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Thursday, January 31, 2019

"What's the number?" E-mail to Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors by Terry Maynard, January 29, 2019

Dear Commissioners and Supervisors,

In the January 23rd Planning Commission hearing on increasing the density cap in Reston's PRC from 13 to some higher number, Mr. Hart asked the critical question, "What's the number?"  If not 13 people per acre, then what should it be?  From my perspective, the number for the population cap in the Reston PRC is, and should remain indefinitely, 13 persons per acre.  

If the Reston PRC overall P/A number is increased, even a little, it destroys the basis for it being fixed at any level as part of our founder’s vision and a true master plan.  In so doing, it extinguishes the core foundation of Reston as a planned community with a well-considered balance between residents, jobs, open space, and infrastructure.  Instead, the community and the county would just keep chasing the population cap higher or abolish it all together as property owners continue to seek to add density.  It does nothing for jobs, open space, or infrastructure (as many Reston speakers highlighted at the recent hearing).  Planned community destroyed.  

It seems clear to me that Bob Simon fully appreciated that Reston would have mass transit in the Dulles Corridor in addition to the access road and toll road.  With that in mind, a 1990s version of the Reston Master Plan stated that the maximum (not “target”) population of Reston is 130,000 people.   (That map is no longer publicly available.)  This is consistent with the story presented by Mark Looney at the Planning Commission hearing, and just because the result was a simple equation doesn’t mean it was not well considered.  For example, how about E = mc2?  Simple, but with huge implications—and it took years to formulate.     Not surprisingly, with an overall Reston acreage of about 10,000 acres, that 130,000 population cap works out to 13 people per acre. 

His logic, as reported in A Brief History of Reston, Virginia (Gulf Reston, 1970, p. 11) was: "Our present zoning ordinances (which isolated land uses) are largely responsible for the diffusion of our communities into separate, unrelated hunks without focus, identity or community life. They have helped produce chaos on our highways, monotony in our subdivisions, ugliness in our shopping centers. They are to blame for the whole neon-lighted wasteland that exists."  And, yes, neon lights have appeared on Comstock’s new office building at Reston Station.  He was more prescient than could have been imagined.

The Reston Master Plan as approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 (Phase 1 TSA revisions) came close to defining that 130,000 limit.
It targeted the development of 28,000 dwelling units (DUs) in the TSAs, about 59,000 people.
The largely suburban PRC areas of Reston would top out at about 82,000 people at 13 p/a less the overlap between the PRC and TSA in Reston Town Center comprising about 11,000 DUs, or about 23,000 people.   (My best estimate of the current RTC PRC population is about 13,000 people in some 6,300 DUs.  This is based on Fairfax County and RA data.)
Netting that all out (59,000 TSA + 59,000 non-TSA) leads to a potential Reston population of 118,000 people in “One Reston,” approaching the cap laid out in the Reston Master Plan some two decades ago.   And it would allow a virtual doubling of Reston’s current population (which the US Census estimates at 60,352 in its 2012-2017 ACS survey) in four decades that it has taken well over five decades to achieve.   Our experience shows that that is certainly enough growth to try to manage in any master plan, zoning ordinance, or supporting budget. 

Some of the further implications of that calculation are: 
We need to “down plan” the target residential potential of the TSAs from 44,000 DUs (2015 plan amendment) to 28,000 DUs (2014 Phase 1 plan approval).  This was the total number of DUs developed by the Phase 1 Reston Master Plan Task Force for Reston’s station areas.
We should not change the number of development categories in the PRC zoning ordinance (low, medium, high) or their values (maximum of 50 DU/A for MF DUs).  As RA has pointed out, only one development application has so far exceeded that density limit.  There should be no more.
Village centers should be re-developed at not more than a moderate density (30 DUA), not the 50 DUA proposed in the current PRC zoning amendment proposal.  In this manner, they would remain "neighborhood serving" as called for in the Reston Master Plan rather than just high-density annexes isolated from the transit station areas.   
It is clear, as members of the Planning Commission have stated, that we need to re-connect the Reston plan with the PRC zoning ordinance before considering changes to the latter.   With the next scheduled Reston plan effort set for 2020, I think the Planning Commission has the time to lay the groundwork for that effort before moving forward on this zoning amendment.  My only “ask” is that the new effort must include a strong community voice—people representing Reston residents’ interests—in the re-shaping of our community plan and zoning.

In the meantime, I think the Hippocratic Oath applies to the Reston body politic as much as it applies to the body human:  “First, do no harm.”

Thank you for your consideration—and your patience,

Terry Maynard

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