Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Master Plan Task Force Update, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, October 10, 2012

On Tuesday night, I attended the latest meeting of the Reston Master Plan Task Force.  I have attended every one of the meetings I could during the almost three years that the process has run to date.  However, I understand that a lot of folks aren't able to attend the meetings.  So this week and next, I'm going to fill you in on the latest news with the Task Force. This week, I'll focus on the current schedule for the Task Force's efforts.  Next week, I'll explain the showdown that's likely looming when the final plan recommendations are prepared.  This showdown will have major ramifications for the future of our community, so it's worth paying attention and getting involved.

Last night, we received an update on the schedule for Phase 1 of the Master Plan Special Study, which covers the area along the Dulles Toll Road and around the planned Silver Line stations.  Currently, the Fairfax County planning staff is attempting to finalize the proposed levels of development, so that the County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) can perform necessary tests on the traffic impacts of the proposed development.

The planning staff is preparing its latest land-use scenario (more on this next week).  Once the scenario is finalized and approved by the Task Force, FCDOT will begin its analysis.  The bad news: FCDOT reports that their analysis will take 5 months.  And because the transportation analysis is necessary in order for VDOT to review and comment on the impact of the development plan (which is required by state law), the final recommendations of the Task Force cannot be submitted until the analysis is complete.

While the traffic analysis is underway, the Task Force will work on drafting the Comprehensive Plan language that will be submitted, as well as preparing a report that will detail the Task Force process and describe any differences between the visions of the planning staff and the Task Force.  The goal will be to have all of this material ready for submission to the Planning Commission by the time VDOT has reviewed the traffic analysis and provided its comments.

So what's the bottom line?  In the best case, assuming no major delays in preparing the land use scenario and no hitches in drafting the Comprehensive Plan language and the Task Force report, we can expect this to go before the Planning Commission next August, and to the Board of Supervisors for approval next September or October.  That's roughly the same time that the Wiehle Avenue station on the Silver Line will open for business.

This timeline is, to say the least, disappointing.  The whole point of splitting the Master Plan Special Study into two phases is so that Phase 1 would be completed before the Silver Line got here, so that we'd establish the ground rules for development before the Metro-related proposals started coming in.

But as we've seen in the case of the notorious 23-story office tower, Metro-related development plans are already rolling in.  And by voting to approve a tower that violates the Task Force's planning principles, Supervisor Hudgins has indicated that she won't follow the Task Force proposal until it's approved by the Board of Supervisors.  Now we know that it's going to be at least a year before that proposal is in place.  That means another year of uncertainty in Reston's planning, which is frustrating for developers and the community alike.

I'm not blaming planning staff or the FCDOT for the schedule; the planners are working diligently, and the transportation analysis will take as long as it takes.  But the Task Force's deliberations have always been, well, deliberate.  Now we're seeing the price of that slow progress.

The good news is that the County is planning to start Phase 2 of the study before Phase 1 is complete, which I suggested in this space back in May.  As we've seen with projects like the redevelopment of Fairway Apartments and the furor over Reston National, the Silver Line is spurring redevelopment proposals outside the borders of the Task Force's study area.  The sooner we can produce new development ground rules that cover all of Reston, the better.

I hate to close out on a down note, but you'll note that I said that final approval of the Task Force's proposal on Phase 1 will take a year in the best case.  On Tuesday night, I saw reason to doubt the probability of the best-case scenario.  I'll explain why - and why you should pay attention - next week.

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