Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Danger of Two High-Rise Walls & a Transportation Moat Dividing Reston

This article is cross-posted at See

The county task force charged with making recommendations on Reston’s future development, clumsily named the “Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force,” begins its work in earnest this month with 7 PM meetings on the 12th and 26th at the Lake Anne community center.

Despite its nominal focus on the master plan, the primary activity of the task force over the next six months will be to review the County’s Comprehensive Plan for the Dulles corridor and recommend changes. There appear to be two key drivers for this: some 20 proposed modifications to the Comprehensive Plan from developers calling for increased density, largely driven by a stated need to adjust for the coming of Metrorail. That said, a read of the tediously technical Comprehensive Plan shows that the current plan explicitly identifies dozens of times development limits (height, FAR, dwelling units per acre, etc.) appropriate for the arrival of Metrorail. All the 20 proposed plan modifications call for increases in these limits. Given the dominance of developer, property owner, and property manager interests on the task force, its mid-summer recommendations are likely to propose even more density and height for structures, destruction of open space, loss of tree cover, etc., but few road or other improvements.

The effect of implementing the task force’s likely changes, almost certain to be approved by the County Planning Board and Board of Supervisors since they created the task force, would be to cut Reston in half from east to west, isolating north from south. Restonians would eventually face two impenetrable walls of concrete, steel, and glass buildings 200’ and taller—some half again as tall as any standing in Reston—on each side of the Dulles transportation corridor. For the moment, the plan limits building heights to 140’ in most areas; however, no such limits exist in the area surrounding the Metro station areas. For example, the current Comstock plan calls for building as many as eight such monster buildings in the small area north of the Wiehle Metrorail Station ranging from 140’-235’ tall under the existing Comprehensive Plan.

The Dulles transportation corridor roadways will also likely expand from 12 to 18 traffic lanes in the years ahead, although this is not a concern of the task force. Current plans call for the widening of the Dulles access road to six lanes. Also, the preferred Tysons Corner “Strawman II” plan option calls for the addition of two eastbound and three westbound “collector-distributor” (CD) lanes outside the toll road as far west as Hunters Mill Rd--a design that resembles I-270 with its multiple express and separated local access CD lanes. Although not yet on the table, Reston will likely see two CD lanes each way alongside the current toll road to handle the anticipated traffic increases from intense Reston development. And Metrorail will run down the middle of this massive transportation moat. That’s 18 lanes of traffic and Metrorail in a 400’-wide trench.

In contrast, I believe that development along the Dulles corridor must drive the unification—not the isolation—of north and south Reston, integrating and complementing the Reston we already enjoy. In particular, development must include powerful attractants for all Restonians and others. These could include a major community recreation center, southward expansion of Town Center’s retail offerings, a major regional performing arts center near one of the Metro stops, and air rights for a public park some 100 yards wide spanning the transportation moat from Sunrise Valley to Sunset Hills, a mini-Central Park at Reston’s heart.

Additional roadways must also span the Dulles corridor transportation moat, more than the Soapstone extension to the Wiehle Metrorail station parking ramp under Comstock’s high-rise configuration. These would include at the minimum another similar road at the Reston Parkway Metro station and an extension of South Lakes Drive across the corridor. Otherwise, movement across and within the corridor will come to a virtual standstill despite public transportation improvements.

If you share my concerns about the current task force effort, please help all of us try to re-direct the task force effort. Attend the twice-monthly task force meetings—and speak out when afforded the opportunity. Work with your local citizens groups and their leaders—Reston Association, ARCH, and the Reston Citizens Association—who are working together and independently to bring constructive ideas to the task force. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the RCA Board, but these views are my own.) Contact Cathy Hudgins, our supervisor, who proposed the task force, or Kohann Williams, who represents Board Chair Sharon Bulova on the task force. In short, make your voice heard if you wish to see Reston’s share of the Dulles corridor developed as a model for an 21st century urban planned community rather than a Rosslyn on steroids.

Terry Maynard

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