A major Northern Virginia developer with strong political ties in Richmond is turning to the Virginia General Assembly to mediate a dispute with Fairfax County.
Bahman Batmanghelidj, builder of a huge retail, residential and office project near Dulles International Airport known as McNair Farms, is seeking legislation that could force developers of other nearby projects to pay him back for some of the $28 million in road improvements he said he has provided to the county.
"For McNair Farms and Batman," as the developer is known, "it could be a great deal," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Reston). "For the general public, it may leave something to be desired."
Batmanghelidj said the legislation is necessary because he has an agreement with Fairfax County to help him get reimbursed by his neighbors, but that Virginia law does not give the county authority to act as the go-between.
Fairfax officials acknowledge that they told Batmanghelidj the county would assist him, but say the county is not and should not be legally obligated to do so. They said the proposal could force the county to stop issuing building permits for projects around McNair Farms unless the developers pay Batmanghelidj for a share of the roads he built.
The legislation, while introduced specifically to clarify Batmanghelidj's situation, could be applied to other projects in the future.
"This is a case where the big fish eat the little fish, and if I were a small developer, I'd be down here in a heartbeart looking for a way to sidetrack this bill," said Del. Leslie L. Byrne (D-Fairfax).
"It would limit our ability to get developers to pay for transportation," said Fairfax Board Chairman Audrey Moore. She said the county had a general agreement to help Batmanghelidj get reimbursed from other developers, "and we will follow through on that, of course." However, Moore said, while such an arrangement "was fair and equitable" for Batmanghelidj, "it does not follow that we need to do that everywhere."
The bill was introduced by Del. C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton), chairman of the House Finance Committee and one of most powerful members in the House of Delegates. Cranwell, a lawyer who is considered an expert on state zoning law, said he believes the legislation "is a good concept" under which localities might get valuable road improvements. "I don't have any desire to get involved in any intramural skirmishes in Northern Virginia," Cranwell added.
Cranwell said localities currently use a similar reimbursement arrangement for water, sewer and drainage projects. Typically, he said, the first company to develop a large area provides the main water and sewer lines, and is reimbursed for part of the cost by other companies that subsequently tie into the lines.
Batmanghelidj said that "there is no dispute" with Fairfax. The legislation, he said, is "local option," meaning it simply "enables the county to meet their contract obligation to me if they want to."
That, however, is not the view of Fairfax officials. "It's mandatory," said Moore. "It mandates that we do this."
Batmanghelidj said that, compared with road improvements provided by similarly sized Fairfax developments, the road improvements he donated as part of the McNair Farms project were wildly generous because he thought he would be reimbursed. On a per housing-unit and square-footage basis, Batmanghelidj said, he should have had to provide no more than $6.3 million worth of road improvements to win county approval to build the project, which when completed will have about 3,500 residential units, 400,000 square feet of office space and 327,000 square feet of retail outlets.