Reston could see thousands of new houses under a proposed zoning change endorsed by the Reston Association's Planning and Zoning Committee.
Under the county's zoning laws, Reston is capped at a density of 13 people per acre. No one knows for sure how many people there are in the 6,224 acres which encompass Reston's zone, but embedded within the Zoning Ordinance is a formula which makes the determination.
The formula was developed in 1975, and no one is certain what it is based on. County planners have developed a new factors to use in the formula which will allow more than 3,200 more single family houses (or about 3,400 more townhouses or 531 more condo/apartments or some combination of the three) than would have been permitted under the old system.
Opponents say that the current standards could give Reston a chance to take a break from development. They prefer to believe their own experiences in overcrowded schools and congested roads, not a mathematical equation.
"Does anybody think Reston is going to become a ghost town if we don't allow it to become more crowded?" said Sally Carol during the committee's Dec. 4 meeting.
Supporters of changing the formula have argued that by keeping the current formula in place, they would jeopardize Reston's economic development and open the county to lawsuits arguing that the formula is arbitrary.
"I think the current factors are unreasonable," said Dave Edwards, a committee member. "We ought to use factors that are contemporary, current."
According to the existing formula, there are 72,700 people in Reston, equating to a density of 11.68 people per acre.
County planners reviewed census data for the area, and have come up with a new formula. Under the new proposal, Reston's population, on paper, would drop to 64,277 people — a density of 10.33 people per acre.
THE GROUP AGREED unanimously on some aspects of the proposed change. They all said that the cap of 13 people per acre should remain in place.
They also agreed with changing the process that developments in Reston take. The new plan will require more review from county staff, and the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
The committee asked that developments also be mandated to come before them for review. Jim Zook, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said that he did not think that request could be codified.
Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) said that whether or not it is law, he will require developers to come before the committee before he will move a proposal forward at the Planning Commission.
THE CHANGE in the formula was more contentious. County planners analyzed census data for Reston, and the area around it. They also looked at countywide numbers, since the proposed change will also impact the Burke Centre Area in Burke and Cardinal Forest area in Springfield.
After their study, they found that there are generally fewer people in a house than the Zoning Ordinance formulas would predict.
As a result, planners advocated changing the formula.
Joe Stowers, who attended the meeting, advocated studying the formulas further. He said he had developed an alternate method for studying the population levels which he said would be more accurate.
His plan gained some traction among the committee. They said they fear that the new formula faces a credibility problem among some Reston residents, and that more study might help alleviate that problem.
But when it came to a vote on the new formula, the proposed change won 7-6 with two abstentions.
The committee also called for a study of Reston's Comprehensive Plan. Arthur Hill, the committee's vice-chair, said it was time to take a look at the plan which was developed 40 years ago.
The committee called on Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) to establish a task force to study the plan. They would then come up with possible reasons to change the existing plan and make recommendations to implement those changes. There was no timetable attached to the proposal.