The county Board of Supervisors approved the Planned Residential Community (PRC) Ordinance amendment at its regular board meeting on Monday night. The decision changes factors that calculate Reston’s population, allowing more dwelling units and people into Reston, without changing the density cap of 13 people per acre. It also changes the development approval process, from an administrative one to a legislative one through the Board of Supervisors.
“We must be extremely careful to accept some of the tools but not the others,” said Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), referring to a position taken by organizations representing Reston residents that the development approval process — one part of the amendment — be changed while the population factors remained the same for the time being. Those groups hoped a community-based comprehensive review would address necessary improvements to Reston’s infrastructure in order for it to handle the additional units and people, before the population factors are changed.
Jim Zook, director of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, said that the new approval process would consider future development impacts on the community. This would address the additional traffic, and other impacts, generated by new development. “As development occurs, the review process we’re suggesting here will give the community more voice,” said Zook.
According to Elizabeth Perry, with Fairfax County’s Zoning Administration Division, the PRC Ordinance, before it was amended, did not provide much guidance on redevelopment. Also, she said more accurate numbers — population factors — were needed to reflect Reston’s population today.
Over the past year Reston residents addressed the issue in front of county representatives on multiple occasions. The discussions among Reston residents led three community organizations — Reston Citizens Association (RCA), Reston Association (RA) and Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) — to ask the county not to change the population factors until a more comprehensive review was conducted, seeking to improve Reston’s infrastructure to welcome additional development and people.
Mike Corrigan, RCA president, said the county’s Planning Commission had ignored citizen input in the discussions on the PRC amendment. “It is hard to come to any other conclusion than that Reston has no effective voice in county planning decisions,” said Corrigan.
CHANGING THE POPULATION factors allows for 3,815 dwelling units to be built in Reston, in addition to 4,106 units that were allowed before the amendment. The development potential in Reston, after the amendment, under the density cap is 7,921 units. The population factors were supposed to be reviewed every three years, but were last changed in 1975, and last reviewed in 1977.
The decision, effective as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, also calls for the development approval process to change from an administrative process to a legislative process in front of the Board of Supervisors. However, only the changing of population factors stirred controversy. Reston residents had a final chance to address the county at Monday’s meeting, before the supervisors voted on the amendment.
“What is the hurry,” asked John Lovaas at the Board of Supervisors public hearing — which was supposed to start at 4:30 p.m. but had to wait for its turn until 7:20 p.m. “Why does this have to be done by 12:01?” Lovaas added that the 4,106 units allowed for development without the amendment still constituted a significant increase in Reston’s population, and allowed the county — fearful it may lose a court battle to a developer if density cap is reached — time to review infrastructure issues before allowing more development. He said the ordinance had not protected Reston from development sprawl in recent years, and needed to be replaced with a modern ordinance, derived from community input.
Lovaas urged the supervisors to reject the amendment and work with the community to write a new ordinance that could serve Reston better. “The community opposes these amendments,” he said, referring to the conclusions reached by RA, RCA and ARCH.
“[The three organizations] have all come to the same conclusion,” said RCA Vice President Marion Stillson. “All oppose just one element of the proposal before you,” she said. Stillson added that Reston is a world famous planned community, however, traffic woes experienced every day by its residents mock the concept of a well-planned community, she said.
Robert Goudie, representing ARCH at the meeting, gave examples of why the entire PRC ordinance, not just population factors, is out of date. “No one knew 40 years ago that the Wiehle Avenue Metro Station is expected to serve for at least several years as a Metro terminus, something all agree will create profound strains on our existing transportation infrastructure,” said Goudie. Other things that were unknown 40 years ago included the addition of up to 20,000 more people in Reston’s Center for Industry and Government and that the Reston area would become the job magnet it is today. He said the issue at hand is whether a bargain struck 40 years ago should be upheld given today’s realities.
RA PRESIDENT Jennifer Blackwell asked the supervisors to change the approval process, but wait to change the population factors until a comprehensive review of the community’s infrastructure is conducted. She reiterated the need for a task force to conduct the review, even if it is formed after the population factors are changed.
Corrigan said that Reston needs a Sustainable Community Ordinance, not a patched up Planned Residential Community Ordinance. The change to the population factors was an example of poor planning, he said. “It does not direct development to those areas where the community would like to see it, it makes no provision for affordable housing and it fails to integrate land use and transportation planning,” said Corrigan.
Hudgins directed county staff to examine ways to incorporate language into the ordinance that would direct future development to desirable places, such as Lake Anne Village Center.
Reston resident Joe Stowers recommended to the supervisors to approve the amendment as county staff recommended, including the change in population factors. “There really is a serious threat to the ordinance,” said Stowers. He said, however, that a tri-partite task force — made up of interested citizens, county staff and those representing developer interests — ought to review the ordinance.
Perry said that the amendment included provisions stating that any developments already approved under the old PRC ordinance remain approved. Meanwhile, any new development proposals and any proposals still in the approval process need to go through the new approval process, which would eventually take them to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.