- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The connection between jobs, housing and transportation has been understood for a long time. It’s pretty simple: More jobs mean more housing demand and more traffic, while a loss of jobs can stifle a housing market and empty roads.

But what happens when tens of thousands of jobs shift around within one metropolitan area? What does this do to property values, transportation and quality of life?

These are some of the questions prompted by the 2005 recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

In Fairfax County, for example, the Army base at Fort Belvoir is expected to absorb an additional 21,000 personnel by 2011. Some 5,000 military and 16,000 civilian employees will be added to the current work force of 23,000. Many of these jobs aren’t new — they are being relocated from other communities in the region.

“They’re basically building an installation at an existing installation,” says Tim Ford, executive director of the Association of Defense Communities, a membership organization supporting communities with active, closed and closing defense installations. “The size of the personnel and buildings that will be necessary at Belvoir is just incredible. That has to have some profound effects on surrounding communities.

“Installations have always had growth spurts and gotten larger, but it doesn’t happen in this quick time frame of six years,” Mr. Ford says.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) conducted an analysis of the impacts of BRAC on the Washington metropolitan region last July. The report, performed by COG staff and the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, predicts the following to occur by 2010:

• The Washington metropolitan region will face a net loss of 10,000 jobs, but it could reach as many as 15,000 jobs.

• The biggest losses should occur in: Arlington County, 19,000; the city of Alexandria, 7,500; and the District, 6,500.

• The biggest gains should occur in: Fairfax County, 14,500; Anne Arundel County, 4,500; Prince William County, 2,500 jobs; and Prince George’s County, 1,500 jobs.

Numbers this large have the potential to cause housing shortages in some areas and surpluses in others. Yet, according to the COG report on BRAC, no increase in housing stock will be needed in the region by 2010.

By 2020, however, the report predicts that 8,500 additional homes will be needed in the region: 3,000 in Prince William County; 2,000 in Fairfax County; 1,500 in Stafford County; 1,000 in Montgomery County; and 1,000 in the District. Find the entire report at COG’s Web site (www.mwcog.org).

Harry Swanson, deputy director of revitalization and real estate for Fairfax County, predicts that current development in his county should be sufficient to absorb the growth — and traffic — BRAC is expected to cause.

He cites projects already under way in the Springfield area and U.S. 1 corridor as examples.

“The growth in the revitalization areas is going to absorb the majority of what’s going to come out of BRAC because these areas are going to be high-density and they’re mixed-use,” Mr. Swanson says.

Rick Eul, chairman of the real estate finance forum for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors says of Fairfax County: “The homes are being built. If you go out and look at Route 1 today versus a year ago, a lot of it has already changed. There’s already new construction going on down that corridor. I think Route 1 is the last bastion of underdevelopment in Fairfax County. With BRAC, it’s going to help that.”

John Reeves, president of the Washington division for Pulte Homes Inc., says his company is looking at the BRAC numbers as well as separate forecasts that predict the area will absorb 70,000 new jobs in 2006 and 2007.

“If the numbers that people are projecting come to pass, we would need what’s under development plus significantly more,” Mr. Reeves says.

If the housing stock does not expand quickly enough, demand for homes could push area home prices higher.

Mr. Swanson says home values should increase in areas close to Fort Belvoir.

“The percentage of increase in values will probably be greater down there than anywhere in the county,” he says. “They have been somewhat low, but now because of the development and of BRAC going in there, the percentage increase will probably be greater in that area.”

“Moving Crystal City [jobs] to Fort Belvoir is going to help with new construction as well as the value of homes in that area,” Mr. Eul says. “Both are going to go up.”

Despite the large number of jobs leaving Arlington County, Mr. Eul says he expects little change in Arlington’s population because many of the people who work in Crystal City don’t live there.

“As far as Arlington goes — yes, they’re losing jobs there, but the rumor is that there are plenty of companies waiting for the government to move out so they can move in and be closer to D.C.,” Mr. Eul says. “I think private industry is ready and willing to take over the space.”

One major concern for communities near Fort Belvoir is an enormous influx of additional commuters. Workers who used to drive to Arlington, Alexandria and the District soon will be filling the roads around Fort Belvoir.

“Infrastructure will become strained if there isn’t good planning in advance for the numbers that we’re seeing,” Mr. Reeves says. “We believe that to accommodate the numbers, the smart growth is truly around existing or planned mass transit, so that the growth doesn’t just start to overwhelm the existing infrastructure.”

“It does make a difference for someone in this area, if they are working in Crystal City right now, to have to go to Belvoir instead,” Mr. Ford says. “That’s a short distance technically, but that makes a massive change in someone’s commuting pattern — and especially considering that Belvoir is not Metro-accessible.”

“The next step I want to see for Fort Belvoir is the expansion of Metro out there. I think there’s a big push for it,” Mr. Eul says. “But the problem right now is that Belvoir is competing with [extension of] Metro out to Dulles. As far as Virginia goes, it’s a one-or-the-other type deal as opposed ‘to let’s do both.’ ”

A group called the Belvoir New Vision Planners has been created to lead the planning and transition effort in the area.

The group comprises the Fort Belvoir commander and key staff, Fairfax and Prince William county officials and supervisors, representatives of major government agencies relocating to Fort Belvoir, urban planners, architects and engineers.

“This is a very unprecedented action that you have this large influx of new people into one installation, particularly in an area that is as populated as Fairfax County,” says Paul Reagan, spokesman for Belvoir New Vision Planners group.

“It’s a testament to the Army and their commitment to do this right that they’ve hired a team of world-class urban planners to come in and design a fort which will be a benefit not only to the mission of Fort Belvoir but to the community and to the folks who live there and work there every day,” he says.

Mr. Reagan says that the group is analyzing transportation, environmental and other issues and that they seek comment from the community as they prepare for the transition.

For information on the Belvoir New Vision Planners group, visit the Web site (www.belvoirnewvision.com).

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