The second phase of Metro’s Silver Line has had anything but a smooth journey into existence, yet construction issues have not dampened developers’ enthusiasm for the long-awaited transit project.
The extension of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail west through Dulles International Airport and into Ashburn is expected to transform Reston, Herndon, and eastern Loudoun County in similar fashion to how the Silver Line’s first phase paved the way for Fairfax County’s vision of Tysons as a walkable, urban center.
The anticipated development boom along the Silver Line corridor will bring opportunities as well as potential threats, Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Boylan stated during the organization’s “Metro Monday” event at the new Trajectory Event Center in Herndon on Sept. 23.
While acknowledging the need for housing and concerns about the area’s already high cost of living, Northern Virginia business leaders see the impending arrival of the Silver Line and its surrounding development as critical for the economic future of not just Fairfax and Loudoun, but the region as a whole.
“It really does open up the opportunity to access our international airport, Dulles, and connects it back to Washington, D.C., and then out to the western counties,” Fairfax County Economic Development Authority president and CEO Victor Hoskins said. “So, it really pulls together the region, and that’s why it will be so important.”
Operated by WMATA and constructed in two phases by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the Silver Line, formally known as the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, is a 23-mile extension of the existing Metrorail system with 11 new stations added between McLean and Ashburn.
Opened on July 26, 2014, the 11.7-mile-long first phase of the Silver Line branched off of the existing East Falls Church Metro Station and included stops at McLean on Route 123, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill on Route 7, and the Dulles Toll Road near Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
According to the Tysons Partnership, a group of stakeholders overseeing the implementation of Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan for Tysons, about 6.4 million square feet of development, the vast majority of it residential, have been introduced to Tysons since the comprehensive plan amendment was adopted in 2010.
An additional 2.2 million square feet of development is currently under construction with 2 million more in the planning stages.
Developers Kettler and The Meridian Group announced on Sept. 26 that two luxury apartment buildings in The Boro, a 15-acre mixed-use development in Tysons, have officially opened their doors for residents.
Reston has already seen plenty of activity since the opening of the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station in 2014, according to Comstock Companies senior vice president of customer relations Maggie Parker.
Comstock is developing the area surrounding the Wiehle-Reston East station into a massive mixed-use center called Reston Station that will have about 1.3 million square feet of office, residential, and retail buildings.
With three office buildings at the complex’s center, Comstock brought on Google as the anchor tenant for its signature building at Reston Station in April, and Parker says the company expects the JAHN building will be fully leased within the next year.
Comstock, which is also redeveloping downtown Herndon, ultimately plans to introduce more than 5 million square feet of development to the 40 acres of land it now owns around the Metro station and the Dulles Toll Road after acquiring Commerce Metro Center from JBG on Feb. 6.
While Comstock’s master plan for the Commerce Metro Center is currently being revised, the company plans to break ground on its Promenade development north of Reston Station in the first quarter of 2020.
The 8.4-acre Promenade site will replace the former Sunset Hills Professional Park with 1.3 million square feet of development, including a Marriot Renaissance hotel.
Comstock anticipates that all of its plans for the Wiehle-Reston East transit station area will finish construction by 2023 with the goal of having an even split between retail and residential development, according to Parker.
“Investors are here. Users are here,” Parker said. “People want to be in the Dulles corridor.”
Boston Properties has similarly grand plans for Reston Town Center, as it prepares for the arrival of a Metro station just south of the mixed-use community.
Construction on a 1.1 million square-foot office complex known as RTC Next started in October 2018.
With Fannie Mae on board as the first major tenant and an expected delivery date of 2022, RTC Next will consist primarily of two office towers, one with 28 floors and another with 20, along with some retail space, a select-service hotel, and a 500-unit apartment building.
In all, Boston Properties has 4.8 million square feet of development planned for the 33-acre site it owns between the existing Reston Town Center and the upcoming Metro station.
“I think it's going to enhance the user experience,” said Transwestern executive vice president Joe Ritchey, whose company leases space for Boston Properties at Reston Center. “Our citizens, our visitors, our tenants, and their employees are going to have, I think, a very positive correlation between the urban core of Reston Town Center and RTC Next. It's almost going to be seamless.”
Boston Properties experienced a slight hiccup in its plans to prepare Reston Town Center for a Metro-oriented future when community members, including many tenants, revolted against its paid parking system at the shopping center.
The developer started charging for parking at Reston Town Center on Jan. 3, 2017, telling residents, visitors, and business owners that the new policy was necessary to prevent parking spaces from being taken over by Metro users and other commuters in the future.
However, the pricing, inflexible hours, and reliance on a mobile app frustrated patrons who saw the new system as overly complicated and burdensome. Some residents and visitors staged protests, while others simply took their business elsewhere with no shortage of retail options in the area.
Merchants reported declining sales and filed lawsuits. Several businesses, including Red Velvet Cupcakery, which was at the forefront of merchants’ opposition to the paid parking system, closed their doors.
Boston Properties relented somewhat to customer and tenant pressure last year by allowing an hour of free garage parking before 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and making weeknights completely free for people who use the parking garages starting on June 5, 2018.
Ritchey says Reston Town Center has now “substantially recovered” from the issues it faced when first introducing paid parking, though some companies looking to come to the community have raised concerns about the availability of parking for their employees.
“I will say that I think the timing of the paid parking was a little bit early,” Ritchey said. “…And that’s not to say that everybody is still happy about what happened in the past, but we’ve moved past it, and it’s a much more positive community atmosphere than it used to be.”
The clash over paid parking at Reston Town Center is perhaps a smaller scale preview of some of the conflicts that Fairfax County will face, as development along the Silver Line takes shape and leaders must balance the needs of existing community members, new residents, and businesses.
Economic development will likely bring money and opportunities to Fairfax County, but history suggests those benefits will not be distributed in an equitable manner, according to Cornerstones president and CEO Kerrie Wilson.
Based in Reston, Cornerstones is a nonprofit that provides shelter, food, affordable housing, childcare, and other human services to individuals and families in need.
While Fairfax County is generally affluent with a 2017 median household income of $118,279, the county still has a poverty rate of 6.4 percent with an estimated 75,417 residents living below the poverty line, according to the county’s most recent data.
To put the challenges of living in Fairfax County into perspective, a worker making minimum wage would need to work for 177 hours per week in order to live in Reston, Wilson says.
Metro’s arrival to Reston and beyond could help some residents, such as a Dulles International Airport worker who currently faces a 98-minute commute by bus to get to their job, but those benefits will be of little use to people who cannot to afford to live near transit in the communities planned by companies like Comstock and Boston Properties.
The emphasis on mixed-use development in the projects proposed for the Dulles corridor means there will be an influx of jobs in the retail and service sectors, from restaurant workers and sales associates to bank tellers and school bus drivers.
“We need housing that is currently not there, not affordable for those jobs,” Wilson said.
According to a Fairfax County Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan report published in June 2018, the county needs to build approximately 15,000 additional homes in the next 15 years that are affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, which is about $70,300 annually for a family of four.
After taking financial concerns into account, such as the high cost of housing production in the county, an affordable housing resources panel recommended to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Mar. 12 that the county set a minimum target of 5,000 new homes that fit that category in the next 15 years.
Wilson says Fairfax County must use new development to create a mix of housing that helps address existing needs as well as new demands, a responsibility that falls on developers as well as county officials and residents.
“There’s no question prosperity is coming,” Wilson said. “However, if we don’t plan for what’s coming and consider how to make that available to everyone, we will not realize our goals.”