Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Makes a Successful Place? Project for Public Spaces

Great public spaces are where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges take place, friends run into each other, and cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – libraries, field houses, neighborhood schools – where we interact with each other and government. When the spaces work well, they serve as a stage for our public lives.
What makes some places succeed while others fail?
In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that successful ones have four key qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit. PPS developed The Place Diagram as a tool to help people in judging any place, good or bad:

The article goes on to explain what these concepts mean and how they apply in building public spaces in a placemaking manner.  It includes a number of questions that help evaluate how a place measures up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Notes on the Reston P and Z Committee Meeting, 11/19/12

Notes on the Reston P and Z Committee Meeting, 11/19/12
John Hanley, RCA Reston 2020

On Monday, November 19th, I attended the Reston P&Z Meeting at N. County Govt. Center. Besides what appeared to be a full slate of P&Z Board members (10+), there was a significant audience, including Andy Sigle, Joe Leighton and Mike Collins from RA, John Bowman, John Thoburn, and various members of RA’s and Supervisor Hudgin's staff. Developers Bozzuto and Veatch (BV) had trucked in 8 or so of their people, too. The atmosphere was relaxed in general.
The whole meeting was devoted to the building proposed by BV. It is a 5 storey, wood-frame building, with 421 dwelling units, mostly one bedroom, with “some” two and three bedroom units. 12% are to be for affordable housing. It will contain some 10,000 sq. ft. of retail. The building will sit on the 3.8 acre property on Sunset Hills presently occupied by Reston Mini Storage. All resident parking will be under ground. BV is proposing some 600 places on two floors (1.6 cars per dwelling unit). This was queried (see below). The building is to contain three internal open courts, one with a swimming pool.
I have not been following this development up to now, but it is evident that there have been detailed ongoing negotiations on the building between BV and the P&Z over the past year or more. In general, it looks as if the proposal is well on the way to being approved, with a few caveats, some significant, however.
Drainage and Storm Water disposal: A touchy matter in this neck of the woods, after the flooding of the car parks on the other side of Sunset Hills last year. Apparently, BV have satisfied P&Z that the building will cause no problems.
Roads and Access: This provoked a considerable amount of questions and discussion. The building is designed to have two sides open to road/street access (left off Sunset Hills and left again, with access through to the Wiehle Station area, inboard of the present office/professional buildings east of the site along Sunset Hills. There will be no direct access on the SS Hills side, apart from the present light. An additional turn lane off SS Hills will be provided by BV. On the fourth, eastern side will be an alley for removal traffic, trash collection, etc., with no access to or from Sunset Hills. One or two P&Z members queried this decision, but BV said that VDOT would not approve this, as it would be dangerous.
One member, Mr. Weber, felt that the proposed streets and access/exit points were a “disaster”. Traffic would be unmanageable, with 600 additional cars active on top of the growing number of commuters coming to the station.  Had BV talked at all with Comstock about what was obviously going to be a huge problem?  Initial silence from the BV representatives.  Then one of them said that streets, access and traffic were not BV’s responsibility. They were just “responding to the extant street grid”. Weber said that he would vote against approval, if this matter was not addressed. It is clear that RCA/R2020 concerns about grid-lock are shared by at least one person on the P&Z Board!
Ecological Roof Treatment: BV said that this was ruled out, because of roof-loading limits on wood-frame buildings if this type.
Parking: Another member said that his review of the proposal showed that the stated parking space numbers and the allocated space for them did not add up. BV’s plan showed two underground parking floors, for some 600 spaces. As each floor only allowed for 230 spaces, the parking would not be sufficient, even if the ratio were lowered to 1.4 cars per dwelling unit (under discussion, apparently). BV were told “you need to provide a third parking floor”.
Transformers: Some concern was expressed about whether there was sufficient space available for the large transformers that would be needed to service a structure with this residential density. Discussion followed and it appeared that the BV people successfully persuaded the Board that the space available for the transformers was adequate.
Reston DRB: In answer to a question, it was confirmed that Reston DRB did not have any jurisdiction in this area.
All in all, this building, while not a slam-dunk, appears to be on its way to approval, subject to the areas of criticism noted above. But it is clear that concern is growing over the lack of any plans to deal with the hundreds, if not thousands, of extra cars that the station, this building and others will produce at rush hour and beyond. As someone muttered, “where the hell are they all going to go?

Video: “We Are the Majority! The Cars Don’t Vote!”

 A strong spokesperson for bicycling and walking makes the case. 

How would this work in Reston, Fairfax County, and Richmond from a policy perspective?

Notes on Reston Master Planning Task Force –27 Nov 2012

                                                                  R. Rogers
                                                                 28 Nov 2012

Notes on Reston Master Planning Task Force –27 Nov 2012

                Summary and comment: This meeting focused on DPZ outlining their concept of more flexibility in the plan through the use of broader planning districts.  However, there was great uncertainty in the questioning about what this might mean for the actual plan.  The development community continued to voice dissatisfaction with the lower density levels in Scenario G. Despite many unanswered questions, the next meeting was put off until January.  The meeting was very well attended. 

Public Comments              

At the start, two members of the development community rose to state their concerns with Scenario G.  One represented properties along Association Drive and the other Unisys on Sunset Hills.  Both talked about the need for greater density to incentivize development.

“Development Districts

                Heidi Merkel, DPZ, began with a review of the concept of “development districts” introduced at the last meeting.  (See map below showing the “districts.”) These would be bigger units than the former “sub-units” used in the process.  For example, on the South side of Wiehle station the “district” would include sub-units H-1, H-2, I-1 and I-2.  There would be five “districts” in the in the areas immediately around the Metrorail station where development would be focused.  (These are actually the Herndon-Monroe district and north and south “sub-districts” on either side of the stations at Reston Parkway and Wiehle.)  There would also be several peripheral districts (e.g.—North Town Center, West Town Center) where development levels would not change significantly from existing zoning approvals (although the details for those have not yet been presented).

                The idea of the “districts” is to introduce more “flexibility” into the planning process. Properties could be combined and residential and office use exchanged to some degree.  However, in each “district” there would be smaller “core” (colored purple on the maps) that would concentrate office density close to the station.

                The ‘core” areas would have greater density (i.e. old H-2 (Vornado land) would be 1.5-2.5) but the density outside the core was not explicitly stated. (See talking points accompanying the 13 November meeting on county website).

                Last meeting the Wiehle Districts were tabled on maps; this meeting Town Center and Herndon Monroe were presented. 

                The attempt to explain how the districts would work elicited great confusion.  Since job-residential ratios and FARs were not given for the districts it was uncertain how development might proceed (this is the “flexibility “ apparently intended).  Heidi said all this would mean that “you might not know the FAR you get until you get into the process.”

Developer Reservations

                Much of the meeting was given to developers expressing reservations about Scenario G and asking questions about the “district” concept.
                One area of inquiry revolved around the figures passed out at the last meeting indicating that under Scenario G there would be substantially fewer jobs than under the existing comprehensive plan.  One line of questioning was that developers could opt to build under the existing plan and ignore Scenario G.  To give one example, the A-2 area near Herndon Monroe station (now undeveloped) could have 1,000,000 feet of office under the current plan.  Under Scenario G it would have a 1.5 FAR.  Heidi thought office and residential development would interest the owner.  Some thought the incentives would not be there for developers to get involved in multi-use TOD development.

                Other reservations were raised about using the transit study—which showed massive gridlock at key intersections in the study area—to determine development levels. This was called the “tail wagging the dog.”  Developers again argued that not all proposed Scenario G development will take place so traffic analysis should not be based on the plan.

                Again developers said the lower FARs in Scenario G meant there will not be an incentive to tear down relatively new 8-10 story buildings, and that what will be encouraged will be infill development that would be unlikely to fulfill the visions and potential for mixed-use development outlined in the sub-committee reports.

                Various other questions were asked but not always answered. For example, Heidi said “we are looking at it” in response to a question about what bonuses might be given for and how much.  Heidi did say if developers worked together and could come in with 30-60 acres rather than say 10 there could be a bonus given.

                One question emphatically answered was that there would be no height limits in the plan.  Heidi thought spindly tall buildings unlikely.

Comment: The net result of the DPZ presentation and the answers to questions was to leave even more uncertainty about what the formal staff plan proposal will look like.  The idea of introducing “flexibility” leaves uncertain what would be in the plan regarding developer proffers for needed improvements, grid of streets, parkland, etc.  It also implies that in each “district” there will be a “rush to the courthouse” to claim as much development rights as possible before the “bucket” of development is taken.

Conclusion: At the end of the meeting Patty Nicoson cryptically said that there would be no vote on Scenario G at this time in view of all the questions raised about the “bucket approach.”  To our knowledge, there was no plan to vote on Scenario G at this time since its presentation was so incomplete and confusing. 

Herndon-Monroe: Heidi did briefly comment on the Herndon Monroe station noting that initially it was not clear that there might be further development in the garage.  Now, however,  MWAA and company have kicked the cost of the garage back onto the county.  So, FC is looking for a public-private partnership to develop the garage area as TOD mixed use.  In Scenario G it has a FAR of 1.5-2.5 with 47% allocated to office.  As noted above, A-2 is already authorized substantial office.  Heidi thought SPRINT was unlikely to re-develop and that in any event, it was uncertain what might be done by 2040 in the station area.

Notes: Heidi at several points talked about the plan timeline being 2040 (vice the previous 2030).  Also, it was noted that there was a revised version of Scenario G dated 10-16-12 on the website.  The main difference with the 10-9 version seems to be a slight increase in FARs for E-5 (south Reston station), and the introduction of flexible but slightly higher maximum FARs for G-5 (JBG land) and I-1 at Wiehle (perhaps with the hope of attracting education institutions). 

Debbie Hendircks was introduced as the DPZ staff replacement for Sandy Beaulieu

Next: Despite all the questions that were left open the next meeting was said to be in January (at a time to be set).  It was hinted that some introductory plan text may be available by then.

The Task Force drafting group will meet on 28 November to have a ‘”brainstorming” session about what should be in the report.  Van Foster and Bill Penniman are drafting text.