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Committee Approves 457 Condos

Planned residential high-rise buildings on Oracle’s campus look for county approval next.

The Reston Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee approved a developer’s plan Monday to build two, high-rise condo buildings with a combined 457 units on the Oracle campus despite strong resistance from the county.

Last week, county Department of Planning and Zoning staff said the proposal was “very bad,” calling it “disassociated development.”

Mark Looney, attorney for the developer, presented several responses to staff comments before the decision, most notably a $457,000 commitment to affordable housing, or $1,000 per unit. Yet the committee’s approval still included several conditions, including requirements to include suitable open space and recreational amenities; paths, walkways and trails; access to a proposed rail transit station; and countdown signals at two major nearby intersections.

Oracle, whose 22-acre campus sits at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Sunset Hills Road, has contracted with Lerner, a residential developer, to build the two residential buildings.

The company has approval to construct four office buildings, totaling 725,000 square feet and two parking garages. The campus currently has two office buildings, totaling about 412,000 square feet, and one garage. The company could decide to construct two more office buildings, one of which could be as much as 210,000 square feet. Rather than build a fourth office building, Oracle has applied for the two residential highrises.

DURING THE MEETING, committee members said that efforts to direct pedestrian traffic safely to the Reston Town Center were insufficient. Looney said the developer will include a countdown crosswalk signal at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Sunset Hills Road, which the committee expanded to countdown signals for all four signals. But some committee members were still unconvinced.

“That doesn’t help solve the pedestrian problem in any way,” said Ron Weber, a committee member who suggested that a tunnel walkway be considered. “It’s a very expensive solution, but it’s more practical.”

Committee members disregarded the suggestion, though, saying that the problem of pedestrian traffic was beyond the developer’s responsibility. “[The countdown signal] is inadequate, but the problem is beyond the applicant. It has to be a more comprehensive approach,” said Dave Edwards, a committee member. “One proffer and one application isn’t going to cut it.”

Committee member Bruce Wright, who was the lone dissenter who voted against the plan, said he agreed with the county’s broader criticism that the residential development was not an appropriate land use.

“We disagree with staff that this is not orderly planned design,” said Looney.

THE ZONING ON the site, which also applies to the Reston Town Center, doesn’t require Oracle to renounce any of its office density to be able to build the residential units — another problem county staff had with the application.

But others praised the approval as providing much needed residential density to a site that will one day be walking distance to a Metro station. “In the town center area, the community has almost fought to get more residential,” said Joe Stowers, longtime Reston resident.

The meeting may have been a preview of what Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) will do on May 4 when the commission votes on the application. He acknowledged staff’s “angst” over the project. “But I have to live with reality and I keep hearing we want residential close to rail stations,” said de la Fe. “There are very few places along the Dulles Toll Road to put residential until the covenants are changed.”

DE LA FE was referring to the little known private covenants that restrict residential construction at the site of the proposed rail station at Wiehle Avenue. While a petition to overturn the covenants has long been underway, it requires owners of 90 percent of the land to sign on. The petition has reached 73 percent.

If the covenants are overturned, the developer chosen by the county, Reston-based Comstock Partners, will be able to build residential units on the nine-acre county-owned park-and-ride lot adjacent to the planned station. If the covenants remain, many suspect residential development will be limited to property on the corner of Wiehle Avenue and Sunset Hills Road owned by Reston resident Chuck Veatch. Current plans include at least 400 residential units, which are not covered in the covenants.