Land Use Policy Change Could Transform Empty Office Space in Reston

by Fatimah Waseem November 22, 2017 at 2:45 pm 32 Comments

Fairfax County’s Planning Commission passed a measure that opens up more than 18 million square feet of vacant office space in the county to potential redevelopment this week.

But a move by at-large commissioner Tim Sargeant to carve a special exemption for Reston failed. Sargeant sought to exempt Reston from the measure, which creates a process to convert empty office buildings for other uses like residences and schools, because of Reston’s unique position as a planned community.

He said Reston underwent an extensive community planning process two years ago for Reston’s Transit Station Areas that attempts to strike a delicate balance between residential and office uses in the dense community. Reston Association also supported the exemption.

Others said approving the change could open up Reston to more residential units, a move that is not in concert with the master plan, which already envisions significant residential uses, according Marianne Gardner, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning’s planning division. Additionally, parts of Reston’s TSAs contain large swaths of land planned and developed for office use, she said.

Frank de le Fe, representative of the Hunter Mill district and the commission’s vice chairman, also voted to exempt Reston from the change.

However, Braddock-commissioner Ellen Hurley said carving a special exemption for one part of the county was not tenable. She also noted that adequate protections were already in place to pull back the change if needed. The area’s supervisor can request to pull back the change at any time, she said.

Commissioner John Ulfelder, the representative of the Dranesville District, also said creating a special exemption for one area of the county created “a slippery slope” and raised potential legal questions about zoning exemptions.

“If we do it here, why don’t we do it somewhere else,” Ulfelder said.

The overall land use policy change bypasses a county requirement for site-specific comprehensive plan amendment if an applicant seeks to change the use of a property. All other steps part of the land use approval process, including public hearings, will still apply. The county’s Board of Supervisors will review the proposal on Dec. 5.

In Reston, the Reston-Herndon Suburban Center has a vacancy rate of more than 70 percent, according to county data.

  • Greg

    As if this would ever happen with the current supervisor.

    “The area’s supervisor can request to pull back the change at any time, she said.”

    • 40yearsinreston

      Hudgins would never agree to change this
      it would hamper against her mission to turn Reston into a urban wasteland

    • TheKingJAK

      It’s funny how they put that out there. I’d like to see her try to claim that it’s outside of her power when she’s confronted on it at a meeting.

    • TheRealMikeSapupello

      “Reston-area Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, also known as the Bride of Satan,…”

  • Big Drop

    So…our townhouse near South Lakes is appraised for LESS now than 2006. And there are more than 2,000 rental apartments recently opened or about to open. One, at the Weihle metro, is offering four months free rent. Condos at and near Town Center have fallen in value over the past year.

    Should I mention cutbacks at the State department and how they affect Reston?

    Breathtaking that Fairfax County wants to erode the value of a home in Reston even more.

    • Greg

      Be thankful you are not a Shadowood owner — suffering 50 percent value declines since 2006 and are 75% rentals now. Many of them section 8 tenants or living (some for decades) in county-owned “transitional” units.

      • Big Drop

        I moved here in 1988 and Shadowood had problems even then.

        • Mike M

          And the County is the problem.

          • Shadowood Goldmine

            Honestly, I see Shadowood as an opportunity.

            If you’re making 100K+ a year and your housing costs are only 10% of what you make or less most of your income can be saved for retirement or _____ .

            Further, to blend into the neighborhood, transportation and dress code should be modest which basically would make it possible for you to save 90% of your income.

            On top of that, being active in your community – on the HOA or neighborhood watch – can enable one to fight directly for those causes that you seem to be most concerned about.

            Up to the challenge?

          • Mike M

            No. I have 10% now in a much better community.

            You didn’t mention anything about quality of life.

    • John Farrell

      So you’re comparing the assessment (?) at the top of the 2006 speculative bubble that occurred before the Wiehle Metro opening to today’s comparatively stabilized market?

      Yeah, the 2006 values were unsustainable based on the incomes of the families who worked at jobs within 30-60 minutes of Reston, i.e., the real basis of home values (not the SAT scores of local high schools that brokers love to tout.) So, yeah, they’re lower now and are closer to the historic affordability ratio based on employee incomes.

      BTW, some have suggested that a recent inventory shortfall has caused prices to rise beyond sustainable levels.

      • Big Drop

        It is the amount of residential construction in the pipeline that concerns me and how this may affect the future appreciation of our home. Lincoln at Commerce Park is a 260 unit rental building on Sunrise Valley which broke ground a couple of weeks ago. I did not include this above. This will bring the number of recently opened and under construction rental apartment buildings near the Weihle Metro and Town Center to over 2,400 units. And there are a half dozen more projects in the pipeline. I am not counting the 65 or 70 new townhouses in the $850K range under construction on Sunrise Valley. It will be interesting to see how fast these homes sell along with how fast the 500 plus rental units go at Town Center’s new Signature apartments which are now leasing.

        • John Farrell

          So you’ll be troubled to know that there are already 15,000+ high-rise multi-family units already in the entitled pipeline in FFX alone.

          Given the high costs to build re-enforced concrete high-rise, these multi-family units must rent for $2,000-4000 per month to satisfy the projects’ investors and lenders. That rate limits the potential tenants to those families making $160,000/year.

          Does anyone really think that there are 15,000 families who would rather spend that kind of money on rent with no accumulation of equity when that income will easily support the purchase of any number of townhouses in Reston at current price levels.

          Is it any wonder that several of these high-rise multi-family projects have been mothballed?

          • Greg

            Can, will, or should they go condo?

          • Mike M

            So tenants go to Loudoun and Reston decays?

          • Willie Reston

            A $2,000 monthly rent does not necessitate a $160k income, not by a long shot.

          • John Farrell

            Right, it needs a $80,000 income and for that you can have a 850 sq. ft. studio apartment overlooking the Metro station or rent a townhouse in a wooded neighborhood. Do you think there are 15,000 families who are choosing the former and not the later?

            And for a 3 bedroom over the Metro, you’re paying $4,000/month and need a $160,000 income. And are there 15,000 families who would choose that over owning a townhouse in a wooded neighborhood?

          • Willie Reston

            Wow, you just completely changed the arithmetic of your own argument. Besides, you can rent a nice 2B apartment in/around RTC for ~$2300/mo and you don’t need $160k to pull that off.

  • Reston Realist

    “In Reston, the Reston-Herndon Suburban Center has a high vacancy rate of more than 70 percent, according to county data.”
    I believe this is a misprint: I think the OCCUPANCY rate Is 70% which means the vacancy rate is 30% If the vacancy rate was 70% we would be in an economic depression….

    • Greg

      The vacancy rates are much lower than 30%

      Reston: 9.2%
      Herndon: 17.8%

      out of almost 32,000,000 square feet.

      10% is considered balanced.


      • Reston Realist

        Thanks, I am well aware of the vacancy rates in the area… my point was that in no way are they 70%. Also, I believe that they were discussing a specific type of office space (i.e class B/C) which is experiencing a higher than average vacancy rate.

        • Greg

          We are in agreement. Reston has a lot of junky obsolete B/C space (including the still-standing and mostly vacant old Issac Newton Square RA HQ space RA told us was in imminent danger of being demolished and redeveloped. That, of course, was vert fake news).

          Most if of Reston’s class A space (but for Reston Station) is leased.

          Herndon is less well leased, but development there is glacially slow and bifurcated between county- and town-dominated control.

          • Mike M

            I have been saying the office space vacancy rate in Reston is obscene for a long time. It’s limited to non-Town Center areas such as the far ends of the Sunrise/Sunset roads. I have been here 25 years. There are more than a few office buildings that have been mostly empty for most of that time. I have asked time and again, WHY? I get no reasonable answers. Karen Goff actually took issue with me on this, citing the regional rate. I can show anyone these buildings. There are plenty of them and Walker even built a new one despite this high local vacancy rate in East Reston.

      • cRAzy

        You’re right, Greg. Official county data (FCEDA) puts Reston office vacancies including indirect vacancies (ie–vacant sublets) at 9.8% and Herndon vacancies at 14.6% at mid-year. (see p, 14) https://www.fairfaxcountyeda.org/sites/default/files/publications/rerMY17.pdf

      • John Farrell

        5% is balanced. 10% is a tenants’ market.

        • Greg

          Then by that standard, every market in the US is a tenants’ market?

          The lowest commercial vacancy rate in the US is Nashville at 8.2 percent; the highest is New Jersey at 25 percent.

          • John Farrell

            Pretty much

  • 40yearsinreston

    Next up : Hudgins gives the North County Government space away to developers

    Soon to be followed by giveaways of “redundant” schools as young families abandon Reston

  • John Farrell

    This is not a zoning change!! Contrary to the story.

    It’s a change in the Comprehensive Plan. Very, very different. It authorizes no immediate change in use for any existing building.

    It allows the owners of the 20 million square feet of empty office space in the County the opportunity to apply for a rezoning to convert those derelict buildings to residential uses. For Reston properties, that means a presentation to the P&Z committee, a public hearing before the Planning Commission and another before the Board of Supervisors.

    Some of these buildings have been empty for a decade.

    The buildings would not be demolished but renovated to accomplish the conversion. Residential uses generate less traffic and require less parking per square foot than office uses. Changing these buildings could allow some of the parking area to be converted to open/community space.

    For the neighbors of these derelict buildings, it could end the averse effect of these blighted buildings their home values.

    • Donald

      Interesting perspective, I like it. Thank you.


    • Happy {Thanks|Giving}

      Thanks to the county’s unreasonable actions we are pessimists first and optimists later. In other words we don’t believe in development but comes election time we vote for the density party and their 800ppl/mile guarantee.

      You make a good point but I hope you mixed the kool aid with cranberry.

  • Dale

    The people who are suppose to represent us do not! Hmmm, whom do they represent? That is sarcasm for those who have not read my post before. When will you people wake up?


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