Arlington Boulevard trail in Arlington (may include some use of existing frontage roads)
  • Improve the Arlington Boulevard trail from Taft Street to Fort Myer Drive and from Pershing to Queen.
  • Construct sidepath on west side of Arlington Boulevard from Washington Boulevard to North Fairfax Drive
  • Rehabilitate Arlington Boulevard Trail from Glebe Road to Park Drive
  • Construct a short segment of Mount Vernon trail between North Randolph Street and the Fairfax line, following an existing sanitary sewer easement near Pimmit Run. Extend the Mount Vernon Trail from its current terminus at Theodore Roosevelt Island using existing trails, bicycle lanes, and proposed bicycle lanes in Arlington.
  • Build bicycle/pedestrian crossing of Beltway from George C. Marshall Drive to Tysons Executive Court
The highest priority projects were Capital Bikeshare expansion and bike parking in they R-B Corridor and near select Metro Stations.

A version of this post originally ran on TheWashCycle.

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Roads


A new bridge over the Dulles Toll Road will mean more Metro access and development in Reston

Soon, Reston is going to have another bridge that crosses over the Dulles Toll Road. Called the Soapstone Connector, the bridge will make it easier to get to the Wiehle Metro station, and will pave the way for new mixed-use developments nearby.


Image from Google Maps.

In 2008, Reston and Fairfax County decided there would need to be more ways to access the future station than those that currently exist. The plan is to extend Soapstone Drive across the Toll Road, linking two popular commuter routes: Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road.

Fairfax's transportation department did a feasibility study in 2012, and it's currently collecting data and considering options for exactly how and where they'll build the bridge. A final decision on the design isn't expected until an environmental assessment is finished this time next year, and estimates are that construction could start as early as 2018 depending on funding and other factors.


A Fairfax County DOT project information board used at the Monday 26th feedback meeting. Photo by the author.

A bridge will make Metro more accessible, which will attract development

According to Fairfax's transportation department, the project's purpose is to provide more options for multiple types of transportation to travel north and south around Wiehle Avenue, which should cut Wiehle's and Reston Parkway's congestion.

One specific goal is to make it easy for buses to travel across the Toll Road and to the Wiehle-Reston Metro station without having to travel on Wiehle. The county also hopes to make it easier and safer for people to walk or bike to the Metro station.

A number of developments, both current and planned for the future, benefit from there being a new way to cross over the Toll Road and get to Metro.

On the Sunrise Valley side of the Toll Road, there is the Reston National Golf Course and the association enclave. The golf course owners want to redevelop all or a portion of their land. The developing "Reston Heights" complex is also a short distance to the west.

On the Sunset Hills side, the Soapstone Connector bridge will provide additional transportation options for the burgeoning multi-use development, Reston Station.

The new road may also provide easier access to the Plaza America shopping center to the west. In the future, perhaps there could be a connection to the W&OD bike trail on the other side of Sunset Hills.

Residents have concerns about traffic and bike trails

Fairfax held a public information meeting on the project on Monday night. Attendees voiced concerns about the project's impact on an increasingly busy road network. One gentleman called the project a "necessary enhancement," but also said he was worried the studies did not consider the effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.

A FCDOT contractor replied that community comments would steer the county's approach to mitigating these indirect impacts.

Many voiced worries about traffic as well, asking why the bridge would only have three vehicle lanes. There was also mention of 22,000 planned residential units being built near the area.


A Fairfax County DOT project information board used at the Monday 26th feedback meeting. Photo by the author.

A FCDOT representative informed the group that there is a current Reston Network Analysis underway to "evaluate the conceptual grids of streets and road elements at gateways to the Reston Transit Station Areas."

One Restonian wondered the same thing I'm wondering: will there be any connection to the W&OD trail?

Unfortunately, this project will not be developing another access point to the trail across Sunset Hills Road. However, there is a new crosswalk at the intersection of Metro Center Drive, Sunset Hills, and Issac Newton Square.

Citizens may submit their comments and questions regarding this phase of the project to Audra K. Bandy at audra.bandy@fairfaxcounty.gov through November 6th.

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Development


Fairfax is moving forward with a huge development north of Reston Town Center

Fairfax County is redeveloping the space that the Reston Regional library and a homeless shelter sit on, just north of Reston Town Center. Last week, the project's second phase got the green light after the county and a private owner agreed to a land swap.


Images from the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The boundaries of the fifty acre area are Reston Hospital on Town Center Parkway to the west, Fountain Drive to the east, Baron Cameron Avenue to the north, and New Dominion Parkway to the south. It's adjacent to the Spectrum shopping center, whose mixed use complex was approved in 2013.

The current area will be divided into nine blocks, with a central park of more than two acres. The county will handle redeveloping six of the segments, which include the current library, homeless shelter, and other county services. The Reston Citizens Association (RCA) published a suggested plan for a larger library that incorporates the current Embry Rucker Community Shelter site (which would be relocated to one of Fairfax's blocks). The RCA's voice carries some weight, but the final decision is Fairfax County's.

Already underway with the first phase of the project, the county will be accepting approved developer proposals for blocks 7 and 8, where the Reston Regional Library and the Embry Rucker Community Shelter currently sit. The hope is to add mixed-use elements, such as a coffee shop adjacent to the library or transitional housing. The county closed a developer qualifications request for proposals on August 20 of this year; the second RFP will ask the pre-qualified teams for public-private development proposals.

Thanks to a land swap with a private owner, Fairfax can move forward

To ensure that Reston and the county are not without services like the North County Human Services Building and Reston District Police Station, Fairfax is doing a 1:1 land swap with Inova, a nonprofit healthcare system, which owns part of the land. Fairfax County is actually exchanging Fairfax County Park Authority land, which is the blocks that Inova will develop.

The land swap was approved by the Board of Supervisors at a September 22 meeting. This approval will allow Fairfax County to develop all their portions independently. Once this change of ownership is finalized, Fairfax County will be able to start Phase 2 of the redevelopment.

Inova has not determined what it will do with its blocks (2,4 and 6) which currently contain the freestanding ER center, Sunrise Senior Living, and the recently closed Cameron Glen Health and Rehab Center.

Residents want current services to be there in the future

After a meeting to gather community feedback in July, the Reston Citizens Association published a white paper stating its concerns about the project. At a similar meeting Saturday the 20th, residents again voiced concerns about the marginalization of the library and homeless shelter. They were worried that both facilities would be downsized. Many county libraries have added more digital services, which require less space, but attendees argued that Reston Regional has a large base of printed book readers.

One resident noted that Fairfax County approved a $10 million bond to improve the Reston Regional Library in 2012. None of the county representatives at the meeting said how that money would be used in the scope of Phase 1. My table mate felt that the public-private partnerships have tended to favor the wants of large developers, which aren't always in the best interest of Reston citizens.

Another concern was that the project wouldn't have enough affordable housing. Andrew Miller, Project Coordinator from the Public-Private Partnerships Branch of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, said that any housing developments would be subject to Fairfax County's Affordable Dwelling Unit Program.

Each individual block will go through its own zoning and development approval process. Miller mentioned that the Fairfax County Park Authority is contributing five acres to the project, and may want to use the 90,000 square feet of its development rights to add a RECenter. The Block 9 project is owned by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority and "would be rezoned and redeveloped separately at a future time."

For future information on this development, please visit fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/restontowncenternorth.

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Retail


DC's "Little Ethiopia" has moved to Silver Spring and Alexandria

Historically, the DC area's Ethiopian diaspora has centered on Adams Morgan and Shaw. But as the community has grown, it's mostly moved out of the District. Today, the region actually has two "Little Ethiopias": one in Silver Spring and one in Alexandria.


Where the region's Ethiopian population lives. Map by the author.

Ethiopians have a lot of roots in the DC area

Ethiopians first began moving to the United States in the 1970s, fleeing a military dictatorship. The DC area has the nation's largest Ethiopian community, but just how big it is up for debate.

The 2013 American Community Survey found about 40,000 people of Ethiopian ancestry in the region, while the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Center says there are 100,000 Ethiopians living in the area.

There's also a large population from Eritrea, which broke off from Ethiopia in 1991. The Census doesn't break out ancestry data for Eritreans for local areas. But in 2005, but the Population Reference Bureau estimated that about 2% of African-born blacks in the region, or about 2,300 people, came from Eritrea.

Today, Ethiopians are the largest African immigrant group in the region, making up one-fifth of the region's African diaspora. There are about 1200 Ethiopian-owned businesses in the region, according to the ECDC, as well as the Ethiopian community's own Yellow Pages. Famous Ethiopian entertainers have settled in the area, and major events serving the diaspora are held here, like this sports and live music festival that was at the University of Maryland this summer.

Two "Little Ethiopias" emerge

When the diaspora began, Ethiopians arriving in DC settled in Adams Morgan, then along 9th Street NW in Shaw, occasionally called "Little Ethiopia." Since 2000, DC's Ethiopian population has more than doubled, from 2134 to 4807 in 2013, though it's shifted north towards Petworth and Brightwood.

But like many immigrants in the region, many Ethiopians moved to Maryland and Virginia, and today most of the community lives outside the District. Montgomery County has the region's largest cluster of Ethiopians, with nearly 13,000 residents claiming Ethiopian ancestry, three times as many as in 2000. Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria have the region's second- and third-largest Ethiopian populations.


Ethiopian nightlife in Silver Spring. Photo by Reemberto Rodriguez.

Today, there are two "Little Ethiopias." One sits in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and reaches into far northwest DC. Another is in Alexandria and extends west towards the Skyline area of Fairfax County.

Both areas are home to several thousand people of Ethiopian descent. Ethiopians make up 29% of one Census tract next to downtown Silver Spring, while one census tract in Alexandria, consisting of a large apartment complex called Southern Towers, is 40% Ethiopian.

The most Ethiopian places

The most prominent sign of the region's "Little Ethiopias" is food. Downtown Silver Spring has dozens of Ethiopian eateries, and with those numbers come specialization: there are white-tablecloth places, sports bars, an "Ethiopian Chipotle," and of course, many different coffee shops. Meanwhile, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain visited an Ethiopian market in Skyline on the DC episode of his show No Reservations.


Montgomery County's annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring. Photo by Alan Bowser on Flickr.

These communities are also gathering and economic hubs not only for Ethiopians, but the wider African diaspora living in the DC area. Silver Spring is home to I/O Spaces, a coworking space geared to the African community. Montgomery County, which hosts an annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring, is also the first jurisdiction in the nation to name September African Heritage Month.

Will "Little Ethiopia" continue to move farther out?

Why did Little Ethiopia, like so many other immigrant enclaves in the DC area, leave the District? Gentrification and displacement may be one cause. Though it's also likely that people moved to Maryland and Virginia for cheaper housing, better schools, or to be close to friends and family.

It'll be interesting to see if the region's Ethiopian population continue to move further out. There are already large concentrations of Ethiopians extending far from both Little Ethiopias: the one in Silver Spring stretches north towards Burtonsville, while the one in Alexandria continues south along I-95 towards Lorton.

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Development


Businesses no longer want office parks, and that can mean more revenue for cities

Businesses are making moves toward neighborhoods that are accessible by transit and easy to walk around in. For cities, it's a smart financial move to view the change in preference as one that's here to stay.


Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

A recent story in the Washington Post covered a move by Merrill Lynch from a Montgomery County office park you can only get to by driving to the Metro-accessible Pike & Rose development on Rockville Pike. Though commercial lease terms are typically confidential, experts say Merrill Lynch chose to pay 40% higher rent for the new location, which is a five- to ten-minute walk to the White Flint Metro station.

This isn't an aberration. Just a few miles south of Merrill Lynch's office, Marriott is considering move its headquarters from a conventional office park in Bethesda to somewhere else in the region. The CEO told the Washington Post, "I think it's essential we be accessible to Metro and that limits the options."

This preference isn't just limited to two companies. A report in late 2013 found that 83% of the new office space under construction in the region is within a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk) of a Metro station. That is no coincidence.


Headquarters of Marriott International in a Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Local tax bases will shift

These trends are telling, and local leaders concerned about future budgets should take notice. Buildings like the one Merrill Lynch is moving into command higher rents and are more valuable to investors. And because cities and counties raise much of their revenue from real estate taxes levied ad valorem, meaning the tax is a percentage of the assessed value of the property, they mean more tax money.

Also, local governments often prefer office development to housing development since offices tend to pay more in local taxes than they use in services.

In Loudoun, for instance, the county claims that each new home costs the county $1.62 in added county services—schools, roads, sewers, etc.—for every extra dollar collected in taxes. Homebuilders say the cost is more like $1.20, but either way, each new house is a net cost to the county under its current tax structure. Communities with a healthy mix of commercial and residential development can provide excellent public services at manageable tax rates.

The moves of Merrill Lynch and Marriott as well as the Metro-proximity of new office space show the direction the office market is moving. If state and local governments want to attract and retain the offices of large Fortune 500 companies like Marriott and Merrill Lynch (a subsidiary of Bank of America), they need to plan for and support the types of mixed-use, walkable, transit-rich development companies seek and are willing to pay a premium for.

The future is already here

Fortunately, much of the infrastructure is already in place. The Washington region still has plenty of Metro stations that have not met their full development potential. Furthermore, the new development Metro spurs doesn't necessarily burden the existing infrastructure. In fact we found that car traffic in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor declined while development boomed.

It's too early to tell whether leaders are fully aware of what it's going to take to attract commercial development. In good news, the Silver Line's expansion into Virginia has already sparked office construction in Tyson's Corner and the Wiehle-Reston East station, allowing the commonwealth and Fairfax County to expand and capture more economic activity.

Likewise, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan chose to continue the Purple Line, an investment that will improve mobility and will create more places in Maryland that attract taxpaying office tenants. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett successfully pressured the state to reconfigure Old Georgetown Road near White Flint as a narrower complete street, not the wide auto-sewer the state had suggested.

But the region has made its share of mistakes, too. The cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar with no credible plan for any transit improvements ensures that new economic development will largely bypass that section of Arlington.

Creating neighborhoods that give residents and workers practical options to walk, bike, ride transit, or drive will improve the quality of life and also helps the jurisdiction's bottom line. Leaders who want to continue providing high-quality public services to residents without raising tax rates need to attract commercial tenants who are willing to pay higher rents and thus generate more tax revenue.

Leaders have a choice with limited funds: they can use public money to build new arterial roads and fail to spur economic growth or they can invest in the harder, but rewarding, transformation of places like Tysons and White Flint into the nodes that spur the economic development patterns of the future.

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Development


Fairfax is redeveloping Seven Corners with more housing and transit

Seven Corners, a growing population and commercial center in Fairfax, is both ridden with traffic congestion and lacking housing options. A new plan for the area is going to make it more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly, as well as more sustainable and inclusive.


Photo of Seven Corners by Richard Bullington-McGuire on Flickr.

Last Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to the Seven Corners Community Business Center's comprehensive plan that paves the way for three new residential "villages," along with new public parks and plazas, a community center, and playing fields. There are also provisions for new and expanded schools.

Seven Corners is on Fairfax County's list of aging residential/commercial centers, along with Springfield, Route 1, Baileys Crossroads, and Dunn Loring/Merrifield. This update to the plan comes after a three-years of community discussion, and it was pushed along by Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.

In the near term, neighborhood residents will not see much change. But over the long term, Seven Corners' redevelopment will mean better transit and environmental stewardship, along with a stronger sense of community.


Map of the area covered by the plan. The City of Falls Church is to the north, Arlington County to the East, and residential neighborhoods to the west and south. Image from Fairfax County.

Seven Corners will have more transportation options

A newly-proposed street network will help relieve the overloaded Seven Corners interchange, and eventually there will be better transit connections to places like Falls Church and Bailey's Crossroads.

The combination of a proposed "spine road," street grid, and "ring road" (similar to how Gilbert's Corner in Loudoun works) will alleviate congestion on the arterials and at the main interchange.

The plan includes the proposed Route 7 transit corridor, which allows for dedicated right-of-way for either Bus Rapid Transit or a light rail system and which the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission is currently studying.


Image from Fairfax County.

Also, the plan adds a new central transit center and enhanced transit connections to the East Falls Church Metro Station along Roosevelt Boulevard.

The new complete streets plan will include four miles of new sidewalks and five miles of new bike lanes, including three protected bike routes. Both Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) and the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) have voiced strong support for the plan.


New bike facilities coming to Seven Corners. Image from Fairfax County.

Unfortunately, the plan includes a stipulation that there won't be a pedestrian connection from Shadeland Drive, a long cul-de-sac, to the new elementary school and adjacent commercial areas along the south side of Route 7. Such a connection would make a lot of sense when it comes to encouraging children to walk and bike to school.

The plan has the environment in mind

Seven Corners falls within two important watersheds: Cameron Run and Four Mile Run. Both have been negatively affected by past development and the rapid runoff of stormwater from parking lots and structures.

The plan will put more homes close to transit retail, and jobs, and a lot of the area it's redeveloping is already paved over. Those factors will mean better stormwater management and less driving, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

More specifically, the plan proposes the use of modern stormwater management measures and requires sites with more than 50% impervious surface to reduce stormwater runoff 25% below existing conditions. For sites with less than 50% impervious surface, meaning they are at least 50% green, undeveloped land, runoff from new development cannot be greater than existing conditions. The plan doesn't call for further reductions, though.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) and Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group, which is Virginia's largest chapter, have endorsed the plan but have also called for stronger stormwater management provisions.

Affordability is a key component

The plan calls for one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units in Williston Village (Sub-unit A), a 15% set-aside in Town Center (Sub-unit B), and a 12% set-aside in Leesburg Pike Village (Sub-unit C). Income thresholds for the units would range from up to 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) or $65,520 for a family of four in the lowest tier to up to 120% of AMI, or $131,040 for a family of four (AMI is $109,200 for a family of four) in the highest tier


The three residential units going in at Seven Corners. Image from Fairfax County.

CSG and Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group joined the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance (NVAHA) in recommending stronger affordable housing provisions.

In a letter to Fairfax's Board of Supervisors, both CSG and the Sierra Club pushed for more attention to the needs of those at 60% AMI or below, which includes many current residents of "market rate" affordable housing in Seven Corners. The groups recommended the plan identify specific tools that can achieve the housing goals, including use of county funding, which could help affordable housing developers leverage tax credits and other financing sources to provide more housing at 60% AMI and below.

NVAHA also called on the county to address the needs of households at 60% AMI and below.

The plan itself will take time to be realized. Once it is implemented, Seven Corners will be more sustainable, inclusive, walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly and vibrant.

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