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Virginia May Pass New Laws Limiting Developer Proffers

by Karen Goff February 8, 2016 at 1:30 pm 19 Comments

Reston Station constructionThe Virginia Senate will vote today on a bill that would weaken developer proffers, which Fairfax County officials commonly use to get builders to contribute to park, roads and other improvements in exchange for development.

This is important in Reston, which is undergoing a period of multifamily housing growth as it turns towards being a transit-oriented community.

For instance, the Fairfax County Park Authority has said it will seek developer proffers to partially pay for a multimillion indoor recreation center, now slated for Reston Town Center North. The county also has identified more than $2 billion in infrastructure improvements needed in Reston over the next several decades — money that would likely come from proffers, as well as taxes and even a new special tax district.

Features of the bill require that proffers be limited to offsetting impacts that are directly attributable to new residential developments, such as traffic. The Senate version of the legislation does not apply to high-density areas, commercial developments or neighborhoods near Metro stations.

The bill places restrictions on what local officials can ask for in development negotiations. A House version of the bill passed 68-27 last week.

Officials in Northern Virginia told the Washington Post that changing the legislation would hamper their ability to negotiate for extra amenities from developers. They also argue that amending the land-use tool would open them up to lawsuits if builders whose projects were rejected argued that they were denied because of their refusal to agree to “unreasonable” proffer requests.

The proffer system in Virginia has been around for three decades. In Fairfax County, rapid growth in the 1970s prompted local government to demand that builders contribute to offset population growth’s effect on traffic, sewers and other systems, as well as help grow affordable housing.

The presidents of the Home Builders of Virginia told the Post that the proffer system has gotten out of control, developing into a list of demands rather than requests.

“We feel that proffers have gotten out of control,” said J.M. Snell, whose group helped craft the legislation. “They’ve grown out of proportion to where now localities have already predetermined proffers, which become demands, which is exactly the opposite of the word ‘proffer.’ ”

Fairfax County Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova says the new restrictions could lead to development projects’ not being approved.

  • Mike M

    So, where is Ken Plum on this issue?

    • Karen Goff

      Plum voted in favor of it.

      • Mike M

        Fascinating. So, he seems to agree with the developers? I doubt he’ll write his weekly column about that vote.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Contrary to his usual practice, he wanted to vote for something that might actually pass. =)

  • Greg

    Once again, the greedy supervisors are going to kill the golden goose with their demands for services not needed or wanted by many.

  • Steve

    For an example of where the proffer system broke down already, see Comstock’s Kiss and Ride lot at the Wiehle Avenue Metro station. In exchange for the rights to build adjacent to the subway stop, Comstock agreed to design and build the Kiss and Ride Lot. Fairfax County approved it. Now we are stuck with the smallest, most poorly designed Kiss and Ride lot at an end station in the Metro system. Not enough spaces. Dangerous, tight turns. Congestion especially at peak hours, which can add 10-15 minutes to the already-long subway trips. Poor signage that makes it impossible for drivers to figure out what lane goes into the garage and what lane goes in to the Kiss and Ride. As Reston expands, so will demand to use the Kiss and Ride lot. Comstock’s Reston Station calls for restaurants and shops. Who will want to fight the traffic and pay to park or meet someone there with such a poorly designed lot?

    • Greg

      Agree fully, but the failure is not that of Comstock, but that of those who approved and signed off on the dysfunctional, dangerous and disastrous design. Those would be highly overpaid, and apparently incompetent, county staff and the board of supervisors. And let’s not forget that Ken Plum has been the prime advocate of metro to Dulles for decades.

      • Chuck Morningwood

        Because, of course, Comstock had no hand in the poor design. While Fairfax County shouldn’t have approved the design, or should have offered better guidelines, Comstock didn’t hire complete idiots to design and build this part of the building. In my opinion, Comstock is probably even more culpable than Fairfax County because it’s their design and implementation.

        • Greg

          But Comstock is a business. Its goal is to make money. As much as possible. Design and function are low, very low, priorities for Comstock. Improving them only costs Comstock money. Comstock does the least it has to get the most profit out of its project.

          Fairfax County, at great expense to the taxpayers, is supposed to look out for the greater good, public policy, functional design, long-term livability, “the environment” (including exposes sewer pipes) and, of course, not do things to secure money or votes for the supervisors. Did any of that happen here? No. The fail, fully, lands on Fairfax County.

          As to the design of the project? Ugly and dysfunction, regardless of the designers and builders, speak for themselves and, most damning, for the legacies of Ken Plum and Cathy Hudgins.

          • Guest

            Remarkable that you want to absolve Comstock of all responsibility in this matter. Comstock had no intention of building any more improvements than minimally necessary. And it knew that it had Metro, the airport authority, and Fairfax County over a barrel, because they all wanted the station to be planned and built as quickly, within a tight time frame. So rather than be tougher negotiators and risk wasting time and money, all parties accepted the poorly planned
            facility we are stuck with now, and hoped for the best.

          • Greg

            Absolution? No. As I have consistently said, the fault fully lies with the county — both those hired and those elected — all of whom have failed.

          • gullyterrier .

            Yes. It is a real failure of a public-private partnership.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            So, what you’re saying is that businesses sole responsibility to the communities they serve is not just to make a profit, but to make a profit even if it comes at the expense of the community.

            Sorry, Fairfax County’s failure to insist on a better mass transit facility does not absolve Comstock of this. Ffx didn’t design it. Ffx pour the concrete. Builders have a responsibility for the end result of their construction.

          • Greg

            No, Fairfax should have not approved it. Period. The buck stops with the approver, not the developer. Votes, campaign contributions, taxes and proffers come first, right?

          • Chuck Morningwood

            Because, of course, Developers have no responsibility for the creations because the County didn’t prevent them from building it. This is like women needing to be covered head-to-toe and always in the company of a related male because Muslim men bear no responsibility for their behavior when an uncovered woman is present.

          • Greg

            Absurd, and offensive, analogy.

            The developer did its job; government / the county didn’t. Move on.

      • Steve

        Comstock cut corners– literally– on the project and the county staff and elected officials went along with it. We the commuters have to suffer as a result.

  • LiliKang

    I agree the frustration and the design issues with that teeny Kiss and Ride. But Whiele was not designed as an end station. Its Kiss and Ride is expected to see a significant drop in traffic once the rest of the stations open up.

    • Greg

      Planned end station or not, it is an end station, has been for years and will be so for at least four more years. Most of which was known at the time the station was approved, and was pointed out by all of Reston’s many resident advocacy groups. The station dysfunctional design and danger will be with us forever regardless of whether one or a thousand or ten thousand use the kiss and ride.

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