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Op-Ed: Who Will Pay for Reston’s Infrastructure Development?

by RestonNow.com — February 8, 2016 at 11:30 am 13 Comments

Traffic LightThis is an op-ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston 2o20. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

On Thursday, Feb. 11, the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a seminar called, “The Changing Future of Reston, ” but — as the agenda shows — it’s really about who will pay for the added public infrastructure the intense private development of Reston’s urbanizing corridor will require.

Noting that Fairfax County has identified $2.63 billion in needed transportation improvements because of the expected Metro-related development, the Chamber agenda includes:

During the first half of 2016, the County expects to settle on a plan:

  • Who should build the new transportation improvements; and
  • Who should pay for them; and
  • What revenue sources should be used to pay for it (sic). Potential revenue sources include federal, state and/or county taxes, new or expanded tax districts on existing businesses and residents, proffers or other vehicles, with collections commencing as early as 2017.”

And the panelists? Two developers, the chief of the county transportation staff, and RA’s Chief Executive Officer, all led in their discussion by a developer-paid Reston land use attorney.

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out where this discussion is headed: Developers are looking for ways and rationalizations to shift the infrastructure cost burden to others. And the only significant option within the County’s control is shifting the cost burden to us, its residents.

The Reston 20/20 Committee has stated since its creation seven years ago that those who stand to benefit financially from development should be the ones who pay the costs of making it work. At the same time, Reston 20/20 has regularly encouraged appropriate high-density transit-oriented mixed-use development in our station areas with the necessities and amenities expected in our special planned residential community as a means to facilitate our community’s continued economic, cultural,  intellectual, and recreational growth. We believe it is important to sustain, if not improve, our quality of life.

We stand by that thinking as the county — and the Chamber of Commerce — moves forward in looking at who should pay for the infrastructure required to support the doubling of Reston’s population and jobs (most of it along the Dulles Corridor) over the next 30-40 years.

That said, virtually no Reston resident will accrue any financial benefit — even an appreciation in home value — by the building of an office or residential building, say, near the Wiehle Metro station. Yet that construction will generate more traffic (the apparent focus of the Chamber’s discussion), more children needing schools, more workers and residents needing parks and recreation, more families and employees seeking library resources, and more pollution requiring better environmental management, among other costly consequences.

So why should the residents of Reston or anywhere else in the county even be in the discussion as a source of funding for an infrastructure requirement in Reston generated by the profit-driven activities of private developers? It doesn’t matter whether that discussion is about additions to property tax rates (which must be the same on all property by state law), new or expanded special tax districts (like Reston Tax District #5) and rates, meals taxes on restaurant goers, added occupancy taxes on local hotel visitors, higher sales taxes, etc.

But here’s the ugly twist: The county government’s financial interests are more aligned with the developers than the residents it was elected to represent. The County, which is seemingly always desperate for new tax revenues, stands to receive large new revenue streams from development as the greater value of the new high-density properties generates more property taxes.

At the same time, the development will also force the County to invest billions of dollars to build the needed supporting public infrastructure. The consequence is that the County doesn’t want to impose costs on developers that might discourage their tax-revenue generating construction although a wide variety of mechanisms are available, including proffers, impact fees, in-kind contributions, tax increment financing, etc. (See chart for a high-level summary.)

So residents, especially property owners, end up becoming the county’s cash cow. In fact, Fairfax County homeowners have already become the primary source of County property tax revenues since the slump in commercial property values seven years ago.

We challenge the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, its panelists, and its membership to look closely at itself and not others–not residents, not retailers, not diners, not non-voting visitors, etc.–to contribute what is

needed to sustain, if not improve, our Reston community. Private developers who will profit should pay for the public facilities that will be required to make their development and our community succeed.

Reston 20/20 will be looking to see whether there are any signs of that corporate social responsibility to the community coming out of this Thursday’s Chamber seminar. And, in the near future, we will look to the County to offer a free community seminar — or several — on what public infrastructure needs to be built with the coming development and solicit the public’s input on who should pay for it.

The seminar is at Hidden Creek Country Club from 4:00-6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 11. Anyone may attend, but non-members must pay $50 admission and an extra $10 at the door.

  • Terry Maynard

    For more information on the County’s plan to fund Reston’s transportation requirements, please see this briefing to the Reston Network Analysis Group (RNAG) in December: http://www.slideshare.net/fairfaxcounty/reston-funding-plan

    You won’t find the brief on the RNAG webpage of the County website and it is only briefly summarized in the minutes of an RNAG meeting. It also wasn’t mentioned, much less discussed, at last week’s public meeting on the progress of RNAG.

    This is not transparent; it is opaque.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Fairfax County has identified $2.63 billion in needed transportation improvements

      Do you have a link to this?

      • Terry Maynard

        The GRCC link with the agenda & $2.63B figure are at the top of this op-ed.
        As you can see in my comment above, I’ve also linked to the FCDOT presentation where that figure and funding options are discussed.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Isn’t there a County source for this $2.63B including what it includes?

          • Terry Maynard

            Actually, I can’t find a list with the cost per project in the FCDOT presentations..

            NTL, the specific projects are shown on a map (p. 35) and list (p.36) of the funding presentation linked above and here: http://www.slideshare.net/fairfaxcounty/reston-network-analysis-community-kickoff-feb-1-2016

            The County Transportation Plan has these projects on the list and the last time (a while ago) I looked they showed figures north of $2.5B–and this doesn’t count the sidewalks, bike lanes, pathways, bus transit, etc.

            Tysons transpo projects will cost over $5B, so I imagine ours could go higher than $2.6B–especially the longer it takes to do them thanks to inflation.

  • Mike M

    Agreed! But as for increased County revenues, I think it’s safe to say that over-development is a net loss to the County as it becomes ever more desperate to react after the fact with costly infrastructure. Developers don’t even make that revenue argument in Loudoun any more where people seem to have learned from the downturn which left many projects stalled for years.

    If you make the builders pay their way, development will be slowed to a level whereby appropriate infrastructure can keep up. Some of the more destructive projects would never get underway.The Wiehle station is a good example of development ahead of the infrastructure.

    Reigning in this mess is the job of Kathy Hudgins and Sharon Bulova, and they have been failing. The solution is for the Democrats of Reston to STOP voting along party lines. It’s irrelevant at this level of government. They all behave the same if they think they are unaccountable and thus far they have been. Ken Plum, has failed to assist in Richmond where laws favor nasty developer tricks. He prefers to make issues of non-issues and ignore what is happening in NoVa. I guess it’s easier.

    Let your politicians know you will vote them out. You might be amazed at the results. If you can’t employ your democracy, you deserve the deal the developers cut to their advantage.

  • Constance (Connie) Hartke

    Here is the link for the Thursday Chamber event. It costs non-members $50 in advance and $60 if you pay at the door.
    http://web.restonchamber.org/events/Legislative-Series-The-Changing-Future-of-Reston-2818/details

  • Arielle in NoVA

    Once again, it may be time to bring up the idea of Reston becoming an official town so it can have more control over these things.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Is any “infrastructure” being built in Herndon to support the arrival of metro? Who is paying for that? One suspects that the residents will be in the hook for it, not the developers, and thus the case that “being a town” keeps developers in check is weak.

      • I have only heard of a few projects so far such as a new road from Herndon Pkwy to the new station entrance, bus drop-offs on Herndon Parkway and an eventual extension of Worldgate Drive. Work should start soon on the Van Buren/Monroe and Herndon Parkway intersection.

  • Trump

    Mexico will pay for it!

  • Robert Pew

    Coulda woulda shoulda . I wish we coulda slowed the approval of new developments along the Dulles Access Road for a while. The Reston Network Analysis Group woulda been able to plan a grid that would make sense. The city of New York did this back in 1811 but apparently they were smarter than us. We shoulda had the developers swap properties such as in North Town Center so that true connections between North – South roads could be built. Now the Network people can only try to reduce congestion with the remains of no plan at all.

  • Scott H

    Here is my assessment and logic on the situation
    – The infrastructure needs are driven by metro-related development, right?

    – parcels that are redeveloped will generate a significant increase in county property tax.
    – That entire increase in tax revenue should go toward the additional infrastructure
    – some of the additional infrastructure needed is for non-reston residents to access the Reston’s current and future metro stops. Some portion of the infrastructure should be funded by extracting funds from these users. Maybe parking? Maybe a fare tax?

    That said, some portion should be paid for by Reston residents. We will see a benefit in more road options to cross 267, more retail/restaurant options, and a larger tax base. The devil is always in the details however and the percentages need to right. I don’t have a lot of confidence in government to get it right.

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