Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Notes on DRB Discussion of Fairways Apartments, June 22, 2011

The Design Review Board of the Reston Association met tonight at the Reston RA headquarters to hear a “concept only” presentation by JBG for the Fairways Apartment development.  The normally sparsely attended hearing was crowded with Reston residents who came to witness the decision by the DRB which would bless or reject the current JBG plan.

Though the audience contained both supporters and critics of the plan for an 804 unit concept of both 3.5 level townhomes and 5 level multi-story midrise “Texas doughnut” style buildings clustered around a small “town green,” the critics easily outnumbered the supporters 10 to 1.

One supporter, Joe Stowers cited the need for balance and density in residential housing vs. the number of jobs available in Reston, stating that the Reston Special Study Master Plan Task Force had approved this principle. 

Other supporters were from the tiny cluster of townhouses surrounded by JBG’s Fairways property.  Their immediate concerns were for screening though JBG had pointed out earlier that the new project would be phased.  Phase 2, the Eastern portion of the JBG project could be redesigned to a much more lucrative scale if this cluster were to sell out.  Past questions to some of this cluster’s members have been met with denials, but only time will tell.

Most area residents were staunchly opposed to the scale and density of the current proposal, stating that the traffic would take North Shore Drive from its current “A” status to a “D.”  While Fairfax County only requires a “D” grade to approve a project, this certainly was unacceptable to community members from other areas of Reston as well as immediate neighbors.  The math, methods and timing of JBG’s traffic analysis were questioned as well.  Lacking in the 2009 analysis was any reference to the coming of Metro and the influence of its huge traffic influx to the formula.

Aside from detailed criticisms from a unanimous DRB, members of the audience continued to express dismay at the size of the project.  Although this was a “concept only” review, neighbors were adamant that the increased traffic would be a nightmare.  One immediate neighbor who regularly walks the area, Robert Ortega, voiced concerns about rush hour traffic and the location of the heavily populated Lake Anne Elementary School directly across the street from the Fairway plot.  He stated that even now the traffic snarls to accommodate the school buses can back traffic up for 15 to 20 minutes.  Two of the 3 exits from the 804 unit project are immediately across from the school property.  The third empties onto Fairway Drive directly across from his cluster.  He was also concerned about the safety of children coming and going from the school property.  Another resident voiced concern also for the many children who frequent the Hook Road fields on Fairway Drive as well as the large number of pedestrians in the area.

Though looking forward to redevelopment of the site, several audience members also voiced concerns about the distinctive architecture of the immediate surrounding neighborhood and the need for this project to enhance the unique qualities of Reston life.  Diane Lewis of Sustainable Reston, the leading local conservation and environmental organization, voiced concerns about the need for JBG to hit a high bar with project designs that ensure LEED standards for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.

Marion Stillson, President of the Reston Citizens Association, presented a copy of a resolution passed by the RCA board more than a month ago, when the current plans were made public, which requested denial by the DRB on a number of points including the loss of over 342 affordable and workforce housing units which would be replaced by only 87 workforce units.  Also of concern to RCA, are the traffic issues, quality and design of construction, unparalleled density in an existing residential neighborhood, and its distance from employment and shopping venues.

Tammi Petrine, Co-Chair of RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee, a watch-dog organization active in the master plan process, noting the Metro Phase 2/Toll Road debacle and the Fairways project, spoke directly to JBG officials about the need for a concept that makes the Fairway project palatable to the community and profitable to JBG, making the project a potential win/win scenario.  She noted the critical need for senior and handicapped accessible housing has been made abundantly apparent.  “Visitable” units which are designed for access by handicapped persons and persons in wheel chairs are highly sought after, command increased prices, and are easy to construct. 

After a thorough re-cap by Richard Newlon of JBG’s repeated meetings with the DRB over the course of 2 years, the current project still contains many of the original problems, he concluded.  After a polling of the panel, a unanimous vote to deny the concept of the project was imminent.  Newlon made a motion to deny but before it could be voted upon, the JBG attorney jumped up and advised JGB to request a deferral.

This resulted in a spirited debate between Jennifer Byl and Neal Rosenberry of the DRB board regarding the merits of granting the deferral (Rosenberry) vs. voting for denial (Byl).  The first vote to decide this impasse resulted in a tie.  On the second vote, Richard Newlon capitulated and the vote for deferral passed, much to the disappointment of the majority of the audience. 

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