Letter: Why We Need a Moratorium on Zoning Amendments, New Applications

by RestonNow.com June 28, 2017 at 10:15 am 21 Comments

This letter was submitted by Reston resident Bruce Ramo, of Reclaim Reston. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Last week, Reclaim Reston, a grassroots citizens group of concerned Reston residents, asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to issue a moratorium on proposed zoning amendments that increase density limits and the approval of new development applications not currently in process.

Our group, Reclaim Reston, and the many friends and neighbors with whom we have discussed the proposed zoning amendments to increase density in Reston, recognize the County’s priority is economic development. We welcome compatible re-development in Reston and the new and diverse neighbors that it will bring.

However, we think that the County’s push for greater density will overwhelm the current plans and funding for the schools, parks, roads and other infrastructure needed to support new and current residents. Fairfax County Superintendent Cathy Hudgins has been emphatic in asserting that Restonians should simply accept the fact that infrastructure will lag population. We should not allow that to happen to Reston.

The re-development process for Reston and the other portions of Fairfax County is a labyrinth frequently navigated by large developers in lockstep with their high-end legal counsel and County staff. One needs no more than a random peek at one of the news bulletins posted by the County to understand the symbiotic relationship of developers and the County.

For example, last fall the County announced approval by the Board of Supervisors of a relatively modest project called “Lofts at Reston Station” that will consist of 12 town homes and a 32-unit apartment building on a 1.58 acre-site near the Wiehle Metro stop. Here is a portion of the County’s statement (emphasis added):

As the second largest office market in the county, Reston features many low-density, suburban office parks are ripe for redevelopment. We reworked its land use plan two years ago to encourage more mixed use development and housing near the rail stations.

The Lofts join other approved and proposed development around Wiehle.

Under construction now, Reston Station will erect 1.3 million square feet in homes, offices and shops with direct access to the station.

The self-congratulatory tone of the announcement is a “tell” for Fairfax County’s insatiable appetite for greater density in Reston and corresponding higher tax revenue for the County. Reading through the Staff Recommendations and approvals for this and other projects you will see numerous zoning exceptions and modifications as well as developer-friendly calculations. For example, the County frequently approves modifications of open space requirements, reductions in required parking spaces and setbacks, or deviations from the tree preservation targets.

And as for those developer-friendly calculations, how realistic are the estimates of the number of students to be added by each development? According to those calculations a 500 unit multi-family high-rise will yield only 57 students, elementary school through high school. Such calculations are the basis of the developers’ proffers to “offset the impact of new student growth” at approximately $12,000 per student. Lower calculations of the number of new students reduce the developers’ costs and increase the likelihood that the citizens of Reston will be stuck with over-crowded schools and the tab for school expansions.

Similar developer-friendly calculations by the County also understate the impact to existing infrastructure, such as roads and parks, as is well documented in the recent report by the Reston 20/20 Committee (The Proposed Reston PRC Zoning Amendment: The County’s Rush to Ruin Reston). Also, keep in mind that the developers do not pay their promised “proffers” until the issuance of the first “Residential Use Permit” when their projects are suitable for occupancy. Thus, the funds to help fund infrastructure are not available to the public until new residents are moving in, essentially guaranteeing that the supporting public infrastructure will lag far behind the impact of the higher density.

The sharp increase to the Reston density cap being pushed by the County planning and zoning staff would empower the County to keep approving developer-friendly re-development applications without reasonable attention to the infrastructure needed to support the new residents. Restonians can push back by signing the Reclaim Reston petition to insist that the County keep development and infrastructure more closely aligned.

  • Fact Finder

    Here some thoughts.

    1. Nothing will ever come to fruition unless 10000 or so residents raise hell and make their opinions known and that is to rally against the county’s plan. Right now we dont even have the critical mass to tip the scales

    2. There is no such thing as a moratorium on development, according to the lawyers that is not how the county works and that is how we will lose credibility very fast

    3. Although a density cap is currently set the county requires us to fight each application and a strong showing is required to oppose the current cap of 55 units per acre. So basically the current density cap of 13 is just a number

    4. An increase in the density cap may also result in the formula “units per acre” being changed and this current limitation may be lifted. Double check on this.

    There are many fine pounts to this and many of these were explained by McBride during the latest RA meeting, check youtube. So what this basically means is that we pretty much have to fight full time to keep Reston from bursting at the seams.

    Again, there is no such thing as a moratorium according to the county and according to the legal experts.

    In other words, Reston as you know it is doomed. Fact.

    • Mike M

      If you think you have lost, you are correct.
      Adjust your thinking?

      • Fact Finder

        Dont ask me. Direct your question to 18000 households.

        Second, if you watch the most recent RA presentation you will probably get the best idea.

    • Donald

      All the more reason to create a major grass roots efforts like Save Browns Chapel, Reclaim Reston, Rescue Reston, and RTC Free Parking. Also, time to collaborate/partner with RA (it legally represents over 20,000 households and has the legal resources).

      This is not a time for more papers, analyses, diatribes or letters.

      This is group – “in your face” – politics. Time to show up en masse, or shut up.


  • Ryan

    probably time to become a town or city and cut out the county.

    • 40yearsinreston

      Time to dump the developer shill, Commisar Hudgins

    • Captain Obvious

      Ryan has it right!
      It is the only way to go–incorporation with our charter defining our limits!

  • Edward Calvert

    Fact finder (nice anon name) some of your points seem ok, but since you publish under nom D plume, I’ll attack your point 2. While I’m not a lawyer, I do invest in equities and real estate and have had to protect my interests in court. Doesn’t sound right. Hey – Fact – A five minute search turned up that Brooklyn park, city in mn, may put a commercial real estate development moratorium at 5 light rail sites for over a year. To give the city time to plan. At least one Washington dc real estate company is perturbed. Iron point partners. Uh oh. Fact. Sounds like we need new leaders in govt and new lawyers. Fact. Also moratorium can be imposed voluntarily and or wrangled in court. Again I don’t know specific Fairfax law but it seems you are wrong. Fact but since the county leaders seem to be sell outs to the development post haste maybe just time to become a city

    • Fact Finder


      These are not my facts but feel free to unleash. We are not talking about Orca here and how we have to take the hack saw to the Reston deed, so perhaps dial into

      2:08 to 2:38

      McBride covers the most relevant points, perhaps educate yourself on this first. On the off chance things look very bad for Reston, yes they do.

      Be prepared to spend plenty of time and effort, outside of venting on the message boards.

      Thanks and take care.

      • Donald

        Excellent points made by McBride.

        Five VA Supreme Court decisions point out moratoriums are not legal in the state. The County would not be able to implement. Letters and petitions are fine, (but really useless). The real fight is at the ground level, with each development application.

        Reston PRC District Comprehensive Plans have status and clout in these ordinance decisions.


        • Fact Finder

          Instead of writing long essays and getting lost in the weeds each grass roots org should simply state what they stand for and present one or two actionable items that every household can easily carry out on their own. Its an uphill battle but so was Scott’s Run.


          • Donald

            Absolutelky agree.

        • Terry Maynard

          Regret that I have to disagree Donald. The Supreme Court decisions limit moratoriums in Dillon Rule states, such as Virginia. Basically, the Dillon Rule allows local govts. ONLY those powers they have been given by the state. The county govt. has no authority to issue a moratorium.

          Also, once it gives developers a zoning ordinance that allows massive development as is being proposed for Reston PRC, the county has no legal right to stop them IF the proposed development meets plan requirements (per VA law). Unfortunately, the county/city is not obligated to enforce the plan–it is “just a plan”–and so fighting individual projects (such as the recent SJW effort) effectively is extremely difficult. (Don’t think Bozzutto won’t be back!) Developers can seek changes in the plan (as in SJW) or waivers from the plan. Or, with our BOS, just ignore the parts of the plan that are inconvenient (such as most of the planning principles). If citizens want to do this, it will take expensive legal counsel to succeed–a la Rescue Reston’s effort to protect our golf course (for the time being).

          So, in our view, the key is NOT allowing the headroom for massive development to be created by the Reston PRC zoning ordinance proposal. That’s one battle that could preclude many if the community succeeds–against the wishes of both developers and the BOS. I hope that we can all rally around that goal and win.

          • Donald

            Mr. Maynard, I’ll let you and Mr. McBride hash out the those philosophical details. You missed my point, and the sentiment of many.

            No more, analyses, letters, blogs and ankle biting.

            Time to get organized and attack each development in an overwhelming manner. This requires organizers, activists, and a thousand members actively involved. Leverage the member outreach and legal resources the Reston Association can offer.

            Mission, Action, Outcome.


  • Jon May

    I agree with Ryan. If you feel people from other parts of the county are taking Reston in the wrong direction its time for the citizens to say so one way or another through a city charter referendum. At least then you would have Reston residents as mayor and city council to be angry with.

  • Reston Realist

    I agree with the majority of sentiments on this post…. Reston is becoming a nightmare for families to enjoy. Open space and ease of travel throughout the area are things of the past. To be clear though, there are no such things as development moratoriums in fairfax county. There could potentially be a sewer moratorium – which means no more capacity for sewer treatment would be allowed, thus curbing development, but that’s not a card that can be played to keep development down in Reston.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any good ideas other than putting pressure on the developers at each presentation of their plan. My biggest fear is that Reston is quickly losing all it’s appeal as a place to raise a family and instead is becoming a transitory stop for the Yuppie who really isn’t interested in putting a stake in the ground. I’ve got nothing against yuppies I was one and my kids are yuppies, but the balance is getting dramatically skewed.

    • 40yearsinreston

      I have an idea
      Put Hudgins and the FBOS on the bus out of office

  • Margarita Valdes

    Amen. This is getting out of hand. Traffic is a nightmare. Construction is everywhere. I know a few Reston old-timers who have had enough and are moving out.

  • Conservative Senior

    Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project

    Public Meetings on “Minor Modifications to Approved Zonings”
    Two public meetings will be held in July to present and solicit feedback on the concepts and draft language of a proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment for Minor Modifications to Approved Zonings.

    The first meeting will be held on July 10, 2017 at the McLean Governmental Center (1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean, VA 22101) Community Meeting Room at 7:00 pm.

    The second meeting will be held on July 12 at the South County Government Center (8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309) Main Conference Room (221) at 7:30 pm.

    Not convenient locations. Guess they really don’t want the input of Reston residents .i

  • 40yearsinreston

    I have not and never will accept Hudgins condescending attitude towards her constituents and Reston taxpayers
    Her arrogance and disdain for their concerns are now publicly revealed
    No amount of whining about ‘dereriorating welcomeness’ will cover up her ineptness and failure to support the community
    She has fouled the nest that we used to call home

    Anyone who votes for her is voting against their own interests and should think hard

    • Reston Realist

      40 — tell us how you really feel 🙂


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