Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Why should 30 Dwelling Units per Acre Be The Maximum Allowable Residential Density in Village Centers?

Several attendees of the “One Reston” community meeting on December 11th questioned the wisdom of the Coalition for a Planned Reston (CPR) proposal that the Reston plan should allow residential development up to 30 dwelling units per acre (DUA) in our village centers.  It’s a good question.  In part, I take the blame for the concern because I was too cavalier in addressing why we would propose that many DUs in Reston’s village centers.

I think it is important to actually see what development at 30 DUA over first floor retail might look like as the photo below shows.  What it does not capture from a village center perspective, however, is the parking and “central plaza” that the Reston plan calls for.  I would anticipate that a developer would build a parking garage the same height as the village center residences to meet county requirements for residential and retail housing because it would be too expensive to build it underground for this low level of density.  The central plaza, such as Washington Plaza at Lake Anne, should be significant in size and provide amenities like a playground and plenty of greenspace. 

Now let me take a couple of minutes and explain why we think a maximum of 30 DUAs is a valid number for village center redevelopment using this small table based entirely on county policy, data, methods, and assumptions.

First, on average, Reston’s four remaining un-redeveloped village centers now average a little over 10 DUA with garden apartments and condos as well as townhouses within their boundaries.    It has been my observation that developers generally do not consider redevelopment unless they can at least triple the density of the existing facilities, residential or otherwise.   Limiting redevelopment to 30 DUA would make redevelopment economically feasible and help prevent developer legal action at blocking their “by right” development, but still set a tough ceiling on redevelopment.
Second, the county Board of Supervisors has already approved a redevelopment plan for Lake Anne Village Center that includes 38.6 DUA, more than we are proposing for the other village centers.   That could set the template for redevelopment for higher redevelopment density in village centers, but it has two features that suggest it is not a model for any village center redevelopment higher than 30 DUA:

  • Lake Anne Village Center’s core is a designated historic area that effectively prevents redevelopment there, a factor not present in the other Reston village centers.
  • It is also the only Reston village center designated as a Commercial Revitalization Area (CRA)—a designation intended to facilitate the use of county and other resources to improve its “economic vitality” basically around that historic core. 

Third, as presented by the county in its table of existing, approved, and planned development in the village centers, the current average potential development in them averages over 60 DUA, more than twice the maximum we are planning to propose.  Obviously, we believe limiting possible redevelopment there to 30 DUA would be a critical improvement in the Reston’s plan.  

We appreciate that the prospect of tripling the residential density within Reston’s village centers will have a large impact on the surrounding area and may include residential over retail design.  We believe, maybe optimistically, that the Reston plan’s current requirement for any redevelopment to require a plan amendment specifying the proposed change and that that amendment must be developed with the surrounding neighborhood will be adequate to keep impacts on traffic, schools, etc., to a minimum.  In fact, this was the process that led to the plan amendment regarding Lake Anne Village Center. 

On the other hand, in this Dillon Rule state, neither we nor the county is in the legal position of being able to prevent village center landowners from redeveloping their properties within reasonable guidance.  We think the 30 DUA threshold meets that requirement without giving up the quality of life of those who live nearby.  

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee

Saturday, December 9, 2017

So Where Are Those New Reston Kids Going to School?

One of the main concerns many Restonians have expressed about the excessive planned growth of Reston—and the proposed density increase in the Reston PRC area—is whether our public school system has planned adequately to handle the Reston children they serve.   Understanding those impacts and Fairfax County Public School’s (FCPS’) concrete planning to meet that enrollment growth is vital to determining the reasonableness of the proposed increase in the Reston PRC’s density from 13 to 16 persons per acre.

The short answer:  FCPS is not even close to understanding the impacts, much less having serious plans (including land and funding) to meet the needs, of the growth in Reston’s school enrollment.

An internal FCPS planning memorandum analyzing the impact of the redevelopment of Campus Commons (at the intersection of Sunrise Valley and Wiehle), indicates that the county school system expects redevelopment there to generate 123-125 new students.   More importantly, the memorandum goes on to take a broader look at future elementary school enrollment from those Reston projects already approved or pending and indicates FCPS expects a total of 3,000-3,200 new students in Reston’s schools over the next 20-30 years, including 1,600-1,800 new elementary school students (see table).   

The memo suggests these new elementary school students would be assigned as follows:

  • Sunrise Valley Elementary School:  844-918 new students
  • Lake Anne Elementary School:  602-656 new students
  • Dogwood Elementary School:  226 new students.

Yes, you read that right.  FCPS is suggesting it can put some 900 new students in Sunrise Valley ES, a school with a capacity of 750 students that is already running near capacity.  At Lake Anne ES, the suggested added enrollment would nearly double the school’s rolls—and it’s already over capacity.  Even the more moderate increase suggested for Dogwood would increase its nearly 900 student enrollment by a quarter, and that school too is over capacity.   In fact, the average elementary school capacity in Reston now is about 800 students while average enrollment exceeds that capacity by about 10% according to FCPS calculations.

We surmise that the FCPS elementary school forecasts are hypothetical in their school assignments.  There are other ways to address this growth.  First, some of those students could be sent to other relatively nearby schools if they were upgraded, including Terraset, Hunters Woods (which is well over capacity), and Forest Edge. 

Second, FCPS could add more trailers and/or change school boundaries to spread the pain more equitably as it often does.   Neither of these options is desirable.

Third, FCPS could actually build new schools serving Reston’s children.  There is much talk about this, but no discernible action, most importantly the acquisition of ever more costly land needed to build schools.  There is only vague language in the Reston plan about a new elementary school in Town Center North (on county land) and another near USGS. 

The same situation applies to Reston’s middle and high schools, Langston Hughes and South Lakes.  Langston Hughes, with an enrollment of about 1,000 students, could see 500-600 new students added by county estimates.   South Lakes, whose capacity and enrollment are both expanding to about 2,700 within a year, could see another 800-900 students added to its enrollment. 

The Reston plan intimates that a new middle and high school could be built sometime, but not in Reston.  “A middle school and a high school to the west of Reston, potentially in the Innovation Center area, would be well located to relieve overcrowding in existing schools as well as serve planned growth,” says the plan.   The language doesn’t even suggest these new middle and high schools “should be” built—standard plan language for a recommendation—just that they “would be well located.”  They would be better located in Reston.

The vagueness of the Reston plan language is highlighted by the contrast with Tysons’ plan for schools, which calls for developers to work with FCPS and contribute land for this purpose.   Indeed, one developer has already proffered land for construction of an elementary school there circa 2030.  Another elementary school and secondary school expansion are planned there by 2050.

For the record, based on the Reston plan—and counting affordable and bonus housing potential—and county methods for enrollment planning, we expect that Reston’s total public school enrollment could grow by more than 5,000 students over the 40-year course of the plan.  Our breakout of that sum is as follows:

  • Elementary schools:  2,870-2,920 vs. the county estimate of 1,672-1,800
  • Middle schools:  879-889 vs. the county estimate of 516-556
  • High schools:  1,435-1,451 vs. the county estimate of 836-900

In short, using county forecast methods, we anticipate that Reston school enrollment will likely grow by more than half as much—5,000 vs. 3,000 students—than the county is now forecasting.
The bottom line is that FCPS’ student enrollment forecast and the language of the Reston plan combined with the proposed nearly 40,000 person increase in Reston’s PRC density is a recipe for educational disaster.  

So we ask as a starting point:

  •  What concrete plans does FCPS have to add a new elementary school or two in Reston within the next decade or so to meet its forecast need to accommodate 1,600-plus new students?
  • What boundary changes does FCPS plan to accommodate the growth of the school population in the Dulles Corridor?
  • Are developer proffers adequate to acquire land and pay for the construction of two new elementary schools as well as a new middle and high school west of Reston?  
  • Does FCPS anticipate having the funding to operate new schools at the expected levels of performance when they are built?

No doubt there are many other questions that need to be raised and addressed before the county moves forward with its proposed re-zoning of the Reston PRC area that would allow the growth in Reston’s student population.

The key point is that the County has next to no idea how its proposed increase in Reston’s density will affect the quality of life in our community, in this case, the vital issue of our children’s education.  Until it fully understands that impact and moves concretely to address it, it has no moral or other basis for proposing a substantial change in Reston’s zoning, especially a change that would increase its population potential by half.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee