- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2012

A decade-old deal struck between a developer and Fairfax County forced a Springfield residential community for the elderly to foot the bill for a $117,000-a-year shuttle service residents say nobody wanted or needed.

As part of a deal with the county, Rolling Woods LLC and Brookfield Washington Inc., developers of a 91-unit, 150-resident community, agreed to provide shuttle service three times a day between the community, the closest Metro station, and local shopping.

The shuttle ran 17 trips a day from the community to the Metro, the mall and Springfield Plaza along Old Keene Mill Road - and was empty on a near-daily basis. Empty, that is, aside from the shuttles to the Metro, which were used by people living elsewhere.

Once it became clear that the demand wasn’t there, however, the contract was canceled and replaced with a much thriftier deal - a $17,000 annual arrangement with Springfield Cab.

The service ran five days a week - twice in the morning to the Metro and twice in the evening. It had four riders a week - then one - before it ended, again due to lack of demand.

But the county ruled in 2006 that the condominium owners association is obligated to provide the shuttle service - raising potential legal issues.

The deal, known as a “proffer” - a concession or agreement frequently made between localities and developers putting up new buildings - was approved by the county in this casebecause the development was classified as housing for the elderly, which also allows developers to provide more affordable housing units with less open space. The area is a development for people 55 years and older, however, it’s not a retirement community, and many residents still drive.

Attorneys’ fees to process an application to change the proffer would run into the thousands of dollars, and any change would still ultimately need approval from the county Board of Supervisors. Under one scenario, the board could approve the “Proffer Condition Amendment” and rescind the requirement, or the community could find a cost-effective way to satisfy the minimal demand for the service.

Residents have said that since nobody uses the service, nobody really misses it, but that the requirement is still unnecessary and unreasonable, given the demographics of the community and the lack of demand.

Though the zoning area is tied to requirements for housing for the elderly, the mandated transit service mirrors part of the county’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program. TDM requires developers to encourage ride sharing, biking, walking and other alternate forms of transportation - depending on factors like access to transit and the kind of development - for their plans to be approved by the county.

Supervisor Pat Herrity, Springfield Republican, acknowledged that some of the TDM plans are effective, but said that others are not.

“The county continues to require TDMs despite not ever performing an analysis of the actual successes or failures of TDMs,” he said.

But Supervisor John W. Foust, Dranesville Democrat, said that the county is studying them, and is looking at how to make them more effective as long-term planning for the massive redevelopment of Tysons Corner continues.

“There’s so many different tools in the TDM tool bag,” he said. “I know that they are working in some of the places that we use them.”