Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Thursday, February 14, 2019

CPR Comment on Planning Commission Recommendations to the Board of Supervisors to Reject the Proposed PRC Zoning Amendment and Proposal to Establish a Task Force with Appropriate Reston Resident Participation, February 14, 2019


Coalition for a Planned Reston
A voluntary group of residents from the Reston Citizens Association,
Reclaim Reston, and Reston 20/20


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 14, 2019

The Coalition for a Planned Reston (CPR) appreciates the thoroughness and thoughtfulness with which the Fairfax County Planning Commission has dealt with the proposal to raise the population cap of Reston’s Planned Residential Community (PRC.) 

CPR leadership is pleased with the Planning Commission’s determination that several of CPR's core positions are valid and in the best interest of the community. 

Specifically:

  • The Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Board of Supervisors reject the proposed density increase (and keep the cap at 13);
  • The Commission reaffirmed the need to link zoning to the Comprehensive Plan; and 
  • The Commission encouraged the formation of a Task Force to work on these issues with appropriate independent citizen participation.   

All of this has been accomplished by the involvement and action of thousands of Restonians and Reston well-wishers who have written letters, made phone calls, attended meetings, spoken to officials and helped CPR raise awareness in the community.   This was the decisive factor in achieving this result.    

While we are pleased with the Planning Commission's considered decisions, we note that this is not the end of attempts to diminish the uniqueness of Reston.  The matter now goes to the Board of Supervisors who have the final say.  While we believe the Supervisors should accept the Commissioners' recommendations, they have no obligation to do so.  The proposal on the density increase is on the calendar for Supervisors' meeting of March 5th.   We thus will continue to work to inform all the Supervisors about this issue and the destructive impact it would have if passed.   

Further, if the proposal to create a new Task Force is approved, a great deal of work will need to be done to ensure citizens' voices are heard and that the guiding principles of Reston are not pushed aside for short-term, self-interested gain.

CPR wishes to thank everyone who pitched in to preserve a functioning planned Reston. Please stay alert and informed.  Your continued passion is needed.

###
Media Contact: Lynne Mulston, Coalition for a Planned Reston (703-662-1687) 

Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same, Bloomberg Businessweek, February 13, 2019

If you were wondering why all of Reston's new apartments look the same and are ugly at that, this article from Bloomberg Businessweek by Justin Fox explains it well--and identifies a key risk.

Here are some key excerpts:


Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—
and more than a few construction fires.

 In the U.S., stick framing appears to have become the default construction method for apartment complexes . . . . The big reason is that it costs much less—I heard estimates from 20 percent to 40 percent less—than building with concrete, steel, or masonry. Those industries have sponsored several studies disputing the gap, but most builders clearly think it exists. . . .

These buildings wouldn’t be going up if no one wanted to move in, of course. Growing demand, brought on by demographic shifts, job-growth patterns, and a renewed taste among affluent Americans for city (or citylike) living, has shaped the mid-rise boom. So have the whims of capital. Most multifamily developers build to sell—to a real estate investment trust, an insurance company, a pension fund, or some other institutional investor. These owners aren’t interested in small projects, and their bottom-line focus determines not only materials but also appearance and layout.

The need for scale dictates hulking “superblocks,” and the desire to break up these blocks a little explains the colorful panels and other exterior choices. Efficiency dictates the buildings be wide enough for “double-loaded” corridors, with apartments on both sides, but not so wide that the apartments are narrow and dark. This in turn favors a structure shaped like a right-angled U, C, E, or S. Two- or three-bedroom apartments work best at the corners, so one-bedrooms and studios predominate. . . .

The advance of the mid-rise stick building has come with less fanfare, and left local officials and even some in the building industry surprised and unsettled. “It’s a plague, and it happened when no one was watching,” says Steven Zirinsky, building code committee co-chairman for the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects. What caught his attention was a blaze that broke out in January 2015 at the Avalon apartments in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from his home. “When I could read a book in my apartment by the flame of that fire,” he says, “I knew there was a problem.” Ignited by a maintenance worker’s torch, the fire spread through concealed spaces in the floors and attic of the four-story complex, abetted by a partial sprinkler system that didn’t cover those areas. No one died, but the building was destroyed.

There haven’t been many such fires in completed stick mid-rises, but the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction. . . .

Thursday, January 31, 2019

"What's the number?" E-mail to Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors by Terry Maynard, January 29, 2019

Dear Commissioners and Supervisors,

In the January 23rd Planning Commission hearing on increasing the density cap in Reston's PRC from 13 to some higher number, Mr. Hart asked the critical question, "What's the number?"  If not 13 people per acre, then what should it be?  From my perspective, the number for the population cap in the Reston PRC is, and should remain indefinitely, 13 persons per acre.  

If the Reston PRC overall P/A number is increased, even a little, it destroys the basis for it being fixed at any level as part of our founder’s vision and a true master plan.  In so doing, it extinguishes the core foundation of Reston as a planned community with a well-considered balance between residents, jobs, open space, and infrastructure.  Instead, the community and the county would just keep chasing the population cap higher or abolish it all together as property owners continue to seek to add density.  It does nothing for jobs, open space, or infrastructure (as many Reston speakers highlighted at the recent hearing).  Planned community destroyed.  

It seems clear to me that Bob Simon fully appreciated that Reston would have mass transit in the Dulles Corridor in addition to the access road and toll road.  With that in mind, a 1990s version of the Reston Master Plan stated that the maximum (not “target”) population of Reston is 130,000 people.   (That map is no longer publicly available.)  This is consistent with the story presented by Mark Looney at the Planning Commission hearing, and just because the result was a simple equation doesn’t mean it was not well considered.  For example, how about E = mc2?  Simple, but with huge implications—and it took years to formulate.     Not surprisingly, with an overall Reston acreage of about 10,000 acres, that 130,000 population cap works out to 13 people per acre. 

His logic, as reported in A Brief History of Reston, Virginia (Gulf Reston, 1970, p. 11) was: "Our present zoning ordinances (which isolated land uses) are largely responsible for the diffusion of our communities into separate, unrelated hunks without focus, identity or community life. They have helped produce chaos on our highways, monotony in our subdivisions, ugliness in our shopping centers. They are to blame for the whole neon-lighted wasteland that exists."  And, yes, neon lights have appeared on Comstock’s new office building at Reston Station.  He was more prescient than could have been imagined.

The Reston Master Plan as approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 (Phase 1 TSA revisions) came close to defining that 130,000 limit.
It targeted the development of 28,000 dwelling units (DUs) in the TSAs, about 59,000 people.
The largely suburban PRC areas of Reston would top out at about 82,000 people at 13 p/a less the overlap between the PRC and TSA in Reston Town Center comprising about 11,000 DUs, or about 23,000 people.   (My best estimate of the current RTC PRC population is about 13,000 people in some 6,300 DUs.  This is based on Fairfax County and RA data.)
Netting that all out (59,000 TSA + 59,000 non-TSA) leads to a potential Reston population of 118,000 people in “One Reston,” approaching the cap laid out in the Reston Master Plan some two decades ago.   And it would allow a virtual doubling of Reston’s current population (which the US Census estimates at 60,352 in its 2012-2017 ACS survey) in four decades that it has taken well over five decades to achieve.   Our experience shows that that is certainly enough growth to try to manage in any master plan, zoning ordinance, or supporting budget. 

Some of the further implications of that calculation are: 
We need to “down plan” the target residential potential of the TSAs from 44,000 DUs (2015 plan amendment) to 28,000 DUs (2014 Phase 1 plan approval).  This was the total number of DUs developed by the Phase 1 Reston Master Plan Task Force for Reston’s station areas.
We should not change the number of development categories in the PRC zoning ordinance (low, medium, high) or their values (maximum of 50 DU/A for MF DUs).  As RA has pointed out, only one development application has so far exceeded that density limit.  There should be no more.
Village centers should be re-developed at not more than a moderate density (30 DUA), not the 50 DUA proposed in the current PRC zoning amendment proposal.  In this manner, they would remain "neighborhood serving" as called for in the Reston Master Plan rather than just high-density annexes isolated from the transit station areas.   
It is clear, as members of the Planning Commission have stated, that we need to re-connect the Reston plan with the PRC zoning ordinance before considering changes to the latter.   With the next scheduled Reston plan effort set for 2020, I think the Planning Commission has the time to lay the groundwork for that effort before moving forward on this zoning amendment.  My only “ask” is that the new effort must include a strong community voice—people representing Reston residents’ interests—in the re-shaping of our community plan and zoning.

In the meantime, I think the Hippocratic Oath applies to the Reston body politic as much as it applies to the body human:  “First, do no harm.”

Thank you for your consideration—and your patience,


Terry Maynard

Photo: Yellow-shirt Restonians flood the Planning Commission hearing on the proposed PRC zoning amendment, January 23, 2019

Photo by Mercia Hobson, Reston Connection, January 30, 2019
Click here to read Mercia Hobson's article on the Planning Commission hearing. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Letter: Commercial and County Interests Push Super-Density in Reston despite Community Calls for Balanced Growth--Extended Version

This is an extended version of a letter by Terry Maynard published in RestonNow.  It includes more details and graphics.


As a Restonian who has worked hard on Reston planning and zoning for more than a decade, I was stunned by the letter, linked to in this RestonNow article, signed by 17 people, many of whom are associated with the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce (GRCOC), to Supervisor Hudgins.  The letter, signed by GRCOC Board Chairman Charlene Wheeless (Bechtel), GRCOC President and CEO Mark Ingrao, GRCOC Executive Committee Member Mike Jennings, and Mark Looney (GRCOC representative to the Reston Master Plan Task Force—RTF—and land use attorney), was so full of inaccuracies and untruths it could readily be labelled “fake news.”  

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 opposed by developers and ignored by the county. 

Let’s take a look at what REALLY has happened in this near-decade effort to re-plan and re-zone Reston.   

Only six of the two dozen primary members of the RTF studying Phase 1 (the transit station areas) were Reston residents who represented the interests of Reston residents.  They included representatives from three community organizations—Reston Association (RA), Reston Citizens Association (RCA), and Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH)—and three independent “at large” residents.  Another “at large” member from Herndon held views aligned with Reston’s community representatives.  Three of RTF’s members, including the chair of the task force, represented organizations promoting the extension of the Silver Line.  The rest, including the Reston Community Center, represented private and government development interests in Reston—more profits, more taxes.

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.

The Task Force recommended 27,932 dwelling units (homes for about 59,000 people) in the station areas based on 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.  It was 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.  This despite the fact the county insists it only revises plans every five years.

Community involvement in Reston planning was even more limited during Phase 2 (Reston’s suburban areas, all zoned PRC).  The community’s access to the Phase 2 planning process 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 (generally assuring some community engagement) to redevelop village centers was dropped from the Board-approved mid-2015 Reston Master Plan since it would make the redevelopment approval process more cumbersome.  

No meaningful commitment was made in the Reston Master Plan (RMP) 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 in the RMP to add specific infrastructures was vague, brief, and unacceptable.  

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

·       The school system just rejected funding to build a much needed high school in western Fairfax County (as proposed in the Reston plan) to accommodate “planned” growth.
·       Planning for parks serving station area residents remains a farce.  The county’s urban parks policy calls for 1.5 acres of park within walking distance (one-half mile).  That’s 138 acres of public parks for just the planned station area residents.  No public park land has been added so far.   

·       The Transportation Department studied the Reston station area road system for two years and came up with a variety of improvement proposals, but the Board of Supervisors has not fully funded any street improvements in the Metro station areas, including the critical toll road overpasses.  Statements by the C/FCDOT and in the GRCOC letter that “a dedicated revenue stream is already in place” for transportation improvements are not true.  Yes, the county has revenue streams, but virtually none have been “dedicated” to Reston.

·       In a slightly different case, most of the $10 million in funds approved in a 2012 county-wide bond referendum to re-build Reston Regional Library has yet to be utilized and is caught up in a public-private partnership (PPP) to build the library, a new homeless shelter, and other public facilities along with housing in Town Center North.  Worse, any library funds not spent by 2022 will expire and a new referendum will be required.  

Separate from the Reston planning process, the county amended the station area and Lake Anne Village Center “revitalization” zoning ordinance in mid-2016 to increase the allowable density in two urban mixed-use zoning categories, PDC for commercially-focused development and PRM for residentially-focus development.  Residential densities in these areas are now limited in density only by the Reston plan, including up to about 145 dwelling units per acre (FAR 4.0—305 people per acre) in the Reston Town Center station area core.  

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 despite the Reston plan’s call for “stable” residential neighborhoods.


 

The bottom line is that Restonians have had limited access to the planning 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 for transportation, schools, parks and open space, and more 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 7PM on January 23, 2013, 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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Gross Misstatements by Supervisor Hudgins on Reston Planning

In her January 2019 Hunter Mill Highlights newsletter, our supervisor makes a number of gross misstatements regarding the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force (RTF) she created.  Here are some of the lowlights:

  • The letter says, "Counties, cities,and town must provide a comprehensive plan detailing transportation plans; a system of community service facilities: parks, sports playing fields, forests, schools, playgrounds, public buildings and institutions, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community centers, waterworks, sewage disposal or waste disposal areas; areas for urban renewal; measures managing sustainability of groundwater and surface water; affordable housing, power corridors, and broadband infrastructure. In short, it is a guide for decision-making about virtually every aspect of the natural and built environment."

This is simply not true.   The Reston plan does NOT detail any infrastructure plans except, in a few cases, county goals for various types of infrastructures.  For example, the discussion of parks and playing fields is limited three green blobs on a map and a call for twelve ballfields, three minimum.  Yet the county standard for urban parks calls for more than 80 acres of parkland and the facilities standards call for more than 60 ballfields of all types to meet the planned population of 92,000 in Reston's urban areas. Similarly, the county identified a need to provide schools for 2,900 new students in its 2014 version of the Reston plan, but did not increase that number at all when it increased the potential residential development from 28,000 DUs (59,000 people) to 44,000 DUs (92,000 people) in 2015, increasing student yield by another 2,900 students in 2015.  And so it goes.  The attention to infrastructure is dismal.

  • The very next sentence says, "And for six years the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force considered those requirements and offered recommendations."  Like Pinocchio’s nose, this duration just keeps growing in county publications!  The task force held its first meeting on December 1, 2009; it submitted its final report in January 2014.  It did not meet thereafter.  That's four years and two months the task force took to study and report on the Dulles Corridor station areas (“Phase 1” of the re-planning effort).  “Phase 2” of the Reston planning effort, looking at Reston beyond the Dulles Corridor, comprised only four county-directed community meetings and an open house; there was no task force.  
  • The newsletter goes on, "Much of what we see in the Transit Station Areas (TSA) and in Reston today is a direct result of the 2006-2008 Reston Metrorail Access Group (RMAG) management plan and recommended strategies to manage future traffic conditions, feeder bus systems, pedestrians, and bicycles."  The RMAG report was excellent.  It was even approved by the Board of Supervisors.  Unfortunately, while there has been a lot of "planning" paperwork, there has been virtually no funding to build the transportation capabilities it recommended.  For example, a decade after the RMAG's report, the recommendation to build a bridge across the Dulles Corridor extending Soapstone has received only preliminary study-level funding.  In fact, the county doesn't plan for it to be completed for another decade, a probably optimistic scenario--and no funding has been committed to its construction or even acquiring the land to allow its construction.
  • Supervisor Hudgins adds, "Density close to transit, careful planning, and compromise are all elements of a healthy community, and that's exactly what's happening in Reston. Suburban sprawl is simply not part of this plan."  Grossly inaccurate!  There has been no "careful planning" of development in the urban areas, just pro forma county reviews of development applications and approvals of numerous exceptions and waivers inconsistent with the Reston plan.  And the county claims the suburban areas of Reston, all zoned PRC, and nominally planned to remain "stable" could see a quadrupling and more of density in its village centers and a doubling of density in several other county-designated Reston "hot spots" under current county planning. 

To read such inaccurate summaries coming out of our supervisor’s office is indeed disheartening.   As we enter a supervisor election year, it is even more important than ever to educate ourselves and PROTECT Reston’s planned community status.  

The supervisor’s push for an increase in Reston’s (suburban) PRC population cap up from 13 to 15 people per acre is a terrible idea, given that much work remains to be done to bring accurate information and robust public input into the equation.  Soon the Board of Supervisors may vote on this proposed zoning change.  All citizens should let Supervisor Hudgins and every other supervisor know what you think in every way possible.  Write, email, and attend the Planning Commission hearing on this vital matter on January 23, 2019, at the Fairfax County Government Center, 7PM sharp.  

IF we don’t stand up for Reston now as a planned community, it will be lost forever.