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Letter: We Seek to Continue Planning Excellence

by Karen Goff — November 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

Midtown at Reston Town Center

Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston Citizens Association’s Reston 2020 Committee, sent the Fairfax County Planning Commission additional thoughts on the comprehensive plan amendment for Reston’s Master Plan.

After a public hearing held Nov. 14, the planning commission will vote Dec. 5 whether to recommend the plan amendments to the Board of Supervisors.

Something on your mind? Send letters to [email protected].

Re:  ST09-III-UP1(A)–Reston Master Plan Revision

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

As an observer and participant in last week’s Planning Commission hearing, I would like to follow up on what occurred then and address some points that were not adequately addressed from the perspective of Reston’s citizens.  As a longtime Reston resident, member of the Reston Citizens Association’s Board of Directors and its representative on the Task Force, and Co-Chairman of the Reston 2020 Committee who has been working on the revamping of the Plan since before the Task Force was launched, I believe I have some insight into what many—probably most—Restonians think about their community and the Reston Plan draft.

I believe most Restonians welcome—some more reluctantly than others—the arrival of Metrorail and urban development around its stations.  Certainly RA, RCA, and ARCH have all been strong supporters of well-considered and implemented transit-oriented development along the Dulles Corridor.  RCA and Reston 2020, which have committed more citizen resources to this effort than the others, have provided a variety of analyses suggesting how this might be done.  We are not too uncomfortable with the density and mix result of this draft Plan, although we believe the office density may be excessive in light of the declining space needed per worker.  We would also prefer to see a stronger residential element in the mix to help reduce transportation and environmental impacts, but we can live with these ambitious core development plans.

I would be among the first to acknowledge that the Plan, whatever it becomes, is not a law or regulation.  It does, however, set a crucial set of goals and expectations for the core of our community.  And Restonians have, over the years, demonstrated their commitment to high goals and great expectations in all facets of their community’s development.  We very much seek to continue that vital tradition of community planning excellence.   I believe, in particular, that the reason RCA gave the draft Plan a “D” grade is that, at best, it does not pursue planning for community excellence, deferring to existing standards (some not even legitimized by the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors) and the desire of developers to limit interference in their profit-making efforts, sometimes at the expense of the community.

More importantly, I think virtually all of us believe Reston is someplace special thanks to Bob Simon’s brilliant vision—decades ahead of County thinking—and its effective execution.   And, yes, he faced strong bureaucratic and development resistance like the community is now facing in making this draft Plan one calling for excellence rather than more of the same.  Reston is not just another sub-division.  It is an integrated well-planned community—space, structures, people, movement, living, working, and playing together—spanning a tremendous diversity of lifestyles, employment, and recreation opportunities consistent with Bob Simon’s half-century old vision and values.  We want to extend that forward thinking to enrich the urbanizing corridor and our community—and push our government and the development industry in the process, just as Bob Simon had to do a half-century ago.

If we are going to create a much-needed urban corridor, we need to do it the right way consistent with the highest standards of transit-oriented development (TOD) as experienced elsewhere (see Rosslyn-Ballston corridor), discussed by industry experts (including the Center for Transit Oriented Development, ULI, etc.), and studied by knowledgeable academicians (Robert Cervero, Reid Ewing, among others).   This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Our community’s strong environmental focus in the development that exceeds the County’s standards.  Take a look at our community-built LEED “Gold” standard Nature Center as a starting point.  This focus not only applies to green building development where we would prefer to see new development in the station areas meet LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) “Gold” or equivalent standards, it also applies to stormwater management.  We actually need stronger stormwater management language than current county or state requirements because they do not adequately address infill and redevelopment issues that will be the primary thrust of future station area development as County staff has stated.  Our environmental concerns extend also to preserving our tree canopy and reducing emissions by lowering vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to ease global warming locally.
  • Reston also has an exceptionally strong commitment to open space, parks, and recreation—including athletic fields—as part of both its legacy of protecting natural areas and encouraging outdoor activities.  They are also integral to placemaking in TOD.  As members of RA, we pay for the operation and maintenance of more than 1,200 acres of open space, including natural areas and lakes, the operation of 15 swimming pools, dozens of tennis courts, and more.  We also pay for the operation of 22 of the 29 athletic fields FCPA identifies as being within one mile of the study area (and none of which are in the study area).
    • We believe that the language regarding open space that has been in every draft of the Reston Plan until the one submitted to the Planning Commission calling for a “minimum” of 20 percent open space of net lot area is essential.  The new language establishing 20 percent as a” goal” is inconsistent with Reston’s vision and legacy and assures a shortfall inconsistent with Reston’s vision and values.  In fact, RCA and Reston 2020 had advocated that 25% of the area be devoted to open space purposes.
    • We absolutely need more than three athletic fields in the station areas to support the 35,000+ new people the County expects to move there in in the next quarter century.     The County’s official facility standards calls for 25 athletic fields of various types and sizes to support that population.   For second-class urban dwellers, FCPA unilaterally cuts that in half to 12 fields.  That’s still far better than the three called for in this draft Plan and a level I think most Restonians would find acceptable.  It is time for the County to step up, provide, and operate parks and athletic fields in the station areas that Reston’s new urbanites will need—even if it loses a few acres of taxable land as one task force member worried.   The County will have the opportunity to gain double or triple current tax revenues on the balance of the land through planned development.
  • As a community, we also expect to sustain, if we can not improve, our seriously constrained ability to drive through the Dulles Corridor to the other side of our town or to the toll road.  I addressed this in my remarks to the Commission last week, focusing on an LOS “E” for our key through streets and limiting parking in the TSAs, so I will not repeat myself further.  The development permitted under this draft Plan would simply divide our community in two because of the impassibility of the corridor if strong mitigating measures are not put in place.
  • Developers are seeking to prevent the inclusion of residential membership in either of the two existing Reston governing associations—RA or RTCA—or architectural review of their proposed developments by RA’s Design Review Board.  Architectural design excellence has always been a core Reston planning principle and membership in one of the two residential associations will be essential for access to most community services and facilities.  Absent those constraints, we can expect little architectural excellence and an added financial burden on RA members to support needed facilities and services.  One only needs to look at the recently approved “Texas donut” stick-built apartment building near Wiehle station in the former RCIG area absent local architectural guidelines:  Property line to property line construction with excessive parking and virtually no attention to amenities—meeting County standards, but falling well short of Reston expectations—urban or suburban.

The bottom line is that you have in your hands the ability to decide whether Reston continues as a nation-leading premier planned community or devolves into just another Fairfax County housing development bisected by mediocre urban development.  I sincerely hope that you make the right decision for Reston and that these thoughts help you in that effort.

Sincerely,

Terry Maynard

Member, RCA Board of Directors

RCA Representative to the Reston Task Force

Co-Chairman, Reston 2020 Committee

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