Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Letter: Beware What Lies Beneath: Reston Planning, Reston Patch, June 9, 2011, Terry Maynard

The following is a letter I sent to Reston Patch responding to John Lovaas' commentary last week about the lull in Reston Task Force efforts.  

Last week, my friend John Lovaas wrote here at Reston Patch about the seeming lull through the November elections of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force in re-shaping future development around Reston’s prospective Metrorail stations.   I have a slightly different perspective.

 John is looking at the doldrums of a smooth tropical sea under a hot summer sun kept calm so as not to disturb the natives until elections for Fairfax County Supervisor are behind them.   Nothing seems to be moving.  It is like a large azure sheet stretching to the horizon and floating on a soft inviting bed.  A slight ripple in the surface is just enough to rock one to sleep.

 What he left out I believe is the trouble—and the opportunities—that lie beneath.
The developer barracudas and their accomplices, the land use attorney sharks, on the task force are working day in and day out to kill constraints on their development.

 Over the last couple of months, they have even proposed an “x-factor” (I kid you not!)—which essentially would mean no effective guidance or constraints on how much and what should be developed around Reston’s Metro stations.

It is a theme they have played throughout the process—“maximum flexibility.”   For developers and their attorneys, that means allowing very high-density commercial development, little residential development, and little or no attention to infrastructure—roads, parks, recreation, schools, workforce housing, the environment, etc.

 More worrisome, the county’s planning staff seems to have bought in to this concept at some level with its “flexible plan framework,” presenting its own version of that idea to the Task Force’s Steering Committee within the last few weeks.  

 In contrast, Fairfax County policy and the bulk of urban planning research on Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)—ostensibly what is being proposed for Reston Metro station areas—call for a balance between workers and residents in TOD areas to maximize use of public transit and minimize congestion and environmental degradation.

 And much research points to the need for residential use to predominate.   For example, recent comprehensive research by the University of Maryland’s Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) shows that the most “performance effective” TOD areas are “high residential” areas, that is, areas with more than two residents for each worker.  A local survey by WMATA of Metrorail ridership supports the nationwide conclusions reported by CTOD.

 Two of the Task Force’s own members—Fred Costello, an engineer, and Joe Stowers, an urban planner—have even written well-documented papers for the Task Force highlighting the need for a balanced mix of workers and residents. 

 But the barracudas and sharks are ignoring them as much as possible.  

 Besides the barracudas and the sharks, however, there is a beautiful seascape of coral reefs beneath the surface of this calm tropical summer sea.   These reefs, with their highly diverse and colorful flora and fauna, not only live together, but do so in a synergistic manner that serves them all better.

 That is what we should be looking for, indeed insisting upon, in Reston’s TOD areas.  Aside from a one-to-one mix of workers and residents, we should be pursuing abundant natural, recreational, and cultural opportunities—some of which the Reston Citizens Association’s Reston 2020 Committee detailed in its alternative vision for Reston Town Center, for example.

Because Reston’s political leaders have not and will not pursue these opportunities, it is time for Reston’s civic leaders—Reston Association (RA), Reston Citizens Association (RCA), and Alliance of Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) for starters— to step up and demand the things that will continue to make Reston a livable planned community.

 This includes manageable levels of density, a diverse mix of uses, a complete community of culture, recreation, education, nature, and mobility.  Not to do so could easily turn the Dulles Corridor area into a gridlocked maze of cheek-by-jowl glass and concrete cube office buildings more closely resembling Arlington’s Crystal City than a premier planned community.

 We need to develop a diverse, synergistic trio of TOD station areas for Metrorail similar to a healthy tropical coral reef, not a Caribbean carnivore “killing field”—and certainly the barracudas and sharks want to make a killing.

 And, lest we forget, Reston had a similar “lull” experience just four years ago.  After years of community meetings, charrettes, and committees, the summer of 2007 was extremely quiet in the planning of the re-development of the Lake Anne Village Center area.

 Then, faster than you can say “high-density, high-rise commercial re-development,” the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors passed a revised plan and zoning ordinance right after that year’s supervisor election.  That decision over the complaints of the area’s citizens will see Lake Anne become the focal point of congestion, environmental degradation, infrastructure shortfalls, and more, in the decades ahead—unless Reston’s TOD areas end up worse.

 You can help prevent this outcome by becoming informed and involved.  You can start by attending the June 14 meeting of the Task Force, 7:30 PM, at Langston Hughes Middle School to hear what’s on the table.  And work with RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee, one of RA’s advisory committees, ARCH’s Issue Committee, or speak up at future Task Force meetings to make your views known.

 Terry Maynard
(The author is on the board of the Reston Citizens Association)

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