News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Will Air Rights Development Lead to 'Cars 3: The Planned Community'?

Air Rights.jpg

Man oh man, we love us some nice artists renderings of various midrise construction, and this lovely drawing of what an "air rights" development atop one of the Phase 2 Silver Line Metro stations might look like just made our day. It looks like the inside of a mid-80s shopping mall in a world full of cars, not people. Say, that would be a great idea for a movie!

But we digress. The idea of building atop the Toll Road as it runs through Reston has been on people's minds for years. That would free up more than 100 acres of land in the middle of Reston for development, plus maybe even help address the need for some pesky bridge over the Toll Road people keep whining about for some reason. Some people, including Reston architect Guy Rando, have even come up with some groovy ideas of what that kind of development might look like.

But while it looks like that ship has sailed for the Wiehle station, Fairfax officials are apparently debating whether encouraging similar development makes sense for Phase 2 stations, including the one to be built near Reston Town Center. Give us some good blockquote, Washington Post:
But should the planning for the “air rights” over the stations, and building the foundations of such projects, begin now, as plans are being made to start building the Phase 2 stations near Reston Town Center, Herndon and Innovation Center near Route 28? Some say yes, including Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who is urging his colleagues to seriously study the idea, former Fairfax board chair and Congressman Tom Davis, and Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force. Others say no, including Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (which owns the land and is building the stations) and even Stewart Schwartz, head of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. They note that the market for such development simply isn’t there right now — there’s too much available land and open office space for developers to spend the money on an expensive, speculative project above a Metro station. But what about…the future?

Herrity has been badgering his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to simply authorize a $30,000 study of “what’s going to be the marketability and shall we move forward when the time is right.” The decision to actually allow developers to build over the Silver Line stations would be up to MWAA, but Herrity said selling air rights could “bring down the tolls and pay down the debt” of Metro construction.

“I think they missed the boat on Phase 1,” said Davis, now vice-chair of the MWAA board, about the first part of the Silver Line, which runs through Tysons Corner and then along the toll road out to Reston. He said the economic climate is wrong now, “but do you plan for the future? You’ve got to be a little visionary on this.” He said the issue was “something I’m going to try to continue the dialogue” with other MWAA board members.
The selling point? It's cheaper now -- more than $30 million per station cheaper -- to build the supports for future development while the Metro stations are being built, as opposed to coming back and doing it later. But here's something we haven't heard a lot about amid all the breathless talk of development in the area:
The study also cited a George Mason University economic study which said that only 4.4 million square feet of additional non-residential space was expected to be needed in the Reston Parkway area over the next 20 years, almost all of which “could be satisfied using land with already approved zoning in that area. The risk of over-speculation and over-supply is very real.”
The harsh light of reality is hard to face sometimes. Apparently some sort of study will take place in the coming months, though we doubt we'll see any proposals as creative (and leafy) as this:

air rights fun.jpg


  1. I don't approve of the idea. If they're going to cover the toll road with something, it should be a park!

  2. I hate to admit it, but I like the concept and design, but the big in-your-face problem is Reston couldn't give away the empty office space it has right now. How the Hell is this going to be justified as a construction project?

  3. Carrabas also has landscaping on its roof. It's hopelessly over-priced as well.

  4. First, generally agree with Anon above, but there is probably room for both parks & office bldgs.

    Second, for WSScotty, precisely because the market is so bad right now, it is the BEST time to pursue air rights because the prices will be their lowest. What I'm sure will happen, however, is that FC will wake up someday and decide to get the air rights as the market is peaking (again)--and we will all pay through the nose for the "opportunity."


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