Building Up for Density Debate

Building Up for Density Debate

The Density Debate’s Who’s Who

A fight over a looming zoning change that could dramatically affect the future of residential development in Reston is escalating, amid complaints that the county has poorly and incompletely explained its intentions.

At heart of the issue is a residential density “cap” that limits the total amount of density allowed in Reston. If Reston bumps into the cap, something the county says will soon occur, additional residential development would be stopped — no more new high-rises, mid-rises, single-family homes, townhouses, nothing.

A decision not to change the ordinance would also prevent any additional residential density planned for sites already targeted for more development, such as the Reston Town Center area, Reston’s future Metro stations at Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway, and the Lake Anne revitalization district.

But the county isn’t sitting still. Instead, the Department of Planning and Zoning is moving fast on a zoning ordinance modification that targets the calculation of the cap, which would allow more residential density.

Jim Zook, director of planning and zoning, said his office will present the Board of Supervisors with the full zoning amendment for consideration this September, which would initiate a public hearing process before the board made a final decision later in the fall.

Zook said he plans to circulate a document in August that explains the changes his office will propose to the board. “I think what will happen is a change in the way the cap is calculated,” said Zook, who added that Reston will remain a PRC. Keeping or eliminating the cap will be considered in a second phase starting at the end of the year, said Zook.

Supporters of the cap, including no-change advocates, say modifications to the ordinance could unlock Reston to a flood of redevelopment.

They have criticized the county for bumbling through its one and only attempt to explain the issue to the community and for what they see as a halfhearted attempt to seek greater community input on possible changes.

Mike Corrigan, president of Reston Citizen’s Association (RCA), has taken a more diplomatic approach. If changes to the zoning ordinance are needed, Corrigan says they should emanate from the community.

RCA, which leads the local movement for Reston to become a town, reported two weeks ago it would hold a forum on the subject as part of a broader effort to increase awareness. “We’re real interested in getting feedback from the community,” said Corrigan.

Other interested parties are following the issue closely. The developers want some clarification about how they will be able to proceed on future residential development plans.

A group of residents who serve on Reston Association’s environmental advisory committee fear added density beyond the existing cap could jeopardize the community’s many natural resources, which they say have already been severely damaged.

Stephen Cerny, a local affordable housing advocate, would like to see a solution that allows for more affordable housing. Yet Cerny recognized most residents will want assurances that their neighborhoods are safe from redevelopment.

“The majority of people in Reston don’t want to see massive redevelopment, especially in neighborhoods,” said Cerny, adding that if new density is added, it must be put where the community finds it acceptable, like the Reston Town Center area.