Local Commentary

Editorial: Fairfax, You Are No Longer Suburbia

Barring a surprise development of some sort, the Fairfax County Planning Commission was expected last night to either table or recommend against a measure to allow for the construction of small “residential studio unit” dwellings, also known as “micro-units,” in the county. It is an unfortunate setback, but we hope only temporary.

The decision to kill the idea is wrong and immoral on a number of counts. The easiest to pinpoint is that it is another case of “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) sentiment, especially coming from more well-heeled areas such as McLean and its influential citizens’ association. Fearful that small residential units will be an invitation to crime, or whatever, they don’t mind all the data which shows how an inventory of such units would make life affordable for many lower-income families.

Really, the only viable concern expressed has to do with perceived property values, and selfish, stingy county residents who have fought against this plan for so long (there have been over two dozen public meetings about this so far) are raising a plethora of “red herrings” to insist the issue lies elsewhere.

But here’s the reality: according to an article by Antonio Olivo in Monday’s Washington Post, both the Urban League and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have found that 24,500 of all renters in Fairfax County pay more than half their monthly income on rent. Moreover, in the last school year 1,771 public school students in the county came from overcrowded living conditions, which officials say can impact a student’s capacity to develop an attention span for learning.
So, affordable housing needs are in the range of dire for one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the entire U.S. But, oh no, not here, cry well-heeled county residents.

Still, there’s yet another reason why the county government is going to have to bring this issue back for reconsideration sooner rather than later. It’s the simple fact that, now with the opening of the Metro’s Silver Line last weekend to make the point, Fairfax County, especially the area around Tysons Corner, is no longer suburbia.

With the kind of commercial development there already, Tysons Corner is one of the largest “downtowns” in the entire U.S., and now the Silver Line will rapidly bring tons of new residential development, as well. Tysons Corner is the nation’s newest urban center, replete with all the needs and benefits of a major U.S. downtown.
Like it or not, McLean, this is happening in your backyard. Of course, you will enjoy the benefits of the way all this will keep your tax bills low.

One of the biggest needs of an urban commercial center is a workforce that can live in proximity to its jobs. If that is not provided, the quality of the labor force takes a nosedive and services suffer.

“Residential Studio Units” are the solution, and have been such for as long as big cities have been around..