On November 2, 2016, the joint TOD Product Council met at the Silverline Center in Tysons, Virginia. The Council is composed of members from ULI Washington and ULI Baltimore and the twice yearly meetings rotate between locations in the DC and Baltimore regions.
The Council meeting focused on both the public and private sector actions required to plan and implement the new development in Tysons. There are four Metro stations on the Silver Line within the Tysons area. A new city is being built around these stations, and plans and infrastructure need to be developed for an urban city.
The first panel focused on the public actions and was moderated by Robin Antonucci from Wells + Associates; panelists included:
- Tom Biesiadny, Director, Fairfax County Department of Transportation
- Michelle Krocker, Executive Director, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance
- Fred Selden, Director, Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning
- Clark Tyler, Chair, Tysons Task Force
They identified the following “lessons learned”:
- A large, diverse, and well-educated community could come together to create a consensus for the vision of Tysons.
- The principles of Smart Growth could be implemented and density increases could be attained for using these principles.
- The last follow-on motion in the plan is “Be flexible” and that has become a mantra for the implementation phase.
- It was important to meet the needs of the “we” versus individual needs.
- The key goal is creating places in three dimensions including function, and looking at different solutions.
While the process has taken a long time, Fairfax County values consensus coming out of the planning efforts. The goal of the process was to get the support of surrounding communities, landowners and the County which will make implementation much easier. A representative task force of all stakeholders, with six subcommittees, worked through all of the planning related issues. The Chair attended over 200 meetings in each of the districts in Tysons, and a survey was used to find out what stakeholders wanted in future development. By coordinating all of the planning issues, it let residents and property owners understand the long term vision for the area. Members were appointed to the task force that represented all interests, including workforce and affordable housing, and representatives from all three magisterial districts.
After adoption of the Plan, a high level staff Steering Committee was set up to resolve issues that come up around policy decisions. A funding plan was developed to determine how the transportation elements in the plan would be paid for, and a detailed grid of streets was set out, as well as additional transportation measures. Most of the grid would be implemented through redevelopment and the comp plan encourages redevelopment of 20 acres or more so that it is easier to figure out where to put the roads.
A demonstration project was approved to guide development in Tysons to allow stakeholders to see how development would be integrated into the community. A zoning application was submitted without the final zoning district being in place and staff and the applicant worked together to address details of the urban form. The details mostly had to do with the pedestrian realm, streetscape, and the ground floor of the buildings, and upon review, a set of urban design guidelines was developed and endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.
Much coordination was required with VDOT since they control most of the roads in the state. The legislature passed a bill directing VDOT to develop urban street standards for Fairfax County that were very different from the 70-year old uniform road system throughout the Commonwealth. Without the new standards in a Memorandum of Agreement, each project would have required many waivers for each project.
One of the fears expressed by communities was the sequencing of the infrastructure and public infrastructure improvements are lagging behind the private building development, creating a disconnect. It’s challenging to implement the grid of streets that is intended to disperse the traffic throughout the area, and some of the grid was drawn through buildings that were currently in place, making it difficult for them to get loans. Crossing Routes 123 and 7 is difficult and the grid of streets is intended to minimize the need to cross them.
One of the policies addressed by the plan was the decades of disconnect between housing and employment in Tysons. In 2005 there were 100,000 jobs and 17,000 residents. One of the key principles was to create a better balance of housing and jobs. At buildout, the plan anticipates 200,000 jobs and 100,000 residents. The jobs/housing ratio was 12-1 after the first year of Plan implementation and is currently 7-1. The County implemented a policy that 20% of all new residential development will be affordable to workforce housing income limits and below. There is also a policy that nonresidential development contributes $3 per square foot to be used to develop or preserve affordable housing and there is now $3 million in the fund.
During the Q and A period, the panelists made the following points:
- Originally the Metro was supposed to run down the Dulles Toll Road but was modified to go through the center of Tysons, which was important to implementing the urban form.
- There is a service district and road funds that developers contribute to for implementation of the road grid and there is also public regional revenue and state and federal funds being invested in the area.
- The Tysons Partnership was implemented to address Tysons wide issues and has helped brand Tysons as a place to the area.
- There is a “grid fund” to implement projects to complete missing links in the pedestrian network that won’t be addressed through redevelopment.
The second panel of the morning was moderated by James Palmer, EDSA, and was composed of private developers working in the Tysons area, including:
- Donna Shafer, Cityline Partners
- Jay Klug, JBG
- Aaron Georgelas, Georgelas Group
- Jim Policaro, VP Development, Lerner
Aaron Georgelas described the type of development they are building as one with 800 square foot average unit sizes with major amenities catering towards single person. There is a desire for more 3 bedroom units and there is a strong international market. Tysons does not have the 24/7 urban experience yet so most people choose to live in Tysons because it’s convenient but not urban. There are some tech and creative startups coming to the area to replace the professional services and government leases that used to exist. Commercial tenants are coming from a variety of places and now GSA is able to lease space in the area because of proximity to Metro.
County is bullish on affordability because of the need and 20% affordable is required and underwritten from Day 1. Metro has created land value and the County has implemented policies to transfer the wealth to residents but ultimately the cost of the market units will increase because of the affordability requirements. There has been some thought to building buildings with all affordable units but this has been dismissed as creating negative perceptions about housing developments.
In general, the region is creating primarily TOD projects. Ninety-four percent of leasing activity in DC Metro region has been in Metro served area and rents carry a 60% premium above other areas. New potential exists in Surban (urban light) areas that have an urban feeling with meaningful green space and amenities. In Tysons, all of the development is based on high density to take advantage of the infrastructure investment and high land prices. Some lower density product may be produced outside of the walkshed radii around the transit stations. Landowners believe they are sitting on a lot of value and to get a variety of units, there will need to be a lighter proffer or open space burden.
Parking requirements remain an issue in Tysons. Tenant and underwriter needs are in conflict with developer desire and policy requirements. The current transitional phase is complicated and the tenants and lenders drive the demand. With maximums, however, developers cannot provide the parking desired. One building is 60 percent leased but 100 percent parked. Past performance is the only known quantity for what has worked and until it’s proven that less parking works, tenants and underwriters will continue to demand parking.
Open space formulas are an issue, and the current formula does not include a district-wide approach. Because every developer has an individual requirement to provide parks a collection of smaller parks for the use of building tenants is being built but not one meaningful open space will be created.
At the conclusion of the second panel, the group took a bus tour of the Tysons area to see the development that has occurred in the area to date.