Colin Mills: Reston’s Master Plan – The Road Ahead

Colin Mills/File photoThe train is coming!  At last, the Silver Line will pull into Wiehle station within the next few months. And just in time, Fairfax County is finishing the revisions to our Comprehensive Plan to set the ground rules for development in the station areas. The draft Comp Plan goes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, with a vote likely within a few weeks.

The good news is that over four years of work by the Master Plan Task Force is about to come to fruition. Those long meeting nights and discussions about Floor-Area Ratio and Levels of Service are over. I’m happy to have my Tuesday nights back, and my family feels the same way.

The bad news is that the Comp Plan still falls short in several areas. The plan doesn’t do enough to protect Reston’s quality of life, or to ensure that the station areas will be well-integrated into the surrounding community. In this week’s column, I’ll update you on where the process stands, highlight the areas where RCA believes the plan can be better, and explain what we’re going to do about it.

The last time I talked in depth about the Comp Plan was in the wake of the Task Force’s final vote in September. In that column, I spelled out why RCA felt the plan needed improvement. Since then, the plan has gone to the County Planning Commission, which reviewed and approved it.

The Planning Commission spent several weeks reviewing the plan, but ultimately made only minor changes. We were particularly discouraged that the Planning Commission disregarded the changes suggested by Reston’s citizen representatives, while adopting several changes provided by individual landowners and/or their lawyers.

As a result, RCA’s concerns about the plan are the same today as they were back in September. To refresh your memory, I’ll touch on a few of the key areas.

Traffic has been a key issue for RCA throughout this process. The development around the stations won’t benefit Reston if clogged streets mean that we can’t get to the Silver Line, or that the Toll Road becomes a virtual wall during the rush.

The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has been cited as a success story for transit-oriented development; traffic in that area has actually improved over time.  Unfortunately, the County Department of Transportation’s modeling suggests that won’t be true for Reston; our traffic is projected to get worse — in some cases, much worse — if the Comp Plan goes forward as written.

That’s why RCA supports a goal of Level of Service E at Reston’s “gateway” intersections (where Wiehle Avenue, Reston Parkway, and Fairfax County Parkway intersect Sunset Hills and Sunrise Valley). Level of Service E means an average delay of 55 to 80 seconds at each of these intersections.  Currently, the Comp Plan calls for a “network” Level of Service E, a fuzzy goal that allows for delays of up to four minutes at the gateway intersections, according to FCDOT models.  That level of gridlock just isn’t acceptable.

Another issue that concerns RCA is open space and recreation. We Restonians treasure our open space and parks; they’re a prime reason why many of us chose to live here. I wrote last week about the athletic field situation, and why we’re concerned that the workers and residents in the station areas will have a hard time finding a place to play. But the open space requirements in the draft plan concern us as well.

The Task Force originally planned for a minimum of 20 percent of net lot area as public open space. But at the Task Force’s final meeting, complaints from developers led to the minimum becoming a “goal.” We believe that the 20% minimum is vital to Reston remaining a thriving, livable planned community. That’s why we support the Task Force’s original requirement.

The other area where RCA would like to see improvement is implementation. We’ve said throughout the process that planning without implementation is empty, and we were disappointed that the plan approved by the Task Force contained very little on implementation.

The Planning Commission took a step in the right direction here; Hunter Mill Commissioner Frank de la Fe made a follow-on motion to recommend “an inclusive process” to plan the funding of the transportation improvements we’ll need to support the new development. This is a definite plus; building and paying for new roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure is essential for turning our vision of the station areas into reality.

But transportation funding is only one piece of the implementation puzzle.  What about phasing, to ensure that development doesn’t happen before we can build the infrastructure to support it? What about prioritizing our infrastructure needs and wants, so that we know how proffer money or public funding should be spent? What about the athletic field question I raised last week?  These are some of the things an implementation body should decide.

One thing we heard at the Planning Commission is that the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t deal with implementation.  And yet, Tysons included a “keeper of the vision” to address implementation in its plan.  If Tysons can do it, why can’t Reston?

These are some of the issues RCA will raise at the Board of Supervisors hearing on Tuesday. We hope that other Reston citizen groups will also speak, and echo some of our concerns. We will strive to convince the Supervisors to make the changes we believe the plan needs.

But the process doesn’t end there. Once the Supervisors approve the Comp Plan revisions, they will take effect. But when the redevelopment proposals start coming in, that’s where the rubber meets the road. If we want the development in the Toll Road corridor to align with our vision for Reston’s future, we must remain engaged with both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

Fortunately, RCA stands ready to keep going. No matter what happens with the Comp Plan, we will stay involved in helping Reston remain a special, thriving community for our next 50 years.

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