Could Traffic Kill NoVa Office? DC Pioneer Til Hazel Thinks So.
Northern Virginia has its share of big projects, but not all is rosy in the DC suburb. Two of the region’s real estate pioneers, Til Hazel and Milt Peterson, say transportation and office trends are worrisome. They'll share details during their fireside chat at Bisnow’s Fourth Annual State of the Market on Oct. 29 starting at 7:30am.
Anyone who thought Til, who helped build the Beltway and Tysons, would stop fighting for better transportation in the DC metro area once he retired from law is sadly mistaken. Speaking to us in GMU’s Johnson Center last week, Til told us transportation is the biggest threat to any future growth in NoVa and will only grow Fairfax County’s 18% vacancy rate. He blames politicians for appealing to the “antis” who've opposed any growth for several decades. And he’s dubious of the Silver Line and says so far it’s only left Fairfax and Loudoun counties $3B in debt. The fact that it leads to Dulles Airport is also worrisome, he says, considering passenger counts are down 20%.
The NoVa native, who turned 85 this week, says his single biggest goal is building another bridge across the Potomac River—this one would connect Route 28 and the Intercounty Connector in Maryland. The lack of another bridge is the biggest single transportation crisis in the region, he says, but it’s going to be a tough sell given that houses have been built in what could have been a right-of-way for the bridge. He also works with Buchanan Partners’ Bob Buchanan (above) on a transportation initiative that includes developing a regional transportation authority.
Til, with his wife, Anne, was given a Bizzy award in 2013 for his work in the region. Most of Til’s time is now spent in Warrenton, tending to the farm that’s been in his family for 65 years. His grandfather owned 100 acres between McLean and Falls Church and the family started a farm during World War II when food was limited. As a boy, Til developed an interest in land. He went into law after the Army and was asked by a colleague to manage land acquisitions to build the Beltway. Til joined forces with Milt in 1971 and they spent 20 years building some of the bedrocks of DC suburbia, including Burke Centre, Fair Oaks, Fairfax Station and Fox Mill Estates.
Milt, who’s celebrating 50 years as a developer, is also equally concerned about NoVa’s future. He says it’s halfway between slow and sick—residential is slow and office is sick. Sequestration has been the biggest illness to hit office, but also the fact that companies are taking 70% less space. Some of that can be blamed on technology and new telecommuting policies. Even Milt says he works from his home more often. But unlike Til, he thinks politicians are finally realizing that growth and real estate development are vital to the region’s future.
Milt says Peterson Cos’ most memorable projects have been the most challenging. One of them was Fair Lakes in Fairfax—a mixed-use community on 1,300 acres that came way before its time. He says his company took the risk to build the community because of the success of Reston down the street. Fair Lakes is now a thriving community with a mix of office, residential and retail. But he adds that the company will likely stay away from any more major developments—they’re harder to get through the system and building the infrastructure around them is far too expensive to justify the project.
Another memorable project for Milt is one he’s too embarrassed to even look at as he zips by it on 66: Virginia Center. Sitting at the intersection of Nutley and 66 on 50 acres, he says the project was meant to emulate Reston Town Center, with easy access to Metro. But he blames the political process for only getting it zoned for residential, not the mixed-use he had wanted. Hear more from these veterans and other experts at Bisnow’s Fourth Annual Northern Virginia State of the Market Oct. 29, at the Hilton McLean Tysons, starting at 7:30am. Sign up here.