No Light in This Wilderness

No Light in This Wilderness

Hotel with “lantern roof” proposed at Toll Road and Hunter Mill.

It’s a matter of perspective. Reston is planned to be a high density area with tall buildings. Around Reston is the so-called “green belt” which surrounds the area and is designed to prevent the high densities from creeping outward.

But how should “high” be defined? Is it better to start with the town center and step down toward the low-density green belt, or should planners start with the residential neighborhoods and step up?

Walker FLP is asking for approval to construct a building which exceeds the standard height limitation on the southwest corner of Hunter Mill Road and the Dulles Toll Road. Typically, the building height would be a maximum of 75 feet, but the developer was asking for a 123-foot building.

Department of Planning and Zoning staff recommended denying the request based on remaining design and transportation issues, said Tracy Strunk of the department during the April 20 meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

The proposal for the 8.5-acre property includes two options, both would include two buildings, but under one option, one of the two would be a 150-room hotel. Either option calls for one of the buildings to have a “lantern roof” an architectural element which would create an enclosed, lighted glass area where people who use the building could go to eat lunch or otherwise spend their time, said Benjamin Tompkins, attorney for the developer.

Tompkins further noted that the land has been identified as a place where the planned Dulles rail line could include a stormwater management pond. The developer is planning to set aside some land for the pond. If the development is not approved, Dulles rail project would need to take the land through eminent domain, which can be expensive, Tompkins said.

The property marks the very edge of Reston, according to the county’s land use plans. Across Hunter Mill Road is the start of the low density area, and the people who live there came out to oppose the request.

“Height and [electrical] generators are on the side closest to homeowners,” said Larry Tunks, a nearby resident.

THE RESIDENTS conceded that the office building is appropriate on the location.

“It’s only the height and the lighted beacon,” said James Barrett, president of the nearby Wayside Homeowners association.

The extra height of the building would place it well above the treeline, Barrett said. “For those of us who live on three sides of this building, this is going to be an eyesore 100 percent of the time.”

The developer thinks that the plan would work well as a gateway to Reston. “We think the proposal results in a more attractive development,” said Tompkins.

The Reston Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee generally agreed, said Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill). The committee welcomed the height as a gateway feature to Reston, de la Fe said. “The Reston suburban greenbelt does not begin in Reston,” he said. “Reston does mean sharp edges.”

The committee, however, had reservations about the hotel. The area is subject to private covenants which forbid residential or hotel uses in most land near the Toll Road. For the past several years, there has been a drive to amend those covenants, but 90 percent of landowners must agree.

“Why are you asking for a hotel when you know you can’t build it?” asked de le Fe.

The developer believes the covenants will be amended, Tompkins said.

Commissioner de la Fe further noted that the committee had not known about plans for the so-called “lantern roof,” which he doubted they would have approved of.

“If this ever gets approved, there is going to be no lantern roof,” de la Fe said. “Reston is a dark place.”

The Planning Commission deferred its decision on the proposal until May 11.