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.