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Board Ponders Loudoun's 'Biggest Decision'

Supervisors received an update about the potential revenue generated by participating in Metro's Silver Line project.

A presentation about the potential fiscal impacts of Metro on Loudoun -  if the Board of Supervisors agrees to participate in Phase 2 of the Silver Line project - clarified some questions, but also appeared to fuel arguments for those for and against participating.

The presentation by Len Bogorad, the managing director of Charles Robert Lesser & Co., the company that conducted the fiscal impact study, showed that commercial developers would be drawn to the county with or without rail. However, he also said there would be lost opportunities without Metro because businesses would be drawn to rail stations to the east.

Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said the decision the board must make is huge. In an earlier meeting, someone called it the biggest decision since Dulles Airport, but Volpe pointed out that the federal government made the that decision.

“So, in reality, this is probably the biggest decision the county have ever faced, so let’s not take it lightly,” she said.

Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) focused on the Lesser report finding that the county would grow regardless of Metro.

“You can have the growth with Metro or without,” he said, repeating Bogarad’s assertion.

However, Bogorad’s offered caveats.

“There’s no question in our mind that is does affect development locations. Stations are attractive sites for development,” he said. “There will be development that would not have occurred in Loudoun that will be in Loudoun County if rail happens. Loudoun will be quite competitive if there is rail there and will not be competitive without it.”

The Lesser report estimates a 7 percent increase in non-residential development in Loudoun with rail, and that the development would be concentrated more closely around the rail stations because businesses prefer multimodal transportation.

Reid pointed to the development that occurred along the Dulles Toll Road prior to the approval of the Silver Line project. While Tysons Corner may not be the best comparison because of its proximity to the Capital Beltway, Reid and others who oppose Loudoun’s participation next point to Reston as an example of growth without rail. Both are places now slated for Silver Line stations.

“Combining rail with a good highway is going to attract even more development,” Lesser said.

A major concern of some following the debate is whether the project will result in significant debt for the county. While the Lesser report shows positive revenue generation, it does not include the costs of rail. Loudoun has appropriated money for construction of the project in its capital improvement program, but there’s no actual money in hand, which is why supervisors are considering additional sources of revenue such as a tax district.

“We haven’t … discussed on this board or the previous boards, how we would pay for it,” said County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large). “If we institute a special tax district and a couple of other things, then you’re generating another source of revenue above this.”

York has also argued that there are few alternatives to rail to move people east and west because of Dulles International Airport and the lack of expansion space along existing roads, but Reid said he doesn’t believe that.

“The idea that we can’t build capacity anywhere on Route 7 or anywhere else is a myth,” Reid said. However, he offered no specific proposals during the meeting.

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said he’s been getting lots of questions from people in his district who are “surprised and dismayed” that the project is in question.

“All of them thought is was a done deal,” he said.

There has been a difficulty in estimating benefit for several reasons. For example, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments growth estimates for Loudoun show half the residents, but more jobs than estimates by Moody’s Ratings.

The Lesser report is based on existing planning and zoning in the county and did not contemplate changes to either. Rail would result in about 4,800 new homes in the county (primarily from increases at existing sites triggered by rail), about 1.4 million square feet of additional office space, 670,000 square feet of retail and nearly 300 additional hotel rooms, according to the Lesser report.

At least two supervisors wondered by Lesser did not study a scenario where rail ended at Dulles. Bogorad and Ben Mays, Loudoun’s deputy chief financial officer, said at the time the study was conducted there was no discussion about ending the line at Metro.

The debate seems to grow more complex with each meeting, making it difficult to address every variable.

The board will continue its discussion on the fiscal impacts during a May 16 work session that also includes a parking study conducted by the county.

Victoria Glenn May 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Wait..so you don't even live in Loudoun, and yet are so very very vocal about what happens here. You don't live here yet seem to have all the answers as to what needs to be done here. Interesting. Many of us who DO live here want the RAIL, we need the RAIL. The area is growing and the RAIL will bring needed transportation now, not as an afterthought. It will attract the best businesses and thus provide much needed jobs as well as a way to get to them.
CC Mojo May 25, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I don't know, Bob, but it seems between your location and loud, insulting voice, you're losing any sort of credibility around here. Will you be speaking at the meeting on June 4th? I'd love to see you in action ;)
Bob Bruhns May 25, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Victoria, how do I know that YOU live in Loudoun County? Some people who claim to live here have a strangely distorted idea of the actual geography of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, and obviously are not from here. Who told you that rail was the solution to everything? It hasn't solved much in Fairfax County - Loudoun County was richer than Fairfax County -without- rail! But don't worry, we're rich enough with rail, and you will be too. You'll just have to do without a few things, and you can ride a train! You can fume about your taxes as you ride to work. Try not to remember how you actually supported the double priced rail line, or how you didn't want to hear facts from that awful BOB from Herndon. Just pay the bills, and don't even THINK about that job in Fair Oaks. Enjoy!
Bob Bruhns May 25, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Well, I'm very good at dropping my notes when I stand at the podium, CC. I might bonk my head when I straighten up after picking them up, too. It's important credibility stuff. You'd be amused.
Victoria Glenn May 26, 2012 at 02:12 AM
oh bob I never said you were awful....annoying at times, but not awful. You also know nothing about me about my life or my struggles to keep my family of 5 running. We may live in one of the richest counties in the US but not all of us have it easy and make ends meet with no issues and enjoy our commute to work in our BMW. Some of us have spouses who work ridiculous hours as it is, then add to that the hours spent commuting in gridlock, the stress that goes along with that and feeling like all you do is work and commute and not have time to spend with your kids or wife. Yes i have high hopes that being able to take the rail from a station closer to home will ease my husbands stress, shorten his commute, give us more time together as a family and have that time be more pleasant because of reduced stress. We could potentially get rid of one car, reducing our expenses some if i can drop him off and pick him up at the station, or he can carpool with a neighbor. once the kids are all at school, the rail will provide more job opportunities for me as I reenter the workforce. Do I know for a fact that this is how it will be..no. But I am very hopeful that the rail will indeed improve the quality of life for my family and I. I am certain also that I am not alone in this...most of my neighbors feel the same way. We need the rail for many reasons, these are just my personal ones.

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