Op-Ed: The County’s Reston Transit Station Area Planning Deception

by RestonNow.com April 24, 2017 at 10:15 am 32 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Our County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, is in the process of overbuilding and underserving residents in Reston and across the county. The result will be the eroding livability of Reston and other county areas facing urbanization.  

And this is being accomplished by a simple arithmetical trick: Overstating the amount of space new housing and office space require to accommodate residents and workers. Very simply, county planners continue to overstate the space needed for office workers as 300 gross square feet (GSF) per worker when studies globally over nearly a decade show it is now under 200 GSF/worker and could be headed to 150 GSF/worker.  

At the same time, as it started to plan for Tysons’ redevelopment nearly a decade ago, the County raised its planning assumption for the size of station area dwelling units (DUs) from 1,000 GSF/DU to 1,200 GSF/DU. Nonetheless, a County planning study for Tysons showed then (2007) that the average size of Tysons residents was 1,100 GSF, mostly in garden apartments before the recent advent of massive high-rise residential development there. Now, the average high-rise DU size is shrinking well below 1,000 GSF/DU, more than offsetting the few mid-rise and single-family attached DUs in station areas, as some recent Reston development proposals show:

  • JBG/Wiehle and partners plan for 1,300-1,500 residential units in 1.2 million GSF of development in two 5-story buildings, or 800-925 GSF/DU;
  • Golf Course Plaza proposes 413 DUs in a 392,600 GSF multi-family building or 950 GSF/DU, also in 5-story structures;
  • Faraday’s proposes redeveloping the area just south of Wiehle Station with up to 500 apartments in two buildings with about 487,000 GSF of residential space that will reach about 975 GSF/DU according to its plan submission.
  • Lerner Enterprises is planning a 457-“luxury apartment” complex called Excelsior Park with average unit size at about 1,050 GSF in 423,587 rentable square feet (RBA), which equates to 481,350 GSF.

That’s nearly 3,000 DUs, including luxury apartments, whose average GSF is about 925 GSF/DU — nowhere near the County’s assumed size of 1,200 GSF/DU — and suggesting the number of future residents and DUs in Reston’s station areas will be nearly one-third greater than planned under existing allowable densities. This is consistent with national data: A study of apartment sizes over the last decade shows that their average size has shrunk — not expanded — from 1,015 square feet to 934 square feet.  

The impact is straightforward: The resulting planned densities (total GSF of development divided by the square footage of the lot on which it sits) will allow half-again as many office workers and 28 percent more residential units than the County plan officially intends. Yet developers and the County are only planning to provide services — improved roads, schools and parks, and more — based on the lower count envisioned in the plan. The result will be reduced services and higher taxes.

So what does that mean for “real people?” Based on GSF information provided by FCDOT to the Supervisors serving as the Board Transportation Committee, the current Reston station area plan offers the potential for 76,280 added residents (at 2.0 residents/DU) and 29,059 added office worker jobs (at 300GSF/worker) in the next four decades.  

If instead of using the County’s faulty planning assumptions, we use real world experience, we can anticipate that the allowable development could result in an addition of 101,492 total residents in 50,746 DUs and 78,559 office workers, including retrofitted office buildings, market conditions permitting.  More specifically, it suggests an order of magnitude explosion in residents (11,720 in 2010 vs. 113,212 then) and more than twice as many office employees (69,941 in 2010 vs. 148,500 then) in Reston’s station areas. Overall, Reston can expect twice as many people living and working in the station areas as is anticipated by the Reston plan.

Let’s take a look at some areas where this will affect Restonians and others similarly affected by these false development assumptions.

TRAFFIC: We are near the end of the painful two-year RNAG experience, a truly dysfunctional FCDOT-managed, Board initiative based on false assumptions about an alleged “funding gap,” to address the worsening traffic conditions that will come with the urbanization of Reston’s station areas. Already the County has reduced the standard for intersection traffic service levels to a new “urban standard” in which “unstable flow, operating at capacity” is good enough, and Reston’s station area streets don’t have to try to meet community needs for traffic from, to, and especially through the station areas, including Dulles Toll Road users.

In doing its planning, FCDOT has been using the forecast employment and residential data it says area in the Reston Master Plan. Unfortunately, instead of 41,455 added people, the increase is likely to be 90,955 people — some 63.5 percent greater than what FCDOT is planning.  

We all know the two major consequences of that result: Worse traffic congestion for Restonians driving near the station areas and ever higher Transportation Service District (TSD) taxes on the residents of the station areas.

SCHOOLS: There may be no single issue of greater concern to Reston families (and those countywide) than the availability of quality public school education for their children. Like traffic, the quality of our children’s education is likely to erode because of the County’s insistence on unrealistic population forecasts that under-estimate the need for classroom capacity.

Using data in a 2012 FCPS letter to the County’s Planning Department regarding the future of Reston schools, we can update FCPS’ forecast of the number of students in the decades ahead. This requires, first, updating the understated population from Scenario “G” prepared for the Reston planning task force to the plan’s expectations and then updating that to our estimate of future Reston station area population. The result more than doubles the number of dwelling units (and, therefore, the number of students) in station area schools — from 24,559 in Scenario “G” to 56,606 in our forecast.

Applying FCPS’ planning parameters for student yield ratios and mixes laid out in that letter, we calculate that Reston can expect about 6,700 new students from the station areas to be added to the 11,000 students now in all Reston’s schools over the next four decades. That’s about:

  • 3,700 elementary school kids (about five average-sized Reston elementary schools),
  • 1,000 middle schoolers (about the enrollment at Langston Hughes), and
  • 2,000 high schoolers (nearly South Lakes’ enrollment).

The current Reston Master Plan falls far short of meeting those needs. It calls for the building of two elementary schools — one near USGS and one in Town Center North — and the addition of a middle and high school in western Fairfax County to accommodate Reston’s and other area growth over the next 20-30 years.

PARKS: The County’s Urban Parks Framework and the Countywide Adopted Service Level Standards for Athletic Fields establish guidance for park size and recreational facilities. Suffice it to say that the Reston plan does not remotely try to achieve the guidance laid out in these documents based on the County’s faulty assumptions, much less our adjusted estimate of future population and employment growth.  

The prospective population and employment totals should mean the availability of more than 187 acres of parks within 1/2-mile of the Metro stations under the Urban Parks Framework. That’s about 1/8 of Reston’s total station area. Given preliminary notions of additional mid-sized parks in north and south Town Center plus one in the Wiehle station area, we think it may be possible to reach 90 acres of public and private parks in Reston’s station areas four decades from now. Bottom line: Reston’s station areas will have fewer park acres per capita than Manhattan does now.

The County master plan also sets as “a goal” the construction of 12 ballfields at 2.2 million GFA (50 acres) in Reston’s station areas, and a minimum of three. Yet the County’s population-based facilities guideline for the 113,212 people who our adjusted plan suggest may live in the station areas calls for 35 ballfields, nearly triple the plan’s most optimistic “goal” and an order of magnitude greater than its meager minimum objective for Reston.

Aside from the impact on livability and total disregard for Reston planning principles, the ruinous shortage of open space, parks and recreational facilities in the station areas will almost certainly see RA’s facilities overrun with non-RA members no matter what the price for non-member use.  

But the Board of Supervisors doesn’t care. The more development there is, the more property tax revenues it generates, and the more the Board can spend without raising those tax rates or adding new taxes on voters. Even so, however, we’ve just seen the Board add the TSD tax on Reston’s station area residents essentially because it can get away with it. It is certainly unjustified as we’ve commented here before. Will they also be taxed to provide schools or parks to meet the explosive growth?

What you need to know is that, like the new Reston station area TSD tax, Restonians (and others) are being misled by their Board and the County staff on the scope of County urbanization plans and their tremendously adverse and virtually immutable impact on our community, including your quality of life. We all will continue to be misled until we replace this cabal with responsible and responsive leaders and staffers of integrity.  

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair

Reston 20/20 Committee

  • Mike M

    Terry, I value your energy and insight. I don’t know if I’ll be in Reston much longer. But what do you advise citizens to do? How does this get unscrewed? I see the ouster of Bulova and Hudgins then possibly their immediate successor before the citizens get representation on the Board. By then, . . . It ain’t Reston anymore.

    • The Constitutionalist

      So, are you saying that, possibly in the near future, we’re going to be down a man in our battle against the Obamaspawns and Hillary Shills?

      This is bad news indeed.

      • Mike M

        I’m not leaving imminently. I’ll never give up that battle.

      • Guest

        What idiotic carp. Shows the type of person who voted for …

        • The Constitutionalist

          Did you just call me a fish? How dare you.

    • Donald


      You make some good points, and Mr. Maynard has done an excellent job of educating the Community.

      I would suggest a more concerted effort focused on grass roots activism. I’ve observed a number of well organized efforts over the years targeting very specific issues or concerns, i.e. Rescue Reston, Save Browns Chapel, Reclaim Reston, etc.

      I see the need to bring all these efforts together under a new “uber” endeavor…call it “Save Reston”. This group coalesces and leverages all of the energy, the volunteering, and the resources to promote, engage, and change the status quo. This group needs to work hand in hand with the Reston Association Board and it’s DRB. An agreed upon mission and set of outcomes needs to be laid out and measured.

      Municipal leaders need to see this driving force, well educated by the efforts of people like Mr. Maynard.

      • Mike M

        I am just thinking without a movement specifically to change the Board, I see immunity for the main culprits which ensures more of the same.

        • Donald

          Yes, but, I will assume this “Save Reston” movement influences future boards in the right direction. Yes, a big assumption, but I’m an optimist, and have lived long enough to see it work.

          This has to be fresh, with new blood, new people, new ideas, and new convictions. I am tired of seeing the same names, the same three-letter acronym organizations with the same old farts, (yes, like me,) saying what’s been on their minds for the last twenty years. ENOUGH!!!


    • Terry Maynard

      I increasingly believe that the County staff, including its planners, are devoted to making the Board happy rather than providing them the insight they need to make smart decisions. This makes it easy for the Board to head off in the wrong direction on a multitude of issues.

      I have looked back at the origins of the 300GSF/OE and 1200GSF/DU assumptions and they came with the launching of the Tysons TF, specifically a 2008 paper by GMU’s Fuller forecasting Tysons growth to 2050 (truly outlandish forecast, but what the BOS & developers wanted) and using the office space assumption. On the Reston TF (ca. 2010), we were simply told that assumptions for office space per employee had climbed to 300GSF from 250GSF and dwelling unit size had increased from 1000GSF to 1200GSF.

      There may be some help in the not to distant future, however. In December 2016, a developer panel appointed by Bulova on “re-positioning” office space (AKA–cut the huge vacancy rate!) noted:

      “A significant trend occurring nationally and affecting the office market
      in Fairfax County is that the average amount of leased space per employee is shrinking. This is attributed to more efficient office design, increased ease of teleworking, and hoteling, all of which result in many types of work being done in locations other than the traditional office environment. Average footprints are anticipated to shrink from 225 usable square feet (USF) per person in 2010 to 150 USF per person by 2017, a reduction of 40 percent.” FYI–USF is about 2/3 of GSF, ergo, 225USF=337GSF.

      It only took a staff decision a decade ago to raise the GSF. Apparently it will take a Board action to lower it.

  • Jenny Gibbers

    “We all will continue to be misled until we replace this cabal with responsible and responsive leaders and staffers of integrity”.

    Based on the solution you promoted you will somehow assist in picking new delegates and/or influence the election. You will have your hands full!!!! Also, you may need help with analytics from SMEs, national and local intelligence, and possibly cooperation of other foreign nations.

    Are you sure you want to do this?

    PS. On a sidenote, Mike M does not know if he “‘ll be in Reston much longer”.

    • LookingAhead

      What does it take to get the staff and supervisors to revisit the assumptions and perhaps do the obvious–change the key space planning assumptions? Mr. Maynard, I admire your analysis and trust it is valid. What do Chairman Bulova and Supervisor Hudgins (and their respective staffs) say when you confront them directly with your analyses? Have they told you they reject your work & conclusions?
      If so, perhaps a larger group of citizens should confront them and demand a public answer?

      Rumor has it that at least these two leaders are planning their exits from their seats of power–Mrs. Bulova this summer, Mrs. Hudgins not far behind. Would their departure make any critical difference?

      • Jenny Gibbers

        Honestly, I thought Bulova was an excellent administrator and good public servant. It will be tough to find someone like her. Things may be going downhill from here On out.

        • Terry Maynard

          Jenny–From my personal perspective and that of Reston 20/20, Bulova has done serious damage to the County during her tenure. Our parks and libraries have suffered a decade or more of intentional decay and the current urbanization agenda is likely to more broadly erode the quality of life of Restonians and others in the County.

          • Jenny Gibbers

            I am quoting you, fr above:

            “In December 2016, a developer panel appointed by Bulova on “re-positioning” office space (AKA–cut the huge vacancy rate!) noted:… 150USF… a 40% reduction”. That is very ok and realistic!

            Agree about the parks, also that they are not well managed for a county of this size and wealth (compared to say counties I ve recently seen in MD or FL).

            With respect to the public libraries, they’re cess pools. No public funding should be wasted. Libraries should fall under education, primarily schools and colleges.

            I stand by Bulova, wont even mention the alternatives by name…

        • Greg

          Think again…

          • Jenny Gibbers

            I think we can argue about philosophies until we re blue in the face but i think even you have to admit that Sharon Bulova is an unbelievable and straight up public servant unmatched in the history of Fix County. I honestly think these are the golden years of the county and not by accident.

          • Greg

            We agree on most things, but on this one I think we can agree to disagree.

            I will give you that it’s arguably better to live in a growing ad somewhat redeveloping community (or county in this case) rather than say Hazleton, PA or many parts of WV or Detroit where things aren’t so busy.

            Paying the ever higher taxes, fees and assessments for all of it — that’s where Bulova and Hudgins and the RA get F grades.

        • cRAzy

          Why would you want someone like her or her predecessor, Connolly? And, yes, things are going downhill and it will be hard to reverse.

      • 40yearsinreston

        The sooner they are gone the better
        The replacements can’t be worse

      • LookingAhead

        Terry Maynard –Have you presented your analyses to Hudgins & Bulova? Their reaction?

        • Terry Maynard

          Thanks for the idea. I’ll send them and others a link to this article today.

          • Terry Maynard

            I sent this to Bulova, Hudgins, the rest of the BOS, the Planning Commission, C/DPZ, C/FCDOT, FCPA Board Chair, Pat Hynes at FCPS Board.

            Historically, I sent 4 letters to Bulova on the declining office space per worker; also, other topics along the way. Got 1 response from DPZ. Have not sent info on smaller apt/condo sizes to Bulova–because a long history shows it’s not worth the effort.

  • Mookie Taylor

    “Yet developers and the County are only
    planning to provide services — improved roads, schools and parks, and
    more — based on the lower count envisioned in the plan. The result will
    be reduced services and higher taxes.” Please explain. It seems to me that if there will be more people paying taxes and fewer services, then the tax revenue should exceed outflow. Why would taxes then be raised?

    • Tammi Petrine

      The county will be providing too few schools, parks and traffic capacity because they are using incorrect assumptions in their planning. If you have a dinner party planned for 5 but 10 ‘guests’ show up, you do not have enough food, seats or service for the extras. By the county using way too big square footages for office (300 GSF) and DU (Dwelling Unit) space (1200 GSF) when estimating our increased worker and resident populations respectively, the buildings being built will actually house many more workers and residents than county has built capacity infrastructure for.

      In essence by using obsolete or inaccurate statistics, the county is cheating on their responsibility to provide adequate infrastructure for all the development they are approving. More schools, parks, traffic capacity, etc. will be required IF in the case of traffic, it can be added at all. Hence higher taxes. For sure the county is ALREADY planning to allow horrendous traffic conditions and pretending that is good planning. Not a happy scenario and certainly not one that bodes well for Reston but hope that helps.

  • Disgusted

    “But the Board of Supervisors doesn’t care. The more development there is, the more property tax revenues it generates…”
    And where is Reston’s supervisor? Why isn’t HUDGINS fighting for us? She has never fought for us when green space was at risk of being developed, and she isn’t now. And sometimes/often other supervisors look to the supervisor in residence for direction.

    • Terry Maynard

      I believe that this is a local Democratic Party problem. The local leaders are, first and foremost, in charge–from the Party’s perspective–and there is no reason to rock the boat. Bulova runs the Board and, with some minor exceptions, Democrats on the Board don’t oppose her agenda–including Hudgins. Their loyalty is to their leader, not their constituents. The potential outcome is that this sclerosis will result in a voter rebellion picking independent or other party candidates. It can’t continue indefinitely.

    • 40yearsinreston

      Missing in action as usual
      She is a disgrace and should be fired by the voters
      She has done norhing except draw a salary and have lunches
      Her pal, Sharon Bulova, is just as useless

      • Greg

        But the charrettes! And the section 8 housing!

  • 40yearsinreston

    Bulova should have been impeached over the unlawful police killing in the county and her attempts fo Stonewall the investigations

    • Greg

      Indeed. That’s a shameful cancer on the county and Bulova owns it.

  • thebratwurstking

    No deception here, just straight lies. Have been living here for 30 years, 17 in Reston. Decisions are made prior to public hearings, then we just go through the motions of being heard without any consequence.

    Our “representatives” are lining their own pockets and are given sweetheart deals to anyone with deep pockets. No matter who you vote in, all are becoming part of the machine. The only way to slow things down is via lawsuits, but the county has very deep pockets to fight these as well.

    What to do? I don’t know

  • Dale

    Now we know why North Point was put on hold. This way they can wait and have the zoning changed and not deal with all the process issues they would have. I have said it numerous times, Reston is for sale and behind the scenes it appears an effort is underway to end the whole foundation Reston was built on!!!! Every time a few of Reston’s residents feel they have had a victory it was nothing but a gentle leading down the path to wholesale sellout! With higher density and more public transportation will come more crime. In some areas lower property values and an overwhelming of Reston’s Parks, Pools, Walking Paths and commercial resources for life, i.e. grocery stores. I predict Paid Parking becoming the norm! Never thought I would be looking at Herndon or Sterling for a better life for my family.


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