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Reclaim Reston to County: Pump the Brakes on Density, Development

by Katherine Berko June 20, 2017 at 5:00 pm 37 Comments

A public space activist group is trying to fight increased density in Reston.

Reclaim Reston, a grassroots organization comprised of Reston residents, on Monday asked the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to issue a moratorium on proposed zoning ordinance amendments from the county’s Department of Planning & Zoning, as well as on approval of any development projects that haven’t yet been submitted.

“Many of the members of the public who have already signed the Reston Moratorium petition have expressed concerns that the things that attracted them to live in Reston, such as ample parks, trails and recreation facilities, quality schools, and reasonable commute times, are at risk as new development proceeds apace,” said Bruce Ramo, a member of Reclaim Reston.

The proposed zoning amendments would change the population density cap in Reston’s Planned Residential Community District, bumping the overall limit on people per acre in Reston’s PRC from 13 to 16. It would also allow for the Board of Supervisors to be able to approve individual developments in excess of 50 dwelling units per acre in TSAs within the PRC and when in accordance with Comprehensive Plan recommendations.

Reclaim Reston fears that the proposal would harm the safety, health, well-being and property values for citizens in the area. Ramo explained that he recognizes the County’s priority is economic development, but said other things are suffering because of this hyper focus.

“The engine driving greater density is far more powerful than that for the schools, parks, roads and other infrastructure needed to support the new residents and to maintain the overall safety and quality of living for the existing population,” Ramos said.

The DPZ says the current limitation of 13 persons per acre in the Reston PRC “cannot support the amended Master Plan.” It says an increase to 16 persons per acre would allow for up to 18,737 more people in the long term, beyond the current cap.

Reston’s PRC District is currently at about 11.9 persons per acre.

The letter from the group to the county states the following:

“We believe that it is critical for the Board of Supervisors to invoke a temporary moratorium on both zoning changes for increased density in Reston, and approval of new Reston development projects (not yet submitted to the County), pending a firm plan linking planned growth and infrastructure funding.”

When asked if Reclaim Reston is willing to comprise with the County and increase the population cap incrementally, Ramo said no.

“A moratorium means a moratorium,” he said. “Keeping the community’s hand on the spigot of density is the best means currently available to us to assure that that the County complies with the requirement of the Reston Master Plan for phased development and infrastructure.”

People in agreement with Reclaim Reston can sign the petition online.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    So BoS, how does 5 more people per acre improve the quality of life in Reston, or is this not about the quality of life in Reston?

    • Ankur Sethi

      Its about keeping property values high by maintaining exclusivity.

      • John Farrell

        Given that Reston has some of the highest density in the county, you must be referring to Great Falls, Mason Neck or Clifton.

        • TBex

          Reston has the metro. Those places don’t. Reston is where we need to build right now.

          • John Farrell

            The most popular housing type is single family detached homes. There’s no land to build this housing type in Reston.

          • TBex

            I don’t know what your source is for what’s “most popular,” but popularity and practicality are different things. If we want a thriving economy with a strong service sector, amenities, and plenty of jobs being created AND filled, and we wanted it without flattening a bunch of mountains and paving over untrammeled land so people can spend all their time in traffic getting to and from where they need to go, we’re going to need to move past detached houses and personal automobile travel.

            Those are facts. A few people don’t get to feed our whole region a poison pill because they can’t adapt.

          • John Farrell

            Those are definitely not facts.

            They are articles of faith for an unpopular ideology.

            The source of the “most popular” are public opinion polls that have been conducted every year since 1945 and consistently show that 80% of Americans want a single family home.

            Similarly, 80% of all trips are made in a personal conveyance and that ratio pre-dates the automobile.

          • TBex

            People want unicorns and $17/hr for jobs that don’t requires a college education too. You can’t always get what you want. When it comes down to it, people choose to live in a metro area because there’s no life to be had in a rural one now that we aren’t an agrarian economy. We can’t build out any further without immense cost and inefficiency, so we have to build up. Some people will prefer a penthouse over a detached house. Other people will still find detached houses. Others still will want a detached house but happily settle for less given the cost/benefit.

            As far as percentage of auto trips, you’re again using outdated facts. The popularity of ox carts and horses is irrelevant, because we’re no longer an agrarian society. Most of us work in offices at computers. Most urban dwellers in this area used the train or streetcars and their own feet before the draconian zoning laws meant more to segregate than to cater to broadly held desires forced everyone to quickly and shoddily build auto-dependent environments sprawling out from cities.

            It’s time to correct that brief mistake, not double down on it.

          • John Farrell

            Actually, only 14% of travelers use mass transit or car pools. The 80% ration is a both a current number and an historical number. Many human patterns don’t change over time.

            People are already commuting to jobs in FFX from Hagerstown, Martinsburg and Camp Hill, PA. in order to afford a single family home. I’ve known people who’ve made those commutes.

            The percentage who can afford and prefer a penthouse is exceptionally small and certainly far less than 15,000.

            We don’t have to build further out to provide housing for the people who work in FFX. More than 50% of FFX qualifies as snob zoning (minimum lot size of 1 acre or more). FFX’s exclusionary zoning laws created this conundrum. Reston has been the exception to this pattern.

            Let’s upzone some of the RE, RC and R-1 land and let these workers have a shorter commute!

          • TBex

            Well at least we agree on that. Upzone everything and let the market decide what’s practical and desirable once prices aren’t being distorted by both present and past exclusionary zoning. An aged penthouse over a metro station would be a great low-maintenance deal if either had existed long enough ago for such a thing to exist.

          • Greg

            Don’t know his source, but the WaPo says this:

            The detached, single-family home — far and away the most common style of housing in America

            As Reston further urbanizes, maybe that will change, but there will always be the outer edges of Reston built very traditionally suburban with mostly single-family homes on cul-de-sacs.

            Look at how hard and tenaciously the 1-percenters in North Point fought the St. John’s Woods redevelopment.


          • TBex

            I think this will change. It’s the most common style because the vast majority of our population is new (from both immigration and birth) since the 1950s and 1960s, when a massive federal investment in building the highways (one that’s essentially unrepeatable due to lower federal tax rates and more fragmented private land ownership) unlocked a lot of land and new zoning codes limited what could be built on it. There were also problematic externalities of these policies with where it left urban areas and urban populations in terms of their access to opportunity and meeting their basic needs.

            The time has come to revisit these policies. We have even more people now and they’re consolidating in fewer places. The richest among us (at least the younger crowd) prefer urban penthouses over detached houses. Maybe there’s some threshold where younger folks’ preferences change as they have children, but it seems likely that a smaller percentage of them will have children and those that do will have fewer and be willing to keep them in smaller personal spaces (with more closeby amenities).

      • Guest

        No, the game is called “maximizing developer profits and County tax revenue”. Anyone in Reston can play, and probably will be playing whether they want to or not , since the 2020 planning process stacked the deck against any lower density version of Reston.

        • TBex

          Developers don’t make what people don’t want to live in. Stop blaming developers and start blaming future neighbors that dare to want to participate in our local economy and live their lives.

          • Guest

            Developers also leave behind an infrastructure problem ( not enough of it!) that the rest of us have to pay for after the fact.
            Stop being an apologist for developers who don’t live here but want to impose their building plans upon the rest of us who do live here.

          • TBex

            We have much more infrastructure per capita than a lot of places that run just fine. It would take a lot of buildings before we approached downtown DC or Manhattan, let alone Beijing. The infrastructure problem is what happens when the hastily built suburban environment falls apart and we have no tax base to improve it and not enough users to justify federal funds.

          • John Farrell

            Actually, they regularly overbuild product because they susceptible to the herd mentality and capital sources are slow to adjust to changes in supply and demand for different product types.

          • TBex

            Then they’ll lower the prices and lose money while producing more affordable housing, which there isn’t enough of.

            It’s a win-win. Unless you’re a socialist whiner who thinks the government should arbitrarily stop people from building on their own property.

          • John Farrell

            And sometimes the buildings remain vacant and drag down home values for occupied and well-maintained houses in the vicinity.

            This happened in many cities and neighborhoods after 2008 when loan servicers made more money keeping the house vacant than selling at a loss and forcing lenders to take the write-down on their balance sheet.

            E.g., there are more than 15,000 high-rise units authorized in Fairfax right now but the market for those type of units isn’t that deep. The land so zoned stays vacant or left as inefficient use.

            Both markets and governments are operated by humans who make mistakes.

      • The Constitutionalist

        Increasing the density does not maintain exclusivity. How did you even justify that statement in your mind?

        “Hey everyone, I made 5 more cookies, all for you.”

        “Oh man, he made 5 more cookies, they’re even more exclusive now.”

        • TBex

          Totally agree with you, but this sentiment is pretty common. I have one stale cookie, then I throw it away and make five fresh cookies in its place; now there are only fresh cookies and nobody can save money by eating a stale one. Or I make five fresh cookies next to the stale one; now the average freshness is much higher, which may well pull up the cost of the stale cookie because at least the consumer gets to send their kids to the school full of wealthy tutored kids.

          Of course, we have a landscape of cookies and people are going to be baking new ones to replace them no matter what; five or ten fresh ones for each stale one discarded is better for keeping costs down than one fresh one for each stale one discarded. This all assumes that the landscape of cookies is a place anyone wants to live; you could poison all the cookies and render the whole thing moot. But why would you poison your own cookies?

      • Grandmaster Baby L°°N

        I think we need more condos.

        There are no cindos with cathedral ceilings. I ♡ cathedral ceilings

        Lets build more condos, condos with cathedral ceilings.

        An altar in the main lobby woild be ok too in case King Soloman shows up

  • Ankur Sethi

    Why not just name it NIMBY and get it over with?

    • meyerweb

      Yeah, let’s wait until Reston is totally gridlocked, then start thinking about solutions.

  • 40yearsinreston

    I got her taxpayer funded junk mail today
    Biggest load of BS

    • Greg

      Did we, the taxpayers, pay for that junk mail?

      Just love hearing how broke the county is, year after year, that there is nothing to cut in the budget and then we get this garbage in the mail?

      How much did it cost to print and post?

  • 703Millennial

    lol this is cute…lets just stop business and halt progress. Really a moratorium? gtfo

    • RVA_101

      A moratorium sounds hilarious. Hope it gets shot down instantly. I for one kind of enjoy watching all the construction and keeping track of the development (then again, I’m kind of a junkie in that regard).

      • Greg

        Most of us do — especially since so many of the ugly, outdated, obsolete eyesores are being razed and replaced. Tall Oaks, The sprawling parts of the International Center, the Brutalist bunker…

        • meyerweb

          Yes, and being replaced with buildings that will add tens of thousands of cars to roads that are already overloaded.

          • Greg

            Old news and off topic. Watching Reston evolve is one thing, but transportation is another — and at which all levels of government have massively failed.

            Traffic in NoVa has been an issue since before the Beltway was constructed in the early 1960’s. It’s never gotten better; despite widening the Beltway; Metro; Lexus lanes; “sharrows”; walking (oops — “multi-modal”) trails; bike sharing services; Uber and Lyft; HOV, reversible and other rationing schemes; Carpool Connection; teleworking; and on and on.

    • meyerweb

      Fairfax County had a moratorium on gas hookups for years. Moratorium aren’t some crazy new idea. All a moratorium means is to stop long enough to develop long term plans.

      • Greg

        Yep — our house was built during that moratorium (which I often wonder whether it was a created by a conspiracy of builders, heat-pump manufacturers, and the power companies).

        And, now we are gagging on all the natural gas we produce. The irony is that gas is used to generate the electricity that heats and powers our house.

  • Aaron J

    Ah, the San Francisco NIMBY price-death-spiral approach to development.

  • meyerweb

    As long as developers continue donating tens of thousands of dollars to the Supervisors campaigns, developers will get whatever they want.

  • LaureenMT

    Reston’s county supervisor Cathy Hudgins just announced that tonight’s community meeting was cancelled because the room was dangerously crowded. Just like Reston will be, if the density cap is raised! Sign the petition at ReclaimReston.com.

    • LaureenMT

      We offered to clear the room down to the permitted 200 occupants and allow the presentation to go forward. She said no.


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