Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Urban Revival Is an Urban Myth, and the Suburbs Are Surging, The Daily Beast, December 3, 2017

UPDATE:  We have added some links at the bottom of this post to other articles that indicate Millennials are starting to move out of major cities to their suburban surroundings to raise their families, all of which runs against the County's plan to build high-density multi-family elevator housing around Metro stations and elsewhere in Reston.

As Reston wrestles with massive County-driven planning and zoning proposals to triple Reston's population, mostly through unlimited high-density multi-family development in the vicinity of Reston's Metrorail stations, the rest of the world is taking a different course:
In the last decade, about 90 percent of U.S. population growth has been in suburbs and exurbs, with CBDs (Central Business Districts) accounting for .8 percent of growth and the entire urban corps for roughly 10 percent. . . Nationally, core counties lost over 300,000 net domestic migrants In 2016 (with immigrants replacing some some of those departees), while their suburbs gained nearly 250,000. . . Three key groups—seniors, minorities, and millennials—all prefer the suburbs. . . .
As American families and business continue to vote with their lives and dollars for the suburbs, the only way to stop suburban growth is “forcefully,” as The Economist recently put it and as political class is attempting to do in increasingly feudalized California. Yet to kill suburbs—or try and convert them into high density cities—is to stomp on the aspirations of middle class families, immigrants, minorities and seniors. It is not, to say the least, a long-term winning political formula.
Nonetheless, Fairfax County continues to insist that Reston's station areas and "hot spot" developments throughout the community--maybe even its golf courses--should be home to an urbanized surburbia.  Yet, other than maybe one percent of the top 10% income people will choose to live in such an environment of million dollar condominiums.  But Fairfax County is not planning to accommodate the growth in young families, minorities, and seniors; just elite wealthy, middle-aged, singles and childless couples.

All this is totally inconsistent with the Reston Master Plan planning principle calling for providing housing for all ages and incomes (Planning Principle #7 in the Reston plan).

And this is not the first time Fairfax County has gone--and continues to go--in the opposite direction of the rest of the world.  It continues to insist that planning for office workers allow 300 GSF/employee at a time when that space has sunk to less than 200 GSF/employee and continues to dwindle.  Even when the County's own "Building Repositioning Work Group Report" says: 
A significant trend occurring nationally and affecting the office market in Fairfax County is that the average amount of leased space per employee is shrinking.  This is attributed to more efficient office design, increased ease of teleworking, and hoteling, all of which result in many types of work being done in locations other than the traditional office environment.  Average footprints are anticipated to shrink from 225 usable square feet (USF) per person in 2010 to 150 USF per person by 2017, a reduction of 40 percent.
The result is that plans, including Reston's Master Plan, have overplanned for office space in the decades ahead.  But the County has still not taken steps to reduce its planning assumption for office employee work space, despite the global trend.

At the same time, the County has belatedly tried to generate high-density housing throughout the county without considering the fact that residential development almost always costs more to provide community services than it generates it county tax revenue.  According to the County's planning department, Fairfax County will be an (and maybe "the") exception to this national trend. 

Please click here to read the full article on the move to the suburbs by Joel Kotkin and Alan M. Berger, two noted planning experts.

See also:

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