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No Plan for Future Density?

Residents cite lack of overall vision.

Reston’s driving without a map, according to Ludo Van Vooren.

At a community forum last Wednesday, Sept. 6, the 39-year-old Reston resident expressed a recurring sentiment among a crowd of more than 100 people that development in Reston seems to elude local community planning.

“Let’s back up,” said Van Vooren. “If we continue to provide developers with permits to develop, we may inadvertently accept projects that don’t fit into a bigger plan.” Many residents agreed, saying that haphazard development has become a replacement for a community vision that’s run its course.

Instead, Van Vooren suggested that Reston take a development timeout, which would give the community time to devise a plan for future growth.

BUT WITH A FIGHT looming over a zoning change that could dramatically affect residential development in Reston, time may not be a luxury.

Last February, the county’s chief planner, Jim Zook, reported that Reston is fast approaching a density “cap,” which prohibits total residential development from exceeding 13 persons per acre. If a change isn’t made, additional residential development in Reston will soon be unlawful.

According to the latest report by Zook in June, Reston is at 11.68 persons per acre, which allows for an additional 4,106 high-rise units.

But development applications in the pipeline, if approved, could cut that number by two-thirds.

Responding to a situation that could soon shut down future residential development in Reston, the county initiated a process this summer to change the Planned Residential Community zoning ordinance that restricts Reston’s maximum density.

Proposed county changes will likely allow more density, but they may also re-define how future development and redevelopment in Reston takes place.

The Reston Citizens Association, in partnership with the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners, organized the forum to provide the community with more information about the proposed zoning changes.

During the forum held at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne, residents embraced the opportunity to influence possible revisions to what is shaping up to be a strategic zoning change.

WITH THE COUNTY facing a housing shortage and a transportation crisis embodied by clogged roads and protracted commutes, local residents wondered out loud if Reston residents will lead the changes or if the county will.

“If I’ve read it once, I’ve read it 1,000 times. When Reston was fully built-out it was supposed to have 75,000 souls. I think we need to keep that in mind,” said 33-year resident Michael Eaton. “We have the opportunity to tell the [Fairfax County Board of] Supervisors that that’s what we want to preserve if it’s important to us.”

Many in the audience supported the density status quo and putting additional residential growth on hold.

“I see nothing [additional density] is going to do for people who are already in Reston,” said Mary Buff, a Reston resident since 1978. “They make it sound like [additional development] will be so wonderful. We won’t be able to get across the [Dulles] Toll Road.”

Buff, who doesn’t think Metro will solve the Corridor’s transportation woes, said traffic concerns ought to be catalogued and addressed before additional density is greenlighted. “Developers, then, should pay to make the needed improvements before going forward.”

ONE OF THE PANELISTS, Greg Hamm of Reston Group, who works closely with local developers, said that Reston is “ideal for density and growth.” While he refrained from discussing the density cap directly, he supported “smart growth,” which includes a range of housing, walkable neighborhoods and community collaboration, among other things. “Let’s collaboratively work to make that growth as advantageous as possible,” he said.

Others in the crowd, particularly several affordable housing advocates, said they didn’t mind additional density if it were part of an accepted community plan.

As the county continues to grow jobs at one of the fastest rates in the country, several audience members said growth is inevitable. “Growth is going to happen,” said Michael Scheurer, a resident of Reston for 24 years. “So, do it well.”

Others rejected the premise. “It’s not inevitable that we’ll get further crowded,” said Sally Carroll, another longtime resident. “We knew the plan and we liked what we saw.”

FOR OTHER RESIDENTS, the issue hinged on who would author the vision for future growth. They pointed out that founder Robert E. Simon’s vision of Reston has entered its fifth decade with little revision.

“Master plans usually have a life expectancy of 20 years. This one has lasted longer because it’s such a good plan,” said Patrick Kane, a longtime resident with expertise in planning. “We should create a comprehensive plan that will give us a vision of what we want.”

Mike Corrigan, president of RCA, which is leading an effort to make Reston a town, argued that Reston’s recent development has lacked planning and occurs piecemeal, incompatible with community attitudes.

It’s indicative, he said, of a the broader problem: Restonians “sometimes get a seat at the table and sometimes don’t.”

In the chance that the community is ignored during this process to revise the ordinance, this will be another example why Reston should be a town, said Corrigan.

While Zook, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) were all invited to the forum, none were able to attend.