Loudoun’s Economic Development Advisory Commission, a panel of business leaders across a broad swath of industries, will launch an ad hoc committee to survey development near Metrorail stations—and what county can learn from those projects.
EDAC Chairman and B.F. Saul Senior Vice President Todd Pearson called the Transit-Oriented Development Ad-Hoc Committee a “transformational project,” surveying which entities have been involved in projects like the Mosaic District or the Wharf—projects that marshalled billions of dollars in investments to recreate run-down areas as prosperous, mixed-used communities.
“We’d also like to look at ‘what’—what are the tools that they used to have those developments not only come to fruition, but also include the components that those jurisdictions wanted,” Pearson said. “So there’s one thing you can do within the and use, but sometimes you can’t force development to take place, even with land use.”
Much of that will look at how those projects are financed, including through government mechanisms such as tax-increment financing, in which real estate tax revenue increases in a certain area are used to subsidize development in that area, essentially allowing developers to borrow against future growth in tax revenues. Fairfax County in 2008 authorized tax-increment financing for the Mosaic District. In 2010, Arlington authorized a tax-increment financing area including Crystal City, Potomac Yard, and Pentagon City.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) issued a word of caution.
“Some of those are easy to do, but if you’re talking public financing, that’s a slippery slope,” he said. “When we start doing public financing of private developers for them to profit, I have real issues there.
But other supervisors nonetheless want to see the range of options.
“Our primary function of [the Department of Economic Development] is to attract private investment. In this case we have a lot of landowners with a lot of properties who do not have the capital to develop them, or at least we’re not seeing that they do,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
He said that may mean the county government working together with developers to sell investors on those projects—including, possibly, international actors or foreign state-owned entities. And, he said, there may indeed have to be a discussion around investing government dollars.
“If there is in fact a public sector investment component to most of these projects, then we absolutely need to know it,” Letourneau said. “And if we get the frustration from people that, ‘hey, we’re not getting that type of development, we want Reston Town Center but it’s not here,’ and we’re not willing to make a public sector investment and they were, then that’s a community conversation.”
Pearson said the ad hoc committee intends to give supervisors “the arsenal of what has been used in the past.” The ad hoc committee is expected to wrap up work in six months.
Pearson and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard in 2015 and 2016 led a related project of the advisory commission, the Nighttime Economy Ad-Hoc Committee, which worked to find ways to improve Loudoun’s nightlife in large part to attract younger people and millennials to the county as it geared up for Metrorail development.
The county finance committee approved creation of the Transit-Oriented Development Ad-Hoc Committee unanimously.