The opening of the 2019 session of the General Assembly is rapidly approaching! Just a little over a month away!
This session, held during the 400th anniversary of the founding of a representative legislative body in Jamestown in 1619, is shaping up to be a transitional — if not a transformative — one. The heightened awareness of the public on issues and the widened interest in public participation in civic matters add to the importance and significance of the General Assembly meeting this coming year beginning on January 9.
While I gather information on issues of public concern throughout the year from talking with individuals and groups, I have found that leading up to the legislative session is a time when others want to step up and make their opinions known.
That’s why Senator Janet Howell and I sponsor a community meeting twice each year and encourage public testimony. As has been announced in my newsletter and on social media, we will be meeting with constituents Wednesday evening, December 12 from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne. All are welcome. No advanced registration is required.
Likewise, you can make your views known to the entire Northern Virginia delegation on January 5. Pre-registration is recommended as there are many people who offer testimony at that event.
Another option of sharing your views with me is through my online Legislative Survey. Access the survey through my website, www.kenplum.com and click on Legislative Session Survey (top right). The information gathered through the survey is helpful to me not as a poll, but as an opportunity for anyone to express an opinion.
Polling information is valuable to get the overall pulse of the community. The most recent poll of Virginia voters on issues that primarily affect the Commonwealth was conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. The poll found that 81 percent of Virginians sampled support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
There is a strong advocacy effort underway throughout the state to make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment. As a supporter of the ERA throughout my legislative career, I look forward to the amendment getting out of committee and being voted on by the entire legislature.
My effort going back to the beginning of my legislative career to establish a nonpartisan redistricting process to draw legislative boundaries has the best chance of approval ever. Nonpartisan redistricting has the approval of 78 percent of voters. Amending the constitution requires legislative approval of two sessions of the General Assembly and a referendum of the voters in order to pass. Passage of an amendment this year is critical to having a process in place for redrawing district lines based on the 2020 census.
The poll found that 49 percent of Virginians sampled support an across-the-board tax cut. At the same time, there is support for increasing funding for education programs at all levels.
Please let me know your opinion on issues of importance to you.
Lane and ramp closures this week — Phase two of the Silver Line project ushers in several lane, shoulder and road closures this week along the Dulles Toll Road, the Dulles International Airport Access Highway, Herndon Parkway, Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive. The complete list of closures is available online. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]
Not denser than Manhattan — Canaan Merchant responds to an opinion piece published on Reston Now that asserts Reston is going to be denser than Manhattan. [Greater Greater Washington]
Bechtel brings it — The engineering giant moved its global headquarters from San Francisco to Sunset Hills Road in Reston this year. The company has become one of Washington’s biggest privately held players. [The Washington Business Journal]
Suspicious package cleared by Metro transit police — A package found on Friday at Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station was cleared by police. [Metro Transit Police]
Corn night moon gathering tonight — View this month’s full moon, which, according to American Indian folklore, is named the Corn Moon. It indicates the time of the year to harvest crops. View the moon through the park’s telescope and enjoy a corn-inspired treat over the fire. Registration is $8. [Fairfax County Government]
Flickr pool photo by vantagehill
Reston’s future lies largely in the numbers that define the county’s plan for Reston’s transit station areas (TSAs)–the areas roughly within a half-mile of each Metro station. The results of looking at those numbers are shocking, but not really surprising.
The Board of Supervisors-approved Reston Master Plan calls for 44,000 dwelling units (DUs) in Reston’s TSAs, virtually all of which will be high-rise (“elevator”), high-density DUs–condos and apartments.
County planning assumes 2.1 people will live in each high-rise, high-density DU.
Put together, that means a potential population of 92,400 people in Reston’s station areas. That’s without any affordable housing “bonuses” or development waiver approvals or other uncounted DUs or people, a frequent fact of life in Fairfax County.
When the Reston Master Plan Task Force was working on a new plan for the station areas, the county provided several different numbers for the actual acreage of the study area. These ranged from 1,232 acres (1.925 square miles) to 1,683 acres (2.630 square miles) of land in Reston’s TSAs. The county provided no explanation for the range of values.
Dividing the number of people by the acreage, the resulting number is somewhere between 55 and 75 per acre. On a square mile basis, that Reston TSA density is between 35,200 and 48,000 persons per square mile (pers/SM).
According to Wikipedia, Manhattan has a density of 26,403 pers/SM. That makes the planned population of Reston’s TSAs at least one-third denser than and potentially nearly twice as dense as Manhattan is today.
Wikipedia adds that Manhattan’s residential density “makes it the densest of any American municipality with a population above 100,000.” And Reston’s TSA population may well exceed that 100,000 number if the county continues its bonus and waiver giveaways to developers.
I don’t think anyone who lives in Reston thinks that two square miles of super-density in Reston’s TSAs cutting through the middle of our community is consistent with any definition of preserving, much less improving, Reston’s quality of life. And the county has no meaningful plans or means to meet the infrastructure requirements of this population or the needs of the surrounding Reston community.
This is an op/ed submitted by Paul Anderson, a Reston resident, on February 28. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.
I was saddened to see that Ms. Fulkerson “resigned” last week. Saddened and disheartened that the populist anger that has so gripped our country seems to be very active right here in our own little community. Clearly the purchase of the Tetra property was the last straw, but I suspect that this has been simmering over a long time with many initiatives and changes causing increasing ire and angst; the new RA Headquarters, the Nature House, the Lake Anne land swap and finally Tetra. Add to that anything at all that happens in small tax district 5 and paid parking at Reston Town Center and boom! One head on a stake and sadly probably more to come.
The spite of board member John Bowman’s attempt to have the Tetra purchase reviewed by the Commonwealth Attorney even after a professional review by highly regarded StoneTurn, which found no evidence of malfeasance, was shocking in what it exposed. A well of vitriol whose depth is breathtaking to behold.
The orchestration of this separation before the new board is seated in April was also disheartening. Clearly there is a core on the current board with a mission, they needed to act while they knew that they had the numeric advantage. Which brings me to the election.
We have for the first time that I can recall a large “slate” running for the four vacancies. Two of the incumbents were previously appointed to their positions and two are running for the first time. Three of the four have past experience in the same Reston organizations, RCA – the Reston Citizens Association and Reston 2020. Since the four are using a single piece of co-branded campaign material it would appear that the old agreement that current Board Members do not endorse candidates has gone out the window. We could check the Ethics Rules on this topic but wait, no, we can’t because this board after making scene after scene about ethics found it inconvenient to actually get that task done.
My point in all of this is simple. The health of the Reston Association Board depends on a diversity of independent opinions, not groupthink that has been hobbled together by our most angry citizens. I’m not telling my fellow Reston citizens who to vote for but I hope that they’ll consider the new faces and differing opinions that are seeking election this term because that’s what will move this community forward in positive ways. To the current Board; you’ve got your pound of flesh in Ms. Fulkerson. Let’s move on.
Money Magazine has rated Reston as one of the best places to live in the country. Nothing new here. Reston has long been ranked among most desirable locations to live, work and play. As the magazine notes, “Robert E. Simon mapped out a vision of a community that upheld open space, recreational facilities and aesthetic beauty.” Further, Money explains, Reston “offers a woodsy atmosphere that includes expanses of parks, lakes, golf courses and bridle paths.”
Of course, Money’s brief report doesn’t capture all of Reston’s attractions, like the fact that we have always been a big hearted community that welcomes everyone, that we value development when it is appropriately supported by infrastructure and that preserving a quality of life for our children and grandchildren is more important than the passing obsessions of the day.
Perhaps more interesting than which communities are considered great places to live is to look at the sort of communities not on the list. You will search in vain for a Ballston, a Tysons, or a Rosslyn – and yet these are the models for what our County officials want us to become.
A show of hands – does anyone think that advocates of massively increased density in Reston care about your family’s quality of life? Anyone?
Reston has been a planned community for over fifty years. And for more than fifty years Reston has generally delivered on its promise of being a great place to live. Ballston and Tysons have many attractions – I have friends who are quite happy in both places – but they aren’t Reston. Nor do they want to be. And that’s fine. Let Tysons be Tysons – but let’s let Reston be Reston.
If you care about keeping the “planned” in our planned community, support the efforts of the community groups working to make sure Reston is on Money’s lists in 2023, 2028 and beyond. Please go to https://plannedreston.wordpress.com from more information. It’s your future.
President, Reston Citizens Association
(Editor’s note: If you wish to submit an op-ed, email [email protected])
The strong positive response to my recent Staycation column caused me to think that I should write another one with travel suggestions for a different part of the Commonwealth. With the first column we went south through the beautiful Piedmont of Virginia.
For this trip I suggest that we go further west on I-66 to the Shenandoah Valley. Before turning south you might want to consider going north to Winchester on I-81 particularly during apple picking season. Also north is the wonderful Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (www.themsv.org) with its permanent exhibits as well as special shows.
Next door to the Museum is Historic Rosemont Manor, for many years the home of former governor and senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. whose machine ran Virginia politics for decades. It has limited lodging available to the public but can be rented for special events. Also in Winchester is the home of Patsy Cline, the queen of country music, which is open to the public.
There are many civil war sites in the Valley. A Civil War Trails map is available at www.civilwartraveler.com. You can also head south at Front Royal until you come to the entrance to the Skyline Drive. The views are beautiful; in the first segment you can see seven bends of the Shenandoah River. The Drive gets crowded during the fall foliage season, but the beauty of the drive makes it all worthwhile.
If you have not been to a natural cavern, get off the Skyline Drive at Route 11 heading west to Luray. Most people agree that the natural beauty of the Luray Caverns cannot be beaten. Luray is in Page County where I grew up as a youngster. Head further west on Route 211 until you get to I-81 that runs down the center of the Valley. For a more scenic drive consider going south on Route 11. It is a little narrower with slower speed limits, but remember–on a staycation we take our time to enjoy the sights.
The campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg is beautiful, especially the early limestone buildings. Stop on Court Square in town and have lunch at Capitol Ale House. Further south to Staunton a recommended stop is the American Frontier Culture Museum, an outdoor museum with homes from the seventeenth century relocated from England, Ireland, Germany and other countries to show the kind of housing the early settlers had. If you need a meal, stop at Mrs. Rowe’s (Mrs. Rowes Family Restaurant). You will think you are back in the 1960s. A slice of pie is a must, and you can buy Mrs. Rowe’s pie cookbook.
We have about reached our limits for a one-day trip, so we can head home. It will add to the time of your trip, but if you go east on Route 64 you can pick up the Skyline Drive at Afton Mountain. Heading north you can eat at Big Meadows Lodge or spend the night at Skyland Lodge where I worked in the summers during high school.
If you want, we can plan a longer trip where we go to beautiful Abingdon, home of the Barter Theater or further west on the Crooked Road of Country Music (Crooked Road). I have traveled around Virginia all my life and never get bored with it. Glad to have you along.
Just when you think things are changing you can be shocked to realize just how much they stay the same. Politics in Virginia are a prime example.
For more than a century after the Civil War, the consistent factor in politics was race-baiting. The then-called Democrats in the South, who later became known as Dixiecrats and today are the conservative wing of the Republican Party, were successful with a variety of laws that disenfranchised African Americans. Even with the few African Americans who could get through the labyrinth of laws that included blank-sheet registration forms, literacy tests and poll taxes, the scare tactic employed by too many candidates was to suggest that their opponent was a lover of black people — but using a derogatory term. That fear of black people has its roots back to the centuries where black people were enslaved and brutal enforcement and fear were used to keep them that way.
The Civil War did not resolve the feeling between blacks and whites, and slave codes were replaced with Jim Crow laws that whites could use to assert supremacy over black people. For a candidate to take a position that could be interpreted as being favorable to African Americans would mean almost certain defeat at the polls. Only Supreme Court decisions and federal laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act created a more level political playing field between the races. Continued efforts to suppress the votes of minorities and to unnecessarily complicate the voting process are still employed by some trying to maintain a structured society of white supremacy.
More recently, those who want to keep or expand their political power have swept immigrants — whatever their status — into the realm of those who are to be feared and suppressed from participating in the democratic process.
Many strive to gain maximum political advantage through whatever means while at the same time wanting to keep the appearance of respect and patriotism. The recent television ad with scary images and references to fear and the MS-13 gang intends to scare voters into rejecting a compassionate medical doctor with an ad that fact-checkers have found to be untruthful.
Another concern from the current campaign is the suggestion from a white female candidate for lieutenant governor that her black male opponent does not understand the issues well enough to discuss them “intelligently.” Disregarding the excellent academic credentials of her opponent, her comments had the tone of the past that one observer said seemed more appropriate for 1957 than 2017.
At the national level, there are daily statements and actions that hearken back to the racial climate of the Old South. This year in Virginia, we have a unique opportunity on Nov. 7 to make a statement with our votes that we reject the discrimination of the past. It is always important to vote, but it is more important than ever this year. Despite efforts to romanticize the Old South and the Confederacy, we need to learn the truth and understand why we need to move on.
It seems like every day, a major new development project in Reston is announced. And it seems like every day, traffic gets a little worse and schools and athletic fields get a little more crowded.
Is there a connection here? Well, of course there is.
Reston, since its founding, has excelled and prospered as a planned community. And the plan has been that development and the requisite infrastructure would go hand in hand. The problem is not (always) new development; the problem is that new development calls for a corresponding investment in roads, bridges and underpasses, schools, playgrounds, storm drainage, additional open space and, yes, trees — and this isn’t happening.
Economists often point to a phenomenon called “the Tragedy of the Commons” — the observation that when individual users of a commonly held resource are free to maximize their personal benefit at the expense of the larger community, they will generally do so. The “commonly held resource” in this case being the unique and special nature of a Reston where one can Live, Work and Play in harmony with nature. In a perfect world, everyone — the County, the developers and residents of Reston alike — would work together to grow Reston while preserving those things that make this community what it is.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.
The County and the developers want to dramatically increase the population density of Reston. They are naturally driven by, and give priority to, a desire for tax revenue and profits respectively. Not bad things in themselves, of course, unless they come at the unwarranted expense of others — which, in this case, they do.
That leaves those of us who live and work here as the ones with both the most to gain and the most to lose as decisions about our future are made. In the coming weeks a number of key issues — ranging from whether to triple the density of Reston, to what kind of library we will have, to how crowded our schools will be — are to be acted upon. As individuals, we have scant ability to ensure infrastructure is given equal priority to development. But this is Reston, and Reston being Reston, we have a vast community of engaged citizens with a deep commitment to balance and fairness and a future we can proudly pass on to our posterity.
Three weeks ago, over 400 individuals turned out for the County’s fourth attempt to justify the density increase — only to have the meeting canceled because we far exceeded the room’s capacity. Now the meeting has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23 at South Lakes High Schools. The County will draw upon the full-time lawyers and urban planners we as taxpayers pay for to tell us what they say is in our best interest. On our side we have — each other. We need everyone who believes in defending the Commons to attend this meeting.
As Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Candidate Terry McAuliffe promised during his campaign for governor that he would work to build a new economy in Virginia. A reduction of federal spending in the state along with the decline of traditional mining and manufacturing jobs had left the Virginia economy sluggish.
If there was any doubt as to what Gov. McAuliffe had in mind, one only needs to look at his performance in office. His latest performance figures — although these numbers increase daily — are 1,027 new projects, 215,100 jobs created and $165 billion in capital investments. No other governor has come close to these kinds of numbers. But he clearly is not done yet.
Just last week, Gov. McAuliffe announced that Facebook will bring more than $1 billion of new investment to the Commonwealth. Facebook is directly investing $750 million to establish a 970,000-square-foot data center in the White Oak Technology Park in Henrico County. The project will bring thousands of construction jobs to the region and more than 100 full-time operational jobs. Virginia is already a leader in data centers with a record number in Loudoun County.
An exciting aspect to this new project is that with a new renewable energy tariff designed by Dominion Energy Virginia and Facebook, hundreds of millions of additional dollars will be invested in the construction of multiple solar facilities in the Commonwealth to service Facebook’s Henrico data center with 100 percent renewable energy. That feature continues a trend that has been going on in Virginia in the use of solar-generated electricity with new and expanded business projects.
In another project, Amazon is behind what had been the state’s largest planned solar installation to date, an 80-megawatt system in Accomack County. Early last year another solar project was introduced that spurred Virginia’s solar energy market by a partnership among the state, Dominion Virginia Power and Microsoft Corp. to bring a 20-megawatt solar farm to Fauquier County. The 260,000 panels on 125 acres represented more solar energy than was available across all of Virginia two years ago.
Recent evidence demonstrates that the new economy of the Commonwealth is being recognized nationally. Recently, Virginia was ranked in Area Development magazine’s 2017 “Top States for Doing Business” annual survey for the first time since 2010. Overall, the Commonwealth placed 11th out of 20 states ranked in the prestigious annual site consultants’ survey.
The Commonwealth ranked in the Top 10 in five of 12 subcategories that impact companies’ location and facility plans, including: Cooperative & Responsive State Government, fifth; Leading Workforce Development Programs, seventh; Competitive Labor Environment, eighth; Favorable Regulatory Environment, ninth; and Speed of Permitting, ninth. These rankings represent significant advances for Virginia as the state has not placed in any subcategories since 2013. This year also marks the first time Virginia has ever placed in the Cooperative & Responsive State Government, Competitive Labor Environment, and Speed of Permitting categories.
The new economy is proving to be good for jobs, with record low unemployment, and good for communities that were struggling to recover from the Great Recession. At the same time, it is good for the environment, with record growth in solar energy production.
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
For many years, I have been involved in various demonstrations and vigils to bring attention to the sobering facts about gun violence in our society. I have always been astonished at the number of people taking part in these events who have personal stories to tell about the way gun violence has affected their lives.
There are parents involved in working to end gun violence whose children were either killed or wounded in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School travel the country telling their stories and campaigning for commonsense gun safety laws. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head, campaigns against gun violence even though her wounds slow her down. Ask your friends or neighbors if they know anyone whose life was changed because of gun violence — you may be surprised at the numbers who say yes.
My involvement in the movement to end gun violence grows out of my service as an elected official who believes that my actions need to reflect my belief that the government has a responsibility as stated in our founding documents to protect life and liberty. I am also greatly concerned with the individuals and organizations who continue to distort our history and the meaning of our Constitution to try to make the case that gun rights are absolute even though there are qualifiers on all our other rights in the Constitution. The appeal that the right to bear arms is a protection of all our other rights presents a frightening prospect for our future with the extremism that has become so commonplace.
Last week, an incident reminded me that any one of us could without any notice become more aware of the dangers of gun violence than we could ever imagine. One of our children was on the way to a meeting in an office building when it became necessary to turn around because the building was ringed with police cars. Had the meeting been an hour earlier, our child would have been among those evacuated because an active shooter was on the loose. Some of those removed from the building were the children in its day care center.
For unknown reasons, the shooter decided to shoot only himself and not harm others. It is uncomfortable to realize had the timing or his motivation been different how many others would have suffered the trauma of gun violence. Now his family and acquaintances bear the pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are nearly 43,000 suicides per year, and almost exactly half those occur with firearms. Public service announcements attempt to educate people who have depressed family members or friends to keep firearms out of their easy reach. There is no time to reconsider or to seek help on personal issues once the trigger has been pulled. From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006. Everytown for Gun Safety reports its research shows that on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns, with seven of those being children.
How much more uncomfortable do we need to become before the public insists that commonsense gun-safety laws are passed?
Fairfax County is celebrating the 275th anniversary of its formation, when in 1742 it was split off from Prince William County to be a separate county encompassing what we now know as the current county plus Loudoun and Arlington counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. It was named for Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, who had a proprietary of 5,282,000 acres. For a time a part of the county that is now Arlington County and the City of Alexandria was a part of the 10 square miles that made up the District of Columbia, until those jurisdictions were returned to Virginia.
Fairfax County is compared today with jurisdictions throughout the country as it leads in economic growth and development in many ways. That national comparison was not always appropriate. In its early years, it was a struggling community, raising tobacco with the labor of enslaved black persons. By 1749, the county’s population was 28 percent enslaved persons; by 1782, that number had reached 41 percent.
The county’s early fame came from its two most important residents: George Mason, who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution and whose work led to the Bill of Rights in our national Constitution; and George Washington, who as our first President brought the country together and whose service in office set important precedents that continue today.
Surprisingly, Fairfax County voted with the South to secede from the Union leading up to the Civil War. While the County was not the scene of major military battles, there were many skirmishes and an almost constant flow of troops passing through it. After the war and Reconstruction, investments started to flow to the county that helped its recovery. Although still an agricultural community at that time, the following decades brought significant changes that led to the community as we know it today.
Not surprisingly, one of the big issues was transportation. In the early years most settlements were along the rivers that provided a means for transporting tobacco and crops. As inland developments occurred, there was no governmental mechanism for building roads. Those that were in place were narrow without a hard surface. New turnpikes supported by tolls included the Little River Turnpike, Columbia Turnpike, Leesburg Turnpike and Falls Bridge Turnpike. The start of railroads before the Civil War accelerated with the electric trolley lines that followed. It is estimated that as many as a million passengers or more were carried per year by the Washington, Alexandria and Mt. Vernon electric railways that ran 30 trips per day.
The growth of the federal government after the Great Depression and the World Wars brought huge growth to Fairfax County. Its population of 40,000 grew to 98,000 in 1950, and by 1970 was 454,000. It is now approaching 1.2 million people. Recognized as among the best places in the country to live and to start a business, we have clearly left behind our humble beginnings.
It is worthwhile to remember our history and the 275th anniversary provides many different opportunities. (www.fxva.com/275/)
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
Much to my dismay last week, I received in the mail an envelope with the return address of the National Rifle Association of America headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. I knew immediately it was not a letter admonishing me for regularly taking part in the vigil to end gun violence held in front of their office on the 14th of each month.
No, the colorful envelope had two dozen pictures of various rifles, handguns and what I call machine guns. I was urged to open the envelope to take part in the “exciting NRA sweepstakes.” With the usual disclaimer that I did not have to join the NRA in order to win, the flyer announced in a list with pictures that the first prize in the sweepstakes was “12 World-Class Firearms” including four pistols, four rifle/shotguns and four other firearms that looked like military weapons to me. Second prize was nine such guns, and third prize was seven super firearms!
If I did not choose to take the guns, I could substitute a “trophy bull elk hunt in New Mexico; a bison, bird and deer hunt in North Dakota; or a black bear hunt in Ontario.” If I entered the sweepstakes by Oct. 31, I would be “eligible for a chance to win a top-of-the-line LaRue Tactical Rifle and 7,200 rounds of ammo!”
Needless to say, I will not be entering the sweepstakes, although I was tempted to so that if I won I could have the guns melted down and turned into some peaceful art symbols.
As disturbing to me as the military-style weapons offered as prizes was the language in the letter telling me why I should not just enter the sweepstakes but why I should join the NRA. Not a single mention was made that I might be a hobbyist, I might like hunting, I might be a marksman, etc. The entire pitch was about the threat of the government taking away people’s guns.
“NRA needs you as a fighting, card-carrying member more than ever before. … That’s because the Second Amendment is the one freedom that gives you and me the power to protect every other freedom in our Bill of Rights. … And because of gun owners like you, NRA has beaten back hundreds of attacks on our rights, from gun licensing to gun rationing, taxes and surtaxes on guns and ammo, ammo bans, gun bans, bans on gun shows, and more.”
Despite the rhetoric in the mailer, the reality I see is drastically different than Mr. [Wayne] LaPierre described in his letter. The U.S. Congress is currently debating the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017” which, among other provisions, would allow the use of armor-piercing bullets and ease the importation of foreign-made assault rifles. One of its very frightening provisions would allow the use of silencers on guns. Proponents argue that gun users’ ears can be harmed by the sound. What about the practice in industry of having ear plugs or ear coverings? Imagine the slaughter a terrorist could do with a silenced gun!
For some it seems that we are never armed enough. I believe that opinion is more of a threat to our society than are common-sense gun safety measures.
A Kentucky school administrator recently expressed sentiments that I feel but could not write as clearly as she did. In an op-ed piece in the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader she wrote:
“Social justice, civil discourse, empathy, historical context and civic engagement are at the heart of preventing and resolving instances like the one we witnessed there (in Charlottesville). … If we subscribe to the belief that hate is a learned behavior, we must also take ownership for failing to provide an educational space to combat the inequality that haunts minorities every day and that paralyzes our nation in times of tragedy. … History matters. Civic engagement matters. And, because of their decline, social justice, civil discourse, and empathy have become lost arts in a nation of people who can no longer talk to one another.”
As a former teacher of history and government, I especially appreciated her call for “a strong social studies curriculum that provides equitable opportunities for civic engagement, civil discourse and historical context.”
The ignorance of history shown by those who have been leading the opposition to removing Confederate statues is appalling. The statues were erected during times when white supremacy efforts termed the “Lost Cause” were at their strongest. Beginning in the late 19th century there were many movements to glorify the Old South and to justify the Civil War, or the “War of Northern Aggression” as they called it, and the erection of statues was part of it. Paralleling those activities was the passage of legislation that virtually took away the right of African Americans to vote and that separated the races in public schools and most every aspect of society. The second surge of erecting statues came when the white supremacists were opposing the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Viewed in their historic context, these statutes represented a repression of social justice, failure of civil discourse and lack of empathy on the part of those supporting them.
Equally as appalling is the lack of knowledge or the unwillingness to admit the central role that immigrants have played in our history. The history of the land we now call Virginia did not begin when the English arrived in 1607; a civilization existed here for at least 15,000 years before that time. That makes all of us except for Native Americans descendant of immigrants.
There is seldom a day that passes that I do not meet someone who may be brand new or first- or second-generation Americans who are making our communities, society and economy stronger and better. Many choose to ignore the history of immigrants especially most recently that of dependent children. They may be undocumented, but they are not “illegals” — people are not illegal.
Certainly, our immigration system needs work. Endless paperwork, complex bureaucracy and an entanglement of laws sometime stand in the way of people who should be given a path to citizenship that can be navigated. I thought that Richard Cohen, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, expressed it best when he said of the decision to rescind DACA that it was “one of the most senseless, heartless, inhumane acts of any president in recent memory.”
We should know better and certainly we must insist that all act better!