Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Whipped by Fairfax, MoCo needs boardrooms, not bedrooms
Driving the Beltway through Montgomery County, you'll see...trees. And more trees. Holy Cross Hospital. The Mormon Temple. A Marriott hotel. Extremely appropriately, the last thing you'll see before you cross the congested American Legion Bridge are two retirement communities on either side of the highway. Sad, but reflective of the message moribund Montgomery County would send to any international businessperson whose corporate limo happened to be traveling along the Beltway. An unlikely scenario, given that said businessperson will have already taken the Silver Line or direct highway access from Dulles International Airport into Tysons, signed the deal, and flown out of town again while you're still stuck in traffic going around the Beltway, thanks to our unfinished master plan highway system.
Realizing this, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fairfax County is still handing our impotent Montgomery County Council their briefcases when it comes to economic development. You wouldn't be surprised that the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the average weekly wage paid in Montgomery County is $200 less than what you'd earn if you worked in Fairfax County. And you might not be surprised to learn that there are 588,000 jobs in Fairfax, and only 471,000 here in Montgomery.
But knowing all of that, what probably would surprise you, is that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board believe we need more bedrooms, not more jobs. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently went to bat on behalf of the developers he represents, adding even more last-minute luxury apartment height and density to the Westfield Montgomery Mall property, which sits alongside the I-270 spur in Bethesda. Not more office space, but more bedrooms. In one of the most overcrowded school clusters in the county, to boot.
This, despite the inescapable fact that adding thousands of new residential units countywide over the last two decades has proven the tax revenue generated by those bedrooms absolutely does not cover the costs in services, education and infrastructure they create.
This, despite County Executive Ike Leggett warning that we are becoming a bedroom community for the booming job centers elsewhere in the region.
And this, despite the fact that the only highway corridor in the county that has historically shown any sort of business development to interstate travelers - I-270 - is slowly being converted from corporate and business uses to residential and...self-storage. Yikes.
Office parks along I-270 and in Rock Spring near the mall are exactly the kind of places the most significant companies of our time are seeking for their headquarters - Apple and Google, for example, both have sprawling. low-rise, suburban campuses. High-wage aerospace and defense firms are seeking simiilar secure sites. Yet, companies like these aren't coming to Montgomery County. It's not because office parks went out of style, as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai can tell you. It's because MoCo's taxes are too high, its regulation is extreme, the business climate is horrendously unfriendly, and the transportation system simply doesn't function - and doesn't go directly to Dulles Airport.
The last thing we need are more bedrooms around Montgomery Mall. Thanks to poor planning, and elected officials who are clueless about the world of international business circa 2017 (their few business trips have been taken exclusively to Communist countries, which probably explains a lot), we remain stuck significantly behind competing jurisdictions in economic development. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region to experience a net loss in jobs since 2000; all others around us gained jobs - even Culpeper County, for Pete's sake.
Government incompetence is costing you - in your paycheck if you work in MoCo, on your tax returns, and at the fuel pump and on your internet shipping charges, as traffic idles on the unfinished highway network of Montgomery County. Only by adding more boardrooms - not bedrooms - can we turn this around. Throw the bums out.