Fairfax County grapples with staying appealing to developers and funding transportation projects

Reston Row is under construction (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County government staff said a proposal (action item 3) that aims to right-size how much developers pay for their transportation impacts could negatively affect funding for local projects.

Currently, developers have to pay to offset their transportation impact of added density if the development exceeds the limits established in the comprehensive plan for areas like Tysons, Reston or Centreville.

With the county trying to emphasize public transit in many of its denser areas, proposed changes could reduce the estimated “trip generation” of new development, and past contributions to programs offsetting that development impacts could be adjusted to the new standard.

Back in August, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to reevaluate guidelines for the county’s road funds in order to maintain the county as an appealing destination for developers, according to the board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay.

“Recently, the County has been experiencing various forms of redevelopment, including repurposing buildings for different uses and the redevelopment of sites with new developments where other buildings had been rendered obsolete and torn down,” McKay wrote. “This redevelopment is vital in keeping the County economy competitive, as well as resilient…However, the adopted guidelines do not anticipate how to handle the new reality we are experiencing.”

McKay said some of the current contribution requirements for developers don’t reflect the reality of how much traffic the new developments are putting on roads:

For example, a project in Fair Lakes where an obsolete office building paid into the Road Fund in the 1980s is being replaced by townhomes. The townhomes will generate a lower trip rate than the office building. As such, and absent guidelines on how to address these instances, County staff was only able to give the developer credit for the previous contribution. However, that contribution was at a much lower square foot rate since it was made 40-years ago. Staff did not have the latitude to consider the lower trip generation rate, or how much the rates have increased over time when evaluating the Road Fund contribution.

But while that could benefit developers, staff also said that change could be a hit against the county’s transportation funding — and at-risk populations are most likely to be impacted.

According to the staff report:

Staff conducted an Equity Impact Assessment and concluded that this action may negatively impact at-risk populations. While there is a realized benefit of allowing developers to reduce their development derived contribution toward County road funds, that benefit comes at the expense of reduced transportation funding. Although the at-risk populations in most road fund areas are primarily within the low to average vulnerability index, the Centreville area has populations that falls within the high to very high vulnerability index. Reduced funding in all areas, especially Centreville, may result in reduced transportation services for populations in need of additional accessibility and transportation options.

In short, if approved, staff said there will be less money to spend on transportation projects.

“The proposed revisions to the road funds may result in reduced developer funds received for transportation projects,” the report said.

The item was docketed for review at a Board of Supervisors meeting on May 9 but was deferred.