Density Questions Coming to Town

Density Questions Coming to Town

When Reston reaches its density cap, residential developments cannot be permitted.

What do residents think about density levels in Reston? Is there too much? Too little? Or is it just right?

In the coming months, the question of density will be thrust into public debate whether the community wants it to or not.

As a planned community, Reston has a density cap written into the zoning ordinance. The limit on total density in the planned residential community (PRC) zoned area, which accounts for about 6,200 acres of Reston, is set at 13 people per acre.

Last week, Feb. 6, Fairfax County officials told the Reston Planning and Zoning committee that Reston may be nearing its density “cap.”

“'Based on an estimated acreage of 6,224, the total number of persons per acre is 12.51, which leaves a maximum of 1,530 high rise units available under this density restriction,'” said a county handout.

However, the county has not been able to officially determine the level of density in the PRC zoned area.

“We’re still going through the numbers,” said Jim Zook, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, who added that the county is reviewing Reston’s density “development by development.” In a community of 41 years, that’s a lot of time-consuming analysis.

“The purpose of the talks to [the Planning and Zoning committee] was to indicate to them the potential problem,” said Zook. “If nothing is done, we wouldn’t be able to approve additional residential development.”

Zook emphasized that if any changes to the cap were proposed or considered, the process would include two rounds of public hearings. “It’s important to keep in mind as we look into this with regard to any solutions that there’d be a public hearing process associated with that.

FOR THE FIRST three decades of Reston’s history, a master developer tabulated the level of density in Reston. More recently, these numbers have been scrutinized and tabulated by land-use attorneys representing developers because it’s required during the application process. Within the process for applying for a new residential development, developers must submit a density tabulation to ensure that the density cap hasn’t been eclipsed.

Mark Looney, an land-use attorney with Cooley Godward LLP, who represents several pending residential developments in Reston, has also tried to figure out where Reston is in terms of the cap.

“Trying to recreate 45 years of history is a daunting task and requires a lot of careful analysis,” said Looney. “There is no question that Reston was set up that you knew the cap was going to come into play.”

According to Looney, the pending residential applications currently before the county make it under the cap and “allow room to maneuver with substantial additional units still available,” added Looney.

But at some point down the road, the cap will be an issue, said Looney.

“Realizing this before we reach the cap is a good thing,” he said. “It’s appropriate to discuss what to do. It’s a discussion the community will want to have in the coming weeks and months.”

FOR THE COUNTY, the discussion may be needed sooner rather than later. A few weeks ago, the county purchased Crescent Apartments, 181 units on 16 acres near Lake Anne, for $49.5 million. Beyond retaining a significant amount of affordable housing units, the property also presents the county with an opportunity to redevelop because it sits adjacent to the Lake Anne Village Center, an area named a revitalization district by the county seven years ago.

Talks of redevelopment in the revitalization district have been ongoing for several years. Last summer, the county and the Reston Community Reinvestment Corporation facilitated a visioning workshop and a three-day charrette to hear community input about revitalization efforts.

Since any residential redevelopment in the revitalization district will affect the cap, the county has an immediate interest in determining the status of the cap.

Lee Rau, a commissioner with the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board (Hunter Mill), has been involved in the revitalization process at Lake Anne since the beginning.

“I’d hate to have what we’re doing at Lake Anne get tied into what’s going on in greater Reston,” said Rau, referring to the density cap. “My hope would basically be that we get a [zoning] carve-out of [the area in walking distance to the Lake Anne Village Center]. Rau said that if the area were zoned differently than the PRC, it would be unaffected by the density cap.