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After Hours of Public Testimony, Planning Commission Defers Decision on PRC Zoning Proposal

by Catherine Douglas Moran January 24, 2019 at 10:45 am 15 Comments

Dozens of Reston residents and locals showed up to testify in opposition to a contentious proposal that would increase the population density in Reston at the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s five-hour-long public meeting yesterday (Jan. 23).

The proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance would increase the maximum allowed population per acre in the Planned Residential Community (PRC) district — Reston’s primary zoning district — from 13 persons to any number up to 15.

It would also allow residential development at a density of up to 70 dwelling units per acre — the current maximum is 50 dwelling units per acre — for properties designated for high density on an approved development plan and located in a transit station area planned for mixed-use within the Reston PRC District.

Shortly before the meeting ended at 11:55 p.m., Vice Chairman and At-Large Commissioner James Hart deferred a decision on the item until Feb. 13.

Hart, the main person leading the proposal, started the meeting by telling his fellow commissioners and the audience that opposition to raising the density cap was a common theme of the many letters he received: “That message came through loud and clear.”

Yet, the commissioners still face a “nuanced” dilemma, from complicated numbers to whether it is better to raise the cap so that applications can come in as PRC or deal with applications zoned as PRM or PDC after the current PRC zoning is used up, he said.

Regardless of the future decision, he said he hopes that the controversy over the amendment “can spark interest and participation in the land use process.”

Most of the 29 who testified on what that decision should be urged the commission to reject the amendment.

Opponents — many of whom wore yellow clothing to symbolize their unity against increasing the density — said raising the density cap will jeopardize green spaces, worsen traffic congestion, crowd schools and encourage development before infrastructure is in place.

Many residents also voiced criticism that the proposal to raise the density cap was made without adequate community input and is based on faulty numbers.

Dennis Hayes, the president of the Reston Citizens Association, testified that county staff worked on the PRC amendment over a short summer and only held information meetings with the community.

“Meetings we were told would happen never occurred,” he said. He noted that the difference between a PRC capped at 13.7 versus 14.2 has not been demonstrated.

Roughly half of a dozen people spoke in support of the amendment.

Mark Ingrao, the president of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, argued that the amendment encourages balanced growth under the Reston Master Plan.

“The Reston Master Plan process was well thought out,” Ingrao said, adding that it requires infrastructure to be phased-in with development — not happen beforehand. “The idea that streets and schools get built before people can use them is incongruent with the rest of the county.”

Ingrao also said that concerns about an exploding population are overhyped. “It took over 50 years to reach [Reston’s] current population, and it will take decades to achieve full buildout under the plan,” he said.

Mike Jennings, a Reston resident of 33 years, pushed back on the notion that the comprehensive plan did not include community involvement and that the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee is easily swayed to developers’ desires.

Jennings warned the commissioners to “be careful before assuming the very visible and vocal opponents of this amendment are representative of Reston.”

The record will remain open for public comments until Feb. 13.

Hart ended the meeting by saying that he’s learned from the mistake of separating zoning and planning and that in the future, the two must get planned together. “We’ve left ourselves a real mess,” he said about the current state of things.

Photos via Planning Commission

  • Mystical Hairy Lynch, CEO REST

    Why bother even showing up?

  • I’d rather post as a guest

    the yellow shirts sure made noise but after an hour or so most of them left and at the end of the night there were only two dozen left. many chose their noisy exit during the proceedings which did not go unnoticed by the officials. also, many of the yellow shirts spoke in harsh terms at times making the planning commission look like did a terrible job. I do not think it was a wise decision to humble the decision makers. three of the yellow shirts spoke quite eloquently but it appeared the pro density folks had much better rehearsed their speeches and elicited more responses from the officials. i did not see any young people except for two: a pro density yuppie and a yellowshirt student. hats off to the student who did a great job and so did Dennis. it appeared only Hebert and Larry Butler from RA spoke and were present.

    Honestly I do not think the yellowshirts garnered a lot of sympathy and support from the officials, at times it seemed more like an awkward standoff with some hooting and hollering. again, most of them were gone by 10pm while the meeting lasted til midnight.

    if you think you can turn this ship around please submit your written or electronic responses.

    • 30yearsinreston

      “the decision makers” re the people not Hudgins and the tame FC bureaucrats

      as for “Yet, the commissioners still face a “nuanced” dilemma” my heart bleeds for them
      so we are to believe that raising the density cap is to make life easier for them ?
      I dont think so

    • cRAzy

      The point of the yellow shirts was not to make noise, but to bear witness. They nearly filled the auditorium and about half of them were still there when I left shortly before the hearing ended at 11:30PM.

      I don’t think they made the PC sound like it did a terrible job, but they did take a number of well-deserved shots at county staff for their numerous failures. Not said, but clearly inferred, was that Supervisor Hudgins did a terrible job in creating an open and transparent process for the re-do of the Reston Plan and the PRC zoning ordinance.

    • Tammi Petrine

      Isn’t it interesting how perspectives of the same event can differ?

      I was sitting in front row from beginning to end and noticed no noisy exit. Certainly no mass protest exit. I’d like to thank “guest” and all other Yellow Shirts profusely for coming out to support keeping the PRC Cap at 13 until the Reston Comp plan can be revisited.

      There is NO reason to raise it now. The current BOS has passed so many zoning laws recently to facilitate urbanizing FFX Co. but how will that work out with NO funding to also provide necessary infrastructure!! The developers sure aren’t paying even close to the cost that their new developments require! Inadvertently, they have doomed the county to decades of chaos and decline of services as budgets struggle to serve more people. And Reston is a suburban community with an urban gash dividing it. It is a PLANNED community that demands unique handling.

      One yellow shirt was told by monitor in lobby that never had there been such a well attended meeting as this one and that people were sent to overflow room.

      The meeting started at 7PM so folks left Reston no later than 6:30 to drive to Taj. So to comment that so few were left at Midnight seems petty. Jobs, kids and exhaustion factor in. Plan Com meetings frequently go late and at 99% , few attendees remain at end. (PS: Hats off to the real heroes! The Planning Commissioners who do this several times a week for very little remuneration!!! In addition they have constant workshops and other meetings to inform their decisions. In short, they are serious people.)

      Also, John Mooney, an RA BOD member also spoke. Only one 10 min speaker per org is allowed so he did not identify as RA.

      Considering the ramifications for Restonians, I am very proud that crowd was thoughtful and appropriately decorous. Chair Pete Murphy and Com Hart handled meeting well with humor and acknowledgement of Restonians’ concern. 100’s of letters do show that the community is mightily riled. A few laughs and clapping after presentations could hardly be categorized as unruly. There was NO overt rudeness by audience members.

      If you have time and want to know how it went, you can view tape for yourself. http://video.fairfaxcounty.gov/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=10&clip_id=1257

      Mike Jennings, who is quoted in article, signed Reston Chamber of Commerce’s letter. He said he was a small business owner who has served for 5 years on RPZ committee. Although we NEED opposing viewpoints and biases to inform elegant solutions, I wonder HOW healthy commerce in Reston will survive if we remain so gridlocked and lacking the other infrastructure deficits about which people are so bitter?

      The big point is We ALL need to prosper, not just some sections of our community. (For example think of the supreme goof of paid parking at RTC which has completely changed away from a welcoming gathering place and resulted in established long term businesses fleeing. Might be OK for Boston Properties but not so much for RTC residents, the public and retailers/restaurants/services businesses who rely on drop in clients. How’s Balducci’s doing? I hear that is empty most of time which is regrettable for the residents of RTC and the greater Reston community.)

      • 40yearsinreston

        The ex 7-11 on Old Reston Ave has more customers than Balduccis
        It will be gone as soon as BPX subsidies cease

    • Why do you bother?

      ” many of the yellow shirts spoke in harsh terms at times making the planning commission look like did a terrible job.”

      I’m failing to see a problem with this.

    • Drive By Critric

      I don’t know what hearing the above writer attended, but it wasn’t the same one the rest of us did! You sound like a shill for the developers.

  • cRAzy

    The speakers for CPR and RA last night laid out an unambiguous, well-documented, and persuasive case to defer the PRC zoning amendment until, as was said often, the zoning ordinance and the Reston plan can be “re-connected.” More broadly, they demonstrated, in my view, greater knowledge of the issues and the facts than the county staff by a wide margin.

    Hopefully, the Planning Commission will call on the Board of Supervisors to postpone the zoning amendment proposal until the plan and ordinance are re-connected AFTER the next election when fresh eyes will be on the issue.

  • 30yearsinreston

    ““The Reston Master Plan process was well thought out,” Ingrao said,
    adding that it requires infrastructure to be phased-in with development —
    not happen beforehand.”

    we have first hand experience of how well that is working out

    His assertion is is an insult to Reston residents

    • cRAzy

      In one sense, it was well thought out: It virtually guaranteed that the developers and the Chamber of Developers would get what they wanted–Huge density and no burden from proffers.

  • Seriously

    I find it inappropriate that the Association of Realtors should speak (they are not any better than developers). They want more development so they can sell – make a lot of money and the hell with community. They are talking about bringing in all the people – but no mention of the people that already live in Reston. No conflict of interest there???? and same goes for Looney. More development, more money in his pocket.

  • Why do you bother?

    “That message came through loud and clear.”

    GOOD.

    Good job, attendees!

  • vdiv

    Kudos to the organized opposition! It’s a tough and probably a futile fight, but it shows who really cares about this community. Channel 16 did a poor job reflecting the audience and their response to the speaker and commissioners. It’s better to show up in person next time.

  • I’d estimate the crowd at the Planning Commission hearing to be 300 or more, many wearing the yellow shirts favored by the Coalition for a Planned Reston and its allies. While the Planning Commission will make a recommendation on February 13, the final decision on the density cap is in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. Let’s hope the density cap remains as it is!

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