From the outset, before things got heated, the crowd of about 80 heard the challenge facing Reston’s future.
“This is an opportunity for us to determine a recommendation to give back to the county how this density cap is going to be sustained, changed or modified,” said David Vanell, chair of the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, at the start of the second community meeting on density, which Supervisor Cathy Hudgins asked the group to lead.
But the county, which has mostly avoided the lightning-rod density issue, wanted to talk about process.
Reston, according to the county’s chief planner, has a “real problem” with redevelopment.
“The concern is that the clusters that were built low density could be bought and redeveloped at a higher density,” said Jim Zook, director of planning and zoning. “And that change could occur absent a public hearing.”
To rectify the problem, the county has proposed amending the Planned Residential Community ordinance, which governs zoning in most of Reston, more than 6,200 acres.
The amendment would integrate a review process for any and all future development proposals to include scrutiny from county staff, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
This revised process, which the county describes as “legislative,” will protect stable, low-density neighborhoods, which are zoned high density, from redevelopment, according to county staff.
BUT SEVERAL PEOPLE at the meeting pointed out that, even with the process change, the same threatened neighborhoods would still be zoned high density, prompting a request to include additional protections.
Mike Corrigan, president of the Reston Citizens Association, asked why the county isn’t pursuing a previous plan to change zoning to match what has actually been built. “There’s really no stronger protection from some [developer] going in and changing it,” said Corrigan, criticizing the county’s recommendation.
Zook disagreed, saying residents would have “political influence” during the legislative process. However, planning commissioners and supervisors have a record of rarely voting “no” on residential development in the county.
John Von Kanorring, a 10-year resident, said he’d like to see a local authority added into the formal review process. “Can we enshrine a body, perhaps the Reston Association, to reflect the community as a whole?” said Von Kanorring.
Zook replied by arguing that informal zoning bodies, like the Reston P&Z, play an important, substantive role in the process now.
Still, residents balked. “We wouldn’t have problems like this if we were a town,” said Marion Stillson, who advocates the incorporation of Reston to ensure greater control over land-use decisions. Instead, she said the county is deciding Reston’s fate.
Others said they agreed with the county’s plan. “Right now we have virtually no control over what happens,” said Dave Edwards, a member of the Reston P&Z, who endorsed the recommended changes. “I don’t understand so much why we’re arguing so much about it.”
ON DENSITY, the county has recommended to change how the cap is calculated, which would allow the addition of 3,800 high-rise units.
But that’s just an immediate fix to allow more density, said longtime resident Sally Carroll, summarizing the county’s proposed change.
“What would you change?” said Zook.
“I wouldn’t change it. I would have a plan,” said Carroll.
A drawn-out, heated exchange between Zook and several members of the audience ensued.
Several members of the audience opposed the reduction of the population factors that would permit greater density. They argued that reduced factors are not accurate.
The PRC ordinance currently allows an additional 4,100 high-rise residential units, before hitting the 13 persons per acre density cap that limits Reston’s total residential density.
Calculating density is determined based on population factors for various housing types — 3.5 persons per single family detached, 3 persons per single family attached, 2.5 persons per garden apartment and 2 persons per elevator apartment. Staff argued that these values, which were based on 1974 data, should be reduced to reflect more recent data.
The county’s recommended reductions would result in an increase in allowable residential development of an additional 3,800 high-rise units.
But pending applications account for all but about 750 of the 4,100 available units currently under the cap, according to the county.
The addition of 7,900 high-rise units is equivalent to the addition of more than 16,000 people.
IF THE FACTORS aren’t updated, Zook said, the county could be susceptible to lawsuits from developers. Zook said he’s had conversations with the county attorney on the issue, but would not comment further. “That will be dealt with when and if there is actually a challenge,” he said.
Some residents supported the county’s recommendations, including Reston founder Robert E. Simon. “I have a hunch we would have had a different discussion if people knew that density was going to go where it’s needed,” said Simon.
He added that additional density is intended for the Reston Town Center, near the proposed Metro stations and the village centers.
Others argued development has moved forward without a plan.