Letter: Business, County Interests Push Density Despite Community Calls for Balanced Growth

This letter was submitted by Terry Maynard, who resides in 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.

As a Restonian who has worked hard on Reston planning and zoning for more than a decade, I was stunned by the letter mentioned in a recent Reston Now article. It was signed by 17 people — many of whom are associated with the leadership of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce (GRCOC) — to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

One of the most stunning claims in the letter was that “Reston’s Comprehensive Plan was the product of a five-year planning process involving the full community.” The fact of the matter is that the Reston community was marginalized throughout this timeframe, and its contributions were opposed by developers and ignored by the county.

No community representative, then or now, has opposed reasonable residential and commercial development in the transit station areas. They have objected and continue to object to the excessive development proposed by private and county land use interests.

Only six of the two dozen primary members of the RTF studying Phase 1 for the transit station areas were Reston residents who represented the interests of Reston residents. They included representatives from three community organizations — Reston Association, Reston Citizens Association and Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners — and three independent “at large” residents.

The Task Force recommended 27,932 dwelling units — homes for about 59,000 people — in the station areas based on a study of multiple density and mix scenarios — a development level community representatives could live with. That was set at 27,900 when the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved the Phase 1 plan in early 2014 — a number Reston community representatives could live with.

Then that Phase 1 planned station area dwelling unit number was raised by more than half to 44,000 dwelling units — 92,000 people — in mid-2015 by the BOS in the process of approving the Phase 2 plan without any community involvement or even foreknowledge. Yet the county insists it only revises plans every five years.

Community involvement in Reston planning was even more limited during Phase 2 for Reston’s suburban areas.  It included only four county-led and controlled community meetings and an open house. It was agreed that residential areas should remain “stable,” but the redevelopment of Reston’s village centers drew controversy. Draft county language to require a comprehensive plan amendment to redevelop village centers was dropped from the Board-approved mid-2015 Reston Master Plan because it would make the redevelopment approval process more cumbersome. This effectively shut off public comment on critical changes and eases development.

No meaningful commitment was made in the Reston Master Plan to provide needed infrastructure on a timely basis, despite the GRCOC letter saying, “The Plan requires that infrastructure be ‘phased’ with development.” In fact, that is illegal in Virginia and the RMP planning principles say it “should occur with development.” Language about specific infrastructures–transportation, schools, parks, etc., is vague and the proposals are inadequate.

Moreover, no meaningful funding has been committed to building any of the so-called “planned” infrastructure elements, which are all generally inadequate against even county policy standards, excluding the library where a $10 million bond funding may disappear in 2022.

Now the county is proposing to amend the Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance to increase allowable community-wide population density from 13 to 15 people per acre in suburban Reston and increase the allowable density on a single PRC property designated “high density” from 50 to 70 dwelling units per acre, including the village centers and several so-called “hot spots.” In its staff report on the proposed zoning density change, the county calculates roughly a quadrupling of planned housing in the village center areas from less than 1,500 to 5,800.

It also identifies three suburban residential “hot spots”– Saint Johns Wood, Charter Oaks and Fairway — for high-density redevelopment that would more than double the number of dwelling units to 1,863 residences.

The bottom line is that Restonians have had — and continue to have — limited access to the planning and zoning process throughout and their contributions and concerns have almost universally been ignored.

The cumulative effect of the new zoning in the station areas and the prospect of increasing the Reston PRC zoning density would be to allow Reston’s population to triple from its current 63,000 people to more than 180,000. At the same time, there is little or no assurance of the arrival any time soon of needed infrastructure that would maintain Restonians’ quality of life as a model planned community.

Now it is imperative that Restonians rise up and stop the county’s ill-considered PRC density increase proposal driven by Supervisor Hudgins. Attend the Planning Commission hearing on the PRC amendment at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 in the Fairfax County Government Center wearing a yellow shirt. The presence of hundreds of Restonians will be as great a message to the Planning Commission as the testimony of Reston’s representatives and residents.

— Terry Maynard

File photo

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