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March 28, 2014

County-paid study supports trolley, but ignores Arlington’s office space glut

The Washington Post this week described an eonomic study of the benefits of building the Columbia Pike trolley as being highly beneficial to developers and landowners, but of course used past economic data that reflected a commercial offic space boom prior to 2012 that has come to a screeching halt.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/consultants-columbia-pike-streetcar-would-bring-more-money-growth-than-bus-transit/2014/03/26/a8e7cb14-b518-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html

The county spent $98,000 for this study which of course supported the county board’s view.
If this is such a great deal to invest well over $350 million, why don’t the developers and commercial landowners along the Pike pay for it? This is a classic ploy to get the public to pay for something that benefits private landowners. The building of such a trolley will take five years and involve massive traffic backups and inconvenience for Arlington residents.

Moreover, if the county has to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars just to preserve what little affordable rental housing is left on the Pike, as well as public infrastructure to support more residents and businesses, the $310 million to $750 million in new local tax revenues will disappear rapidly.

Former Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman who was the chief patron for the trolley made clear from the beginning that his primary objective for the trolley was development, not transportation.

Another major flaw of this study is of course that it assumes that favorable commercial office space and luxury apartments market will continue at its pace of the past ten years. The trolley was proposed more than 10 years ago when development was occurring at a rapid pace; Arlington avoided the effects of the 2008 recesssion owing to higher military/national security spending. Now that spending is dropping like a stone, federal government contracts dropped over a third in the latest quarter in the Metro DC area.

As to the development goals of fully developing the Columbia Pike area, no one seems to pay attention to what is happening in the already developed areas of the county–Crystal City, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, and yes even to Courthouse, Clarendon, Va Square and Ballston. The commercial office vacancy rates there range from 25 to 15 percent and are rising. In the fourth quarter 2013 there are the equivalent of 22 empty office buildings just in Rosslyna and Crystal City areas (see related article on office space glut below).

Why would any business lease space farther out on the Pike when there is abundant vacant space along the Metro rail corridors? street carEven building new luxury rental apartments and/or condos along the Pike may be a bad idea. Without high paying military contractors and the military, renters cannot afford to pay these

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