Government leaders, attorneys, and developers with property all along the Silver Line Metrorail extension into Loudoun gathered Wednesday to talk about the project’s progress. One question for Loudoun stood out: How are we paying for this thing?
Loudoun is on the hook for 4.8 percent of the cost of the rail extension, a share estimated to come out to $273 million. After a federal loan worth about $195 million, which the county expects to pay off in 2042, Loudoun still needs to come up with $78 million.
In 2012, county supervisors created a Metrorail Service Tax District around the areas that will be served by the planned Metro stations to help pay for Loudoun’s share. After the initial construction costs are paid off, two smaller tax districts around the Rt. 606 and Rt. 702 stations will keep pulling in money to pay for Metro.
From fiscal years 2014-2016, the Metrorail Service Tax District produced $20.4 million—but real estate attorney Antonio Calabrese, of Cooley LLP, said that’s not enough.
“We don’t have a lot of room, and we don’t have a lot of time, I would
respectfully submit, to really change direction,” Calabrese said during the program sponsored by the Committee for Dulles, Dulles Corridor Rail Association, Dulles South Alliance and the Washington Airports Task Force.
Calabrese said that of the more than 14,000 acres in the tax district, only 1,724 remain developable—about 12 percent of the district. The rest is either already built or is federally owned land at Dulles Airport. Calabrese said it’s “not a lot to work with to move the needle.”
But Calabrese also said Loudoun’s traditional development models aren’t a good fit. Data centers make a lot of tax revenue, but aren’t very rail friendly. Retail is already overbuilt. And of suburban office parks, like the AOL campus where the meeting was held, he said, “This type of development is great, but it’s had its day.”
Instead, he said, walkable, mixed-use developments—like One Loudoun, and like the ones at the center of the Nighttime Economy Ad Hoc Committee’s plans—are the best way to boost tax district revenue.
“I think his comments come from the perspective of his clients, not from the county perspective necessarily,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), who spoke at the meeting, and whose election district includes a large part of the tax district. It’s not enough for Loudoun just to build mixed-use, Meyer said. The county needs to figure out how to distinguish itself in the market.
“We can’t be another Reston, another Merrifield—we have to be our type of community,” Meyer said. “If people want to live in an urban environment close to the city, they have literally dozens of options popping up.”
Meyer also said he would like to see future data centers located away from residential areas and steer toward high-noise areas, such as near the airport or highways.
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), who chairs the county board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee, agreed that Loudoun County needs a Loudoun solution—which does include data centers, where appropriate.
“I believe there is enough land in eastern Loudoun where our economic development office can work with the data center providers,” Volpe said.
“We’re at an important crossroads, like Arlington was 40 years ago, like Reston and Fairfax were 30 years ago,” Calabrese said. “You need planning,
vision and fortitude. We have the people in the room capable of delivering on the promises.”
Virginia Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-36), founder and chairman of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, closed out the program.
“Make no mistake about it, the discussion has to continue,” he said.