Fairfax County is considering changing a formula that could allow hundreds of more houses to be built in Burke Centre and Cardinal Forest.
The two neighborhoods, along with Reston, were built under the same zoning code. The "PRC" zone was developed in 1962 to help guide the construction of Reston.
The zone allows for flexibility and incentive for a single developer to create a large, planned community. When it was adopted, the code mandated that it could only apply to areas of more than 750 acres, all under the control of one entity.
"They are early vestiges of trying to make mixed-use possible," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).
In addition to Reston (6,224 acres) Burke Centre (1,516.3 acres) and Cardinal Forest (827.7 acres) were built under the PRC zone. County planners predict that future developments of this type are unlikely, given the amount of land needed to develop one.
Included in the zoning code was a provision to stop the developments from getting too big, by capping the population density at 13 people per acre.
While it would be difficult to determine the exact population, the county developed a formula estimating the average number of people who lived in a given type of house — 3.5 per detached house, 3 per townhouse, 2.5 per garden apartment and 2 per high-rise apartment.
Until recently, no one had been tracking the exact population level in Reston, which has seen more development than the other two zones in recent years.
In January, county planners began a study of Reston. They found that, under the current formulas, the area has a population density of 11.68 people per acre.
County planners discovered that no basis seemed to exist for the original factors of people per house. When they studied U.S. Census data, they came up with new, lower numbers.
Fearing that Reston was getting too close to its cap, planners began to study ways to adjust the numbers.
Around that time, Bulova said, she met with community leaders from Burke Centre and Cardinal Forest to discuss the issue, both areas are in Bulova's district.
At the time, the group decided to wait and allow the plan to work its way through the process in Reston. "Let's vet this through Reston, where there are actual issues," Bulova said.
SOME DEVELOPERS in Reston were getting nervous that development there would soon hit the cap, meaning that building would stop.
Some Reston residents shared the concern, noting that relatively few projects could eat up the available density, and might make redevelopment of some areas more difficult.
Others are happy to approach the cap, seeing it as a chance for a break in development.
If adopted, these would also apply to Burke Centre and Cardinal Forest. On paper, this would mean a sharp reduction in the number of people living in each of these areas (about 2,300 in Burke Centre and 1,000 in Cardinal Forest).
The population "reduction" would also mean a corresponding increase in potential development in each area.
If adopted, the calculated population in Burke Centre would drop from 17,977 to 15,681. As a result there would be an additional 848 detached houses which could be constructed.
In Cardinal Forset, the calculated population would drop from 7,982 to 6,956. This would allow 475 additional detached houses.
County planners have been working with Reston residents for the past year. The Reston Association's Planning and Zoning Committee endorsed the new numbers on Dec. 4.
Jim Zook, director of the Department of planning and Zoning said that Reston needed the most attention. It was developed first of the three, he said. Burke Centre and Cardinal Forest were done as a larger unit, meaning there is not much building area left and the communities are somewhat more stable.
"In both Cardinal Forest and Burke Centre, there are not big, open areas," Bulova said.
Now that the proposal is poised to move forward, Bulova said she again hopes to meet with leaders from the two communities to discuss what the changes could mean.
Zook said he expects the proposal to come before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Feb. 22 and the Board of Supervisors on March 26. A public hearing will take place before each body, and the board will make the final decision.