“We had an Ozzie and Harriet development pattern in this country for many years,” said Tom Murphy, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute. “Is that a sustainable model? Can you expect people to drive an hour and a half or two hours one-way to get to work?”
The short answer: No.
Two of the country’s largest demographics by age — millennials and their baby boomer parents — are flocking to densely developed communities where they can live and work within steps of supermarkets, recreational centers and restaurants.
They want to carry groceries by hand, not load them into trunks. They want to bike or bus to work, not guzzle gasoline. And they want to head out to lunch with colleagues, not just brown bag at a cafeteria table.
It’s a change in lifestyle and a break from decades of suburban sprawl that real estate experts contend has forced some local developers and governments to build up rather than out. Some examples:
A staggering 390-foot building from Monday Properties is already under construction in Rosslyn and will be the tallest office building in the Washington region when the dust settles.
RTC Partnership LLC has plans to replace an existing building along Reston Parkway with a 23-story mixed-use project that will be the tallest building in Reston Town Center.
A development project above the railroad tracks behind Union Station promises to stretch the city’s 130-foot height limit on buildings. The Akridge project will sit atop a 27-foot-tall platform over the tracks, bringing its total height to almost 160 feet.
Residents on the 25th floor of a planned apartment complex in Tysons Corner should have a sweeping and largely unobstructed view of Northern Virginia when the Greystar project is finished.
Vornado has submitted plans to construct a 23-story office tower at what is now 1851 South Bell St. If approved, it would be the tallest building in Crystal City.
The catalyst to all of these projects is mass transit. Each proposed building is located within a reasonable walk of either an existing Metro station or the forthcoming Silver Line, which will extend Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.
“If I were the dictator in the region I would say within the D.C. area, I would keep the height level [restrictions] because you’ve created a character and quality of life that I think you would lose if you go higher,” Murphy said. “But as you get out [of the city], there I think transit-oriented development trumps height requirements.”
The proximity of these tall buildings to mass transit does more than just mitigate congestion on local roadways. It’s also part of a bargain with future occupants who will be charged higher rents to offset increased construction costs.