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Votes

No High Density at Stations?

Forty-year-old covenants restrict residential development at planned rail stations on Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway.

In the hype to bring rail to the Dulles corridor, planners, county officials and community proponents have boasted of an opportunity to create high-density transit-oriented development (TOD) at future Metro stations.

Currently, a huge component of mixed-use plans for the proposed Reston stations at Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway is residential development, something restricted by little known, 40-year-old private covenants.

The Reston Center for Industry and Government (RCIG) covenants, which date back to 1965, restrict residential construction at the two sites and along the stretch of the Dulles Toll Road running through Reston.

A petition to overturn the covenants has long been underway, but it requires owners of 90 percent of the land to sign on.

At a Reston Planning & Zoning meeting last Monday, June 5, Bill Keefe, a Reston resident supporting the effort, reported that the petition has reached 77 percent approval. “The last 13 percent is going to be difficult,” said Keefe, a land-use attorney and member of an informal task force working to achieve the 90-percent. There are five or six major landowners with 30 and 40 acres apiece who are holding out, according to Keefe.

“From what I heard,” said Stephen Cerny, a member of Reston P&Z, “it’s not going to go.”

THE OUTCOME of the petition could drastically affect development at the nine-acre county-owned park-and-ride lot adjacent to the planned Wiehle Avenue station.

The county already selected a developer’s proposal by Comstock Partners for large, mix-use development on the site. The plans feature an integrated development for about 400 residential units, commercial office space and retail as well as underground garages to house much of the federally required 2,300 parking spaces.

“In an ideal situation, the county would like to see the plan implemented fully,” said Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). “We recognize that it’s going to be difficult.”

If the RCIG covenants remain, plans would be limited to office and light retail development, said Keefe, who added that the covenants also restrict hotel development. “TOD would become low occupancy vehicle development,” said Keefe, who remains optimistic that the 90-percent threshold will be reached and the covenants overturned.

IN ADDITION, if the covenants are not lifted, residential development would be limited to two or three smaller nearby sites, said Keefe.

One such site is a property on the corner of Wiehle Avenue and Sunset Hills Road owned by Reston resident Chuck Veatch.

Since the spring of 2003, the informal task force pushing the elimination of the covenants — Keefe is a member as well as several other community members, including leading rail advocates Patricia Nicoson and Joe Stowers — has hoped it could appeal to the last remaining land owners.

“We’re pushing from all angles to try to cooperate with them,” said Keefe. “The long-term land-use potential is excellent for their property.”

Early development guidelines for the Wiehle site also included language to set aside units for affordable housing. “This was going to be Reston’s first stab at transit-oriented development,” said Cerny, who saw the county-owned park-and-ride lot as a great opportunity to add more affordable housing in Reston.

DESPITE THE TASK ahead to reach a near unattainable 90- percent threshold, many close to the situation have vowed not to give up. “I’m a Red Sox fan and things finally came together for us, so you have to be optimistic,” said Keefe.

But time is running out. Rail from Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue has been scheduled for completion by 2011. TOD plans are supposed to be implemented concurrently, said Keefe, “before the rail cars show up.”

The other option is to wait for the covenants to expire, which isn’t for another two decades. “By that time, rail would be out to Loudoun and any opportunity for mixed-use development [at these sites] may be lost,” said Keefe.