10 Houses on 1.30 Acres as Council Passes and Economic Development Authority Supports Ordinance that Is a Boon to One Developer: A Council Appointed EDA Member

  • City Produces Lucrative Opportunity for EDA Member/Developer Robert Young

  • Ordinance Language Was Quickly Codified and Appears Tailored to Qualify Young Project

  • Credibility and Transparency Issues Are Apparent Regarding Managing $100 Million Mason Project 

By Sam Mabry and Ira Kaylin
Kaylin and Mabry are former Members of the Falls Church City Council

We believe the Rail Road Avenue Cottage project reflects a series of government actions and decisions that are emblematic of a development process that is all to often guided by intertwined business and personal relationships; exchange of tangible political support; a malleable local press and employment by the principals in co-related industries.

Unlike the stellar Harris Teeter development, a number of projects—including the Kensington end of life facility and the Pearson condominium cum apartments—either provide minimal revenue for the city or, in the case of Pearson, are net revenue losers for the city according to its own accounting.

While the city continues to raise the real estate tax rate, a number of developers leave the city with huge profits and leave behind some projects which are woefully deficient producers of revenue or enhancements for our citizens.

The Proposed Project and the Developer

Rail Road Avenue is located south of Route 7 along the W&OD bike path, runs parallel to Ellison Street and is accessed at the end of Fowler Avenue.

Put forward by Developer and Economic Development Authority Member, Robert Young, the proposed Rail Road project is for a 10 single-family home project, with a common building and a car port for 10 automobiles, located on the land now permitted to accommodate only three single family homes.

A Fast Moving Project with Insiders Providing the Push—the 44,000 Square Foot Solution

The following information taken from City and County of Arlington documents paints a picture of a development process that all too often is tilted away from common community benefit to that of the developer and his supporters in our government.

  • Young purchased 54,000 square feet of property on Rail Road in the Spring-Summer of 2016, having formed a development Rail Road Avenue LLC in April 2016.
  • Following purchase of the property in 2016, which was described both in the Falls Church City real estate tax rolls and in the Arlington County land records, city staff proposes a cottage ordinance requiring a minimum of 44,000 square feet of developable land—comfortably below the 54,000 square feet purchased by Young.
  • It at once begs the question and strongly suggests an answer: Why was the restriction set at no less than 44,000 square feet? Why was such a seemingly arbitrary number of square feet chosen? Why not 34,000 square feet—or 64,000 square feet? The probable answer is telling: Because Mr. Young’s parcel contained 54,000 square feet and the desire was to comport the proposed ordinance with the size of his parcel.
  • Council gave Initial approval to the ordinance in November 2016
  • City’s Economic Development Authority recommended to the Council approval of the ordinance in January 2017.
  • Young participates in the EDA January, 2017, evaluation meeting but does not vote, citing, however, he could be an impartial participant. He embraces this position after paying over $1,000.000 for the land and the potential of unrealized profits if the project is constructed under a proposed ordinance that he is supporting in his official capacity—and on land that he already owns.
  • Council gives final approval to the cottage ordinance on February 13, 2017
  • Young’s plat and plans are date stamped by the professional engineer for submission to the Planning Commission on February 17, 2017
  • The Planning Commission holds its first meeting on the proposal on April 27, 2017

Woefully Deficient Revenue for the City

The project will generate an extremely modest real estate tax benefit At the current tax rate, a $700,000 house would be taxed approximately $7,200 per year; the tally for the $1 Million home would be $13,000.

Accordingly, the entire project would only add some $70,000 to $130,000 to the tax rolls, or about one-quarter (1/4) of a cent on the tax rate of $1.33.

The Fictions

The developer is casting the project as age restricted and thus without children. That is an overstatement of the fair housing laws. Between Federal, State, Local and the governing documents of a homeowner’s association, children can be permitted in an age restricted community. With our per annum per student costs totaling near $20,000, any financial benefit from the project could shrink significantly.

It would require the suspension of reality to believe that 10 homes on Rail Road Avenue property will produce only 10 automobiles?

Going Forward Question About Dealing Candidly with Citizens 

If the Cottage Home Ordinance process is reflective of diminished transparency and forthrightness of our local government, what confidence and trust can we have when Council seeks some $100,000,000 in George Mason development and school complex bond financing with its consequent tax impact on citizens?

In our view: Not much.

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