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Op-Ed: Will Reston’s Village Centers Become Urban Centers?

by RestonNow.com — October 9, 2017 at 11:30 am 60 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 turned out in droves two weeks ago for a County-organized community meeting on its proposed Reston PRC zoning ordinance amendment. The essence of the proposed language change is to increase the cap on Reston’s population from 13 to 16 people per acre, but that ignores several other factors including station area development, affordable housing and “bonus” market rate housing for developers. The crowd was so large that Supervisor Hudgins was forced to cancel the meeting. Those hundreds of people were there because, contrary to what the County keeps telling the community, the proposed zoning change opens the door for an overall tripling of Reston’s population.

But that is only part of the story.

An important element of the zoning amendment proposal is the residential development it would not only allow, but is already planned, in our Village Centers. The Village Centers–North Point, Lake Anne, South Lakes, and Hunters Woods–are currently our neighborhood shopping centers and intended to be “neighborhood gathering places” in Bob Simon’s vision. They are where we buy our groceries, purchase our prescriptions, dine out in locally-owned restaurants, and meet many of our other family needs.

Here is what the Reston Master Plan has to say about the role of our Village Centers:

The general vision for Reston’s Village Centers addresses the fundamental elements necessary for any Village Center to achieve the desired goal of becoming a vibrant community gathering space. The Village Center general vision is an elaboration of the Reston Vision and Planning Principles. Recognizing that each Village Center faces unique circumstances, redevelopment proposals should take advantage of this to creatively interpret the general vision to provide a unique, vibrant community gathering space:

• Enhance Village Centers as vibrant neighborhood gathering places.
• Advance excellence in site design and architecture.
• Strengthen connectivity and mobility.
• Protect and respect the surrounding residential neighborhoods. . . .

(The) Central Public Plaza should (h)ighlight the Village Centers as neighborhood scale gathering places, in contrast to the regional scale gathering places in the Town Center or the community scale gathering places in the other TSAs.

In short, our Village Centers are meant to be our hyper-local “gathering places” to live, work, and play with our families, friends, and neighbors. Nothing in the whole section of the Comprehensive Plan on Reston’s Village Centers suggests they should be anything other than neighborhood serving and, indeed, the plan suggests the opposite.

But that is not what the proposed Reston PRC zoning ordinance would allow and, indeed, what is already being planned according to the County’s data. The county’s table of proposed redevelopment sites, which provides the county’s justification for raising the population cap, projects huge increases in dwelling units and population that are totally out of character and will overwhelm North and South Reston.

Approval of the PRC zoning amendment to raise the population cap to accommodate such growth will allow developers to add nearly 13,000 residents to our Village Centers, including new affordable and bonus market rate housing that could be added under the county’s rules but is not included in the county’s table. In the worst case example, North Point Village Center, the PRC re-zoning proposal shows a potential twelve-fold increase in dwelling units (DUs), an increase of nearly 1,700 DUs and 3,600 residents. At the low end of the spectrum is Lake Anne Village Center whose redevelopment plan has already been approved with a near tripling of the number of residents to more than 2,600. Across Reston’s four Village Centers, population would be allowed to nearly quintuple.

Another way to look at this planned increase in our Village Center population is through the County’s official PRC metric: dwelling units per acre (DU/A). Here’s the potential development if the PRC zoning ordinance is amended:

  • South Lakes Village Center will see a quintupling of density to 72 DU/A.
  • North Point and Hunters Woods Village Centers will be close behind with residential density potentially increasing to more than 60 DU/A.
  • Lake Anne Village Center, whose plan was updated in 2014, has less density at 39 DU/A–and many Restonians think that is excessive given the limited access to this lakefront Village Center.
  • Overall, the average number of dwelling units per acre would increase to 61. The current average residential density in our Village Centers is 10 DU/A.

The potential increase in our Village Centers’ density under the proposed Reston PRC zoning amendment would destroy them as “neighborhood scale gathering places.” Instead they would become four more Reston Town Centers in a community that already has one.

If redevelopment of our Village Center is not constrained to “neighborhood scale,” the implications of the proposed residential redevelopment are obvious, astounding, and consistent with all that we have said earlier. Streets will be clogged (even with County nods to transit, bikes, and walking), nearby elementary schools will be jammed, open space will increasingly be overcrowded since the County is doing little to assure its protection, the air we breathe will be more polluted, etc. And, of course, the County has made absolutely no commitment to the concurrent development of needed infrastructure and amenities, even those called for in its own policies. To the contrary, it appears to shirking its responsibilities to Restonians, disregarding its own infrastructure policies and standards, and ignoring the spending that goes with providing these improvements.

Our Village Centers are a cherished element of Bob Simon’s vision for our planned community, serving neighborhoods across Reston. If we let the county cram this Reston PRC zoning proposal down our throats and let the village centers be redeveloped at the county’s proposed levels, we will soon be overrun by development undercutting Simon’s vision in our Village Centers and elsewhere.

Before any action occurs on the county’s proposed population cap increase, the county must reexamine its plans for runaway growth in the village centers, and throughout Reston. The Board of Supervisors should refuse to even authorize the population cap review until county staff reduces planned growth levels to realistic levels. Only then can the county properly evaluate the need for a population cap increase, and select a more appropriate level, if any.

We need all Restonians to step up and tell the County, and Supervisor Hudgins’ in particular, that its Reston PRC zoning plans are totally unacceptable. Your best chance to do so will be at the community meeting held by Supervisor Hudgins at South Lakes High School cafeteria on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at 7 p.m.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee

  • Arlene Krieger

    AMEN! A voice of reason.

  • One LibIknow

    Gathering gathering gathering………..Who wants to gather at Giant for Christ’s sake?

    • JoeInReston

      You would be surprised. The outdoor table area near Baskin Robbins is usually filled on the weekends when the weather is nice.

      • TheKingJAK

        Are you speaking of North Point Village Center? If so, I can confirm this. NPVC is even renovating the seating area due to its popularity, as often times it’ll be so packed that people also sit on the raised brick walls surrounding the plants.

        • JoeInReston

          Yup…

        • Newport

          Yup as well…. most days the kids are always asking parents if they can hang at North Point. Many evenings it is overflowing with people especially many from other ‘village centers’ as they are either dead or lacking the fun …… coming from NYC this is great to see.

    • Richard

      The village centers were all supposed to include gathering places like the fantastic plaza at Lake Anne. The centers have unfortunately morphed into simple strip malls. The Tall Oaks redevelopment makes only a cursory attempt to include any kind of gathering space, but the developers have no trouble finding places to House hundreds of new residents.

      • TheKingJAK

        Seriously. Maybe if every Village Center had fewer apartments taking up every inch of possible open space, then they could all have nice lakes and gathering areas.

        • Tom Wyland

          I always thought it was the huge parking lots eating up all of the space.

    • TheKingJAK

      I can’t speak for every village center, but I do know that the ones at South Lakes and North Point are usually filled with people meeting up.

      • SouthLakes

        Where in the South Lakes center do people meet? There’s a very very small area by the lake, but I don’t believe I ever find plenty of people there. Mostly just during lunch do I find a few people eating at the tables.

    • Donald

      Not you I guess. But, that’s your choice isn’t it.

      Donald

  • Arlene Krieger

    LET IT BE SO.

  • Simion Vision

    Correct me if I am wrong but was Bob Simion vision based on having increase density at the village centers (see Heron House)?

    Didn’t Bob Simon also realized that sometimes increase density was good as he supported the proposed Reston Tower on Reston Parkway

    How do you propose having open space if you do not have high density to make sure you can have the additional people without developing the open space?

    Or do you propose that Reston just stay stuck and expand no more?

    • Donald

      According to Simon (Google articles referencing him), Reston never achieved his vision, especially with respect to density. He felt we were half way there. He envisioned the village centers to be true Village Centers with residential, retail and gathering area.

      The Master Plan lays this out very well.

      Donald

      • John Farrell

        The village centers already incorporate housing. The townhouses and multi-family around each “strip center” are part of the village centers.

        • Donald

          Understood, but the future of the traditional shopping center is going the way of the dodo bird. Look at Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, Cerberus with Safeway, Giant foods to Ahold Delhaize, an e-commerce company. The way we shop in the future will be so different from the traditional park and spend model now.

          Anyone here happy with the Safeway’s in our area since Cerberus took them over? Amazon’s brick and mortar stores of the future will be small and in heavy foot traffic areas. Even Walmart is looking at reducing its real estate footprint.

          The future of Reston is about being a part of the future. Not interpreting density numbers alone.

          Donald

          • John Farrell

            That’s why everyone is so excited about the prospect of a Wegmans in Reston, right?

            That’s why Safeway and Giant insist on 25 to 50 year leases?

            And 30-50 story high-rises fit right into the neighborhoods surrounding the “strip centers?”

            Your contrarian pose on every topic is enervating.

          • Donald

            I’m not trying to be contrarian. But I see things differently, that’s who I am. Look at where the new Wegmans will be located — a village center? No, it will be a smaller store in the middle of a very urban environment. Just look a future trends in retail, and the way we work, the way we entertain ourselves.

            The strip centers will go away, they will not not be purely retail, surrounded by acres of parking lots.

            Donald

    • TheKingJAK

      Why does it have to expand at all? Seriously, Reston is already twice as large as many incorporated cities in this state and country, and the idea that it needs to increase in population is simply not based upon reality.

    • Chuck Morningwood

      Q: Or do you propose that Reston just stay stuck and expand no more?

      A: Yes, that is exactly what I propose. Reston doesn’t need more people. We have plenty more than enough now.

    • Donald

      Reston could be what it once was. A leader of its time, demonstrating innovative ways to bring open space, work, residential, play, transportation and ecological issues together — to create a model sustainable community for the 21st Century.

      Just takes innovative, creative, risk takers to take the helm.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that for some time now.

      Donald

  • Simple Question

    I see many articles by Reston 20/20 criticizing the county not keeping up with its guidelines but what I want to know is Reston alone in this or do all areas of the county have similar complaints. Is there any similar sized part of the county where it beats its open space guidelines?

  • Mike M

    I think the cause would be better served if we spoke to the interests of current residents rather than the questionable “vision” of Saint Robert Simon. Much of his “vision” never came to fruition for good reason. Some of his “vision” that did come into being failed. If only we voted our interest in the last three Supervisory elections instead of being mesmerized by Liberal posturing that was truly irrelevant at the County level.

    • One LibIknow

      Saint Simon’s vision was Socialist.

      • Arlene Krieger

        Works for me. Mostly all the democracies in Western Europe are socialist. Those people have few problems and are happy.

        • I’d Rather Post As A Guest

          “Few problems?” You don’t get out much, do you? Neither do you have to pay the crushing tax burden and deal with the EU regulations made by unelected bureaucrats…

    • JoeInReston

      Hudgins ran unopposed. Is it truly a vote if the voters have no choice?

      • Arlene Krieger

        We have an old Tammy Hall type Dem Party who picks the one candidate for supervisor. We need a reform democratic party in Hunter Mill. I wish someone like Terry Maynard would run for supervisor. Maybe, in my opinion the Dems at Fairfax County are in the pockets of the developers.

  • Donald

    I’ll say again. The entity with the most “legal” influence is Reston Association, representing over 21,000 households directly.

    Donald

  • John Higgins

    It’s my view that trying to revive a 50-year old vision (that never really took hold with developers or residents) is more a sidebar than the main story. I would love it if we had multiple “Lake Annes” throughout Reston. But we don’t and won’t. It seems to me that shoehorning thousands of additional people into limited space is not the desire of anyone who actually lives here. Perhaps minds would change if there were a realistic plan to accommodate everyone with roads, schools, parks, and common services. That’s what is missing and should be fatal to permitting unaccommodated growth.

    • JoeInReston

      If one wanted to enlarge/redevelop North Point shopping center in a way to accommodate everyone with roads, schools, parks, and common services, would that even be possible?

      The area around North Point shopping center is fairly built up save the nearby soccer field and the north/south sidewalk along Reston Parkway, both of which make the area prettier and benefit the community.

      Anything new will have to built up rather than out, but then traffic would be overly congested.

      I don’t see any solution that would benefit the people that live their now.

    • Donald

      I believe the Transportation Centers should carry the majority of the load. The Village Centers do need to evolve from the strip centers they’ve become. And I agree, infrastructure solutions are critical success factors.

      Donald

  • JoeInReston

    Curious – why is the Fairfax BOS so focused on Reston when the Tysons remodeling is still not finished – specifically the area around the Spring Hill metro area. The surrounding car dealerships around metro stop? The horrendous walk from the metro to Walmart? The reserved parking lot in front of Walmart that isn’t for Walmart or any other retail store, forcing retail customers to drive to the parking garage – the furthest point in the shopping center away from the entrance.

    And the most damning fact – the fact that Walmart is the only retail store that comes to mind when thinking of the Spring Hill metro station.

    • Tom Wyland

      There are development applications submitted for most of the area around Spring Hill. Parks, office space, condos, etc.

  • EliteinReston

    A tripling of Reston’s population would take us from to 63,000 to 189,000. I can’t find the 189,000 number in the proposal.

    • Donald

      Some folks have a tendency to be superfluous with the data they present. Take everything said about Reston with a grain of salt. Do your own research, gather your own data, make your own well-informed decision.

      Donald.

    • Terry Maynard

      You will never find the Reston-wide total in the County’s proposal because it specifically doesn’t want the community to be shocked as it obviously has been by that total. Just don’t look behind the curtain!

      Instead, the County focuses on the PRC alone, not county the roughly 35K DUs (>70K population increase) that will be built in Reston along the Dulles Corridor outside the PRC and, of course, not counting affordable housing and the bonus market housing it generates (up to 40%). That can get you to 189K although I have put the potential range of Reston’s population at 170,000 to 190,000 under the Reston PRC zoning ordinance proposal.

  • Charles Evans

    Thanks to Terry for staying on top of this.

  • Tammi Petrine

    No doubt the Village Centers can and should be redeveloped at some point. The question is magnitude. The devil is always in the details. The results of Mr. Maynard’s study which outlines what would be ALLOWED is shocking to say the least.

    But actually, the whole PRC Cap issue is shocking. Why does our supervisor insist on defying the majority of of homeowners to change the community that we all love so much? Selden, head of County planning staff thiks we don’t understand. Oh, but we do understand that once something is allowed, no one can stand in the way of a developer who decides MORE IS BEST. Not on our watch!

    If you do not want a denser Reston PRC, come out on Monday, Oct 23 at 7PM to SLHS cafeteria! Let your voice be heard.

    • 40yearsinreston

      Hudgins wants to turn Reston into an urban jungle

      • JoeInReston

        Fairfax County planners want to Ballston-ize the county.

    • Donald

      The existing village centers will require major revitalization efforts in the future. Retail outlets, in general, have been in the decline for the last two years. Retail, as we know it, will be drastically different in the not to distant future.

      Younger generations are looking for restaurants and meeting places, not shopping centers. Online purchases dominate US spending habits, including groceries. Pray developers see possibilities for our future ‘white elephants.’

      Donald

      • Tom

        Most of the businesses in these shopping centers are restaurants. There’s very little actual retail at these hubs, it’s mostly centered around food and convenience (CVS, dry cleaning), mostly businesses that will survive the online onslaught.

        • Donald

          That’s my point, I actually agree. Even CVS is contemplating reducing its footprint across the country to remain viable. Retail in the future will likely be much smaller venues, tying in their online presence. Retail will be more experiential. Autonomous vehicles will not be a fad, rather a reality, delivering to residences or pick up centers. Restaurants will be the primary play to get people out. No more work traditional anchor stores or box stores holding the strip in place.

          • JoeInReston

            As Tom was saying, this new trend will more heavily effect Dulles Town Center than North Point.

            I will always need a retail grocery store, even if some of the products can be delivered.

            I will always need a fast casual food option ..

          • Donald

            Yes, you may still visit a grocery outlet. But not a traditional store with aisles and aisles of products on shelves. It will be a much smaller venue, with kiosks, specialty sections, and a pick-up center. Using your car to fill bags and bags of items will no longer exist. Grocery stores are taking clues from Amazon. Efficiencies are critical to their future. Today’s stores are models of inefficiency and waste — a shareholder/ investor’s nightmare.

            Strip centers and shopping malls are becoming extinct. North Point and South Lakes and Hunters Woods will be very different 20 years from now.

            Donald

  • 40yearsinreston

    In 10 years when Reston will be an urban jungle / wasteland
    Hudgins will have achieved her vision

  • Ray Wedell

    Beautifully written, Terry. And yes….we all need to show up on October 23 draped in yellow. Just two hours and just one day….no excuses. Let’s just do it, as a unified community.

  • Jennifer Walter

    Yikes! I live right behind the South Lakes Village Center and cannot imagine a 5 fold increase, totally congested now to the point where I have trouble just getting in and out of my neighborhood every day.

  • Cubsfan6116

    Man do I love reading these op-eds intended to scare the pants off of everyone. This statistic of tripling Reston’s population is not possible under the proposal (which only increases density in specific locations in the PRC and based on a scenario in which every square inch is developed to its maximum, maximum potential with lots and lots of caveats). It also doesn’t account for the existing planned growth. It’s also worth noting that MOST of the places and units in the spreadsheet shown above are in or around the planned urban center (both sides of the DTR and the Town Center north to Baron Cameron). Note that many of these places are ALREADY planned for 13 DU/acre (plus caveats). This would permit 16 DU/acre (+3 DU/acre plus caveats), so much of the potential development is already possible today. So don’t believe the scare tactics. Urban densities at these locations have been in the plans for a very long time. I also enjoy the claims that everyone in Reston agrees that this is bad or wants nothing to change. I live in Reston and I don’t agree with this opinion (and clearly based on the comments, I’m not alone).

    Shopping centers like Hunters Wood, North Point, South Lakes, and Tall Oaks were never intended to be suburban auto-oriented strip malls and have never been developed as they were envisioned. The whole point of the Reston plan was to make everything walkable and diminish the need for a car for local trips and community services. Lake Anne/Washington Plaza meets this vision, but for the other centers, built after the market overtook Bob Simon’s plan, the vision was never realized.

    Based on this, I’m a big fan of redevelopment of these neighborhood centers based on the principles of the plan:

    • Enhance Village Centers as vibrant neighborhood gathering places.
    • Advance excellence in site design and architecture.
    • Strengthen connectivity and mobility.
    • Protect and respect the surrounding residential neighborhoods. . . .

    And this can be achieved! But this is not possible by keeping these centers as single-story strip malls surrounded by parking lots with some disjointed housing on the edge. Today, these centers don’t achieve any of the things mentioned above. They are not what Bob Simon intended for Reston. Are any of the centers except Lake Anne places where you really want to hang out for hours on a Sunday afternoon (I don’t mean at a restaurant, just outside with your community)? Are any of these places where you take visitors and guests to show them the unique nature of Reston? Do these places make you proud? With the exception of the trail connections (mostly hidden in a corner), they look no different than any other 1970s/1980s shopping center in Northern Virginia.

    Developing high-density, transit-oriented developments was part of Bob Simon’s original vision for Reston and has always been part of the plan. Constant change and growth was also part of his plan. To sit back and fight all development, as Reston 20/20 seems to do, is an affront to the modernity and evolution that Bob Simon and Reston was designed to endure.

    • Donald

      Well said Cubsfan…but GO NATS!

      Donald

  • JoAnne Norton

    I understand that the tenor of the people attending the meeting was quite confrontational. In many meetings past in Reston, time is lost but people being a tad too loud and unnecessarily rude. I have already given my thoughts on this to the Supervisors office. I remember once the meeting to complain about the proposed housing at the Park n Ride, a meeting on aging in Reston, and a meeting where Ken Plum and Janet Howell were giving a Richmond update. There were statements made that were later proved false. People did not want the housing at the Park n Ride but later I heard “we did not want those people” walking our trails. In another the Tax forgiveness for seniors was misspoken about. The third was a lambasting of Plum and Howell for the wrong reason. Behavior like this does not accomplish anything.

    • 40yearsinreston

      There is no wrong reason for Lambasting Plum, Howell or Hudgins

      • Arlene Krieger

        They both need to go ASAP. Can’t think what they have done that’s good for Reston. Plum is an old style party man when we need progressive democrats.

        • I’d Rather Post As A Guest

          You mean the kind of “progressive” steeped in political correctness, a believer in the dual religions of diversity and sanctuary cities for their own sake, and of course, your hands on my wallet to pay for your version of a single payer heath plan? No thanks.

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