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

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.

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