County officials raise issues with affordability of project by Innovation Center Metro

A rendering shows residential and other buildings for the proposed Rivana project (Via Loudoun County EDA)

Developers may need to add more affordable houses to address Loudoun County’s concerns over a 103-acre mixed-use project by the future Innovation Center Metro station.

The developers of the Rivana at Innovation Station have tried to justify how they’re meeting affordability needs, but Loudoun County officials have raised issues over how the project’s concessions will play out if only 170 units of a project will be affordable. The development could have up to 2,719 units.

Envisioning a 9 million square-foot, “walkable urban center that is directly connected to the Innovation Center Metro station,” developers wanted to start construction in the first quarter of this year. They previously shared plans involving a performing arts venue and two public parks as part of the project that would drastically redefine the area.

Antonio Calabrese, a partner with the multinational law firm DLA Piper, has countered that the developers’ project would include 6.25% of Unmet Housing Needs Units, which the county defines as units serving households that are at or below the area media income.

In a Dec. 6 letter to the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, Calabrese also stated the developers’ percentage of affordable units is consistent with multiple rezoning requests of projects near Metro stations.

But in early September, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted a strategic plan that calls for a 20% affordability goal.

“This Application does not adequately address affordability in the current proposal,” Brian Reagan, the county’s housing programs manager, said in an Oct. 12 memo about the project’s second submission.

Loudoun County’s chair, Phyllis Randall, told Reston Now that the developers’ 6.25% rate of affordability is too low but questioned whether 20% was attainable there, citing high property values along the Metro line.

She said the county’s affordability goal is a guideline that helps navigate discussions with developers, noting it’s a place where conversation begins but doesn’t end.

“We don’t want to see brakes on the project,” Randall said. “We’d like to see it come to fruition.”

She also noted that the county for the first time is setting aside half a penny of property taxes to add to its housing trust fund, which could generate nearly $6 million per year, part of the county’s efforts to address equity.

Other affordability concerns raised

The Rivana application, and a subsequent updated proffers list dated Dec. 6, also called for the affordable units as being reserved for those making at or below 40%, 60% or 80% of the area median income.

But Loudoun County’s housing program manager has questioned that approach, too, saying that the breakdown should mirror existing housing programs there, which involve households making at or below 30%, 50%, 70% and 100% of the area median income.

Calabrese, the attorney, stated that the developers couldn’t determine the likely breakdown of rental apartment buildings and residential condominium buildings at that time and restated the developers’ ratios.

“The Applicant’s proposed development involves a long-term, multi-phased project consisting of substantial office, hotel, residential, and commercial uses,” Calabrese also wrote.

Reagan has also questioned whether the project will even have residential units for sale, noting that the first phase of the project is devoted to rental units.

The developers’ lawyer countered that it will “depend on the rental market and the condominium market” at that future time.

According to the Loudoun County Economic Development Authority, Novais Partners is the master developer of the property, which involves a partnership between Origami Capital Partners, Timberline Real Estate Partners, Open Realty Advisors and Rebees. Novais is a codeveloper of Rivana with the Hanover Co.

The application’s developers are DWC Holdings and Origami RE Growth GP, both linked to Chicago-based investment firm Origami Capital Partners.

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