42°Partly Cloudy

Friday Morning Notes

Urban Planner: Reston ‘Not Like Its Plan’ — A Harvard University Graduate School of Design urban planning professor comparing the planned community of Columbia, Maryland, to Reston: “Columbia’s development stuck more closely to its original plan than did that of Reston,” which is “not like its plan in a lot of ways.” [Baltimore Sun]

Metro Continues To Be Understaffed  Commuting to work and hear the dreaded “train will be moving momentarily?” WMATA says it’s due to overwhelmed Rail Operations Control Center workers, and it needs to hire 33 more people in order to get things sorted out. [WTOP]

Temperatures Will Roast Us  Buckle up and stay cool. Weather forecasts starting Sunday predict scorching heat through Wednesday. Triple-digit heat indexes are predicted along with potential record-breaking temperatures. [Washington Post]

County Police Warning of Fake Gold — A Fairfax County man is out $9,000 after con artists targeted him in an elaborate scam. Mandarin-speaking scammers seem to be preying on the Chinese community by selling them fake gold. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Volunteers Sought for All-Night Grad Party — South Lakes High School’s graduating seniors will attend a post-graduation party from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. — unless they don’t get enough volunteer chaperones. Anyone interested in helping out will need to participate in a training session next week. [South Lakes PTSA/Signup Genius]

Photo courtesy Reston Association

2 Comment

Obituary: Heidi Merkel, Fairfax County Planner Instrumental in Reston Master Plan

Heidi Merkel/Fairfax CountyHeidi Merkel, a senior planner with the Fairfax Department of Planning and Zoning who was instrumental in organizing and implementing the Reston Master Plan Special Study and plan amendment, died of cancer July 19. She was 49.

Merkel, of Arlington, is survived by her husband, Bill, and three children: Caroline, 15; Samuel, 12; and Caleb, 7; her father, Leland Tolo of West Hartford, Ct.; her brother, Paul Tolo, and sister-in-law, Jennifer Tolo, of Sammamish, Wash.; and her many beloved nieces and nephews.

Merkel attended high school in West Hartford, Ct., then received her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and studied Urban and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She began her professional career as an Associate Planner for the City of Danbury.

Merkel joined Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) in 1995. She later took five years off to raise her family, but after returning in 2007, she worked tirelessly to help move Reston into the future.

The Master Plan amendments were approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 and ’15.

“Heidi was a gem,” said land use lawyer Mark Looney, who served on the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force. The task force held dozens of meetings over four years, and Merkel attended most of them, even while battling her illness.

“She was so thoughtful and patient as she interacted with the Reston community through the years,” added Looney. “She would listen intently to every crackpot idea some developer or resident threw out and make them think there was nothing better. Heidi knew that deep down most people just want to know that they were heard.”

Some of the additional projects Merkel worked on in Reston:

  • She was the Staff Liaison to the Hunter Mill Area Plans Review (APR) Task Force.
  • In 1998, she was the lead planner on the plan amendment for the Reston Sheraton area, which helped to resolve a legal dispute between the property owners and the county.
  • She led the Dulles Corridor Land Use Study in 2001, which was the first effort to plan for rail in the corridor.
  • She led the planning study of the Lake Anne Village Center in 2009, which set the vision and plan for future redevelopment of Reston’s first village center.

“Heidi was a gifted planner who loved the Reston community that she served,” said Fred Selden, Director of Fairfax Planning and Zoning. “Heidi led policy initiatives that resulted in county policy supporting Transit-Oriented Development and the inclusion of affordable workforce housing in all mixed-use activity centers. She received numerous individual and team recognitions for outstanding performance and commendations over the years from Supervisor Hudgins and others.”

Heidi and her family were long-time members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where she volunteered with the youth programs and participated in the bell choirs. She enjoyed spending time with her children most of all, and was an active parent at both Potomac Crescent Waldorf School and the Washington Waldorf School.

There will be a memorial service at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 3022 Woodlawn Ave., Falls Church, on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 11 am, with a lunch reception to follow in the church’s fellowship hall.

Memorial donations may be made to the Inova Life with Cancer Family Center at www.lifewithcancer.org/donate.

Photo Courtesy Fairfax County

10 Comments

County Video Boils Down Reston Master Plan Changes

Still unsure what the changes to Reston’s Master Plan mean? Fairfax County Planning staffer Faheem Darab breaks it down in this video produced by Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to changes to the comprehensive plan earlier this week. The changes will guide any redevelopment in Reston’s neighborhoods and at its village centers.

“With the Master Plan changes, we can expect Reston to continue to be a premier planned community in the county,” Darab said, noting that the changes will mostly leave neighborhoods and convenience centers as they are and at least 12 percent of new housing stock will be affordable housing so a diverse population can live in Reston.

The biggest changes may come to the village centers, where new rules state that a developer does not need a comprehensive plan amendment to make drastic changes at Tall Oaks, Hunters Woods, South Lakes or North Point.

Ironically, the county video was filmed at Lake Anne Plaza, Reston’s original village center. Lake Anne, which has historic designation and is in the midst of its own revitalization plan, does not fall under this week’s Master Plan changes for redevelopment.

Photo: Tall Oaks Village Center/file photo

4 Comments

Afternoon Poll: Should Reston’s Village Centers Change?

North Point Village Center The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved changes to the Reston Master Plan on Tuesday. The changes will help guide growth at Reston’s village centers and neighborhoods going forward.

One of the new rules: Reston’s village centers will not have to get a comprehensive plan amendment should they want to drastically change.

When founder Bob Simon envisioned Reston in the 1960s, all the village centers were going to be like Lake Anne Village Center — high density (townhouses, apartments) housing, a plaza, central gathering place, walking access and parking on the perimeter.

But as Reston developed (Simon was no longer part of the project by the time the rest of the village centers were built), what was put in place was essentially strip mall shopping. Those plans deviated from the vision, but also provided convenience for residents who just wanted to park the car and easily grocery shop or pick up dry cleaning.

Other than a proposal for the ailing Tall Oaks Village Center and the plan for the area near, but not in, Lake Anne Plaza, there are no current plans to redevelop Reston’s village centers. So it is status quo for now — but what do you think should happen in the future? Stay the same or get back to the original plan? Take our poll and tell us in the comments.

Photo Courtesy North Point Village Center

7 Comments

Approved Master Plan Changes Could Shape New Village Centers

Dock at South Lakes Village CenterThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved changes to the Reston Master Plan that will provide guidelines for any changes to village centers and neighborhoods as Reston moves into its second 50 years.

The changes, commonly called Reston Master Plan Phase 2, ensure that future residential and commercial growth will be concentrated in the Town Center, the Transit Station Areas and the Village Centers; and the Vision and Planning Principles created in Phase 1 should apply to the whole of Reston.

Phase 1, which set standards for development close to transit centers at Wiehle-Reston East and Reston’s future Reston Parkway Metro Station, was approved by the county in early 2014.

Some of the vision and planning principles for both: that Reston place an emphasis on diversity of housing, affordability, walkability and the role plazas play as community gathering spaces.

Reston Association CEO Cate Fulkerson, one of a handful of speakers at the public hearing portion of  Tuesday’s meeting, requested that a sentence be added “Reston has always been a place where nature is valued and protected.”

“This summarizes the most important characteristic of Reston and needs to be incorporated,” she said.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins agreed, and suggested that it be added to a prominent place at the start of the final document.

Hudgins had some questions for county planning staff at the meeting. One of the questions centered on whether St. Johns Wood, the garden apartment complex owned by Bozzuto, can redevelop without a comprehensive plan amendment.

Bozzuto is in the early stages of proposing redevelopment to the complex near North Point.

The planning staff says Bozzuto will still have to go through the required process for redevelopment, including community meetings, plan submission, a county planning commission hearing and Board of Supervisors hearing and approval. There is also a separate Reston Association Design Review Board approval process.

Staff also confirmed that the process to redevelop Tall Oaks Village Center is still a long one. The master plan changes in general remove the requirement for village centers to undergo a comprehensive plan amendment should they be redeveloped.

For Tall Oaks specifically, the plan says “the redevelopment plan may include a significantly reduced non-residential component and that any redevelopment should emphasize quality design and and the creation of a neighborhood gathering place.”

The Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG), which purchased the nearly vacant Tall Oaks in December, is also in the early stages of a plan that would transform the village center into 154 homes with a small amount of retail. JAG has held two community meetings and will likely hold more before formally filing any site plans for approval.

“Tall Oaks is not functioning today,” said Hudgins. “It has an opportunity to be a true village center. “

Bob Simon, Reston’s 101-year-old founder, hopes that Tall Oaks — and any other future village center redevelopment — will be a better example of the vision he had when he planned Reston in the early 1960s.

“The opening in 1965 of Reston involved 227 townhouses and 60 high rise units and smattering of retail,” Simon said on Tuesday. “It was not a big deal, however, to our amazement it turned out to be an international phenomenon.”

“Over the years, I have tried to analyze what happened to that little development,” he said. “I think what happened was reintroducing to the U.S. to a gathering place called a plaza. I was fired in 1967, and my successors did not appreciate the plaza.”

The village centers that were then built (South Lakes, North Point, Tall Oaks and Hunters Woods) were not “important social venues, but strip centers,” Simon said. He said he would like to see them all redeveloped.

“My hope is that over the next 50 years, all the village centers will be destroyed and replaced with plazas surrounded by density. For Tall oaks, it is important to become a real village center. Village centers should be plazas, surface areas surrounded by stores and other relatively dense housing. I hope that’s what we get.”

Photos: Top, dock at South Lakes Village Center; Bottom, Rendering of plans for Tall Oaks Village Center redevelopment (Courtesy Jefferson Apartment Group)

49 Comments

Op-Ed: Thoughts on Reston Master Plan Draft

Driving range at Reston NationalThis is an op-ed by Reston 2020’s Terry Maynard. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

RestonNow’s article yesterday on the upcoming Board of Supervisors hearing of Phase 2 of the Reston Master Plan provides an excellent overview of the key provisions of new Plan for “suburban” Reston, the community that all of us live in except those in Town Center and the new high-rise residences near the Sheraton Reston.

Speaking on behalf of the Reston 2020 Committee, we believe the draft plan amendment generally serves the existing Reston residential community well, but with some important exceptions we have detailed to the County staff on at least two occasions. (Please see our initial ideas for Phase 2, comments on draft Version 2, and specific comments on the Reston Land Use Map.)

It may help to highlight what we believe are the more substantial shortcomings regarding the village centers and open space in this Phase 2 of the draft plan and the changes made by the Planning Commission so Restonians have the opportunity to reach out to the Board of Supervisors at the hearing today (Tuesday, June 2, 4 p.m., Fairfax County Government Center) or to Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins directly.

We urge the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Hudgins in particular, to listen to and address the concerns of Reston organizations and residents at this important hearing and in other communications concerning Reston’s existing neighborhoods.

Village Centers:  In our view, the most significant shortcomings of the draft plan appear in the section dealing with village centers.

Maybe the biggest one is that the draft plan puts no limits on the density of redevelopment in these critical elements of the Reston community. The plan’s failure to limit density (we recommended a density of FAR 1.0, four times the current limit) could result in extremely dense commercial, office, or residential development (or all of the above) in the village centers that would be totally inappropriate for a neighborhood-serving center.

The absence of a reasonable density restriction could easily lead to the situation we are about to see in Town Center North, where plans to build a 23-story office building beyond the high-density, half-mile transit station area (TSA) — and twice as tall as the adjoining new Spectrum Center — were approved by the Board because there was no density restriction.

Indeed, during Phase 1 of the Master Plan Review, the Vision Committee discussed 18-20 story buildings in the village centers. Thus, very tall buildings are a distinct possibility. We believe the Board of Supervisors should make it clear now that such oversized construction is unacceptable by specifying a reasonable maximum density constraint.

Also in the village centers, the Planning Commission struck the possibility of a green open space — a park-like setting — as an option for the “gathering place” for the neighborhood, leaving only “plazas” as an option for these focal points of each center. We believe the green open space option should be re-inserted because we have not seen the brick (Lake Anne), concrete (Hunters Woods, South Lakes, and North Point), or other potential hardscapes attract a gathering.

The concrete “plazas” at South Lakes and North Point have limited steel seating and tables for people to use, which are absolutely unbearable in Reston’s summers, except in the late evening and early morning. Green open spaces would actually help cool the gathering space and, frankly, be much more attractive.

The Planning Commission also chose to abandon its historic role to review redevelopment proposals for village centers, striking out the final step in the approval process before it goes to the Board of Supervisors. The County Planning staff rejected redevelopment plan language from Reston 2020 calling for Reston community entities (RP&Z, RA DRB) and neighbors to play a key role in redevelopment plan reviews.

The staff also rejected Reston 2020’s distinction between redevelopment of the “mixed-use areas” of the village centers and their “residential areas,” thereby subjecting existing residents to the threat of redevelopment.

Staff language also allows the expansion of village centers beyond their current boundaries if it would be “essential to the successful development of any particular village center.” No protection there for existing village center or nearby neighborhoods.

In short, the draft language treats village centers residents and adjoining neighborhoods like second-class citizens in the Reston community. More broadly, these failures shortchange the community and residents and businesses in the village centers as well as neighbors nearby who will have fewer opportunities to have their voices heard on redevelopment plans.

In fact, the Planning Commission went so far as to essentially recommend approval of the Jefferson Apartment Group’s Tall Oaks Village Center redevelopment plan and the St. Johns Woods apartment complex proposal, which have not yet been presented to any Reston or County group for endorsement or approval, only for “information purposes.”

It is an especially peculiar change given that Reston is a planned community and we believe a change in the community’s land use ought to be reviewed by both local community entities and the Planning Commission.

In general, we view these Planning Commission Master Plan recommendations as part of the broader County effort to streamline and facilitate the development and redevelopment process through the “Fairfax Forward” land use decision making process adopted last year, a process that goes well beyond planning issues in Reston to shortchange communities and neighbors from commenting on the effects of high-density development proposals.

Reston’s Open Space:  There are two significant shortcomings inserted by the Planning Commission on Reston’s open space as well as a few improvements. We believe that Reston’s open spaces must be preserved and, if feasible, expanded to accommodate the planned doubling of our population and employment.

The Planning Commission dropped language designating the Sunrise Valley Wetlands as a “Nature Park” throughout the draft plan. This cuts language already approved by the Board of Supervisors during Phase 1 of the Reston Master Plan effort. If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the change would eliminate any shred of protection for the wetlands — a vital environmental resource — in the Master Plan from future commercial redevelopment.  We believe the wetlands should become a publicly-held County resource.

The Planning Commission specifically rejected language and mapping that would identify designated open space in condominiums and clusters. The impact of this change, if adopted, would be to substantially reduce the expectation that this (or comparably sized and equipped) open space would be preserved in a redevelopment effort — which would no doubt include several times as many housing units.

That said, we appreciate the effort of the County Planning staff and the Planning Commission in updating and correcting the Reston Land Use Map with the exception cited above. It is an integral part of the plan and is used in Board and other decisions in making sure development proposals are consistent with the plan’s intent.

We also appreciate the steps taken by the Staff and the Commission to insure the accuracy and completeness of the property plats covered by the Reston National Golf Course as well as Hidden Creek Country Club — and striving to ensure the protection as open space. We all know that the RNGC property’s use is in dispute, and every step taken by the County to protect it is appreciated.

We all want to move forward in achieving the goals and principles of the revised Reston Master Plan in a way that preserves the quality of life of all who live or work here, now and in the future.  That requires a careful balance of opportunities for redevelopment and preservation of the characteristics that make Reston a unique planned community.

Photo: Reston National Golf Course’s future as open space is one issue addressed in Reston Master Plan Phase 2 draft.

19 Comments

Last Chance: Public Hearing on Reston Master Plan Tuesday

Reston SignThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will discuss and most likely decide on Tuesday whether the proposed changes to the Reston Master Plan will be the blueprint for Reston’s future.

Planning staff has been working on the Reston Master Plan Phase 2 since June 2014. Phase 2 changes deal with development in and near Reston’s village centers, as well as in neighborhoods, should they be redeveloped.

This is the final step before changes would go into effect. There will be a public hearing at Tuesday’s meeting beginning at 4 p.m. You can register in advance if you wish to speak.

Phase 1, approved by the ssupervisors in early 2014, guides development in the areas close to Reston’s transit centers.

Fairfax County’s Planning Commission held a public hearing in April and recommended the draft changes, with a few caveats, for approval in May.

The county planning staff used Phase I as the framework for the second part of the master plan changes, saying that 1) Future residential and commercial growth was to be concentrated in the Town Center, the Transit Station Areas and the Village Centers; and, 2) the Vision and Planning Principles created in Phase 1 should apply to the whole of Reston.

Some of the basic themes the staff came up with over the last year, in which citizen input was received via email and at a series of community meetings.

Village Centers should be unique and reflect the needs and desires of the surrounding neighborhoods. The master plan changes will also reflect, however, willingness to adapt or alter existing village centers (for example, adding residences). This is currently being discussed for Tall Oaks Village Center, whose new owners would like to redevelop the nearly-empty retail center to 154 new residences and a small amount of retail.

The Baron Cameron retail area (Home Depot) serves as an important regional retail and service center that, if redeveloped, could have a limited mix of uses.

Pedestrian connectivity is a key planning principle. The network of trails and pedestrian connections is a unique characteristic of Reston. The Comprehensive Plan should enhance pedestrian connectivity, particularly near Village Centers, schools and at intersections.

Residential neighborhoods will stay as they are, both in character and density. However, there is structure in place should a majority of a cluster wish to sell to a developer.

At the April public hearing, the planning commission heard from citizens on concerns about a planned traffic interchange on Sunrise Valley Drive, changes at Tall Oaks Village Center and Reston’s future in general. 

Planning commission’s Hunter Mill representative Frank de le Fe said two weeks ago that he supports the general draft, but made a few changes in recent weeks in response to public comments.

Among them:

Removal of the rule that Reston’s village centers would have to undergo a comprehensive plan amendment to promote redevelopment. This will help The Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG), which purchased Tall Oaks in December. JAG has preliminary plans for residential and small retail development on the site at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive.

Addition of language that Tall Oaks may include a significant residential component and that any redevelopment will emphasize quality design.

Planned redevelopment at St. John’s Wood apartments will be considered.

De le Fe also suggested that a request for a special buffer at the long-lost cemetery at the Fairfax Hunt Club be treated as any other cemetery. De le Fe said adding specific language to the comprehensive plan, as citizens had suggested, “seemed like overkill.”

At the public hearing, many residents of the Polo Fields subdivision at Sunrise Valley Drive and the Fairfax County Parkway, expressed concern with a multi-lane interchange planned there.

De le Fe said the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will re-examine and re-evaluate the interchange.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro, Reston is evolving as a community.

6 Comments

New Rules on Village Centers Get OK From Planning Commission

Empty anchor store at Tall OaksReston’s Master Plan moved another step closer to new guidelines for future development as the Fairfax County Planning Commission has voted to recommend changes to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The vote came at the planning commission’s regular meeting on Wednesday. It held the public hearing portion of the changes — commonly called Reston Master Plan Phase 2 — in April.

Planning staff has been working on the Reston Master Plan Phase 2 since June 2014. Phase 2 changes deal with development in and near Reston’s village centers, as well as in neighborhoods, should they be redeveloped. Phase 1, approved by the Supervisors in early 2014, guides development in the areas close to Reston’s transit centers.

At the public hearing, the planning commission heard from citizens on concerns about a planned traffic interchange, changes at Tall Oaks Village Center and Reston’s future in general. It also heard from developers, who said guidelines in the plan text did not allow developers enough leeway.

Planning commission’s Hunter Mill representative Frank de le Fe said Wednesday that he supports the general draft, but made a few changes in recent weeks in response to public comments.

Among them:

Removal of the rule that Reston’s village centers would have to undergo a comprehensive plan amendment to promote redevelopment. This will help The Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG), which purchased the mostly-vacant Tall Oaks in December. JAG has preliminary plans for residential and small retail development on the site at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive.

Addition of language that Tall Oaks may include a significant residential component and that any redevelopment will emphasize quality design.

Planned redevelopment at St. John’s Wood apartments will be considered.

De le Fe also suggested that a request for a special buffer at the long-lost cemetery at the Fairfax Hunt Club be treated as any other cemetery. De le Fe said adding specific language to the comprehensive plan, as citizens had suggested, “seemed like overkill.”

At the public hearing, many residents of the Polo Fields subdivision at Sunrise Valley Drive and the Fairfax County Parkway, expressed concern with a multi-lane interchange planned there.

“This suggested interchange will not significantly improve traffic issues and will cost as least as much as Fair Lakes interchange, which was $65 million,” resident John Eidson, said at the hearing. “If this interchange goes in, some of us may lose our homes. Where are our rights? and what gives you the right [to build this] without giving us a say in the matter?”

De le Fe said the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will re-examine and re-evaluate the interchange.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro, Reston is evolving as a community.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the comprehensive plan changes on June 2.

7 Comments

Reston Master Plan Changes Now Ready for Review

The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning has completed the draft of the Reston Comprehensive Plan Amendment that will guide future development in Reston’s neighborhoods, village centers and open spaces.

Reston SignWorking under the quicker Fairfax Forward process, the plan — also referred to as Reston Master Plan Phase 2 — was organized in 10 months. Phase 1, approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2014, took nearly four years.

“Staff has collaborated with community stakeholders, incorporated community ideas, and drafted a proposed amendment to the Reston section of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan based on these collaboration and engagement activities,” said Richard Lambert of the county planning and zoning office.

“Admittedly, not everything everyone wanted made its way into the proposed amendment. Staff had to meet some groups down the middle. This is the needle we thread. We are hopeful that the majority of people will be pleased with the majority, if not all, of the proposed amendment.”

There will be a Planning Commission public hearing on April 22 at 8:15 p.m. and, if recommended for approval, the Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing and vote on June 2 at 4 p.m. Both hearings will be at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro, Reston is evolving as a community.

Phase I of the Reston Master Plan changes looked at how development and density should proceed in the areas surrounding transit stations such as Metro’s Wiehle Reston East.

Here are some of the highlights for Phase 2:

Village Centers — The amendment establishes general vision and guidelines for redevelopment  for any future village center redevelopment proposals. The general vision for Reston’s village centers addresses elements necessary for village centers to achieve the desired goal of becoming a vibrant community gathering space. The Guidelines for Redevelopment establish a process for developing detailed plans and considering redevelopment proposals. 

Redevelopment of neighborhoods — There is only one active rezoning application, for the St. Johns Woods Apartments near North Point Village Center. While the rezoning application seeks additional density (up to almost 50 dwelling units per acre) and midrise residential buildings, the county planning staff’s approach “is consistent with the study’s larger approach, to maintain today’s existing built form, density and overall character. “

In general, the report says “Reston’s clusters and neighborhoods should be protected from pressure to redevelop, which may be caused by growth and redevelopment elsewhere in Reston.”

“There are some circumstances may arise that merit consideration of the redevelopment of an existing cluster or neighborhood, such as if a cluster should become blighted. Under such circumstances, the Board of Supervisors may consider proposals to amend the Comprehensive Plan and/or to rezone in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan to allow for the consolidation and redevelopment of such clusters or neighborhoods.”

Tall Oaks — One of the study’s community meetings was devoted to discussing village centers and another portion of a community meeting was spent discussing several limited issues related to Tall Oaks Village Center. Tall Oaks was recently sold, and the new owners proposed a redevelopment concept that would result in mostly residential uses. They have not submitted any redevelopment plans to the county, only met with staff and several adjacent cluster representatives.

If redeveloped, Tall Oaks should follow a “baseline” recommendation that would preclude both additional density and the mix of land uses proposed by the residential developer.

“Staff believes there needs to be additional community and staff discussion, as well as a detailed redevelopment proposal in order to properly consider if a redevelopment recommendation should be added to the Reston Plan,” the report says.

Convenience Centers — Existing Reston convenience centers at Soapstone, Lake Newport (the Tetra building that Reston Association is seeking to purchase), Sunrise Valley and Fairways should remain the same density and usage as built. The Home Depot shopping area should remain retail, but the plan gives guidance for mixed-use development in the future.

Golf Courses — Reston’s two golf courses (Reston National and Hidden Creek) should remain golf courses.

Road improvements — There are several roadway network improvements recommended. Among them:

  • Construct an enhanced street grid networking the transit station areas to increase connectivity Construct an overpass (four-lane bridge) across the Dulles Toll Road from Sunset Hills Road to Sunrise Valley Drive approximately at Soapstone Drive
  • Construct a Town Center Parkway Underpass (four-lane tunnel) from Town Center Parkway and Sunset Hills Road to Sunrise Valley Drive west of Edmund Halley Drive
  • Install an interchange at Fairfax County Parkway and Sunrise Valley Drive
  • Construct an overpass (four-lane bridge) across the toll road from Sunset Hills Road to Sunrise Valley Drive approximately at South Lakes Drive
  • Improve Reston Parkway  with six lanes from South Lakes Drive to the toll road

The report also addresses bike connectivity, open space, affordable housing, and park facilities. See the entire 300-plus page report on Fairfax County’s website.

6 Comments

Op-Ed: Will Reston’s Village Center Redevelopment Be Unchecked?

Hunters Woods Village CenterThis is an op-ed from Terry Maynard of Co-Chair of Reston 2020, a citizen advocacy group.

(Updated at 6:05 p.m.) Having recovered from the December holidays, I finally read the second draft of the Phase 2 Reston Master Plan last week in preparation for the community meeting this Thursday, 7 p.m., at RCC Lake Anne’s JoAnne Rose Gallery Room.  It’s an open meeting with substantial opportunity for public participation.  I encourage you to be there because …

What I found in the draft plan regarding Reston’s Village Centers was language that allows virtually unconstrained redevelopment of these critical neighborhood “gathering places.”

First, and maybe most importantly, there are no meaningful constraints on density — the actual amount of building that could be done at the Village Centers. Typically, including the Phase 1 plan for Reston’s urban areas, planning guidance indicates a maximum density measured by floor-area ratio (FAR) that, as the phrase suggests, measures the ratio of the volume of square footage of allowable for development to the area of the property.

The current Reston Master Plan allows a FAR 0.25 density in the Village Center mixed-use areas (the retail strip malls we now have). That means their total development cannot exceed one-quarter of the lot’s total area, and that is pretty much what we have across the four village centers beyond Lake Anne.

The words “floor-area ratio” and “FAR” do not appear in the section on Reston’s Village Centers in the latest draft plan. The only density-linked phrase is “neighborhood scale,” which is undefined in any County planning document. Are we talking the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan or development scaled to the suburban Reston neighborhoods that surround the Village Centers? The draft plan offers only this:  “The specific amount of additional density that will be appropriate for future redevelopment will be determined as a part of a community-engagement process . . .”

No density limits, just a County-controlled process. Given that both the County and developers stand to generate greater taxes and profits respectively from greater density, why limit development by a density cap when they can control the “community-engagement process.”  We saw how well that worked in Phase 1 in the developer-dominated task force.

The other critical issue that the draft plan goes very soft on is boundaries: both the boundaries within the Village Center between the mixed-use area the residential area AND the boundaries defining the edges of the Village Center.

The RCA Reston 2020 Committee, of which I am a member, has sought to limit potential redevelopment to the mixed-use areas, those strip malls we so often use (except Tall Oaks), and leave the associated residential areas alone as is generally the case with Reston’s neighborhoods. There is no legitimate justification to treat Village Center residents differently from the rest of us.

But that is not what the draft plan offers. Instead, it says redevelopment should be “focused” on the mixed-use areas, but does not limit it to those areas. In a discussion I had with a DPZ staff member on this, he specifically noted that there may be a need to redevelop some residential areas to make a Village Center economically viable. Boom! There’s the opportunity to roughly double the commercial size of each Village Center and drive out hundreds of neighboring families, some in single-family homes, substituting denser and more profitable mid-rise or even high-rise (absent density constraints) condos and apartments in their place.

And still that is not enough.  First, the good news:  The draft plan does state, “Maintain the boundaries of Village Centers.”  Yet, in my discussion with a DPZ staff member on this draft plan, he stated that the fixed boundary statement “had been brought into question” during staff discussions.  In particular, he noted that the Tall Oaks Village Center may be too small to be economically viable and the boundary may need to expand.

Whoa! Reston residents need to make sure that the fixed boundary language stays in the plan as it goes forward and make sure that DPZ, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors understand that we do not want the Village Centers to become a cancer eating our neighborhoods.

When queried why the DPZ was pursuing such loose language for the Village Centers, the response was that no developer has presented a proposal for redevelopment and DPZ did not want to constrain their options. Said another way, DPZ doesn’t know what developers want so it will give them carte blanche.  On the other hand, they have no apparent compunction about undercutting residents’ options or their property’s value.

A plan, especially the Reston Master Plan, is supposed to provide guidance on what the community should become in some future timeframe, typically a couple of decades. This draft plan offers no vision, no guidance, and no constraints; it just offers largely unchecked redevelopment opportunities.

My reaction:  If DPZ doesn’t have a concrete plan of what Reston’s Village Center should look like in the years ahead–maybe even one for each Village Center since they clearly face different opportunities and challenges–it should stick with the plan we have. At least the current plan defines limits for density and boundaries no matter how ugly or uneconomic some of our Village Centers are.  The new draft plan basically opens the door to unlimited, undefined redevelopment.

Your first opportunity to address these flaws (and others) in the second draft of the Reston Master Plan will be this Thursday evening at the JoAnne Rose Gallery in RCC Lake Anne.

Based on my conversations with DPZ, I understand they will make a short overview presentation and the rest will be question and answer period. And then you will only have only until Feb. 12 to send written comments before the draft plan is finalized for rubber stamp County Planning Commission and then Board of Supervisors consideration.

16 Comments

Thursday: Community Review of Master Plan Changes

Tall OaksFairfax County will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Reston Community Center Lake Anne to update residents and obtain feedback on the draft of the Reston’s Master Plan Phase 2 update.

The county has been working on Phase 2 since last summer, holding several community meetings to obtain focus on the vision for Reston’s neighborhoods and village centers for its next 50 years.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro, Reston is evolving as a community.

After nearly four years of committee work and revisions, the county Board of Supervisors in early 2014 approved Phase I of the Master Plan, which provides a framework for development in the areas surrounding Reston’s transit stations.

Key points of the latest draft:

Reston’s two golf courses are to remain as golf courses. This is good news for proponents of open space as the owners of Reston National Golf Course, the 166-acre public course in South Reston, are awaiting a Board of Zoning Appeals ruling on whether the course can be considered as residential for redevelopment. The BZA heard nearly six hours of testimony at a public hearing last week. It will rule on the appeal on April 15.

The updated land use map includes areas clearly marked as open space and recreational space.

Residential land use categories have been expanded from their current three broad categories (low, medium, and high density) to five categories to more closely reflect what has been built in the community, with the desired result of maintaining established neighborhoods.

The Reston neighborhoods section provides guidance to maintain the established residential neighborhoods. In the event of residential neighborhood redevelopment requests, more stringent redevelopment criteria have been established that go beyond the County criteria.

The village centers shall remain village centers. However, should a village center want to rezone and rebuild as something else, there is also specific criteria for that. That is good news for the ailing Tall Oaks Village Center, which was recently purchased by an apartment developer.

Environmental stewardship shall remain a key focus in Reston planning.

To see the entire draft, visit the Fairfax County website.

Photo: The future of Tall Oaks Village Center is one of the topics for the Master Plan Phase 2/file photo

2 Comment

Master Plan Draft Updates Open Space, Future Planning

Plantings are now lower to discourage criminal activity at Hunters WoodsFairfax County is getting closer to its final plan for Reston’s neighborhoods and village centers.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro, Reston is evolving as a community.

After nearly four years of committee work and revisions, the county Board of Supervisors in early 2014 approved Phase I of the Master Plan, which provides a framework for development in the areas surrounding Reston’s transit stations.

The county has been working on Phase 2 since last summer, holding several community meetings to obtain feedback. It is expected to get to the approval process in the next few months.

Key points of the latest draft:

Reston’s two golf courses are to remain as golf courses. This is good news for proponents of open space as the owners of Reston National Golf Course, the 166-acre public course in South Reston, head to a Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on Jan. 21. Owners RN Golf have inquired as to whether their zoning can be considered residential rather than recreational open space. Reston’s other course is the private Hidden Creek Country Club near Lake Anne.

The updated land use map includes areas clearly marked as open space and recreational space.

Residential land use categories have been expanded from their current three broad categories (low, medium, and high density) to five categories to more closely reflect what has been built in the community, with the desired result of maintaining established neighborhoods.

The Reston neighborhoods section provides guidance to maintain the established residential neighborhoods. In the event of residential neighborhood redevelopment requests, more stringent redevelopment criteria have been established that go beyond the County criteria.

The village centers shall remain village centers. However, should a village center want to rezone and rebuild as something else, there is also specific criteria for that. That is good news for the ailing Tall Oaks Village Center, which was purchased by an apartment developer last month.

Environmental stewardship shall remain a key focus in Reston planning.

To see the entire draft, visit the Fairfax County website.

The county will have a public meeting/presentation on the draft on 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Reston Community Center Lake Anne.

Photo: Hunters Woods Village Center/file photo

10 Comments

Next Phase II Meeting Looks at Baron Cameron Retail

Fairfax County kicked off Reston Master Plan Phase II process Saturday.The Reston Master Plan Phase II community feedback process will continue this week with a meeting Saturday at 8:45 a.m. at Aldrin Elementary School, 11375 Center Harbor Rd.

This meeting, third in series of discussions with Fairfax County planners this fall, will concentrate on the Baron Cameron retail area; pedestrian circulation and safety; Reston’s Village Center and Community Spaces; and Tall Oaks Village Center.

Phase I of the new Master Plan was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors earlier this year. That portion lays the framework for development and density around Reston’s transit stations.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements; and population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro.

Phase II of the Master Plan, which will guide residential neighborhood and village center redevelopment, kicked off in June. After accepting public feedback during the summer, planners wrote a working draft “strawman text.”

The strawman text was presented to the community at a meeting on Sept. 13. There was a second community meeting Oct. 18, where residents discussed the pros and cons of the existing village centers. and convenience centers. The future of the largely empty Tall Oaks Village Center emerged as a universal concern.

The Baron Cameron retail area — which contains Home Depot — presents its own challenges. The 22-acre parcel was originally planned to be part of Reston Town Center, but was never developed to the same scale or design as town center or the nearby Spectrum.

However, with the Spectrum slated for a massive mixed-use overhaul, the Master Plan should address the future of Baron Cameron shopping center, which has a variety of stores, many of them locally owned.

“This area continues to serve as an important location for community serving retail and is
planned for retail uses at 0.25 FAR to maintain its existing character,” the working draft states. That density number is the same as the other village centers.

“Opportunities should be sought to improve pedestrian connectivity within the retail center and improve connectivity more broadly to the surrounding neighborhoods and neighboring commercial areas for all modes of transport including pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicles. In addition, if existing buildings are redeveloped with new retail buildings, the planning and design of the redeveloped sites should provide for environmental sustainability, green technology, and an appropriate transition to the surrounding neighborhoods.”

2 Comment

Pros, Cons and Starting Over Part of Village Center Talk

Notes and thoughts on Tall Oaks Village Center at Master Plan meetingIn the early 1960s, Reston founder Bob Simon and other planners got to work on what the community should look like — including village centers that would serve as the commercial and social hub of each of Reston’s villages.

Fifty years later, village centers at Hunters Woods, South Lakes, Tall Oaks and North Point generally don’t look like what was planned. Lake Anne Plaza does fit the mold better, but is also undergoing a separate revitalization process.

What ended up serving Reston were essentially suburban shopping centers, heavy on parking spots and light on common areas.

With the second phase of Reston Master Plan up for review, might it be time to revisit the original ideals and work into the comprehensive plan the ability, should a developer want to do so, to revamp the village centers?

That was the main question posed by Fairfax County planners and Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to participants who came to South Lakes High School Saturday to talk about the future of Reston’s Village Centers.

The village centers served as the model of Simon’s planning, said Hudgins.

“Some have survived over the years, some have not,” she said. “So this text is important — how do you trigger change? It may not happen in short time frame, but we want to be able to get this input on how the community thinks it should move forward.”

Fairfax County planning staff said Saturday they hope to have the final document drafted by mid-2015. But changes could be decades away, if ever.

Whatever changes are incorporated into the plan will not be a regulatory document and any structural changes will have to eventually go through the Reston Association’s Design Review Board, as well as county planning and zoning and the Board of Supervisors.

Citizens in attendance Saturday split up into discussion groups, where they did a rundown of the best and worst parts of the village centers.

The consensus seemed to be:

  • Hunters Woods, with the Reston Community Center located there, seems to most fit the bill as a mixed-use place, but also suffers from a perception problem as a high-crime area.
  • South Lakes has good bike and pedestrian access but is oriented ineffectively and should face its best asset: Lake Thoreau.
  • North Point, the newest of the village centers is probably the least like a village center, but features ample parking and upscale businesses. It also is very convenient for users of recreational facilities such as Lake Newport Pool and soccer fields.

Residents suggested that if future development were to occur, it would have to be built up into mixed-use residential with retail on the ground floor and hidden parking.

The center that got universal concern was Tall Oaks — which has been losing businesses rapidly (with no new ones opening in recent years). Perhaps Tall Oaks future lies in something else that does not feature retail?

Some of the Tall Oaks issues that came up in discussions: disengaged ownership;  low density surrounding the center; poor access and signage; and a wooded buffer along Wiehle Avenue that is RA land.

“Tall Oaks would be a good one to start over and rethink,” said Connie Hartke, an active Reston Citizens Association member who was presenting her table’s views to the rest in attendance. “Maybe it needs some completely new thinking about what can be done with that space.”

Bill Penniman, Reston Community Center board member who was speaking for his table, said all the centers should take advantage of unique features surrounding it, such as the lake at South Lakes, woods at Tall Oaks, and a visible gathering space between Hunters Woods and the RCC.

Citizens are welcome to send Fairfax County feedback on the village centers through the Reston Master Plan website.

Photo: Notes on Tall Oaks issues at Saturday Reston Master Plan meeting.

 

17 Comments

Master Plan Meeting on Village Centers Set for Saturday

Hunters Woods Village CenterAffordable housing. Micro housing units. Improved trail connectivity. More architectural continuity and more parks and recreation space.

These are some of the community comments about the Reston Master Plan Phase II from a Sept. 13 community meeting.

Fairfax County planners are in the midst of obtaining community feedback for the next phase of Reston Master Plan changes.

There will be a second community meeting to discuss Reston’s Village Centers on 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18 at South Lakes School, 11400 South Lakes Dr.

Phase I, approved by the Board of Supervisors last winter, guides development around the Metro stations. Phase II will guide future development standards for Reston’s village centers and residential neighborhoods not located at a transit station.

Fairfax County officials say the the current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, requires revision because Reston no longer has a master developer to update the plan for Reston; the plan for Reston has outdated elements and with population expected to grow with the arrival of Metro later this year, Reston is evolving as a community.

Fairfax County has a strawman text, which is a work in progress for now.

Read the entire 71-page document.

The Department of Planning and Zoning will take community comments online through December.

Some of the criticisms from the community so far: confusion about the map of exactly the boundaries of Reston; the plan allows too much flexibility; the plan needs more specificity about green space; traffic concerns and traffic concerns.

See a digest of community comments on the Fairfax County website.

More:

Photo: Hunters Woods Village Center/file photo

6 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list