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Getting the Goods

Fairfax County stands to take in millions of dollars in proffers from revitalization projects, but the community must come together to ensure that the money is spent effectively.

If you’ve traveled along Richmond Highway in the past couple of weeks you have probably noticed the fencing and heavy construction equipment at Kings Crossing. I have had numerous people ask me two important questions about this project: 1) “What are they doing at Kings Crossing?” and 2) “Are they going to build new turn lanes?”

My answers:

1) The site’s developer, JBG/R, is proceeding with Phase II of the Kings Crossing development, which will include four retail pad sites totaling about 20,000 square feet; and

2) No, because it was a by-right development, so the county had no legal authority to require turn lanes as part of Phase II.

This particular project underscores one of the leading arguments in favor of commercial revitalization: it can help pay for community “goods” like intersection improvements, streetscaping, parks, sidewalks, and schools.  If a developer wants to rezone a property for a more intensive use, Virginia law enables Fairfax County to use the rezoning process to negotiate with the developer to pay the county upfront for the construction of such community goods.  This system of “proffers” ensures that new development can help enhance the community in which it occurs.

Conversely, if a developer chooses the path of least resistance—a by-right development—the county has no such leverage.  If the zoning is already in place the county cannot demand payment from a developer to build what is already legally permissible.  Only when a change occurs in the use and/or intensity of a site can the county request proffers from a developer. 

Taking a look at the overall Penn Daw area there will be many opportunities for Fairfax County to leverage private investments into funding for public improvements in the coming years.  The Comprehensive Plan amendment for Kings Crossing that was adopted in 2010 envisions more than 900 housing units in the area located between Quander Road and Fairview Drive.  Two plan amendments currently under county review envision close to 1,000 more units as part of three separate developments on the west side of Richmond Highway: Penn Daw Plaza, the Spicer property, and the Fast Eddie’s site.

If all of these proposed developments move forward and Fairfax County is able to negotiate proffers of $10,000 per unit—not an atypical figure—the county would stand to obtain at least $19 million in private funding.  Assuming additional proffers from the proposed commercial developments in the area, this number would climb even higher.  These funds could be put to use for a variety of purposes: improving the already challenged intersections in the vicinity, providing public park space in the area, building sidewalks, installing high-quality streetscaping, and contributing towards school and transit improvements.

There is just one problem with this system: the county does not really know exactly what goods it hopes to obtain from large-scale revitalization, nor is there a clear understanding of what the total costs for desired public improvements. 

SFDC is beginning the process of working with Fairfax County to put pen to paper to better understand the range of public improvements that are desired in our revitalization areas at North Gateway, Penn Daw, Beacon/Groveton, Hybla Valley/Gum Springs, South County, and Woodlawn.  We plan to reach out to the community at large for input on this important issue in the months to come.  In the meantime, we would love to hear from the community with ideas about the type and scale of public improvements that can be realized as a result of revitalization activities.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Wildermann March 13, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Your article was well written and informative to a point, however, in the paragraph explaining the return in community goods you left out infrastructural improvements that can restore the water quality of the surrounding watershed. At the Kings Xing site, nearby Quander Brook has been negatively impacted since the 60's by both the volume of storm water runoff from the site and a wide range of pollutants flowing into the stream conveying sediment and pollutants to the Potomac River. By right development allows both the developer and the county to take a pass on correcting an admitted problem originating from the site owned by the developer and issued permits by the county. The Belle Haven Watershed Plan led to many recommendations and designs for projects to help mitigate storm water and restoration of environmental services. Unfortunately, the project implementation process rank orders and prioritizes all Fairfax County watershed projects based on preserving least impacted areas and choosing easiest and least expensive to fix. That places older areas like Richmond Highway with some of the poorest water quality and more financially and difficult projects in the county at the end of the line behind the more newly developed areas of the county already with better water quality and less costly projects. The county should offer development incentives to at least one developer a year to jointly correct problems impacting environmental quality in revitalization districts.
earl flanagan March 20, 2012 at 02:46 PM
The article leaves the impression that off site improvements can not be requested of by right developers. An example to the contrary is the Walmart by right development at Sherwood Hall. The entire Richmond Highway/Sherwood Hall Lane intersection including the restoration of a Gum Springs sign was funded by Walmart in order to secure VDOT approval. They may have also increased their contribution for the relocation of prior residents as well.
David Versel March 20, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Earl: I'm sorry if my wording was misleading. I stated in the article that the county had no authority to require off-site improvements for a by-right development, which is a true statement. The county can, of course, request improvements for a by-right development, and in Walmart's case they were a willing partner. The point I was trying to make is that rezoning applications give the county leverage to require off-site improvements that it doesn't get from by-right development. I apologize if it was not clear.
Isle D Belle March 21, 2012 at 05:23 PM
it's too bad that the King's Crossing developers don't see that traffic congestion has an effect on potential retail customers. It's bad now, but it's only going to get worse with additional retail establishments in that site. The traffic congestion is likely to dissuade people from patronizing those establishments. The lack of a sufficient left turn lane has made my already lengthy commute more unpleasant. I can't imagine anything that would make me want to enter that shopping center - just on principal. I don't care if DSW moves in there, I'm not going in.
Jody April 23, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Why continue to call the bribes required to build: "proffers." Can't we just call them bribes? We need to reform the county government and all its various agencies and programs so that our tax money can go toward building what we need and companies seeking to build aren't forced to fund turf fields, parks etc. that have nothing to do with their building a business and enriching our county by spending their money here. The county has a regulation and a fee for everything under the sun. I'd like to regulate the county.

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