Op-Ed: Reston’s Population — Past, Present and Future

by RestonNow.com May 22, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 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.

Reston’s population is a key factor in the County’s high-speed drive to raise the density limits in our Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance from 13 to 16 persons per acre across Reston to accommodate growth laid out in the new Reston Master Plan. It argues that Reston is at 12 persons per acre right now, including existing and approved development and we need to create more headroom for growth. Specifically, its “calculated estimate” of Reston PRC population, including approved plans but excluding affordable dwelling units, is 74,192 people.

Not even close on Reston’s current population — including the non-PRC areas of Reston.

The Past

The County was even badly wrong back in 2006 when it adjusted the zoning ordinance household factors — the average number of people living in each type of housing (single-family, townhomes, multi-family — garden and elevator). At that time it put Reston’s “calculated” PRC population at 64,227, roughly 10,000 fewer people than it calculates today.

Then reality set in.

In 2010, the US Census put Reston’s population at 58,404 in 25,304 occupied dwelling units, including such non-PRC areas as Deepwood and much of the Reston station area corridor. That’s a population density of 9.4 persons per acre of Reston PRC, nearly 40 percent below the current density limit of 13 persons per acre –hardly a driver for raising the overall population density ceiling.

The Present

The American Community Survey, the US Census’ official mid-decade estimate of population and other data, then put Reston’s population at 60,112 in 2015. Other unofficial sources tend to have even lower estimates of Reston’s population.

So why is the County claiming the much larger “population calculation” of 74,192 people in the PRC, which is most, but not all, of Reston?

The key reason is that the County includes the population of  developments that have been approved, but not yet built. In fact, many approved proposals have been on the books for a decade or more, including Colts Neck independent living (former Hunters Woods United Christian Parish now under construction), Reston Excelsior Oracle and Boston Properties Property #16 (under construction).

Spectrum Center is a major example. The Board gave final approval to this redevelopment in January 2013, but the developer — Lerner Enterprises — said then that redevelopment may not take place for many years, even decades. Indeed, the strip mall from Staples to Not Your Average Joe’s is still operating at capacity. Among other features, the redeveloped Spectrum Center is approved to include more than 1,400 dwelling units (almost 3,000 people).

The Future

So while we can say with some confidence that Reston’s actual overall population now is about 57,000-63,000, where would the Reston Master Plan, the proposed PRC zoning ordinance, and the other zoning ordinances that cover most of Reston’s station areas take Reston’s population?

The County’s “maximum buildout estimate” for the PRC under its proposed zoning amendment is 102,819 people in the Reston PRC decades in the future. By the County’s calculation, that is achieved by adding 21,489 dwelling units (about 45,000 people) to the Reston PRC.

For the most part, the portion of Town Center station area south of the toll road and the remainder of Reston’s station areas are not governed by PRC zoning. They are generally governed by the PDC or PRM zoning ordinances, both of which had major increases in allowable residential and commercial density approved last year by the Board of Supervisors. They will not constrain development at all.

But how much residential development does the County anticipate will occur in these non-PRC areas of the corridor as a result of these zoning ordinances and the Reston Master Plan?

A February 22, 2016, County staff briefing points to the Reston plan permitting the addition of 38,140 dwelling units to the 2010 total of 5,860 DUs across all Reston’s station areas, including the Town Center PRC. Assuming that 85 percent of the PRC development occurs in the Town Center station area as stated by the County (10 percent in the village centers, 5 percent elsewhere), that means the remaining station area residential growth has the authority to add 19,900 dwelling units, a potential addition of 41,700 residents there.

Putting together the County’s projection for future Reston PRC population (102,819), future Reston station area population growth beyond the PRC (41,700), and including the balance of the Reston CDP not in either of the above (roughly 1,000 people), Reston’s total buildout population capacity potential would reach 145,500 people under the proposed zoning ordinance and the overall Reston plan. That’s nearly two and one-half times our current population.

Zoning’s Residential Impact

Do we need that much additional residential capacity? 

Not by any stretch of the imagination. County population has grown about one and one-quarter percent per year since 1990 and less than one percent per year since 2000. The slow growth is partly because the County already has so many people and adding a few thousand in a year has little impact. The other key reason is the reduced level of federal employment and contract growth despite the post-9/11 surge and the 2010 economic stimulus. Still, the County forecasts a 0.7 percent per year growth rate for itself over the next three decades, which we assume will extend to four decades.

Over the same quarter century historic timeframe, Reston’s population has grown 0.9 percent per year and a slightly smaller 0.8 percent over the last decade and a half. With Metrorail positioning Reston to be one of the growth hot spots in the County, we can reasonably expect a robust growth rate in our community of one and a quarter percent per year — more than half again as high as the County as a whole. Even at that high growth rate, Reston’s total population is unlikely to reach 99,000 over the next four decades.

Looking at this through the narrower lens of the proposed Reston PRC zoning change shows how preposterous the County’s proposal is in the face of this growth estimate. Using a current Reston total population range around the Census estimate of about 57,000-63,000 people, we estimate about 95 percent of Reston’s current population is in the Reston PRC zoned area. That’s about 54,000-57,000 people now within the Reston PRC — the vast majority in our suburban neighborhoods.

Assuming that Reston’s PRC growth share remains constant with total growth (mostly the rest of the station areas), Reston’s PRC population growth over the next four decades is likely to be about 20,000 people, not the 40,000 increase projected by the County. That’s about 82,000 people, 20,000 short of the County’s forecast for the PRC.

Even under the most favorable of growth circumstances, the preceding suggests it will take a half-century for the Reston PRC to reach the population density cap proposed by the County. What is equally clear is that the bulk of residential development will be in the non-PRC Reston station areas that already tolerate high residential and other growth.

So what’s the County’s rush to increase the population cap on the Reston PRC now?

This question is especially pertinent since the County has done virtually nothing about providing the infrastructure and amenities required to meet that population in Reston. We are talking about transportation; schools; parks, recreation and open spaces; police, fire and emergency services; a major public library; a performing arts center at a Metro station; and environmental impacts including air, storm water and noise.

Also, the proposed zoning amendment and specifics with the Reston Master Plan totally ignore Reston’s vision and planning principles as laid out in the plan. This includes providing architectural excellence, sustainability and green technology, infrastructure phased with development(!), strengthening connectivity and mobility; and high quality public open spaces. To date, in the rush to build along the corridor, all of these principles have been ignored by developers and the County despite zoning requirements that development must adhere to the Reston plan.

So, if you care about Reston’s future development, its size, its character, its impact and other considerations, please be sure to attend the third and final community-focused meeting on the proposed Reston PRC zoning amendment Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Lake Anne Elementary School. Listen to the County presentation, ask questions, and tell them what you think about the proposal and their abysmal failure, so far, to consider any of the implications for our community of their proposed actions.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair

Reston 20/20 Committee

  • Jenny Gibbers

    On the off chance i sound dumb, can someone in two sentences summarize what Terry is saying, hopefully without too much of their own bias? Thanks,

    • Scott

      -There is a maximum den$ity allowed by current zoning regs. We are not that close to the limit.
      – The County Board of $upervisors(BoS) has been rubber stamping development in Reston which will result in a huge number of new people, driving an increase in tax revenue for the Bo$ to control.
      -They have not required developers to fund the necessary road/infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the large increase in people/traffic. Gridlock will ensue.
      -Prior to Reston residents really feeling the effects of this massive development and getting upset, the Bo$ wants to increase the population density so they can continue rubber stamping high rises and increasing tax revenue$ for them to control.

      • Deep State

        Terry says multiple times
        that actual growth isn’t going to come close to the newly proposed caps.
        So why the sense the sky is falling? What am I missing? And how much of this is just NIMBYism? I don’t necessarily trust the arguments of the BoS but I’m not sure I trust this guy either.

        • Terry Maynard

          For the record, neither I nor Reston 20/20 opposes Reston’s growth. In fact, we led an effort develop an alternative vision for Reston Town Center to the preposterous proposals of the developer-dominated RTC working group appointed by the Reston Task Force Chair. You may view our presentation to the RTF offering our vision (https://www.scribd.com/document/44904406/Reston-Town-Center-Alternative-Vision-Presentation-Reston-2020-Committee).

          In brief (see p. 4), we proposed nearly doubling the Town Center’s density overall, including a near quadrupling of its residential density (then very small). At the same time, the TC sub-committee proposed a near quadrupling of RTC density, including an 8-fold increase in residential density. Unfortunately, the TC sub-comm’s proposal basically became part of the Reston Master Plan and the proposed PRC zoning amendment would loosen controls to allow its construction.

          And, of course, we argued strongly for implementation (roads, schools, etc.) along with development. None of which is meaningfully addressed in either the plan or the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.

          • Deep State

            Thanks for the info. I appreciate the response. I was asking because I hear a lot of tossaway lines from casual acquaintances along the lines of ‘Reston is turning into Arlington’ or ‘Robert Simon would turn over in his grave.’ I Love Reston, and I lean pro-growth/anti-NIMBY (I favor concentrating growth in RTC and near the other metro stations) but I fully agree that it needs to be properly planned, with supportive infrastructure in place to facilitate that growth as well.

          • Jenny Gibbers

            I like the last paragraph but I d like to see numbers or Ross Perot slides. So I can understand it too.

            Thanks in any case.

        • Scott

          It’s the existing limits being surpassed I’m worried about, not the new ones. Bottom line, the BoS is trying to do a few things at the expense of Reston residents.
          – increase tax revenue for themselves to control.
          – intentionally making it untenable to traverse Reston via car, even though most of Reston is suburban, low density, and not conducive to mass transit.

      • Jenny Gibbers

        Thanks, that is bad news for Reston.

        Funny how the planners apparently have not projected increased growth of tax revenue and compared that to the perceived “shortfall of the transportation budget”, when and if they intersect.

        If these are unknowns then there should be no increases in density one would think, unless further clarified. I am thinking simple Ross Perot slides here, for starters.

    • Heh

      Reston’s gonna have more people, and it will suck.

    • Terry Maynard

      Let Terry try!

      The proposed County rezoning of that part of Reston that is zoned “PRC” (Planned Residential Community) is based on faulty assumptions about Reston’s current population and its likely growth. Because the County puts all the approved development in its “calculation”–some approved a decade ago but still not built–it says the PRC has almost 75,000 people when it has about 60,000 according to the US Census. Moreover, it says the PRC population will grow to almost 103,000 long term (not defined), when our forecast of “robust” PRC development would lead to about 82,000 in four decades.

      What’s worse is that the County wants to approve zoning (PRC and already approved non-PRC) that would allow Reston’s population to grow to 145,000 people “long term”–almost all in the Reston station areas. That said, we expect it to grow to 99,000 over the next four decades in a “robust” scenario based on historic and forecast County and Reston growth rates..

      OK, more than 2 sentences, but as short as I could get it. Hope that helps.

      Thanks for asking.

      • Jenny Gibbers

        Ok thanks.

        Density and transportation go together,
        I dont understand how one can argue either point without presenting all the facts. The ssme goes for schools, poor planning.

        “The sky is falling” actually kicks in at the end of each budget cycle when the county applies their scare tactics. So to buffer their increased density argument just present the transportation and education budget shortfalls to demonstrate their projected revenue numbers dont jive because the money is already spent? Just guessing.

        Clarity not so much.

  • Restonian, but not that one…

    And it all goes in Town Center, the Village Centers and St. John’s Wood.

    Reston Parkway will be gridlock.

    • Greg

      Will be?

  • Mike M

    There remains one thing I still don’t get about these approvals? What do the approvers get out of blowing out Reston? I don’t think more tax dollars explains it. Why don’t they plan for infrastructure? It’s decisionmaking that serves it up for the developers. But what do the approvers get out of it?

    • Greg

      They are planning and providing infrastructure — bike lanes and “sharrows.”

    • Jenny Gibbers

      The approvers approve and they get to keep their jobs, their pensions and benefits. Because they are approving high density, economical housing which attracts lower income and renters. And there is an over whelming chance these new tenants are liberals and so with that vote intact the county jobs are secured. As an added benefit Ffx Cty also gets windfall tax revenues.

      I think its that simple.

  • Tammi Petrine

    Please, everyone, pay attention to this complicated issue! The county has promised to provide the infrastructure necessary for a dense corridor and in some other parts of Reston but apparently LACKS any funds to do squat. Name your problem: Roads are jammed, classrooms are crowded, recreational amenities (if not provided by our own wallets from Reston Association) are miserably lacking. The question that has NEVER been answered by anyone but now being asked by everyone “WHY” is the Board of Supervisors and our very own Cathy Hudgins pushing SO hard for absurd population increases in zoning when the County’s current levels of service everywhere are failing? MORE residents demanding more services with ZERO money to provide them seems counter-intuitive to me!

    Maynard’s Op – Ed points out the faulty premises of this particular PRC move. There are many, many more faulty premises that Restonians have been facing since this whole Master Plan was shoved through by a developer-dominated task force in 2015. We residents just want to have as good a plan as Bob Simon originally had where we can welcome diversity and have room to enjoy life.

    Sitting in traffic and kids elbow to elbow in schools are just two of hundreds of unpleasant changes that we are all feeling. STOP the madness and phase infrastructure before coming along with MORE crazy plans to pile on more people into a suburban setting that Restonians value highly.

    County is ruining life for us all when the corridor is a mess. ‘Urban’ in corridor NEEDS infrastructure NOW. Start with Metro which is the driver for Urban. IF Metro ain’t working, how is URBAN ever supposed to succeed??? Get that fixed and then find the $$$ for the infrastructure for the projects already approved. Then come back and we’ll think about raising a population cap that already gives plenty of room for non-corridor or PRC development.

    #1 Heard very recently that the Soapstone Overpass which we were told several weeks ago at RNAG meetings was in line for planning did NOT get funded! Is that true? IF so, why were we told it was a ‘go’? (Even if planning was funded, that essential connection is AT LEAST a decade away but that didn’t stop Hudgins & County FDOT staff from ramming through a RNAG special tax district so those poor folks get to start paying in 2018 for minor out-lying grid streets now that always should have been financed by corridor developers.)
    #2 Why is county still screwing around with our library system by now making life miserable for Library Friends’ (all volunteers) groups???
    #3 Why is this PRC population cap expansion being shoved through in record speed? Three public meeting is ONE month? Where is the fire??? This process is looking exactly like a fake ‘rubber stamp’, ‘check the democracy box’ sham.

    In addition, the County shoved through increases to the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) corridor densities with other zoning changes favorable to developers just a few months ago.. what is the plan, supervisors? WHY? Have you really thought through what you are proposing or are you in panic mode and adding insult to injury to those of us in the Reston community and elsewhere in the County?

  • Reston Realist

    Terry, I generally agree with your perspective on all things Reston and support your efforts, but in this case I think you are unnecessarily concerned. If, in fact, the growth rate and current population is what you state, then it is highly unlikely that we will see the supply of residential development and the population increase dramatically over the next several decades. I haven’t extrapolated the math to the extent you have – but a quick analysis bears this out. It is highly unlikely that developers will add an oversupply of residential product which will exceed demand. If they do, the buildings will be empty. The simple laws of economics and demographics will constrain the growth.

    All that being said though, I think Reston is growing too fast and is at or near full population now. the amount of workers and residents has taxed our existing infrastructure past its capacity.

    • Terry Maynard

      RR–Good points. Unfortunately, I have been wrong (on more than one occasion!) so the population could grow more than I forecast. Why should the community take that risk, especially in the absence of supporting infrastructure development by the County–which is always the case?


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