Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reston 2020 Letter to the Board of Supervisors on the Draft Reston Master Plan

Dear Chairman Bulova, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Hudgins, and Members of the Board of Supervisors,

The RCA Reston 2020 Committee has been deeply involved in the development of Phase 2 of the Reston Master Plan, the portion of the plan that provides guidance for the redevelopment of the areas in Reston where virtually all Restonians live.  It is, in essence, proposed guidance on the redevelopment of our neighborhoods, maybe even our individual homes, and our village centers; in short, our way of life. 
Reston 2020 believes the draft plan amendment generally serves the existing Reston residential community well, but with some important exceptions we have detailed to the County staff on at least two occasions.  (Please see our initial ideas for Phase 2, comments on draft Version 2, and specific comments on the Reston Land Use Map.)  Nonetheless, we believe there are substantial shortcomings regarding the redevelopment of village centers and protecting open space in this Phase 2 of the draft plan language and the changes made by the Planning Commission.  We urge the Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Hudgins in particular, to read and address the concerns we describe below along the lines we suggest. 
Village Centers:  In our view, the most significant shortcomings of the draft plan appear in the section dealing with village centers. 
Maybe the biggest one is that the draft plan puts no limits on the density of redevelopment in these critical elements of the Reston community.  The plan’s failure to limit density (we recommended a density of FAR 1.0, four times the current limit) could result in extremely dense commercial, office, or residential development (or all of the above) in the village centers that would be totally inappropriate for a neighborhood-serving center.  The absence of a reasonable density restriction could easily lead to the situation we are about to see in Town Center North where plans to build a 23-story office building beyond the high-density ½-mile transit station area (TSA)—and twice as tall as the adjoining new Spectrum Center--were approved by the Board because there was no density restriction.  Indeed, during Phase 1 of the Master Plan Review, the Vision Committee discussed 18-20 story buildings in the village centers.  Thus, very tall buildings are a distinct possibility. 
Although we have proposed a limit on density to the Planning staff at least twice, we have been told that none of the owners yet have plans to redevelop their village centers (excluding the approved plan for Lake Anne).  We believe a County-approved plan should guide any future proposals, not the other way around.  We believe the Board of Supervisors should make it clear now that such oversized construction is unacceptable by specifying a reasonable maximum density constraint. 
Also in the village centers, the Planning Commission struck the possibility of a green open space—a park-like setting--as an option for the “gathering place” for the neighborhood, leaving only “plazas” as an option for these focal points of each center.  We believe the green open space option should be re-inserted because we have not seen the brick (Lake Anne), concrete (Hunters Woods, South Lakes, & North Point), or other potential hardscapes attract a gathering.  The concrete “plazas” at South Lakes and North Point have limited steel seating and tables for people to use, which are absolutely unbearable in Reston’s summers except in the late evening and early morning.  Green open spaces would actually help cool the gathering space and, frankly, be much more attractive. 
The Planning Commission also chose to abandon its historic role to review redevelopment proposals for village centers, striking out the final step in the approval process before it goes to the Board of Supervisors.  The County Planning staff also rejected several suggestions we provided on how to constructively constrain village center redevelopment proposals to the "neighborhood-serving" needs they are supposed to serve. 
  • The County Planning staff rejected redevelopment plan language from Reston 2020 calling for Reston community entities (RP&Z, RA DRB) and neighbors to play a key role in redevelopment plan reviews. Please see our comments on Version 2.
  • The staff also rejected Reston 2020’s distinction between redevelopment of the “mixed-use areas” of the village centers and their “residential areas,” thereby subjecting existing residents to the threat of redevelopment.  This is addressed in both our original set of ideas and in our comments on Version 2 linked above. 
  • Staff language also allows the expansion of village centers beyond their current boundaries if it would be “essential to the successful development of any particular village center.” We do not believe there are any circumstances in which village center boundaries should be expanded.
In short, the draft plan provides no protection from excessive and inappropriate redevelopment for existing village centers or nearby neighborhoods.  The draft language treats village centers residents and adjoining neighborhoods like second-class citizens in the Reston community.  More broadly, these failures shortchange the community and residents and businesses in the village centers as well as neighbors nearby who will have fewer opportunities to have their voices heard on redevelopment plans. 
The Planning Commission's proposed change to the plan's language is an especially peculiar change given that Reston is a planned community and we believe a change in the community’s land use ought to be reviewed by both local community entities and the Planning Commission.  In general, we view these Planning Commission Master Plan recommendations as part of the broader County effort to reduce community participation and facilitate the development and redevelopment process through the “Fairfax Forward” land use decision making process adopted last year, a process that goes well beyond planning issues in Reston to shortchange communities and neighbors from commenting on the effects of high-density development proposals. 
In fact, the Planning Commission went so far as to essentially recommend approval of the Jefferson Apartment Group’s Tall Oaks Village Center redevelopment plan and the St. Johns Woods apartment complex proposal, which have not yet been presented to any Reston or County group for endorsement or approval, only for “information purposes.”  And those plans are still evolving. 
Reston’s Open Space:  There are two significant shortcomings inserted by the Planning Commission on Reston’s open space as well as a few improvements.  We believe that Reston’s open spaces must be preserved and, if feasible, expanded to accommodate the planned doubling of our population and employment in the decades ahead. 
The Planning Commission dropped language designating the Sunrise Valley Wetlands as a “Nature Park” throughout the draft plan.  This cuts language already approved by the Board of Supervisors during Phase 1 of the Reston Master Plan effort.  If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the change would eliminate any shred of protection for the wetlands—a vital environmental resource protected by the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act—in the Master Plan from future commercial redevelopment.    We believe the wetlands should become a publicly-held County resource. 
The Planning Commission specifically rejected language and related mapping that would identify existing open space in condominiums and clusters.  The impact of this change if adopted would be to substantially reduce the expectation that this (or comparably sized and equipped) open space would be preserved in a redevelopment effort—which would no doubt include several times as many housing units. 

That said, we appreciate the effort of the County Planning staff and the Planning Commission in updating and correcting the Reston Land Use Map with the exception cited above.  It is an integral part of the plan and is vital in making sure development proposals are consistent with the plan’s intent.
We also appreciate the steps taken by the Staff and the Commission to insure the accuracy and completeness of the property plats covered by the Reston National Golf Course as well as Hidden Creek Country Club—and striving to ensure their protection as open space.  We all know that the RNGC property’s use is in dispute, and every step taken by the County to protect it is deeply appreciated. 

We all want to move forward in achieving the goals and principles of the revised Reston Master Plan in a way that preserves the quality of life of all who live or work here, now and in the future.   That requires a careful balance of opportunities for redevelopment and preservation of the characteristics that make Reston a unique planned community. 
We look forward to your favorable consideration of these proposed changes in the draft Reston Master Plan language.

Terry Maynard
Reston 2020 Committee
Reston Citizens Association

RCA Board of Directors
RA Board Chairman and CEO
Rescue Reston Board
Local media

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