Fairfax Planning Commission delays Arbor Row high-rise hearing citing affordable housing concerns

Fairfax Planning Commissioners and Tysons-based developer Cityline Partners are at a stalemate over the inclusion of workforce housing in the newly proposed Arbor Row high-rise.

Last week, commissioners opted to postpone their vote on a proposed 23-story, 270-foot residential tower at Arbor Row, set to house up to 240 units and 8,500 square feet of retail space, after county staff voiced objections about the developer’s refusal to include workforce dwelling units in the new building.

Instead, Cityline Partners has proposed either building workforce housing several miles away or making a one-time cash contribution between $4.17 and $.76 million to the county’s housing trust fund program.

“Overall, the applicant’s proposed fixed cash contribution even with a one time adjustment is not in conformance with the comprehensive plan and does not fully address the affordable housing need generated from this development,” Department of Planning and Development staff member Sunny Yang said during the April 3 Planning Commission public hearing. “So, for all these reasons, the staff is not supportive of this application.”

Initially approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2012, Arbow Row spans 19.4 acres near Tysons Galleria on Westpark Drive. The development originally envisioned 2.6 million square feet of mixed-use development, including residential, retail, hotel, and office space.

Two residential buildings, including the Monarch condominiums and Nouvelle apartments were completed last summer. The Mather, a two-building senior living facility, has finished one of two planned high-rise apartment buildings.

However, the developer decided to scrap the office building, also referred to as “Block C2,” following a decreased demand for office space.

“An office [building] is not gonna happen — we don’t believe — anytime soon,” Lynne Strobel, a land use attorney with the law firm Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, told commissioners during the public hearing last week. “I don’t think any of us believe that. There’s no demand.”

In addition to a new residential high-rise, the developer plans to build several amenities, including a 3-acre park, urban plaza, playground, lawn area, pavilions, and public art, according to the application.

Although commissioners commended the applicant on the design, they concluded more work needed to be done to figure out a solution to the issue of incorporating workforce housing in the project, increasing the cash contribution or moving the proposed offsite housing closer to the Tysons Corner Metro Station.

“The intent of the [workforce dwelling unit] program is to get the units at the same time and to create these mixed-income communities, and that’s that’s the problem,” Hunter Mill District representative John Carter said. “The other issue is to get the units in the same neighborhood close by and when I hear things like five miles away. It’s concerning.”

Strobel contended that integrating workforce housing could impose an unfair burden on purchasers buying a condo at a reduced price, as they would face substantial additional costs through hefty condominium fees.

“What happens when the affordable owner has condominium fees of an additional $12,000 a year and can’t afford that, and then he has to sell the unit, and when he sells the unit, he doesn’t get all of the equity?” she said. “Usually, you build equity over time. What if he has to sell a unit within three years? Is he better off than an affordable housing purchaser? I don’t think so.”

Sully District Planning Commissioner Evelyn Spain asked staff whether it was possible to reduce the condominium fees to make the units more affordable. However, Strobel pointed out that under the Virginia Condominium Act, the fees must be assessed and divided equally among the homeowners.

“[Affordable housing] does come at a cost, and the issue is in this type of building construction: steel and concrete, costly construction, very expensive units,” Strobel said. When you have expensive units, people expect a highly amenitized building, and the condominium fees become high. How do you make that work with affordability with the new condominium act that doesn’t allow a difference in fees? That’s the whole issue and the problem.”

Staff told commissioners they have also considered adjusting the pricing of the unit itself, but Strobel noted that that would be unfair to the developer, who would be taking a loss.

“That penalizes whoever is providing those units because they won’t be able to charge a reasonable price for them,” she said.

Unable to decide on the matter, commissioners asked the applicant to continue working with staff on a suitable compromise.

The applicant has not set a specific date but requested the opportunity to present their case to the commission again before its next company board hearing, which is scheduled for mid-May.

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