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Reston Association Resolves to Stay Vigilant on Growth

by Karen Goff September 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm 20 Comments

BLVD under constructionReston Association land use attorney John McBride estimates that Reston could have an additional 48,000 residents in about 30 years.

That’s one of the reasons the RA Board voted on Thursday to make suggestions to the Board of Supervisors about upcoming changes to Fairfax County’s zoning ordinance.

The revisions are considered “necessary to promote the health, comfort, safety and general welfare of Reston Association members, as well as to conserve, protect and enhance the value of all real property subject to the Reston Deed,” RA said in its resolution.

At issue is development in Reston’s former industrial zone, the stretch of land along the Dulles Toll Road. Comstock’s BLVD Apartments at Reston Station, slated to begin leasing soon, will be the first residential development there, but several developers have projects in the pipeline in order to be close to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro.

The text changes mainly have to do with Floor-Area Ratios (FAR), a mark of density. The board would like the leeway to authorize FAR, often less than the maximum allowed by the county, depending on the project as more housing is built in the industrial corridor. See the full resolution here.

“Metro has resulted in a lot more [development] going on,” McBride said at Thursday’s Board of Directors meeting. “Zoning, land use and development are primarily Fairfax County functions. They have legal authority. Our job is to influence so a project is better and meets our community needs and preferences.”

McBride told the board he predicts Reston will grow faster than Tysons Corner, which also has new Metro service, because Reston is already a place with community amenities and residents.

Reston’s current population is about 60,000.

“The first Reston Master Plan said we were not to exceed 78,000 people,” said McBride. “We are not there yet. That continued on the Master Plan until two years ago, when it was amended. For a short while, we had another number. PRC [Planned Residential Community] ordinance says no more than 13 people per acre for all PRC zoned land in Reston. That’s about 80,000 people.”

“The standard is still there, but on Jan.1, it is planned to be changed by Fairfax County,” said McBride.

McBride gave an example of how the population may grow if unchecked. He said there may eventually be 20,900 new dwelling units within the former industrial corridor in Reston.

“Assume 2.3 people per dwelling, and that is 48,070 people,” said McBride. “That gives you a feel of the magnitude. It’s almost a doubling of Reston Association members, Reston Town Center Association members and the Reston population itself.”

At-large board member Ray Wedell said such as large increase “is not what we are supposed to be about.”

“What kind of influence do we have,” he said. “When we look 10, 15, 20 years at what we are going to be. … I have a feeling there are many thousands of people who agree with me that this is not the way we want to go. [We need to] stop and think and influence people who have the ability to shape this. This needs to be reshaped.”

However, Wedell pointed out that “a lot of these developments are not even going to happen.”

“There already is a glut of luxury rentals here,” he said. “What is going to happen when you get 1,000 more units in the same area?”

  • Mike M

    Good thing we have all this extra road capacity. Oh, wait a minute.

  • Greg

    “[A] glut of luxury rentals here.” Name names? Harrison?

    • Jason Rub

      off the top of my head there’s…

      The Harrison, The Avant, Midtown Condos, The Cosmopolitian née Metropolitan, The Paramount, The Carlton House, The Mercer… BLVD is about to be finished… further out there’s the two 20-story towers going up on Block 16 at RTC… the rest of the Reston Heights buildout,

      • Karen Goff

        Good list. One correction, block 16 is where The Avant is, so that is built out. Single tower already there.

        • Jason Rub

          Thanks Karen!

      • Greg

        Many of those are privately-owned condominiums, no? Some of them are not in Reston at all; rather, they are in the Reston Town Center.

        Nevertheless, what determines “a glut?” Are there (m)any foreclosures in the condos? Are the rental towers being foreclosed? What are the vacancy rates in the rental properties? At what rents are they being marketed and let?

        Is there anyone on the RA board, or employed or contracted by the RA, qualified to evaluate and make these sorts of resolutions?

        The glut (of vacancies) is in Tall Oaks and, to a lesser extent, in Hunters Woods and Lake Anne. And we all know what’s (not) happening at Tall Oaks.

        • Terry Maynard

          Re anyone “qualified to evaluate and make these sorts of resolutions:” RA uses John McBride, an experienced land use attorney and adviser to the Board, to help make the specific language change proposals in this amendment and, historically, the Reston Master Plan, as well as other land matters (eg–Tetra). I presume the Board can easily draft its own resolution based on its deliberations and concerns.

          • Greg

            I presume the Board can easily draft its own resolution based on its deliberations and concerns.

            Then why does it need costly attorneys to do so?

          • Terry Maynard

            The attorney provided alternative text in the zoning ordinance amendment, not the resolution.

          • Greg

            Not RA’s dominion to be spending RA assessments on zoning ordinances.

        • Jason Rub

          I wouldn’t say “many”, though a couple, sure… but privately-owned luxury condominiums that are then rented out (as many of them are) serve essentially the same purpose as luxury rentals, yes? And I don’t think splitting hairs about being in RTCA instead of RA changes overall population numbers or demand for luxury units.

          I know the vacancy rate in The Cosmopolitan is disproportionately high for the area and has been for a long time. I know The Avant has been slow to fill, but they seem to have lowered their rents. I too would be interested in some more concrete answers to some of your questions, although I would assume RA’s Land Use (ahem) attorney would be qualified to evaluate such a resolution?

          • Greg

            Most are condos.

            And again, these grand, meaningless, terms: “as many of them are.” What does that mean? Numbers, please.

            How many of them are rented? What percentage are owner occupied? What are the rents? How many are not rented and sit vacant? By how much has the rent been reduced? What defines “a glut”? What defines “slow to fill”? They seem to have lowered rents or they have lowered rents? Which is it? Numbers, please.

            If you know the vacancy rate at the Cosmopolitan, please share it. And for exactly how long has this vacancy issue existed? By what proportions, and in what area, do you measure? Numbers, please.

            And, yes there is a material difference between RA and RTCA — one (RA) has been less successful (to put it kindly) at land use and has consistently raised assessments far more than can be justified by inflation (despite the presence of “an experienced land use attorney” being paid for the the RA members and all the other attorneys that RA members pay for). The other (RTCA) has been wildly successful by all measures including some of the highest commercial rents in the region.

            Very few people want to live in or near Tall Oaks, Hunters Woods, Pinecrest and Glade, or Lake Anne (with its four-figure monthly condo fees, Section 8 housing, and RELAC [is it working today with 75-degree dew points?] air conditioning.

            The RA cannot speak for the RTCA and must focus on managing its deteriorating assets rather than wasting assessment-payer money on costly legal and other advisers on matters over which it has no dominion.

          • Jason Rub

            I still don’t think luxury condos vs luxury rentals makes a difference in terms of demand by people who can actually afford those types of units, or to our community’s “carrying capacity” if you will, but sure, let’s talk condos.

            I know that Market Street Condominiums is about 60% leased, 40% owner-occupied, and while in the last couple of years they put a rental cap in their bylaws, it grandfathers in any units already being leased, so it’s not likely to change much. The Savoy and The Stratford put their rental caps in many years ago, and while I have no numbers for The Stratford I know The Savoy is about 40% leased, 60% owner-occupied.

            When The Avant first started offering leases, the cheapest 1-bedroom I saw on that website was about $2300 a month. Now it’s about $1800. That’s all I’m saying.

            The Cosmopolitan is the only luxury rental tower in the area that has to aggressively advertise by using cheap little flag signs posted in the grass all over the place to try to fill it almost a full decade into its life. They remodeled their entire rooftop a year ago to woo people in. Again, almost a DECADE after opening their doors. Also let’s not forget they just changed their name from The Metropolitan! To rebrand! Because their brand wasn’t working! No, I don’t know the exact vacancy rate, I know common sense.

            But yeah, we should def just build a ton more of these.

  • Terry Maynard

    The following is the text of an e-mail I sent the RA Board of Directors regarding this positive Board action last evening:

    Subject: Thank You

    Dear RA Board of Directors,

    On behalf of the Reston 20/20 Committee, I would like to express my deep appreciation to you for the resolution you passed last evening calling for further editing of the draft PDC/PRM zoning ordinance amendment, particularly your proposed changes to the density potential of the Transit Station Areas. Your call for meeting multiple criteria (“and…”), especially the extraordinary measures required to achieve the highest density, and dropping the “or any other design guidelines
    endorsed by the Board” are critical to sustaining the legitimacy of the Reston Master Plan incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan as Reston’s planning guidance. For those of you (and us) who spent years contributing to the Reston planning process, your proposed changes are absolutely essential and on the mark.

    I hope that the Board and its members will follow up with County staff, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors, including its individual members, to help make sure these changes are incorporated into the zoning ordinance change when it goes to a vote. You may also want to reach out to other community homeowners groups across the County to see what they are doing and help them with their efforts to make substantial improvements in the draft ordinance.

    In the meantime, thank you again for this important step in improving the proposed PDC/PRM zoning ordinance amendment.

    Sincerely,
    Terry Maynard
    Reston 20/20 Committee

    EVERYONE: It is important that ALL RestonNow readers reach out to our Supervisor Hudgins as well as to the County staff, the Planning Commission, and the other members of the Board of Supervisors to make it clear that a FAR 5.0 is unacceptable in our Metro station areas. The new Reston Master Plan–approved just a few months ago maximizes station area density at FAR 4.0 in the immediate area of the Town Center station. Other Reston station areas have much lower maximums. A FAR 5.0 is simply intolerable at the Board of Supervisors’ discretion.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    That’s one of the reasons the RA Board voted on Thursday to make suggested changes to Fairfax County’s zoning ordinance.
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
    I didn’t know RA could change Fairfax County Zoning Ordnances. I thought that was the province of the Board of Supervisors.

    • Karen Goff

      They are making suggestions for changes, lobbying to keep density reasonable. Correct. They cannot make the changes, that is up to the BOS.

  • Greg

    “What is going to happen when you get 1,000 more units in the same area?”

    The RA will collect more money, lots more money, (and wisely reduce the assessment for all) and the county will collect many hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.

    Neither cash flow is predicated on whether the units are rented or lived in by the unit owner.

  • concordpoint

    With the passing of Bob Simon, the community needs to keep its voice for keeping Reston special. The County plans seem an attempt to “Tysons” Reston.

  • ZZTop

    This is like something from The Onion: “Residents request invading Romans to please spare community garden”. Commercial property in along the Spring St – RTC – Wiehle corridor is a giant money engine. The residential property stock around it continues to age in place, with RA’s rules making it difficult for new development and the resi adult population getting older with each year.

    If I were a Machiavellian property developer I would start fielding candidates to sit on the RA board with a view to staging a coup in a few years. RA has it coming. While they fannied around sending you citations for the whole color brown or what to do with the Tetra building the commercial property folks were parking their tanks on the lawn.

    • Mike M

      ZZ, I assume developers have play books for cracking open communities. Some wild games went on in Loudoun before the Recession. They have their yokels already active in Fairfax, and have for decades. You may recall a few years back when a local paper gave multiple week’s of pages to a guy who was explaining why Wiehle Metro would REDUCE traffic in the area. It appears to me that they own own the County Zoning Board lock, stock, and barrel. I think they already own what matters. I don’t think RA matters for anything other than taking our money and poorly allocating it. Developers ignore them, because they pretty much can.

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