Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Saturday, September 15, 2018

What if HQ2 comes to Reston?

At last week’s DC Economic Club luncheon, Jeff Bezos stated that Amazon will announce the location of its second corporate headquarters—“HQ2”—by the end of the year.  The Washington metropolitan area figures prominently in Amazon’s consideration with nine sites identified as finalists.  One of the possible locations indicates it is likely to be located at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) near Dulles airport in the bulls-eye of the US internet.    

Regrettably, Fairfax County leaders are not planning realistically or inclusively to provide the infrastructure needed to support the promise of 50,000 new jobs dangled by Jeff Bezos resulting in an estimated 130,000 person population gain, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).  Moreover, MWCOG expects Amazon’s arrival in the DC area to generate an additional population growth of 260,000 people region-wide in households with employees directly supporting Amazon. 

Reston and the CIT are at the epicenter of Fairfax’s development planning to support Bezos’ expected move.  They are along Metro’s Silver Line and bordered by generally low-intensity commercial development that is already being profitably redeveloped into a high-density residential-centric mixed-use urban environment. 

The county’s comprehensive plan for our masterpiece Bob Simon “planned” community—modified without meaningful resident knowledge, much less input, in recent years—is to triple Reston’s roughly 60,000 population and add about 40,000 jobs over four decades.  This is the kind of growth that Amazon will require.  This includes well over 90,000 new residents and the new jobs in its three Silver Line Metro stations and adding more than 20,000 residents to its redeveloped suburban village centers, changing them from neighborhood shopping sites into high-density mixed-use mini-urban centers.   Routinely awarded "bonus" density and development waivers are likely to drive that population growth up at least another ten percent.

Using FCPS' forecast methodology, that potential 180,000 or so population means more than 5,000 new students added to the 20,000 kids already in Reston’s overcrowded schools according to Fairfax schools.  More broadly, MWCOG estimates total added students from all Amazon-related employment at 87,000--a much higher per household student ratio than Fairfax County anticipates (0.2 vs. 0.087 students per household).  The county’s plan:  Add one elementary school and shift some boundaries.  Using the county’s forecasting methods, Reston’s citizen groups calculate that three new elementary schools and one each middle and high school will be required.   MWCOG's forecast would require a doubling of that number.

Open spaces—parks, athletic fields, woods, and lakes—are a cornerstone of Reston’s history and its planning principles.  More than 1,350 of Reston's total 10,000 acres is HOA open space while the county provides only about 110 acres of parkland in Reston.   Yet the county’s Reston plan calls for only about 12 new ballfields requiring less than 50 acres, about one-quarter the acreage mandated by its own urban parkland acreage standards.  There would be virtually no other public open spaces of consequence, maybe some small linear and pocket parks, playgrounds, and—yes—sidewalks. 

The county’s transportation plan for Reston is equally ludicrous.  In general, it hypothesizes without meaningful evidence, using a flawed methodology, and relying on unreliable self-monitoring that traffic will magically diminish as new bicycle and pedestrian facilities and high-density housing are added.   Its few substantial road improvement proposals—critically needed crossovers of the Dulles Corridor—are literally decades away and unfunded, and moving farther into the future despite a special added tax on Reston station area properties.  Finally, the Reston plan explicitly proposes no additions to public transit—none!

Nonetheless, the County is in no financial position to carry out even these insufficient plans as the delays and omissions in its transportation planning highlight.  It has insufficient reserves to buy land for schools, parks, or any other public facility, much less build them.  Moreover, it almost certainly has made generous secret tax concessions to Amazon to attract it here.  It could use its “AAA” bonding power, but the investment would be in the billions of dollars over time, put its bond rating at risk, and require substantial additional property taxes on all county residents while limiting the availability of bonds for other county needs.   And there is little land available in Reston for almost any of the needed infrastructure investments at any price. 

Moreover, as analysis of numerous research studies has pointed out, the cost of adding infrastructure to support residential development consistently exceeds the new tax revenue generated.  The result, of course, will be a sharp diminution in Restonians’ quality of life with similar, but lesser, lifestyle erosion county-wide.   

And, when it suits Jeff Bezos, Amazon will move on to “HQ3”—just as Exxon returned to Texas a four years ago—leaving behind the wreckage of the once-uplifting planned community of Reston.