Reston has seen a noticeable uptick in development over the past half-decade, just as local officials hoped with the arrival of Metro’s Silver Line, but between the multitude of projects and their often similar names, it’s understandable if residents have lost track of what buildings are going up where.
Fairfax County has come up with a solution, introducing an online map that shows the status and location of zoning projects in the Reston Transit Station Areas (TSAs).
Launched Wednesday (July 28), the Zoning Activity Data Hub is the second part of a larger Reston Data Visualization Project that the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development has been working on to make it easier for community members to track development and infrastructure changes in the area.
“The project is the first of its kind for Fairfax County,” the county said in a news release. “It focuses on enhancing data transparency associated with Reston development and infrastructure improvements, including information about mobility, parks, and zoning activity.”
Planning department leaders and the Hunter Mill District supervisor’s office came up with the idea for the data visualization project when the county’s Comprehensive Plan for Reston was amended in February 2014 to establish the TSAs, according to DPD Urban Centers Section Chief Suzie Battista.
“Staff committed to increasing the public accessibility of planning data and trends,” Battista said by email. “This transparency allows citizens to better understand project timing and planning directions.”
The county released the first phase of the project in January with the launch of a Reston Transportation Data Hub, which has information about road projects, transit routes, and amenities for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The zoning hub features all proposed and approved zoning applications submitted to the county in the Wiehle-Reston East, Reston Town Center, and Herndon Metro station areas since February 2014.
Each project is outlined in a different color depending on whether the application has been approved, denied, indefinitely deferred, or is in process. The arrow by the project name leads to links to images of the site and the application documents.
While the map is currently static, county planners told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in May that the data hubs will eventually be equipped to illustrate how Reston has changed over time.
Battista says the zoning activity hub will be updated “on an as-needed basis, such as when substantial zoning case are revised or new zoning applications are approved.”
The county says an Urban Parks Hub will be added to the data project “in the coming months.”
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn calls the zoning data hub “a big step forward” in providing transparency.
“Reston has millions of square feet of development with approved zoning that has not yet been built,” Alcorn said in a statement. “…These online tools are a step toward visualizing what the transit station areas (TSA) of Reston will look like if all the development that has been approved is actually built.”
New Laws Take Effect in Virginia — A host of new laws passed by the General Assembly take effect today (Thursday), including the legalization of simple marijuana possession, the abolition of the death penalty, and a requirement that drivers change lanes when passing bicyclists. The fine for littering is now $500, up from $250, and it is now illegal to intentionally release a balloon outside. [Patch]
Police Community Forum Tonight — The Fairfax County Police Department’s Reston District Station will hold a virtual community information forum at 7 p.m. today that will include discussion of trends, upcoming events, and officer and case highlights from the past month. Send questions to [email protected]. [RA/Twitter]
Republican Challenger to Ken Plum Will Be on Ballot — Veteran Matt Lang will officially appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot as the Republican candidate for the 36th House District, which includes Reston and is currently represented by Del. Ken Plum. The State Board of Elections approved his candidacy upon appeal yesterday (Wednesday) after his application was initially blocked by a late filing certification. [Virginia Public Access Project]
Changes to Permitted Agritourism Activities Approved — “Fairfax County supervisors, despite objections from some local residents and environmental groups, on June 22 approved new ‘agritourism’ rules that will allow certain by-right commercial operations in agricultural settings…Allowable activities include farm tours, harvest-your-own activities, seasonal festivals and attractions, events, hiking, horseback riding and other activities, historical and cultural endeavors.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Homeowners seeking to rent out their basements or other parts of their residence as well as renters and neighborhoods concerned about parking will soon have new rules aimed at helping them.
A revised zoning code for Fairfax County, the first overhaul in around 40 years, becomes effective Thursday (July 1).
In addition to updating the county’s regulated uses with new options like live-work developments and solar farms, the new ordinance loosens some restrictions around accessory dwelling units — independent residential units that share a property with a main dwelling. But zoning officials say they expect a modest increase in homeowners converting parts of their property for other people.
Adopted in March, the new rules replace existing standards for ADUs — now dubbed accessory living units or ALUs — from 1978 and 1983, drop requirements that the occupant of the revamped space have a disability or be 55 years or older, and add parking requirements.
While the changes inspired some strong opinions from community groups, their impact is expected to be relatively small: Fairfax County approved 12 accessory unit applications in 2019, seven in 2020, and two so far this year as of Friday.
County staff previously noted there have been community concerns over whether the code is being enforced. A burdensome special permit approval process also may have been creating problems, the county said.
“Others may be installing ALUs anyway, but then perhaps they’re more likely to be unpermitted construction without the benefit of the permits and inspections,” Carmen Bishop, assistant zoning administrator, said in January before the Fairfax County Planning Commission. “So a less burdensome process may result in better compliance.”
People who have wanted such changes have had to go through a hearing, a process where neighbors could weigh in. Under the new rules, a property owner can add an interior ALU with just an administrative permit instead if they meet certain requirements.
That includes a new measure that adds an extra parking spot in off-street parking. Whether or not there’s an accessory living unit, a detached single-family house on a public street must have two off-street parking spaces or — if it’s on a private street — three off-street spots, according to the county.
“When a house has an ALU, one additional parking space will be required, which means, homes on public streets will need three off-street spaces and homes on private streets will need four off-street spaces to meet the zoning ordinance standard,” Leslie Johnson, the zoning administrator for the county’s Department of Planning and Development, said in an email Friday.
The new standards come as the county’s population exceeds 1.1 million people after rising by over 100,000 people every decade from 1980 to 2010, according to census data.
With housing prices expected to continue rising, proponents of the ALU rule changes argue that they will provide more flexibility for residents who want to stay in the county but can’t afford to live on their own.
Earlier in June, the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority approved a change that made it easier for certain people in a first-time homebuyers program to rent a portion of their owner-occupied homes after a resident made a request.
The switch applies to 38 units and makes the authority’s policy consistent with all other units in county homebuyer programs, county spokesman Benjamin Boxer said in an email.
“Those owners may rent a portion of their home as long as they continue to occupy the property as their primary residence,” Boxer said in an email. “It is worth noting that, historically, we have rarely received any requests from our participating homeowners to rent portions of their homes.”
The 7-3 vote — with Supervisors Walter Alcorn, Daniel Storck, and Pat Herrity dissenting — serves as the culmination of a four-year Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, that began in 2017 to update zoning laws codified in 1978.
Although the updates to the document were sweeping in scope, three proposed changes drew a great deal of public attention and comment. These included proposals to loosen restrictions on accessory living units and home-based businesses and revise size and height regulations for flags and flag poles.
“There are…very few issues receiving much attention,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “I believe that demonstrates that, given everything that we’ve done, it was a fair and transparent process.”
Storck, who represents the Mount Vernon District, said he supports many aspects of the 614-page draft, but a few areas surrounding the accessory living units and the home-based businesses, including the permit process and enforcement, give him pause.
He worries that some of the proposed changes to require only administrative permits could lead to a lack of engagement and that enforcement, which he calls “the bread and butter of public confidence,” is not going to be swift or strong enough to stop zoning violations.
Approved changes to the regulations for accessory living units include allowing interior units with an administrative permit and removing the requirement that only those 55 and older or disabled people can live in them. However, the owner must live in the main home, can only operate one ALU in which up to two people can reside, and must provide a parking spot.
To operate a home-based business, people will need to get special exception permits to have customers visit between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., unless they provide instruction to fewer than eight students a day and up to four at a time.
Acceptable businesses include retail — as long as sales and delivery occur online or offsite — as well as exercise classes, repair services for small household items, hair salons, and clothing tailors. People can also operate an office or as a music, photography, or art studio out of their home.
Residents can have up to three flags, and flag poles can be up to 25 feet tall when in front of a single-family home or up to 60 feet tall on other lots. Property owners can apply for a special permit to extend the height of a pole.
The board opted not to adopt any regulations limiting the size of flags.
In voting for the final draft of the plan, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the document represents a compromise that goes “further than some would like to go, but not as far as others would like.”
The supervisors highlighted the Herculean effort that went into overhauling codes for a county as large as Fairfax and taking into account community input. Foust said that the most recent draft, which was subject to a public hearing on March 9, “includes revisions that significantly improve the initial package that we considered.”
Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross said that home-based businesses and accessory living units are both “already here,” so the changes help clarify what is allowed and set guardrails to preserve neighborhoods and allow people to work from home.
“I know there’s a lot of speculation about what will happen. Speculation is usually just that: speculation,” she said. “It sometimes is fear.”
Palchik said she does not discount the people who expressed legitimate concerns, but she argued that many of those have been addressed during the zMOD process. She aargued that many of the changes are similar to, if not “much more modest” than policies that are already in place elsewhere in the D.C. area, including in Montgomery County, D.C., Arlington, Loudoun County, and the City of Alexandria.
“While there are many changes to the zoning ordinance, I do believe it’s critical in seeing that our housing market is under pressure and costs of living continue to rise, especially for those who struggle to live here,” she said. “While accessory living units do not fix all of these problems, the added flexibility for our most vulnerable residents and additional options for those who want to remain in their homes can be part of the solution.”
Photo via Fairfax County
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to defer a vote on adopting a new county zoning ordinance after hearing roughly five hours of testimony at a public hearing on Tuesday (March 9).
The fate of the 614-page document will now be decided at 4:30 p.m. on March 23.
“We’ve been at this for a long time,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said toward the end of the public hearing, which featured 71 speakers. “…By deferring for two weeks, that gives the board more time to consider what we’ve heard before we move on this on March 23.”
The additional time will let the board review input from the community and the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which put forward amendments last week related to flags and flag poles, home-based businesses, and accessory living units (independent housing on the same property as a main residence).
“I think we might have a fairly long mark-up on this, because my guess is there are going to be a number of issues, as a board, we might need to talk through,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said.
Launched in 2017, the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization project (zMOD) aims to update the county’s 40-year-old zoning code by making it easier to comprehend and incorporating new activities, such as electric vehicles and community gardens.
Proposed regulations on ALUs, home-based businesses, and flags have emerged as the most hotly contested changes, though speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing raised concerns about everything from food trucks to vehicle storage.
Fairfax County staff agreed with the planning commission that the draft should have a requirement that home-based businesses be approved by the county health department if the property has a well or septic system and a standard limiting the amount of hazardous materials they can have on site.
They also revised their recommendation for flags to allow maximum sizes of 50 square feet on lots with single-family dwellings and manufactured homes or 150 square feet for all other uses. Staff previously recommended limiting flag sizes to 24 square feet on single-family home lots and 96 square feet for other uses.
Community members took stands on both sides of the debate around ALUs. Some voiced support for looser regulations to enable them as an affordable housing option, while others worried about the potential impacts on traffic, parking, and public facilities.
“There is no guarantee that ALUs will equal affordable housing, but eliminating the current requirements will tax our already burdened public facilities,” McLean Citizens Association President Rob Jackson said. “…Adding more people without additional public facilities will degrade the quality of life.”
Many speakers urged the Board of Supervisors to follow the planning commission’s recommendation of retaining a special permitting process for interior ALUs, saying that allowing administrative permits would shut out citizens and neighbors.
“We really need more genuine outreach to engage the public in making land use decisions that directly affect communities, and not less,” Falls Church resident Kathryn Cooper said. “Residents do not want their involvement in land use decisions to be excised, as will occur under zMOD.”
Also a Falls Church resident, Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager Sonya Breehey argued that the county should go further in encouraging ALUs and that continuing to require a special permit for interior units, as recommended by the planning commission, would delay efforts to address housing affordability challenges.
“Accessory living units can offer less expensive housing options than renting or buying a single-family home because of their smaller size, and they provide housing opportunities in communities that might otherwise be too expensive,” Breehey said. “…As a homeowner in a single-family residential neighborhood, I want you all to know that I see ALUs as an opportunity to provide greater inclusivity in my neighborhood that I love.”
The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday (Mar. 3) to recommend that the county replace its current zoning code with a new draft resulting from the Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project (zMOD) that has now been underway for almost four years.
The 12-0 vote came after more than an hour of debate over the county’s proposed regulations for accessory living units(ALUs) — independent residential units located on the same property as a primary dwelling — and home-based businesses, which have emerged as two of the most contentious components of the 614-page document.
“The zMOD result on ALUs and home-based businesses, I believe, misses the mark,” Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie said. “It does not incorporate community concern and avoids a significant opportunity to make a real difference in housing policy. If we want to successfully expand housing options, we need community input, involvement, and buy-in.”
Released on Feb. 17, the draft zoning ordinance crafted by county planning staff and the consultant Clarion proposed allowing ALUs for single-family detached dwellings with an administrative permit if they meet certain requirements, including a maximum gross floor area of 800 square feet or 40% of the principal dwelling and that an occupant be at least 55 years old or have a disability.
Citing an “exceptional amount” of public opposition to that proposal, including at a public hearing on Jan. 28, the planning commission recommended that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors instead utilize a special permit review process for all ALUs, which requires property owners to notify neighbors and make their case at a public hearing.
“This [administrative] process — what I’m seeing and what I’ve personally experienced — it pits neighbor against neighbor, or potentially could put neighbor against neighbor,” Mount Vernon District Commissioner Walter Clarke said. “I think it’s only fair, and we owe it to the citizens of this community, to have a process whereby they still can be engaged.”
The commission also recommended lifting the requirement that an occupant have a disability or be 55 years or older when an ALU is approved with a special permit, and allowing units to fill a basement or cellar based on its existing size on the date the new zoning ordinance becomes effective.
The commission also recommended amending the draft to prohibit on-site customers for home-based businesses approved through an administrative permit, except in cases involving instructional activities at a “specialized instruction center” — i.e., private tutoring or music lessons — or a health and exercise facility.
Instruction centers and health and exercise facilities could have up to four students at a time and eight students in a day. Other home-based businesses could have customers if they obtain a special permit.
In addition, all home-based businesses will have to be approved by the Fairfax County Health Department if there is a well or septic tank on site, a provision that was already proposed for ALUs.
While acknowledging that ALUs could help people who otherwise might not be able to afford to live in Fairfax County, the majority of commissioners ultimately expressed reservations about loosening restrictions across the entire county without getting a clearer sense of the potential impact on traffic, parking, and other issues, especially in high-density areas.
“While I do believe that accessory living units can provide an opportunity for additional living space in our very expensive county, I believe additional time is needed for study of the proposed countywide applications of accessory living units by administrative review,” At-Large Commissioner Timothy Sargeant said.
The commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors direct the county planning department to convene a task force that will study ALUs and home-based businesses for 18 months and deliver a report with any recommendations for further changes to the zoning ordinance.
Earlier in the meeting, the commission shot down a proposed zoning amendment that would have altered regulations for flags and flag poles, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.” The county’s only existing regulation for flags is a limit of three per lot.
Fairfax County launched its zMOD initiative in March 2017 with the goal of simplifying and updating a document that had not undergone a comprehensive revision since it was first adopted 40 years ago.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the new zoning ordinance on Tuesday (Mar. 9). If the ordinance is adopted as it was approved by the planning commission, it would take effect at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
Image via Town of Vienna
Case Average Takes Downturn — “On Sunday, Virginia recorded 3,792 new coronavirus cases while the seven-day average continues to decline from last week, according to Virginia Department of Health data.” [Reston Patch]
Reston Group Opposes zMOD — The Reston Citizens Association has issued a lengthy statement opposing certain elements of the county’s zoning modernization project. [Reston 2020]
Snow Possible Tonight — “Precipitation breaks out sometime after 3 p.m., probably starting as light rain before changing to a sleet/snow mix. Mixed precipitation will continue to fall lightly through midnight, probably changing back to light rain overnight. High temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s. Accumulations in the D.C. metro area will be mostly confined to grassy surfaces.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Photo by Marjorie Copson
The Town of Herndon’s historic district officially has a new name and updated guidelines.
The Herndon Town Council unanimously voted to change the name of the Historic Preservation District, which is generally located in and around downtown and the northern areas of Herndon, to the Historic District Overlay.
In a release from earlier this month, the town stated that that the new name “allows for clearer identification of the district and conforms to the typical term used for similar districts throughout Virginia anD the nation.”
The town worked with Work Program Architects and Commonwealth Preservation Group to adopt the new guidelines, which generally offer a “clearer basis of evaluation for staff at the Historic District Review Board,” according to a statement released by the town of Dec. 1.
“The new guidelines are easier to navigate, provide material flexibility and include a resource guide for property owners.”
Applicants now have more flexibility to design and building additions to existing buildings. An engineered site plan is not required for some additions. Applications for some exterior modifications will go to staff for approval instead of work sessions or public hearings.
The guidelines also include a new process guide for property owners as well as different options to improve or modify district properties.
The project consultants interviewed 143 total participants prior to going through with the changes, including 110 homeowners and residents and 15 commercial property and business owners.
Photo via Town of Herndon
Last Thursday (Oct. 29) the town’s consultants and staff invited the public to review new district guidelines that affects property owners and the Architectural Review Board.
The Heritage Preservation Program is designed to provide “a mechanism to ensure conservation of the town’s traditional neighborhoods and older commercial structures, providing a community identify apart from the suburban growth of the urbanizing region,” the website said.
Deputy Director of Community Development Bryce Perry noted that the town is considering a name change for the program.
“The change is not formally adopted, but is reflected in the guidelines,” Perry said.
Price said her firm was responsible for “the 3D modeling, graphics, and details of the buildings.”
The new guidelines are designed to be user-friendly and clearly delineate where to go for contributing and noncontributing additions, as well as new construction, she said. The current guidelines are text-heavy and do not offer sufficient ‘how-to’ information.
“The goal is to meet the community reservation vision to ensure that we are maintaining and enhancing the character of the town,” she said.
Pollard of Commonwealth Preservation Group said the new guidelines will provide:
- A statement of purpose
- Clarification of the process
- Clear distinction between contributing, noncontributing, additions and new construction
- A resource guide for maintenance, materials and vendors
- Flexibility in material options
- A basis for Herndon District Review Board to make consistent decisions
Many citizens were present to take advantage of the question and answer portion of the public meeting.
A wide-range of questions were asked, including where to find a list of contributing properties.
“The best way to find that is using the interactive GIS map that we do have on our website,” Perry said.
One resident asked about guidance on “light fixtures, mailboxes, and specific color or guidance on things like tin shingles, etc.”
“There is no guidance on mailboxes and light fixtures,” Paulson explained. “For tin shingles, the guidance is to match existing and beyond that there are a few steps if you can’t, and that’s up to the board to work through on their end.”
Other updates regarding the district were presented at the end by Perry, including a zoning ordinance and the development of a new process guide for applicants.
A zoning ordinance, including changing the name of the district and name of the review board, is being scheduled to review by the town’s council later this month, according to Perry.
“This is really to enforce that legally what we have is a historic district,” Perry said. “And we want to make sure that we’re consistent with what these types of districts are called at the state level and with the other local jurisdictions.”
The extension of approved applications was the last update discussed. Applicants now have five years, instead of just one year, to start a project.
“Right now if an applicant receives board approval for a project, they would have twelve months to have that project started, unless they return to the board for an extension,” Perry explained. “Projects, especially large ones like additions and new construction are almost always delayed, so having the ability to keep these approvals active for five years, instead of just the one year period, really gives some flexibility to the project management and can save the applicant, staff and board time by avoiding that need for the repeated extension request.”
For more information about the Herndon Historic District Guidelines or other updates, visit the town’s website.
Photo by Comstock
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is looking to alter its rules for adult day care centers after providers complained about zoning changes.
The board will vote on Tuesday to authorize public hearings — one for the Planning Commission on Sept. 16 and one with the county board on Oct. 6 — on the proposed changes.
The changes would make adult day care centers a by-right use in industrial areas and allow the Health Care Advisory Board to review centers prior to opening. The county also wants to review the requirement for outdoor recreation space at the centers.
Back in 2018, county officials greenlighted zoning changes that adult day care center providers now say have made it difficult to find appropriate locations in the county, according to county documents.
More from the county documents:
Of particular concern is the requirement for special exception approval in the industrial districts and the requirement to provide outdoor recreation space. This use, similar to child care centers, private schools and places of worship, was previously allowed by-right when located in an office or industrial park and where vehicle access is provided via the internal circulation system of the park. Adult day care providers indicated that the special exception requirement puts them at a disadvantage when trying to lease space, particularly industrial flex space, as other uses with similar land use impacts are allowed by-right, like child care centers, private schools, and places of worship.
The new proposal under consideration stemmed from county officials earlier this year asking staff to review the regulations.
The hearings will seek feedback from community members on the proposed zoning amendments.
The Youngkin family bought parts of the Normandy Farms property (681 Rossmore Court) in 2015 and 2019 before applying for the roughly 31 acres of land to be reclassified as an agricultural and forest district.
The family claims the land has no historical significance for the area but they hope to preserve the nine acres of forest on the property and enhance equestrian infrastructure on the property.
The land includes barns, indoor and outdoor riding arenas, boarding and training facilities, horse pastures, meadows and a pond, which is home to Canadian geese, a blue heron and turtles, according to county documents. The documents also noted that the family plans to maintain the natural importance of the land.
“The proposed application is in conformance with plan goals of preserving the rural character of this environmentally sensitive area,” the application said.
The Youngkin family requested a public hearing with the Fairfax County Agricultural and Forestal District Advisory Board and the Fairfax County Planning Commission to review their application, according to the documents, which likely won’t happen before spring 2020.
The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to consider the application in February.
Image via Google Maps
Herndon’s Board of Zoning Appeals narrowly threw out a zoning violation for a local house concert series at its meeting on Thursday (Jan. 24).
Chris Devine, the host of The Crib, said he decided to challenge that citation on Dec. 20 after meeting with staff three days earlier. Devine told the Board of Zoning Appeals that the staff appeared unfamiliar with house concerts, which he likened to a sports fan who has fellow fans over to watch the show and asks for money to help cover food and drink costs.
Zoning Administrator David Stromberg testified on Thursday night that the Town of Herndon first received an anonymous complaint last year on Oct. 30 alleging that 70 people entered Devine’s single-family townhouse. Stromberg said that evening surveillance then took place during two scheduled concert dates.
After two more complaints on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10 mentioning a lack of visitor parking, a notice of violation was issued on Dec. 14.
“[This] activity constitutes an Indoor Entertainment use and is not a permitted use on the subject property pursuant to the Town of Herndon Zoning Ordination,” the citation said.
Stromberg said that the zoning ordinance doesn’t really define a “commercial use” versus “non-commercial use” for indoor entertainment, adding that he did not consider who was receiving the money from the tickets.
All of the attendees’ donations and tickets go to the artist, according to The Crib’s website.
Devine said at the meeting that he’s taken steps to remediate any confusion that could result from a cursory review of the house concerts.
He said that he changed the wording on the website from “ticket” to “suggested donation” to clear up any concern about where the money goes. He also removed reference to a limited liability corporation he had set up for potential professional endeavors unrelated to the house concerts.
“I am certainly free as a homeowner to invite into my home anyone that I choose, including those fellow music lovers who want to support those artists through a donation,” Devine said in response to a definition of commercial activities referring to open attendance. “While I have not had the occasion, I can also refuse to anyone at any time for any reason, therefore attendance to my home is not open to the public.”
Since launching in 2015, The Crib has hosted nearly 50 house shows with 28 different independent artists, according to its website. Each show lets the artist perform two 45-minute sets of original music. Seating is on a first-come basis with a capacity of roughly 40 people.
After several locals testified in support of The Crib, the board voted 3-2 to overturn the violation.
The Crib’s next scheduled performance is set for Feb. 8 and will feature Dustin Furlow and Matt Thomas.
Image via Board of Zoning Appeals
Dozens of Reston residents and locals showed up to testify in opposition to a contentious proposal that would increase the population density in Reston at the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s five-hour-long public meeting yesterday (Jan. 23).
The proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance would increase the maximum allowed population per acre in the Planned Residential Community (PRC) district — Reston’s primary zoning district — from 13 persons to any number up to 15.
It would also allow residential development at a density of up to 70 dwelling units per acre — the current maximum is 50 dwelling units per acre — for properties designated for high density on an approved development plan and located in a transit station area planned for mixed-use within the Reston PRC District.
Shortly before the meeting ended at 11:55 p.m., Vice Chairman and At-Large Commissioner James Hart deferred a decision on the item until Feb. 13.
Hart, the main person leading the proposal, started the meeting by telling his fellow commissioners and the audience that opposition to raising the density cap was a common theme of the many letters he received: “That message came through loud and clear.”
Yet, the commissioners still face a “nuanced” dilemma, from complicated numbers to whether it is better to raise the cap so that applications can come in as PRC or deal with applications zoned as PRM or PDC after the current PRC zoning is used up, he said.
Regardless of the future decision, he said he hopes that the controversy over the amendment “can spark interest and participation in the land use process.”
Most of the 29 who testified on what that decision should be urged the commission to reject the amendment.
Opponents — many of whom wore yellow clothing to symbolize their unity against increasing the density — said raising the density cap will jeopardize green spaces, worsen traffic congestion, crowd schools and encourage development before infrastructure is in place.
Many residents also voiced criticism that the proposal to raise the density cap was made without adequate community input and is based on faulty numbers.
Dennis Hayes, the president of the Reston Citizens Association, testified that county staff worked on the PRC amendment over a short summer and only held information meetings with the community.
“Meetings we were told would happen never occurred,” he said. He noted that the difference between a PRC capped at 13.7 versus 14.2 has not been demonstrated.
Roughly half of a dozen people spoke in support of the amendment.
Mark Ingrao, the president of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, argued that the amendment encourages balanced growth under the Reston Master Plan.
“The Reston Master Plan process was well thought out,” Ingrao said, adding that it requires infrastructure to be phased-in with development — not happen beforehand. “The idea that streets and schools get built before people can use them is incongruent with the rest of the county.”
Ingrao also said that concerns about an exploding population are overhyped. “It took over 50 years to reach [Reston’s] current population, and it will take decades to achieve full buildout under the plan,” he said.
Mike Jennings, a Reston resident of 33 years, pushed back on the notion that the comprehensive plan did not include community involvement and that the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee is easily swayed to developers’ desires.
Jennings warned the commissioners to “be careful before assuming the very visible and vocal opponents of this amendment are representative of Reston.”
The record will remain open for public comments until Feb. 13.
Hart ended the meeting by saying that he’s learned from the mistake of separating zoning and planning and that in the future, the two must get planned together. “We’ve left ourselves a real mess,” he said about the current state of things.
Photos via Planning Commission
Tonight is the Planning Commission’s meeting on contentious proposed zoning changes that would increase the population density in Reston. Tomorrow night, the Reston Association is set to discuss that proposal.
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.
Back in December, RA’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to continue its opposition to the proposed zoning amendment.
The RA also will receive a briefing from Tom Biesiadny, the director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. FCDOT is currently seeking input on changes to Fairfax Connector service.
The public meeting tomorrow (Jan. 24) is set to start at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).
The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.
Photo via Reston Association/YouTube
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