Citizens Frustrated by Lack of Notice on Reston Development

by Karen Goff October 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm 18 Comments

Crane at new residential construction in RestonReston is changing at a fast clip — with several large development projects in progress and more than a dozen new applications in the pipeline.

Concerned Reston residents say they want to know about those projects in an equally speedy manner.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and representatives from the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning held a public meeting at Reston Association Monday in which they spelled out how the development process works, from application to final approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Even though the development process can take years, the citizens in attendance complained about a lack of opportunities for community engagement earlier in the process.

“The planning process is making me crazy,” said longtime Reston resident Tammi Pettrine. “In reality, citizens have no power against the county.”

Pettrine said she — as well as many other in the crowd — are frustrated that the county does not publicize applications or engage the community until the projects are about to go to a public hearing before the planning commission, where the projects are essentially a done deal. They also said they are concerned that projects are getting a number of amendments that allow them to work around rules for landscaping, parking and other planning principles.

Citizens used recent examples of the teardown of Reston’s American Press Institute building and the redevelopment of St. Johns Woods as recent areas of concern.

In July, the supervisors approved the demolition of the Brutalist office building that was the home of the API for nearly 40 years. The building did not have historic designation, but the significance of the Marcel Breuer-designed property should have been marked early in the application process, citizens pointed out.

Citizens attempted a late effort to save the building — and the planning commission even recommended denial of the application. The building is now in the process of being torn down to make way for 34 condos and 10 townhomes.

“We need to get our voices heard before the [county planning] staff report,” said Stephen Canner, who has been active in opposing the application to double the size of St. Johns Wood apartments at Reston Parkway and Center Harbor Drive. The St. Johns Woods project, from Bozzuto, is now scheduled to go before the planning commission in January.

“We have got to find a way for you have that conversation before you write that report,” he said.

In the case of St. Johns Woods, there have been several community meetings and developers have amended the plans several times.

Hudgins pointed out that she publishes a monthly summary of development applications that is available for free email subscription to citizens. The Reston Planning and Zoning Commission, which makes recommendations to the county but has no formal development power, also had monthly public meetings where they discuss applications early in process.

Hudgins defended both the process and the projects in Reston. She said most of the projects are happening in Reston’s transit areas, where high-density residential and office was always planned.

“There is a lot of development going on here,” she said. “The only area it is going on is where it was previously planned. Everything else stays as is under the comprehensive plan. Even Tall Oaks and St. Johns Wood.”

“I do agree the communications piece would be more helpful,” she added. “When applications come in, we will continue to publish that as we always have.”

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