Fairfax board backs Tysons transportation funding plan; homeowners would pay, too

October 16, 2012

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to back a 40-year funding plan that would require developers and landowners in Tysons Corner to pay for billions in transportation improvements as the county seeks to transform the area into a new, vibrant downtown.

But the board rejected one key provision: a tax exemption for residential landowners. That means that in addition to developers and businesses, Tysons residents will be asked to pay, too.

Among other things, the 7 to 2 vote advanced a plan to set up a new tax district in Tysons that would generate $250 million from residential and commercial landowners over the next four decades. An initial proposal included a recommendation to try to exempt residents, but that was left out, meaning that real estate taxes for all Tysons landowners will likely increase by about 8 percent.

A vote on establishing the tax district will probably come later this year or in early 2013.

For years, Fairfax has been working on plans to transform Tysons Corner from a sprawling office park to a walkable urban center where people live, work and play. The effort culminated with the adoption of an ambitious guiding document in 2010, which calls for the area to be largely rebuilt over several decades.

An estimated 100,000 people work in Tysons, and about 18,000 live there. The county’s master plan envisions a city that will be home to 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers by 2050 and four Metro stations that are under construction.

In recent months, the county has begun taking tangible steps to implement the plan. The latest involves figuring out how to fund more than $2 billion in transportation improvements that planners say will be required for the new Tysons’ success.

Crafted by members of the county’s planning commission, the funding proposal endorsed Tuesday asks developers to bear the bulk of the costs. In addition to building parks, athletic fields and community centers, they would be required to pay for a new grid of streets as well as major road projects. The proposal breaks expenses into categories and lays out who should pay for each: Public-transit projects, major roads leading to Tysons, and neighborhood access improvements such as sidewalks and bike lanes should be the public’s responsibility.

In total, the plan calls for more than $1 billion to come from sources funded exclusively by developers.

But that doesn’t mean landowners would be off the hook, thanks to the tax district. The exact boundaries and rate have yet to be set, although examples in the plan suggest that it would be between 7 and 9 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The board heard from the public before the vote. Opinions of the plan were mixed, with the strongest opposition coming from Tysons businesses and residents upset about the tax district.

Michael Bogasky, president of the Rotonda Condominium Association, was applauded after he mocked the county’s master plan and the industry awards it has won. For Rotonda residents, he said, the new Tysons represents nothing more than“a nightmare of endless taxation” being pushed at the worst possible time.

Some residents said that the taxation would be enough to force them to move.

“We’re being punished for living in Tysons Corner,” Erika Yalowitz said.

Other critics compared the latest tax-district proposal with the one that was implemented for extending Metro service to Dulles International Airport, which they said involved far more certainty.

“We knew what we were getting, when we’d get it and what the cost would be,” said John Harrison of Tysons Corner Center. At least so far, he said, that isn’t the case this time.

Developers were more supportive.

“Is it perfect? I don’t know,” said Tom Fleury, an executive vice president with Cityline Partners, which has several Tysons development applications pending with the county. “But if not this, then what? We need something to move forward.”

Others called the plan balanced and praised the effort to develop it as methodical, inclusive and thoughtful.

Supervisors Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) and Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) voted against the proposal. Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) was absent.

Smyth, whose district includes Tysons, said she disagreed with the tax district for residents.

Herrity (R-Springfield) also didn’t want to raise taxes. He made a motion to drop the idea of a tax district, suggesting that the county could make up for it by reducing affordable-housing proffers for Tysons developers and increasing proffers for transportation improvements. That motion failed.

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