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Op-Ed: Doubling Down by Doubling Up on Reston Metro Station Density

by RestonNow.com September 15, 2015 at 11:00 am 14 Comments

Wiehle-Reston East station/Credit: Elvert Barnes vis FlickrThis is an op-ed by Terry Maynard of Reston 2020. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

As you were enjoying your summer, probably including a family vacation, our County leaders were — and are — planning to increase the allowable density in Reston’s transit station areas (TSAs) again through amendments to the zoning ordinance.

The reason: Fairfax County is running out of ways to generate taxes to cover its expenses as job growth and development falter. At this point, so close to another local election, they are neither ready to increase our taxes nor cut well-liked programs (other than parks and libraries, of course).

They have to add more taxable property — residential and commercial — to drive up revenues. And Reston and Tysons are the places they intend to do it.

The County’s Zoning Staff is preparing to allow increased Reston density in two ways.

In Reston alone, the County staff is planning to increase (or eliminate) the maximum allowable population per acre in the Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) — a zoning category.

According to the Fairfax County’s demographer’s count, Reston now has a population of less than 62,000, about 10 people per acre. Reston’s current limit is 13 persons per acre for a total population of about 81,000 according to a county briefing. Using absolutely absurd “household population factor” values (ostensibly the typical number of people in a household by type of household), the zoning staff has put Reston’s population at more than 73,000 people or 11.7 people per acre (10 percent available capacity).

We are, in fact, more than 30 percent short of that capacity. Yet, if the “cap” is increased or deleted, it creates more “flexibility” for developers, which as the next paragraph will show, is the goal.

The Zoning Staff is also proposing a near doubling of the allowable density in all TSAs to a base density of FAR 5.0 with bonuses up to FAR 5.5, and affordable and market housing not counting against the maximum. Yet the Reston Master Plan just approved by the Board of Supervisors in June calls for the highest base density to be between FAR 3.0-4.0 in the two land units either side of the Town Center Metrorail station, each with a potential bonus of FAR 0.5, which is where density should be most intense. Both the Wiehle and Herndon-Monroe TSAs have much lower base densities with the same FAR 0.5 bonus opportunity.

While the passage of the new zoning language would not automatically boost the allowable base density to FAR 5.0, “the Board may approve an increase up to 5.0 when . . . the proposed development is implementing the density/intensity and other recommendations of the comprehensive plan or any other design guidelines endorsed by the Board.” “Any other“– talk about a hole you could drive a truck through.

Moreover, just so you know, the proposed zoning amendment reduces the required number of parking spaces and, while calling for 20 percent open space overall, requires that only half of that be at ground level. And the 20 percent open space includes County parks. If you’re walking along the street, you’ll be lucky to see a tree, shrub, flower, or grass; but asphalt, bricks, concrete, and glass will be in great abundance.

Of course, there was no more than the legally required notice to the public of these proposed changes, including an absence of communications from our Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who represents both Reston and Tysons Corner on the Board of Supervisors.

Yet, while we were not told about the proposed changes, the Zoning Staff was busy writing a letter to developers, attorneys, and other businesses for their comment. Here is a key passage:

Staff is seeking your input on this proposal prior to authorization of this amendment for public hearings. Please feel free to forward this draft to any other interested parties. In order to meet scheduling deadlines, your comments are requested no later than September 4, 2015 (subsequently extended to September 14th). (Source: Solicitation for Comments on a Proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment Regarding the Palnned (sic) Development-Commercial (PDC) and Planned Development-Mixed Use (PRM) Districts, Commercial Revitalization Districts (CRD), Commercial Revitalization Areas (CRA), Community Business Centers (CBC) and Transit Station Areas (TSA), August 21, 2015.)

Stand in line, taxpaying public. We’ll let you know when you can speak up, and then ignore it. In the meantime, we’ll let those who will profit from these changes make additional suggestions.

The bottom line is that the proposed changes will allow substantially more density around Reston’s Metrorail stations than the currently approved Comprehensive Plan if they are approved by the Board of Supervisors. This after some four years of work by a highly developer-dominated Reston Task Force in recommending new mixed-use, high-density development around our Metro stations and a lengthy County approval process for the Comprehensive Plan amendment that integrated most of those recommendations, yet allows even greater “flexibility” to developers.

And now the County Staff and our Supervisor are not the least bit interested in offering information that would allow substantially greater density in Reston’s station areas with the people who would be most affected until they have maximized their opportunities for tax revenues and developers’ opportunities for profit. The public hearing will be a formality before a rubber stamp approval by the Board of Supervisors.

This is what “planning and zoning” in our once special “planned community” of Reston has come to. We’re just another set of sub-divisions along a Metro line from the County’s perspective, despite all the soothing words from our leaders’ mouths.

Terry Maynard

Reston 2020 Committee




  • ewild

    Is there a link you could share where we could submit comments?

    • Terry Maynard

      Actually, that’s a key point in the article. A letter has been sent to the business community with the draft zoning language changes for THEM to make further suggestions. NO SUCH LETTER HAS BEEN SENT TO COMMUNITIES AFFECTED BY THE CHANGE. NEITHER IS THERE A PLACE TO COMMENT ON THE COUNTY WEBSITE NOR HAS SUPERVISOR HUDGINS PROVIDED ANY COMMUNICATIONS ON THE MATTER TO MY KNOWLEDGE.

      That will not come until the County and the developers have agreed on what the proposed changes will be, then the proposals will go meaningless public hearings and a chance to comment online. Officially, we won’t get a chance to comment until the concrete has set.

      For those of you with the patience to do so, I have now uploaded on the Reston 2020 blog the proposed zoning changes and the transmittal letter to industry for you to read and comment on as you believe appropriate. (http://reston2020.blogspot.com/2015/09/proposed-tsa-zoning-changes-and-dpz.html)

      • Terry Maynard

        For whatever reason, the link does not seem to be working. NTL, if you go to http://reston2020.blogspot.com/ , it is the lead post on the blog. I apologize for any inconvenience.

      • Mike M

        So, why is Ms. Hudgins silent on such matters, much as was her Republican predecessor?

        • Reston Realist

          Why ruffle the waters before an election, even if you’re running unopposed? She really doesn’t want to hear from Restonians.

          In fact, she will only be making a token appearance at Saturday’s Town Center North community meeting before turning the meeting over to Leila Gordon, RCC. Apparently, she has more important things to do than listen to her constituents. How boring!

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Over the past 40 years developers have caught on to the trend of building cheap “affordable” housing that addresses the immediate demand and locality. Communities around Dulles, Herndon and other places that feature three level or higher condo developments in 10 years from now will look god-awful and corporations will look for new locations that appear untouched, pristine, and natural. So the trend to move beyond Loudon County, Haymarket and other places will likely continue along with the destruction of useable farmland and green space that follows.

    The golf course is another study worth mentioning, chances are its gone within five years. The same goes for anyone relying on a car for transportation, driving is so bad already it will be a nightmare in five years and chances are we won’t want to even have a vehicle. But the infrastructure is not prepared for more pedestrians and cyclists. Last but not least, our water resources are not adequately protected – more developments means more run off and water shortages are already projected and not factored into our budgets. Chances are this will all have to be dealt with in emergency bond issues over the next coming months.

    That said, I think the county is a little out of touch with this reality
    and they are letting opportunity slip away. Instead of providing
    incentives for rebuilding and modernizing older dwellings they encourage
    capital flight into neighboring counties and beyond where the same
    story repeats itself.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Fortunately a sustainable, high-density solution exists…

  • Chuck Morningwood

    BOHICA, Reston. BOHICA.

  • meh

    The reason: Fairfax County is running out of ways to generate taxes to cover its expenses as job growth and development falter.
    Elected nitwits need to get used to decreasing spending on social services and their own benefits when tax revenue are down. Increasing social services during the “good years” was a mistake and it now needs to be corrected.

    • Terry Maynard

      I agree that this is the County’s intent, but it won’t happen in the absence of demand for new office and residential space–which just isn’t there. In fact, more built space–like a greater surplus supply of anything (and the current office vacancy rate is above 15%)–will lower its value, not increase it. Just like gasoline prices in the last year.

      And, of course, it does nothing good for the livability of our (or probably any other) community.

      Econ 101.

  • Wings!!

    If we are going to double up on density we will absolutely need a Hooters.

    • Nancy

      I would support this even as a woman. Coz let’s be real- their wings are actually quite good.

    • Lisa W

      Hooters, yes, thumbs up! Family friendly restaurant. Nobody cares if you bring your screaming 2 year old.

  • Ray Wedell

    All the more reason to be “all in” in defending the preservation of Reston National Golf Course. Go to http://www.RescueReston.org. Find a way to participate in the October 5 golf event on the very land we are trying to save. You do NOT have to golf to help.


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