Feasibility of development over Dulles Toll Road studied

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, June 21, 2010

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is studying the feasibility of selling the right to develop over the Dulles Toll Road, a potential source of millions of square feet of new housing and offices near Metro stations planned in the second phase of the rail extension to Dulles International Airport.

In April, the airports authority's board agreed to perform a $150,000 study of the engineering requirements and costs associated with incorporating plans to build mixed-use developments atop the toll road as a revenue generator. E. Lynn Hampton, president and chief executive of the airports authority, said Reston Parkway Station, the furthest east of the second-phase stations, near Reston Town Center, will be examined as a test case.

Hampton cautioned, however, that consideration of the sale or leasing of air rights was in the "very, very early stages." She expects to see the results this fall.

"We don't have any plans, any thought at all, about a project," she said. "What we're trying to do is determine if it's a good thing to do, what does it cost to do this and is that cost recoverable through commercial development."

Developers had their interest in Dulles corridor air rights piqued in 2004 when Fairfax County issued a solicitation for companies interested in building new development in conjunction with a massive 2,300-space parking garage required for the planned Wiehle Avenue Metro station.

Monument Realty, a D.C.-based developer, responded with a proposal that would have incorporated not only the county land set aside for the parking but the airports authority-controlled air rights over the toll road. In all, D.C.-based Monument proposed 2 million square feet of development, about half of it office and half residential, but principal Michael Darby said a requirement that the parking garage be ready for the Wiehle Avenue station to open at the end of 2013 made it a hard sell.

"I think the concept was ahead of its time because it required a lot of support and cooperation by a number of different groups within a time frame that not everyone was comfortable with given the timing of Metro construction," he said.

Instead, the county chose Comstock Partners, a Reston developer, as its partner. Comstock will build the parking underground -- a daunting engineering feat in itself -- and plans 1.3 million square feet of development, dubbed Reston Station, for a platform atop the parking garage. The company signed a 99-year ground lease for the property with the county and in May had its plans, including residential, office and hotel space, approved. A groundbreaking is expected next year.

Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said Reston Station would be a walkable, transit-oriented development complementing Reston Town Center. "We're hoping that it will be a good beginning as rail rides out to the suburbs," she said.

The Comstock project means the Wiehle Avenue air rights will likely go unused, but the airports authority will have more time to determine whether it wants to incorporate air rights into the construction plans for westward stations because those aren't due to be completed until 2016.

Darby said even if the airports authority is interested, the cost of building over the roadway could hinder such development. In 2004, when the market was still booming, he figured the deck above the road would cost $10 million alone. Now the value of the air rights, thanks to the real estate market, isn't what it used to be. "To me, it doesn't work yet still because the platform costs are too severe," Darby said.

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