Op-Ed: Fairfax County’s Misleading Reston PRC Zoning Arithmetic

by RestonNow.com September 25, 2017 at 10:15 am 23 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.

Restonians once again face the threat of a massive change in one of its key zoning ordinances — the Reston PRC (Planned Residential Community) — on the basis of knowingly faulty arithmetic. You need to understand what that is.

The key change in the Reston PRC zoning ordinance calls for lifting the population “cap” on the number of persons per acre living in the zoning district from 13 to 16. With 6,245.8 acres in the Reston PRC (which excludes most of the station areas), that means lifting the PRC population “cap” from 81,195 to 99,933 people.

That seems to be just 18,738 added people. What could be wrong with that? Certainly we can manage the impact of about 9,000 more homes (“dwelling units” — DUs — in planning parlance), all in multi-family “elevator” apartments and condos with households averaging 2.1 people.

Let’s count the ways.

First, the County provided a clue to its funny counting in a footnote in its several presentations to the community (p. 14) on the proposed Reston PRC zoning change. With a small asterisk after the column on Reston’s current and approved DUs, it states that this total “(e)xcludes affordable housing bonus units per Z.O.” What? Bonus dwelling units for providing affordable housing may be as high as 20 percent for meeting the one-for-one bonus arrangement ranging from 12 percent to 20 percent. So add up to 20 percent to Reston’s population potential.

Second, an obscure passage in the PRC zoning ordinance discloses that the affordable housing itself does not count toward the population “cap” according to the PRC zoning ordinance (Article 6-308) and the County’s housing policy plan. The last paragraph on “maximum density” in the PRC ordinance ends with this: “(The preceding restrictions on density) shall not apply to affordable and market rate dwelling units which comprise the increased density pursuant to Part 8 of Article 2 (which sets standards for the Affordable Dwelling Unit Program) …” We welcome the housing diversity, but we think the people living in that 12.5 percent to 20 percent workforce housing should count and the infrastructure and amenities required for them should be in the County’s plans. That’s another potential 20 percent added to our total population.

Between not counting workforce dwelling units and the bonus density they allow, the nominal 99,933 population cap under the County’s proposed 16 persons per acre in the Reston PRC potentially becomes 139,906 souls in the Reston PRC district, a nearly 40,000-person increase over the nominal cap and nearly 80,000 more people than live in all Reston now.

And then, third, there is the elephant in the room: The County’s current discussion about the Reston PRC change has excluded any reference to the Reston Master Plan’s potential development of 44,000 DUs in Reston’s transit station areas (Figure 35, p. 103), most of which is outside the PRC-zoned area. Based on a County count of existing, approved and planned PRC development in RTC (13,772 DUs — not counting affordable and bonus units?) detailed in Reston Now two weeks ago, we can assume as many as 20,000 DUs may be built in the PRC portion of Town Center over the next 40 years. That leaves 24,000 DUs — about 50,000 people — to be added elsewhere in Reston’s station areas. So add another 50,000 people to Reston’s population — not counting the workforce housing and bonus development that goes with it.

Fourth and finally, on the other side of this potential growth calculation is an examination of the impact the plan would have on Reston. The Reston Master Plan (p. 102) states, “The impact analysis (for the target development under the new Reston Master Plan) assessed approximately 80 percent of the maximum zoning potential as the level of development that is likely to be realized over the planning horizon.” So, to the extent that the County has done an impact analysis on Reston (PRC and non-PRC) based on the Reston Master Plan — streets, schools, parks, environment, police, fire and rescue, and much more, it has done so on four-fifths of the potential development permitted in the PRC under a 16 persons per acre cap. That’s an impact analysis on a population of four-fifths of 99,933 or 79,946 people.

Wait a minute! That 79,946 people is fewer people than our current population cap of 81,195 at 13 persons per acre! The plan language indicates this is “the level of development that is likely to be realized,” so why do we need to add more population cap “head room?”

What Reston needs is more infrastructure to support the population we can expect under the current population cap generated by this County assessment. Given the proposed infrastructure expansions laid out in the plan, why hasn’t the County improved Reston’s infrastructure to meet its existing high-density development at 13 persons per acre? To the extent we are short in meeting County infrastructure standards at our current population cap set more than 50 years ago, what assurance do we have that the necessary improvements in infrastructure and amenities will be met for a higher cap in the next half century?

Between the prospective raising of the population cap in Reston’s PRC area and the addition of some 50,000 people (plus affordable housing and bonuses) in the station areas not covered under the PRC zoning ordinance, Reston faces the prospect of tripling of its population to about 170,000-190,000 people if the allowable development is completed. At the same time, the County has neither identified nor planned for infrastructure needs to support even half that number of Restonians.

Infrastructure implementation is an absolute void in the County’s planning for Reston. And all signs, including the shortage of concrete, funded proposals, indicate the County has no intention of expanding its infrastructure and amenities commitment to sustain, much less enhance, the quality of life in Reston at any level of increased population density.

This is a crisis in preserving Reston as a well-planned community consistent with Bob Simon’s vision a half-century ago.  If we need to raise the population cap — and that’s a very big “if,” — we need to do so in a manner that assures that the infrastructure and amenities needed to meet County guidelines and community expectations are there as well. The County hasn’t even offered a hint as to how, when, where this might be accomplished nor who will pay for it.

Moreover, the County has been less than forthcoming with information about any of this. Its zoning amendment change presentations have not mentioned that affordable housing units don’t count toward the proposed cap. It hasn’t breathed a word about the tens of thousands of dwellings that will be built in the transit station areas. Its disclosure that market rate bonus dwelling units don’t count is buried in a footnote in its presentation. Efforts to obtain further information about these and related topics have been met by virtual silence from County staff — or huge bills for Freedom of Information Act responses. For a change, it would be at least useful for the County to be honest and transparent about the impact of what it is proposing.

Please come to Supervisor Hudgins’ fourth community meeting on this topic this evening (Monday, Sept. 25) at 7 p.m. at Lake Anne Elementary School wearing your bright yellow-ish T-shirt (ala Rescue Reston and Reclaim Reston) and carrying a red card — and maybe a green one too — to express your silent disapproval of what you are being told (again). Listen, comment, question and challenge what you hear. We need to protect the Reston we have built over five decades and build a better, livable, more urban Reston not driven exclusively by the excesses of developer greed or County financial bungling.

Terry Maynard, co-chairman

Reston 20/20 Commitee

  • Donald

    “…wearing your bright yellow-ish T-shirt (ala Rescue Reston and Reclaim Reston) and carrying a red card — and maybe a green one too — to express your silent disapproval…”

    — All well and good.

    But, I believe much more has to be done at the legal and political levels.

    I’d love to hear from some zoning/legal experts (aka, Looney, McBride. Farrell, etc.) regarding what can really be done. I suspect not much as it relates to the matter above.

    Rather, I expect the advice will be to focus on the specific redevelopment projects, with legal presence and organized political will. The Reston Association represents itself as one of the largest affected parties here. Is there a way to leverage this?


    • John Farrell

      Tonight’s turn-out is does a great deal to change the dynamics.

  • SuperCoop1280

    Anyone else find it interesting that when you look up top donors to Supervisor Hudgins, you have a property management company and a gentleman (and wife) who maxed out and happens to own a construction company… https://www.vpap.org/committees/124596/top_donors/ or https://www.vpap.org/ and search for our Supervisor.

  • JoeInReston

    Where is the Reston Association board? Have they made any official statements on this issue? While ultimately a county issue, I think a forceful letter of rebuke could have impact on the debate.

    When there was a issue on dog parks, a far less impactful issue (no insult meant to Longwood Grove residents), the RA board had CEO Cate Fulkerson write a letter to the county “strongly encouraging” allocating funds to support the a countywide dog park study. Fulkerson commented, “[The Park Authority has] put it off several times, [and] they really do need to fund that, There are some issues around dog parks … but also there is a need for such facilities and rules around them. It is becoming evermore a problem for the community and it’s important that they pursue it.” (see https://www.restonnow.com/2017/08/09/reston-association-urges-county-to-support-study-as-baron-cameron-concerns-continue/)

    If dog parks merited that kind of response, where is the forceful response on a huge issue that will effect the ability of every Restonite to live, work, and play?

    • Donald

      “… Where is the Reston Association board?…”

      Good question.

      “…As prescribed by law and set forth in the Reston Documents, the purpose of the association is to:
      1) interpret, administer, and enforce the protective covenants and restrictions of this Deed in such a manner as to conserve, protect, and enhance the value of all real property subject to the Deed; ”


    • Umust B Kidding

      The Board will be hearing a presentation on this on Thursday, Sept. 28. Larry Butler and John McBride (atty) will be recommending that the Board endorse a cap of 14-1/2 persons per acre. Unlike every other presenter, they do not offer their slides for the public to review in advance. Without notice ahead of time, how are Restonians supposed to act? (They actually don’t want Restonians to act.)

      No good reason why offered for any of this. Has RA once again cut a deal that somehow benefits RA, but screws the rest of us, such as proffers go to RA or new Dulles Corridor construction belongs to RA? None of this helps the tens of thousands of us who are already members.

      There is nothing new about this Board in the way it operates. It is just as opaque as Boards for decades, hiding what it doesn’t want the public know to its organizational benefit and our cost.

      This is Tetra on steroids.

      Go to the meeting and, during the public comment session, tell the Board what you think.

      • John Farrell

        There is no factual basis for these accusations. This Board is not afraid to confront the County.

        • Umust B Kidding

          Your wrong, Mr. Farrell. There is a “factual basis for these accusations.”

          NTL, tonight’s overwhelming turnout at Hudgins’ community meeting on the zoning change in opposition to the proposal may change that agenda item by Thursday. We’ll just have to wait and see.

          • John Farrell

            Which meeting was held and the information distributed by the County staff last week because the RA Board insisted that they happen.

      • Ray Wedell

        I must: BINGO!!!

    • Ray Wedell

      The anachronism that is the RA Board will not make any firm comment nor be relied upon for any leadership on this issue. They will say it is out of their purview, etc. My prediction is that after it is so obvious that the people are furious and virtually 100% behind Reclaim Reston, Reston 20/20 and RCA, they will feel a political need to try and thread the needle with a statement of support. And it will come across as some strong support, when in fact, they have punted on this for over a year now. I speak from experience here.

      • John Farrell


        • Ray Wedell

          Oh, if you say so John, then what you say it HAS to be correct. I don’t know anything about the subject, do I? No experience with the Board, its people or its operations? But like every other subject on the face of the earth, you have THE answer. You are right. We are always wrong. None of us can possibly attain the mental awareness and intelligence you have. Thank you for pointing out this fact to me. I will always remember it, and defer to you on any and all matters in the future. Ciao, Omniscient One.

          • John Farrell

            Not everybody, Ray. Just you.

    • John Farrell

      The information that we received in the last few weeks and tonight’s scheduled meeting is in direct response to the demands for more information by the RA Board.

      They can’t make change by themselves but need the membership to mobilize which they did tonight – 400 people crammed into Lake Anne’s cafeteria. So many that the meeting had to be postponed because more people showed up that could safely fit in the room.

      • Umust B Kidding

        Wait a minute, Mr. Farrell! RA didn’t even help sponsor last week’s all-Reston meeting and the groups who were just rented the RA space. For the assessment fees we pay, you’d think RA would be interested in what its community believes, but its stuck on serving itself, not us.

  • JoeInReston

    Here are some Faifax County BOS info which might be useful for emailing our concerns…

    Fairfax County Board of Supervisors:

    Cathy Hudgins:
    [email protected]

    Sharon Bulova (Chairman)
    [email protected]

    Penelope “Penny” Gross
    [email protected]

    John Foust
    [email protected]

    John Cook
    [email protected]

    Jeff McKay
    Email Form: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/contact/mailform.aspx?ref=1012

    Dan Storck
    [email protected]

    Linda Smyth
    Email Form: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/contact/mailform.asp?ref=1015

    Pat Herrity
    [email protected]

    Kathy Smith
    E-mail: [email protected]

  • dudewe

    The county is dishonest! The silver-tongued land use attorneys and the billion dollar developers they represent don’t care a bit about Reston except that they believe they can milk a “New Town” for unbelievable profit and thus destroy all the planning and development that has gone into it in the past. Why is our supervisor and the others on the board so gullible? Mrs. Hudgins, please preserve Simon’s dream and vote with your constituents, not the vulture capitalists, many of whom are foreign owned and own properties around the world.

  • TheKingJAK

    I’m glad to live in a community where people actually care about its future.

  • Terry Maynard

    I want to thank the HUNDREDS of people who turned out for the County’s fourth attempt to present its Reston PRC zoning ordinance amendment. In fact, with over 300 sign-ins and scores still waiting to get into cramped and uncomfortable Lake Anne ES, the meeting had to be cancelled because the number of people violated the fire code capacity of the school cafeteria.

    Supervisor Hudgins said she would re-schedule the community meeting in a larger space. We will need everyone to come again when she does that because we are only at the beginning of this critical fight to save our community. Some of these will be local, but most will be at Government Center in the coming months. Keep alert for news on upcoming meetings as well as the shifting sands of this proposal.

    Thank you all for your support of Bob Simon’s vision of Reston and OUR community!

    • Ray Wedell

      Great work, Terry. I cannot thank you and the other leaders for your hard work and love of community.

    • Lauren Homer

      So glad that you brought this terrible proposal to our attention and that we were able to spread the word. Politicians know that for every person that turns up for a meeting like this to protest against their actions, there are many more who have the same opinions. We have to make it clear to the board of supervisors that the Reston community will not let this go forward. We should invite reporters from the Washington Post and local news organizations to the rescheduled meeting.

    • SuperCoop1280

      If our Supervisor still plans to support this measure, we really need to think about finding someone to challenge her in the primaries.


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