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

This letter was submitted by Terry Maynard, who resides in Reston. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Terry Maynard

File photo

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Letter: Why You Should Care About the Reston Zoning Cap

This letter was submitted by Bruce Ramo, a member of community groups Reclaim Reston and Coalition for a Planned Reston. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

It’s a lot to ask of everyone in Reston to understand the minutiae of land use law. We have families and jobs and other responsibilities. And, after all, we chose to live in a planned community with loads of covenants and design guidelines. We can leave it to the “experts.” Except we can’t.

Like it or not Restonians have little say over how our community is being developed, and the elected official who should be watching out for us, our county supervisor, has retreated to a defensive posture. She frequently tells us “we just don’t understand” and has suggested that Reston, perhaps the most progressive community in Virginia, opposes the proposed increase in the density cap out of fear of “the other” sharing our neighborhoods. This is simply untrue. The community group Coalition for a Planned Reston proposed an increase in the required affordable housing levels for Reston–our supervisor did not support us.

So what’s the big deal about increasing the density cap, from 13 to 15 persons per acre, in the primarily residential areas of Reston called the Planned Residential Community district? The supervisor and county staff tells us that the increase is necessary to implement 2015 changes to the Reston Master Plan. Those changes allow significantly increased density in the Village Centers and other “hot spots” throughout established neighborhoods of Reston, far from the Metro stations.  We are also scolded about speaking up now because, as the story goes, the public had lots of opportunities back in 2014-15 to comment on changes to these portions of the Reston Master Plan changes called “Phase 2.” (Phase 1 involved only the transit station areas.)

Our supervisor and county staff frequently repeat the myth of significant community involvement in Reston Master Plan Phase 2.  However, the county disbanded the citizen “task force” set up for community review before the Phase 2 review. There simply was little in-depth public review of the changes that are the driver for increasing the density cap.

Why should you care? Because if the zoning density cap is lifted, the ability of the community to push back on significant high-density development in our established residential neighborhoods effectively will be eliminated. Sure, each of us can watch out for individual development applications, but the force of overall community oversight based on a reasonable density cap will have been taken from us forever.  

We have invested our financial resources, identities and emotional loyalty to Reston as a planned community. The density increase is an existential threat to those investments.

Take action to protect your hometown. Help maintain the current density cap and the modicum of control it provides over those who would rob us of a community grounded in diversity, environmental stewardship and quality of life.

Attend the Jan. 23 meeting of the Planning Commission at the Fairfax County Government Center at 7 p.m. (and wear your yellow shirts!)

Write to our County officials: Supervisor Hudgins: [email protected]; other Fairfax County Supervisors:  [email protected]; and the Fairfax County Planning Commission: [email protected].

File photo

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Letter: The Folly of 15

This letter was submitted by Dennis K. Hays, the president of the Reston Citizens Association. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Fairfax County has proposed to increase the population cap of the Reston Planned Residential Community district (PRC) from the long-standing 13 persons per acre (ppa) to as many as 15 persons per acre — which when combined with already approved projects would add an additional 30,000 people above our current population for the established, primarily residential areas of Reston. Please keep in mind this doesn’t include the areas around the Metro, where the county is on track to authorize building enough high rises to add an additional 80,000 residents.

Here are 10 reasons why the cap should be left alone. There undoubtedly are more.

1. If the ceiling (13) is shattered, there is no new ceiling: Fourteen or 15 today will be 16 tomorrow, 17 the day after and 20 down the road. The current 13 ppa has been in effect since Robert Simon created Reston. Does anyone believe the county will stop at 15?

2. The county bases its proposal on numbers that are rough estimates at best, gross misrepresentations at worst. The county has provided no established methodology that can be used to arrive at accurate numbers. The county promised to meet with the Coalition for a Planned Reston (CPR) and the Reston Association to agree on a methodology before any action would be taken. We’re still waiting.

3. There are thousands of dwelling units (what the county calls where we live) that have been approved but not yet built (1,400 at Spectrum alone). How will all these already authorized residences affect roads, schools, first responder services, and parks? The county counts them for cap purposes, but not for the provision of services.

4. The county doesn’t count people who live in affordable or workforce housing as part of the cap, despite CPR’s frequent complaints. These neighbors of ours have kids in school, drive to work, go to the library and play ball in the parks just like everyone else. So why are they second-class citizens in the county’s eyes?

5. Although the county is in a frenzied hurry to authorize new high-density construction, they are in no hurry to provide the needed infrastructure that should go along with it. Reston has received no funding from the county in its current transportation budget. There is no land for additional athletic fields or open space confirmed. The Master Plan calls for infrastructure to be phased in with development. County officials talk for hours about their “plans” for roads, schools, parks, etc. but when pressed they are forced to admit they have no funds, no identified land and no timetable for the required infrastructure.

6. Why the push to raise the cap now? Even using the county’s questionable numbers there aren’t any development proposals that take us over the 13 ppa limit. So what is the rush? Why not use this time to assess how we grow in phase with the services needed to support our neighborhoods?

7. Until five years ago the county had an official on the Planning staff dedicated to working on Reston proposals. This provided some coordination. They haven’t replaced that official. Now the county can’t say specifically where the development allowed by their increased cap will go, although it doesn’t take much to figure this out — initially it will go to build high rises in the Village Centers, take parking spaces away from the library and push again on St. Johns Wood and the other “hot spots” the county believes should be more urban. And by urban they mean you will only walk, bike or Metro to work, the grocery store, the movies, to see family and friends and everywhere else. And then they will come for the golf courses.

8. The Reston Master Plan was changed in significant ways after community representatives had signed off on what they believed to be the final version. Leaving that aside for the moment, the Virginia Code calls for Master Plans to be reviewed and updated at least every five years. The Master Plan for the Metro areas is up for review next month. The PRC portion must be updated no later than next year. Yet the county has taken no steps to begin the review process. Given all that has happened, isn’t it time to pause and take stock?

9. The more you dig into the county’s assertions, the shakier they become. The CPR and the Reston Association met with county officials in four sub-groups last summer. It became immediately apparent that a lot more information and data was needed to properly review and assess the issues surrounding the cap. We had agreement coming out of all four meetings that the additional information would be developed before any action on the cap was taken. CPR and RA asked over 30 specific questions. On Dec. 11 the county responded by sending a blizzard of paperwork — that restated what we had already been told but provided no new information. Why hasn’t the county met its commitment to answer these questions? Could it be that the answers would be more damning than not answering?

10. The county speaks often of the need for “community involvement” and the Master Plan lists community participation as the foundation stone on which all else rests. So why has the county refused to meaningfully engage with its citizens? We remain ready to work with the county to further the unique vision of Reston as a balanced, welcoming community that takes to heart our motto of “live, work, play.” Is that too much to ask?

If you agree that raising the cap is unneeded and counterproductive, please let our Fairfax County Supervisor ([email protected]), the other supervisors ([email protected]), the Planning Commission ([email protected]) and the Department of Planning and Zoning ([email protected]) know. We can make this a Happy New Year if we act together.

— Dennis K. Hays

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Reston Association Continues Opposition to Proposed Zoning Changes

Updated at 5:00 p.m. — Corrects the spelling of Laurie Dodd’s name and the time of the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 23.

Reston Association’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to continue its opposition to a proposed zoning amendment, which would increase Reston’s population density, at last night’s meeting.

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

After an executive session to consult with the land use counsel, Vice President Sridhar Ganesan said that the current density at 12.46 people per acre is a “very inaccurate population estimate.”

“A lot of slack is built into the current density,” Ganesan said. “I believe the director of the Planning and Zoning Commission told us –some of the members on the board — they are trying to recalculate the population estimate in Reston, and they don’t have an accurate estimate just yet.”

Given the wiggle room in the current density and the outrage from many community members, Ganesan said the PRC density level should not increase.

Several community groups, including the Coalition for a Planned Reston and Reston 2020, are fighting the move, arguing that the proposed amendment is rushed through and under-explained.

County planning officials have argued that the change is needed to put into action Reston’s Master Plan, which allows for future growth over the next 40 years.

President Andy Sigle said that the RA is still working through “reams” of data and information in support of the zoning proposal from a series of emails on Dec. 11 from Fairfax County.

“We have a concern that the wrong number on this PRC density will overwhelm the infrastructure prescribed in the Reston Master Plan, so it’s important that we get the right number,” Sigle said at the meeting.

The board also approved setting up a work session for RA’s board prior to the Planning Commission’s Jan. 10 workshop on the amendment.

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors clashed over community input on the proposed zoning changes at their Dec. 4 meeting, before authorizing public hearings on the proposal.

Hudgins said at the Dec. 4 meeting that locals have had plenty of opportunities to get the desired information. “Yes, there are some questions that people have,” Hudgins said. “Those questions have been answered before or are not relevant to this.”

Meanwhile, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Braddock District Supervisor John Cook argued for more community input.

Residents expressed frustration and disapproval to RA’s board last night (Dec. 13), pointing to a lack of community input to the county’s board and insufficient infrastructure to support increased density in Reston.

Laurie Dodd, a resident for the last 23 years, criticized Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins for asking to schedule hearings on the zoning proposal without following through on promised community engagement.

“It is disturbing to me to see other supervisors in Fairfax County speak up about the right of residents to be heard more than our own supervisors had done,” Dodd said.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the zoning proposal at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23, followed by the Board of Supervisors’ public hearing at 4:30 p.m. on March 5.

The Planning Commission must say “yea” or “nay” to the proposal by March 15, according to county rules.

Secretary John Mooney urged Restonians to stay informed and engaged. “Please attend the county meetings,” he said.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

This story has been updated

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Reston Association Set to Oppose PRC Zoning Amendment Tomorrow

Reston Association is set this week to take up contentious proposed zoning changes that would increase the population density in Reston.

This upcoming meeting will focus a motion to oppose the zoning proposal and also consider approving $22,500 from its cash reserves to increase next year’s staff training budget at the public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).

The proposal would increase the maximum allowed population per acre in the Planned Residential Community (PRC) district — Reston’s primary zoning district — from 13 persons up to 15. The current density is roughly 12.46 people per acre.

County planning officials have argued that the change is needed to put into action Reston’s Master Plan, which allows for future growth over the next 40 years.

Several community groups, including the Coalition for a Planned Reston and Reston 2020, are fighting the move. They argue that the proposed amendment is rushed through and under-explained.

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors clashed over community input on the proposed zoning changes at their Dec. 4 meeting, before authorizing public hearings on the proposal for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and 4:30 p.m. on March 5.

On the heels of adopting the 2019 operating and capital budgets for next year, RA’s Board of Directors will also consider whether or not to use $22,500 from the operating reserve funds for 2018 to expand the 2019 fiscal year budget for staff training and development.

The RA also will consider revisions to the third draft of the election schedule and receive the treasurer’s report. RA is also set to approve Sharon Canner as the chair of the 55+ Advisory Committee and Nancy Malesic as a member of the Environmental Advisory Committee.

The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.

Photo via Reston Association/Reston Today

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Board of Supervisors Clash Over Community Input for Proposed Zoning Changes

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors disagreed about community input on contentious proposed zoning changes, before authorizing public hearings early next year on the changes at their meeting today.

The proposal, which would increase the population density in Reston, has sparked a backlash from community groups, including the Reston Association, Coalition for a Planned Reston and Reston 2020.

County planning officials have argued that the change is needed to put into action Reston’s Master Plan, which allows for future growth over the next 40 years.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust vented frustration at the Dec. 4 meeting that Reston residents have not heard back from the county regarding the public hearings for the zoning proposal.

In response to Foust’s concerns, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said that locals have had plenty of opportunities to get the desired information.

County officials began small workgroup sessions hosted by the Coalition for a Planned Reston, a grassroots organization, and the Reston Association in July to discuss the controversial plan.

“Yes, there are some questions that people have,” Hudgins said. “Those questions have been answered before or are not relevant to this.”

Hudgins stressed that consideration of the proposed zoning changes is moving forward because of the work, including 13 follow up meetings since May and regular meetings with the Reston Association, already done.

Hudgins praised the “noble” staff for answering community questions.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook said that verbal responses from staff to locals are not enough, adding that the community would benefit from written questions and answers available online.

“I don’t think it’s enough to have oral questions,” Cook said. “Not everyone can get to public meetings.”

Cook added that community input must have limits. “It’s fair to have a cut off date for questions,” he said.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has 100 days from the referral — the staff report published Dec. 4 — to take action on the zoning proposal. The Board of Supervisors authorized public hearings on the zoning changes for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and at 4:30 p.m. on March 5.

“The clock starts today,” Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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