New Tysons Corner hinges on housing

By Kali Schumitz
Fairfax County Times
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 9:03 PM

For Fairfax County to successfully remake Tysons Corner into the urban, downtown environment leaders envision, experts generally agree the area would need to add substantially more housing.

As redevelopment begins around the four planned Tysons Corner Metrorail stations, county leaders want to ensure there is room in Tysons for people of all income levels. The companies that will build the new Tysons, on the other hand, are more focused on ensuring their projects are profitable.

At a workforce housing conference focused on Tysons Corner on Dec. 3, a panel of experts said it is possible to achieve both goals if the county offers incentives to developers for including affordable housing.

Increasing the area's housing density is aimed at correcting the population imbalance - 16,000 residents vs. 100,000 employees - which results in gridlock during rush hour.

If left to its own devices, the market likely would generate all high-end housing, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large).

"Tysons is going to be a very desirable place where people will want to live," she said. "Developers could probably build all high-end housing and fill it up."

But pricing out young professionals and other moderate-income people might harm the county's efforts to create a vibrant community in Tysons, experts said.

"If you don't get the housing, I don't think you will get the economic development," said John McLain, senior fellow and deputy director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis. "Eventually, you will have companies like SAIC pulling out, saying that this is not a place where my employees can find housing."

The planned second residential tower in the Park*Crest development, for example, is offering condos from $650,000 and to millions. Renters can secure a one-bedroom loft apartment at the complex for about $2,500 per month, according to the community's marketing Web site.

Fairfax County's plan for remaking Tysons Corner aims to reserve about 20 percent of future housing for households making about $62,000 to $126,000 per year, or 60 percent to 120 percent of the area median income. Developers who mix in lower-cost units will be allowed to build bigger buildings as an incentive, known as "density bonuses."

Some developers interested in building in Tysons said they can't afford to build high-rises with underground parking or parking garages and then set 20 percent of units below market value.

"You can't build a high-rise building and cover the costs," said Daniel Clemente, an audience member speaking at the workforce housing meeting.

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