The Suburbs Fight Back Panel

On May 28, the WBC Regional Development Committee sponsored the "Suburbs Fight Back” forum at the just opened Marriott Marquis Washington.  The forum moderated by Forrester’s Erin Meitzler featured five prominent officials from the jurisdictions adjacent to Washington:

  • Val Hawkins, President & CEO, Economic Development Partnership, City of Alexandria;
  • Marc McCauley, Director Real Estate Development Group, Arlington Economic Development;
  • Greg Ossont, Deputy Director, Montgomery County Department of General Services;
  • Robert Stalzer, Deputy County Administrator, Fairfax County; and
  • Howard Ways, Executive Director, Prince Georges County Re-Development Authority.

While the forum title carried an element of “tongue-in-cheek”, judging from the tower cranes populating the DC skyline, the District sports the “cool” factor more than the adjacent jurisdictions.  This forum addressed construction projects and processes of these five adjacent jurisdictions.   Last February, the WBC held a similar forum on Public Private Partnerships (P-3s).  At that forum we heard how Virginia and Maryland are initiating P-3s to finance infrastructure projects, open the door to greater innovation, and to more effectively bring public projects to fruition.  The “Suburbs Fight Back” extended that discussion.  From the presentations and subsequent discussion, it is clear that the Washington area jurisdictions have long been aware of the trend to mixed-use, smart growth environments, and they continue to plan for and execute mixed-use, P-3 projects as never before.

The WBC is concerned about construction activity.  The recession that started in 2007 destroyed 1.8 million construction jobs nationally.   Even today, unemployment in construction stands at 9.4% versus 6.3% in general.   Thus the health of Washington suburb jurisdictions directly relates to our members.  And by extension, the health of the construction industry in our region relates to the vision, plans, regulatory processes, ability to stay in tune with markets, and leveraging among partners.

The first speaker, Val Hawkins, started his presentation (links to all slides found below) by clarifying that Alexandria is an integral part of the Washington Metro urban landscape and not a suburbs to the District.   It proudly sports titles ranking it among the “Most Livable”, “Walk Friendly”, and “Most Romantic”, which are backed by solid statistics: a $101,000 average family income for its 144,000 residents and 22 million square feet of office – 55% of which is Class A or B. The City currently tracks (attach list) nearly a hundred development projects that are proceeding through the entitlement process.  Much of the pipeline development lies in one of four development hotspots: Landmark/Van Dorn; Carlyle/Eisenhower Valley; Waterfront; and the next urban-lifestyle center, Potomac Yards.

Marc McCauley followed with an overview of Arlington County development and strategies to assure its future prosperity.  Three decades ago, Arlington County made the hard choice to locate the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor Orange Line Metro separate from I-66, thus setting the stage for compact, urban development.  Among its 221,000 residents, it boasts of the highest concentration of highly educated 25-24 year olds in the region. Talk about a cool place to live, work and play!  Ninety percent of all new commercial and residential development is located along its RB (Roslyn-Ballston) corridor.  Despite an array of robust statistics, Mr. McCauley cited commercial development headwinds related to BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) and the consolidation and the continuing reduction of office space needs per worker (shrinking from 227 sf 10 years ago to what is anticipated to level off at 135 sf per office worker).  Strategic development planning continues to serve as a means to enable to County to meet its future needs.  The next generation of fiber optics, known locally under the program “ConnectArlington 2.0” is bringing Arlington secure high-speed fiber opts not just regionally, but nationally.   On the transportation, the Smart Growth streetcar development along Columbia Pike and Route 1 will permit a robust mix of infrastructure with mixed use development.  Arlington has 56 development projects in the pipeline, across the full range of product classes.  While 18 are under construction, 9 are near-term construction starts, 17 mid-or-long term and 12 are under zoning review.

Next up, Greg Ossont began by setting the context for the Montgomery County Capital Budget.  The current County capital budget (FY15-20) is $5.5 B of which $2.1 B is for general government, $1.5 B for school and the remainder for other agencies such as Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.   Since 2007 when County Executive Leggett took office, the Department of General Services undertook $1.2 B in 40 capital projects ranging from $1 M to $200 M.  The largest included the Rockville Courthouse annex and the Equipment Maintenance and Transit Operations Center.  Under the current capital budget, some 50 active County projects are in the pipeline.   These include many P-3 projects.  Due to bonding capacity limitations and the benefits of leveraging private participation, the County is aggressively looking toward P-3s.  P-3 projects in the Bethesda District Police Station, Wheaton Redevelopment, White Flint Fire Station, and the Silver Spring Fire Station.

Rob Stalzer followed explaining that Fairfax County, which has the largest population in the Washington region, has recently undertook major refinements to their 2011 Strategic Plan.  This effort related to office vacancy headwinds and developer feedback regarding regulatory review period and coordination among County Departments.  The County heard from developer stakeholders including the county’s 16 Chambers-of-Commerce that changes to speed up review and increase departmental coordination are needed.   Thus, the Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success received a booster shot regarding specific metrics and cross Departmental coordination.  No longer would suburban base development adequately serve the County, economic development is now considered every County employee’s responsibility involving partnerships with both the private sector and outside agencies.  Mr. Stalzer stated that essential economic development skills have changed.  Critical are enhanced technical, financial and leadership skills.  The application of such principals are positively affecting such projects as the Silver Line development, express lanes on highways, Tysons’ public facilities, and the redevelopment of Reston Down Center North and Bailey’s Crossing.

Rounding out the panel, Howard Ways explained that Prince George’s Redevelopment Authority develops, redevelops, revitalizes and preserves targeted communities with an emphasis on promoting workforce housing and economic development in support of the County Executive’s priorities in community development, transit-oriented development, and affordable housing.  The agency’s primary objective is to decrease the number of blighted commercial and residential structures within 1/2 mile radius of existing transit centers and improve the quality of life for residents.  The County can boast of some impressive development successes: National Harbor, the MGM Casino, Tanga Outlets, robust housing assistance and neighborhood stabilization programs, along with a dozen infill development solicitations within the past 2 years.  Key to building on these will be the pursuit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters, development around Metro stations, and the Purple Line Corridor development.  Underlying the future success of these projects is the County’s vision of smart growth development and restructuring of the entitlement process such as instituting by-right development authority.

Following these rapid-fire presentations, the panelists fielded interesting questions posed by panel moderator Meitzler.  Responding to “What are you doing to streamline development processes across jurisdictions?” answers Messrs. Ways and Stalzer emphasized how they continue to learn from progressive strategies used by other jurisdictions and developers.  Times continue to change and to meet the changing demands of citizens, jurisdictions are keenly aware that governmental processes require a fresh look that better aligns processes with long term citizen needs and development market realities.  In addressing how jurisdictions need to prepare for change, Mr. Stalzer stated the quality development rests on good planning that establishes the framework for required infrastructure and that guides development patterns.  No easy task when you consider the Washington region is divided into effectively three state governments, dozens of incorporated jurisdictions and has a history of cultural and legal differences?

DOWNLOAD THE PROGRAM PRESENTATION 

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About the Author

Rob Klein
With over 30 years experience in project management, Klein Consulting facilitates redevelopment and entitlements through analysis and outreach. 240-848-4951