Meanwhile, the response from developers has been to shift from office uses to multi-family residential uses. This has taken three forms:
- Repurposing, the reuse of existing buildings for another function, switching from office to residential, educational, or other uses. This is the preferred solution to the problem. Building values and revenue streams are maintained and neighborhoods are preserved. FFC was ahead of this trend adopting Guidelines for Commercial Building Repurposing in 2016 to facilitate the rezoning process. We have one example of this in McLean. The 2000 Corporate Ridge property where an office building will be remodeled to create ‘live/work lofts’ can be used as residences, offices or both.
- Repurposing as a ‘best practice’ was recently endorsed by the Biden Administration which plans to provide financing and technical assistance to convert empty offices to apartments. The effort would be led by the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban development and draw on 20 Federal programs. The downside of repurposing is that relatively few existing office buildings, mostly those built in the 1990s and earlier, meet regulatory requirements. County staff have estimated that the number of eligible buildings in FFC may be less than 40 due to inadequate natural lighting and inappropriate plumbing, and location.
- The second form is replacements: The property at 7500 Leesburg Pike is an example. There a dated and unoccupied office building was torn down and is being replaced by a townhome community.
- The third form changes from approved use. This has occurred many times in Tysons where developers have applied for rezoning to build a residential building when they already have approval to build an office building.
These various forms of conversion from office to residential are more than simply a matter of developers responding to market forces. As the White House stated in announcing the Administration’s initiative on repurposing, the US, simultaneously, is facing an affordable housing shortage.
When the P&Z Committee has asked developers about their motives for conversions, they have pointed to the housing shortfall in FFC. In Tysons, the target ratio for jobs to households is 4-1. The current ratio, however, is 6-1. In McLean, the recent county staff report on “McLean CBC Development Activity” states there were no new residential units added in Central and General zones in the last 15 months. Even when the Astoria McLean and McLean Professional Park Building are added in the future, there will only be 992 residential units which is far below the 1,660-landmark level stated in the McLean Comp Plan.
Developers have also pointed out, that without additional residential buildings, McLean and Tysons will not have the required resident customer base to support the type of vibrant, mixed use commercial development that is envisioned in the Comp Plans.
In July 2023, MCA sent a letter to BOS Chairman Jeffery McKay requesting that county staff undertake a study of the impact of conversions on property values, county tax revenues, schools and public services. In August, MCA met with McKay’s aide, Barbara Bryon, as well as county staff, who reported that they had completed a report on repurposing and were looking at other forms of conversion. Last week, however, Tracy Strunk, Director of the FFC Department of Planning and Development, was quoted in the press a saying that county staff would release a ‘white paper’ next year on how building conversions have affected office and residential markets. MCA will seek to continue the dialogue with county officials and staff. We will focus on the impact of declining property values and revenue streams and the increased need for public services on fiscal projections as part of the FY 2024/2025 county budget process.