Dear Mr. Davis:
I am writing to follow up on the Nov. 1 public forum at Oakton High School on the proposed sale of Metro-owned excess property near the Vienna Metro station. On behalf of the Metro board of directors, let me thank you for taking the time to participate in this forum and listen to the various points of view. I believe that the format for this forum allowed equal opportunity for points to be raised in favor of or opposed to the land sale and/or the proposed rezoning. Of the attendees, 49 were generally in favor and 36 were generally in opposition. Many of those in attendance were speaking on behalf of larger groups.
As you know, Metro's role in the development process is limited to the sale of the 3.75 acres of excess land which it owns and is proposed for consolidation with the nearly 53 acres of land that the developer has assembled. The decision on the rezoning application is solely up to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Although the forum was structured by Metro for citizens to comment on the land sale, we also included representatives from Fairfax County, FairGrowth, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and citizen task forces to respond to the larger issues related to the proposed development.
The Metro funding authorization bill (H.R. 3496) called for such a forum to be held after that date. The notice of this forum was publicized through Metro's Web site and media advisories. Several newspaper stories also mentioned this forum. As you are aware, the large number of attendees at the forum demonstrates that citizens were well informed about it. This forum was designed to satisfy the hearing requirement in the proposed legislation, and the presence of five of the six voting members of the Metro board shows that we take your concerns about this issue seriously.
The proposed legislation directs Metro to report on the costs and benefits associated with the disposition of the Metro-owned property, the impact of the disposition on parking at the Vienna Metro station and the effect of the disposition on the capacity of the Vienna station and the entire Metrorail system. The response to these issues, in the context of proposed H.R. 3496 and some other key questions asked at the forum, is outlined as follows:
* Costs and benefits associated with the disposition of the property.
Metro, as part of the sale, will receive $6.5 million for this narrow strip of excess property consisting of about 3.75 acres. In addition, if the developer is substantially successful in its rezoning application, Metro will receive, at the developer's expense, a list of roadway and transit facility improvements that have been coordinated by the Virginia Department of Transportation, Fairfax County, Metro and the developer during the last 18 months. These improvements are estimated at $9 million and will directly benefit Metro patrons. They are related to ameliorating existing and projected service issues and include:
-- Widening of Saintsbury Drive to a four-lane divided roadway.
-- Two roundabouts at the eastern and western ends of the roadway to facilitate bus access and traffic circulation.
-- Relocation of 75 existing metered parking spaces on the reconstructed Saintsbury Drive.
-- Three new or modified traffic signals.
-- A raised pedestrian crossing between the proposed main pedestrian plaza and the Vienna Metro Station.
-- Conveyance of the reconstructed Saintsbury Drive into VDOT's secondary road system, relieving Metro of maintenance costs and responsibilities.
-- Reconfiguration of the entrance and exit points to and from WMATA's southeast parking lots to improve traffic operations along Saintsbury Drive, particularly in the context of access from eastbound Interstate 66. The proposed third parking structure will further reconfigure the entrance and exit points.
-- Provision of one new bus bay and reconfiguration of existing bus bays.
-- Construction of a continuous canopy over all 12 bus bays.
-- Provision of additional bus shelters, benches and conduits for future intelligent traffic system technologies.
-- Bus supervisor kiosk.
-- Bus signage, including pylons for placement of route maps and schedules.
-- Improved and additional signage and graphics, bike racks, vehicular and pedestrian lighting, landscaping and drainage improvements
* Value of the Metro-owned land, use of proceeds from the sale, and lease vs. sale.
The land was appraised in September 2004, and its sale was approved by the Metro board's real estate committee in July 2005 in anticipation of scheduled action by the Metro board in August. The board action was delayed because of the restrictive provisions in H.R. 3496. Metro generally updates appraisals when they are a year old, but this is not a mandatory policy, particularly if internal schedules result in delays. The appraiser assumed the full proposed development plan in establishing a value for the Metro-owned property. Even if a new appraisal were ordered, it is highly unlikely that there would be any increase in value because the appraisal was done before the term sheet was negotiated. Less than $600,000 in improvements benefits was allocated to the Metro property. With the estimated improvements value of up to $9 million, even if land values doubled in a year, the net appraised value would likely not rise.
As per Metro's policy, the proceeds from this sale -- as with all other sales -- will be deposited in Metro's transit infrastructure investment fund. There is an existing board policy that governs how these funds are allocated for Metro transit purposes.
As for the question of lease vs. sale, Pulte Homes was at the time only willing to pay for the improvements if the property were sold. Condominiums are sold on fee land in this market, and the ability to build condominiums is more valuable than being limited to building rental apartments on leased land.
* Vienna station and system capacity issues.
During the forum and in several public meetings, the Metro staff has responded to the current capacity issues at the station and the Orange Line. Metro is aware of station and line capacity and congestion issues at various locations throughout the Metrorail system and has been responding to these within funding constraints. The responses to the issues specific to the Vienna station and the Orange line are summarized below:
1. The six-year Metro Matters agreement will fund an additional 184 rail cars, which are scheduled to be placed in service over the next two years. These cars will be a 20 percent increase in the size of the rail fleet (from 950 to 1,134) and allow Metro to operate 33 percent of its trains as eight-car trains by December 2007.
2. The current peak-hour boardings at Vienna are approximately 3,400 on an average weekday. It is anticipated that the proposed development would increase the peak-hour boardings by about 7 to 10 percent, which would still leave a level of peak-hour capacity unused; the unused capacity in trains leaving this station would gradually decrease as the trains go through other Orange Line stations.
3. Beyond the six-year Metro Matters agreement, additional funds will be required to continue Metro's plans to purchase additional rail cars to meet ridership growth.
4. Over the next three years, train capacity on the Orange Line will increase by 31 percent at Vienna. Even if ridership increases at a high rate of 3 percent a year (compared with 1.7 percent annual ridership growth on the Orange Line over the last four years), the actual crowding on the trains will actually decrease because of this additional capacity.
In summary, Metro's plans are designed to ensure that train capacity is sufficient to meet the rail car capacity requirements from the planned development at the Vienna station.
* Improvements at the Vienna station.
Metro and the county are conducting studies of short- and long-term station improvements. Currently, Metro is reviewing plans for an additional stair that would relieve platform congestion in the evening peak period. Metro is also studying the arrangement of fare gates and Farecard vending machines, extension of the station canopy to cover the full platform length, and access and facilities for pedestrians, bicycles and buses. The study of bus access will consider the county's proposal to construct special bus ramps from I-66. In addition to these plans, Metro has programmed the conversion of Farecard vending machines into SmarTrip Express machines. Metro and the county will be holding another public meeting in late January/early February 2006 on these proposed improvements, including the proposed third parking garage.
* Parking issues.
At this time, the Vienna station has 5,850 spaces -- the highest in the Metrorail system. The proposed development will displace the 680 spaces in the privately owned land called the Sweeney tract. These spaces have never been part of Metro's inventory of permanent parking spaces. As you know, this temporary lot was built to accommodate the surface parking spaces that were lost when the new parking garage was under construction. In recognition of the loss of these spaces in conjunction with the proposed development and the continuing demand at this end-of-the-line station, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors provided to Metro $1 million to initiate the necessary studies, environmental documentation and plans for construction of a third garage on the surface lot located in the southeast quadrant of the station complex.
The traffic studies conducted by the developer and submitted to the county include a 2,100-space parking facility at this location. Recent discussions with the county indicate a consensus that a 2,100-space garage should be pursued, and preliminary financial analysis indicates that this garage can be financed through bonds leveraged by the parking surcharge revenues available at Metro in Fairfax County's account. This is the same financing mechanism used to build the last garage at the Vienna station. The construction of a 2,100-space parking facility will not only replace the 680 spaces in the Sweeney tract but will also provide nearly 800 additional spaces, in addition to replacing those spaces lost in the footprint of the garage. This will allow this station to serve continued growth and parking demand. At this time, it is anticipated that the county will schedule the public hearing on this new parking facility sometime in April or May.
In summary, the documentation in this letter outlines the manner in which Metro is addressing the specific issues cited in your proposed legislation. Please be assured that Metro is diligent in recognizing emerging capacity and service issues and has included these in its capital programs and associated funding needs. The success of this system depends on its ability to serve its customers to the high standards they expect, and Metro has outlined its funding needs to accomplish this goal. Your proposed legislation is a major step in recognizing these funding needs, and Metro sincerely appreciates your initiatives in this regard.
On behalf of Metro, I look forward to continuing to work with you and other members of the congressional delegation to advance these funding initiatives.
The Metro board recently approved the $6.5 million sale of 3.75 acres at the Vienna Metro station to Pulte Homes for its MetroWest development of homes, offices and stores. Board Chairman and Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), left, sent this letter to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) to explain the action.