Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reston 2020 commentary on the draft documents on the RTF agenda for January 29, 2013



On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, the Reston Task Force that is planning the future of Reston’s new Metrorail station areas will discuss the two draft documents made broadly available by Reston Patch in its link to their posting on the RCA Reston 2020 blog.

The first document is a set of performance standards that developers would be expected to achieve in proposals to build around Reston’s three Metrorail stations.  It outlines three standards levels:  a basic performance level that all developers must meet, an elevated standards level to reach the higher end of the approved development range, and “bonus” density beyond the permitted development range for developers who provide exceptional contributions to the community.

The second document, a statement regarding development intensity drafted by two land use attorneys on the task force, says that Scenario G—the development scenario that considers traffic impacts—and maybe even Scenario E—the 20-year scenario derived from the task force’s station area sub-committee reports—may not permit enough density to encourage redevelopment around the station areas.  It adds that “even Scenario E may need additional density ‘carrots’ to provide the desired amenities and infrastructure.” 

This will be the first opportunity for either the full task force or the Reston public to review these documents in their current form.  Task Force Chairman Patty Nicoson told the writing group that no vote is planned on these documents at this Task Force meeting, but the task force may vote on them at the next task force meeting. 

RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee believes the performance standards document is headed in the right direction, but needs to be more specific and comprehensive.  In particular, we question the role of “bonus” density and, if it is part of the report, it should be extremely explicit and demanding of the development community.  The performance standards must also be more specific and demanding, especially on the issues of schools, parks, and recreation in the station areas.  To date, the development community has sought to push most of these vital infrastructure features—if they are developed—beyond the station areas, creating a burden for the rest of the Reston community both physically and financially.  That would be a particularly unsatisfactory outcome. 

On the other hand, the draft statement on intensity of use is nothing less than an effort by the development community to garner additional potential development around the Reston Parkway and Wiehle Metro stations, plain and simple.  In fact, the overall density that would be permitted in the two scenarios is set at about 65 million gross square feet—roughly a doubling of current development in the study area.  The difference is that Scenario G spreads more of that density to the Herndon-Monroe station area and shifts the mix of uses toward residential development by about ten percent. 

The changes in the development distribution and mix the County staff has proposed in Scenario G are expected to markedly reduce the growth of traffic gridlock in Reston forecast under Scenario E.  Under Scenario E, Reston drivers could expect evening rush hour delays of three to four minutes at the intersections of Reston Parkway and Wiehle with Sunset Hills Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive, according to the County’s detailed traffic impact analysis.  We hope that  the County’s traffic impact analysis will show these rush hour delays can be cut in half at least under Scenario G. 

Another reason for the shift of some density to Herndon-Monroe is that the County is exploring the potential for public-private partnerships for mixed-use transit-oriented development of the station area on its property around its parking garage.  From the County’s perspective, revenues from such development would help offset the costs experienced in building the Silver Line.  It could also reduce Metrorail-related needed increases in County property taxes.

For the development community, however, it’s simply a matter of who wins and who loses.  Developers and their attorneys with interests around the Reston Parkway and Wiehle stations don’t like the possibility of losing potential development opportunities to the Herndon-Monroe area.   These task force members are pushing hard to retain the traffic-clogging Scenario E—and even pressing for the opportunity of higher densities around these stations.  Yet, until this draft statement proposed otherwise, the overall development density proposed in Scenario E had been generally accepted by the task force’s Reston station area development community. 

Developers and their attorneys have repeatedly claimed that a shift to Scenario G is ‘the (traffic) tail wagging the dog.’  Nonetheless, traffic congestion on Reston’s main north-south arteries is a serious problem in Reston now, much less in the future.  Restonians identified it as Reston’s second-most important community issue (after broader development issues) in Reston 2020’s recent online community survey.  All Restonians live with congestion on these arteries every day, especially Reston Parkway and Wiehle Avenue.  Moreover, the planning experience at Tysons accentuates the importance of traffic impact in Reston planning.  Traffic impacts were a key driver for restricting office building construction as well as massively increased bus service and sharp cutbacks in allowable office parking at Tysons, especially nearest the station, according to a County official deeply engaged in that process.  Not surprisingly, the analyses at Tysons also indicated that station area residential construction either has no impact or actually reduces congestion while office construction drives up congestion.

At the same time the development community is arguing that they should be permitted to develop the density proposed by Scenario E or more, they are also arguing that the County’s traffic impact analysis—based on 83% of the Scenario’s development potential—is based on future market demand that is way too high for the 2030 horizon.  So, on the one hand, they say they won’t need the development levels laid out in Scenario E (or even Scenario G) by 2030, but they want the authority to develop much more than Scenario E proposes.  They have not even tried to reconcile the contradiction in those two positions.  Looking longer term, they also choose to ignore that, whatever the market demand in 2030, Reston and surrounding areas will continue to grow and, at some point, local traffic on our key north-south connectors will substantially exceed that tested by the County even with the addition of new corridor crossings. 

The County’s transportation experts are in the midst of modeling the projected traffic impacts of Scenario G.  The results of that effort are expected in March.  To pre-empt results that will likely demonstrate the traffic impact benefits of Scenario G to their loss, the  development community is rushing to have this draft statement approved by the task force to pre-empt those results.   The results  will almost certainly undermine any argument for Scenario E-type development and may even challenge the development potential under Scenario G.  The rush to judgment in this draft statement is pre-mature and wrongheaded, yet typical of the way much of the development community has approached the Reston planning process.  They have shown little interest in integrating new development into the Reston community in a way that preserves Reston’s quality of life, much less protecting what is so unique here. 

I encourage all Reston residents to attend Tuesday’s task force meeting to see and hear for themselves what the task force is doing.  If you want to be heard, there is an opportunity at the beginning of each meeting for the public to offer brief statements to the task force.  And, of course, RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee welcomes your participation in sustaining and improving Reston’s quality of life through excellence in community planning. 


Terry Maynard
Reston Citizens Association Board of Directors
RCA Representative to the Reston Task Force
Co-Chair, RCA Reston 2020 Committee

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