Colin Mills: Staying Involved in Reston’s Future

Colin Mills/File photoLast week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the revised Comprehensive Plan for Reston, paving the way for the development around the future Silver Line stations to begin in earnest.

The new mixed-use, transit-oriented development along the Toll Road corridor will change the face of Reston in the coming decades. Those changes offer the potential for Reston to be a thriving, forward-looking, 21st-century community. They also pose significant challenges that the community will have to face.

As you likely know, RCA expressed a number of concerns about the plan revisions. We are concerned that the plan doesn’t do enough to address the traffic that the new development will add to our streets. We’re concerned that the plan doesn’t ensure that Reston’s new residents have enough parks and athletic fields nearby. And we’re concerned about the plan’s implementation, and who will be responsible for ensuring that the plan’s goals and constraints are met.

Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors made only minor tweaks to the plan, and most of our concerns were not addressed. The Board did pass the follow-on motions recommended by the Planning Commission, the most important of which calls for “an inclusive process” to determine how the necessary transportation improvements will be funded.  But most of the issues we had with the plan passed by the Task Force are still there.

So is this the end of the road? Not even close. What happens next will go a long way toward determining whether our vision of Reston’s future succeeds. There’s still work to be done, and we need our citizens to remain active and involved.  Here’s an outline of the road ahead for Reston, and how RCA will keep remain involved along the way.

Let’s start with the “inclusive process” on transportation funding. Obviously, RCA will push to ensure that we and other citizen groups are included in that process. And we will work hard to develop an equitable plan that delivers the transportation improvements we need. 

Keeping Reston’s traffic moving will require a lot of improvements, including multiple additional crossings of the Toll Road. And someone — really, several someones — will need to pick up the tab. Much as we might hope that developer proffers will pay for it all, that’s not realistic. Most likely, a combination of state and county funding, proffers, and other sources will be tapped to get the money we need.

However, those “other sources” shouldn’t include another tax district on Restonians. At the Board of Supervisors’ discussion, the possibility of creating a Reston tax district to fund transportation improvements came up. Supervisor Hudgins has stated that she doesn’t support Restonians paying for the needed infrastructure on our own; RCA will work to make sure that we don’t.

In addition, there’s the larger question of plan implementation. Transportation funding is a key piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only piece. We must determine our infrastructure needs and priorities, so that the money we do get is applied where it’s most needed. We also must consider how development can be phased so that our infrastructure can keep up.

In her remarks at the public hearing on the plan, Supervisor Hudgins stressed the importance of working with the community to develop an implementation process for the new development. We at RCA agree, and we look forward to helping develop that process.

At the Planning Commission, we heard that the Comprehensive Plan is only a guide, and the specifics will come when development proposals are considered. If that’s true, having a strong voice for our citizens in the development process is crucial.  We need to be among the first to hear about proposed projects, not among the last. And our citizens must have a seat at the table, to ensure that the new development is consistent with Reston’s vision and values.

While we’re pushing for a proper implementation of the development in the corridor, we must also keep our eye on the rest of Reston. Remember, the plan amendments that were just approved only constitute Phase 1 of the plan review. Phase 2 covers all the other areas, most notably our village centers.

We don’t yet know when those areas will be studied or what form the study will take.  RCA will be advocating for a citizen-driven process, more so than the developer-heavy Task Force we saw in Phase 1. The Phase 2 review should be charged with reimagining our village centers, to create something better than the strip malls that most of them are today, while protecting our existing residential neighborhoods and our open spaces. RCA will be working to ensure that we develop a process for Phase 2 that benefits the entire community.

As you can see, last week’s vote by the Supervisors isn’t the end of the process. Rather, it’s the beginning of a new chapter. It’s important that Reston’s citizens remain engaged in the process, and RCA intends to keep working hard to ensure that our community’s interests are represented.

Fortunately, we are not alone. One of the best things to emerge from the plan review, in my view, is the collaboration between RCA, RA, and the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) to advocate for common goals and keep Restonians informed about the changes that are coming.  Our three organizations issued multiple joint statements recommending changes to the Comp Plan, and we held a widely attended and widely praised joint forum letting Restonians know about what was in the plan and how we thought it could be improved.

Our collaboration didn’t perfect the plan, and we didn’t get everything we wanted.  But the plan is definitely better for our efforts. And the turnout at the forum shows how much the citizens appreciate our work.  As we move to the next stage in planning Reston’s future, I hope that our three organizations, along with other Reston groups, continue working together for the good of Reston. We speak much more clearly when we speak as one voice, and Reston’s citizens are the winners.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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