Fred Rothwarf lives near the intersection of Indian Ridge Road with Sunrise Valley Drive in Reston. On a good day, at a good time, it takes him three to four minutes to make a left turn onto Sunrise Valley to head toward the Reston International Center.
"At peak hour, forget it," said Rothwarf. He spoke at Monday night’s, Nov. 5, Reston Planning and Zoning Committee meeting where representatives from JBG Companies sought the committee’s endorsement for the proposed Reston Heights development.
Rothwarf argued that the development would add to his and other Restonians’ traffic congestion woes on Sunrise Valley Drive. With the property backed up against the Dulles Toll Road to its north, Sunrise Valley Drive to its south and Reston Parkway to its west, the traffic generated from the proposal would be overwhelming, according to Rothwarf. "They may have backed themselves into a corner," he said. "Sometimes you can’t solve a problem within constraints you are working in."
The proposal includes four high-rise residential buildings, a 1-story minor commercial building and a 16-story structure dedicated to parking, commercial and office use on a nearly 10-acre property where the Reston International Center stands. The International Center would remain standing, but most of the 1-story buildings that now surround it would be demolished to make way for the new construction. The development would make way for up to 498 dwelling units, almost 430,000 square feet of office space — including the existing International Center — and 145,000 square feet of retail space. The plan also calls for 2,839 parking spaces and three acres of open space.
"What concerns me is just the sheer size of it," said Arthur Hill, P&Z vice chairman. Hill added that although the plan is in accordance with the Planned Residential Community ordinance, it is probably not beneficial to the community. "What the law allows is not necessarily what is best for Reston," said Hill, who also lives in the vicinity of the proposed project.
RESTON P&Z VOTED 9-2, with one abstention, to recommend to the county’s Planning Commission to approve the project with stipulations that JBG contributes its fair share to building a pedestrian skywalk to the planned Reston Parkway metro station. Another stipulation is that JBG conducts an extensive transportation study of the development’s impact on surrounding roads — the quadrant between Sunrise Valley Drive, Wiehle Avenue, Sunset Hills Road and Reston Parkway.
The county Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday, Nov. 7. The commissioners will vote on a Planned Residential Community (PRC) plan, a preliminary plan, after the public hearing, either on Nov. 7 or some other day. Then the plan would have to go before the Board of Supervisors for approval, no earlier than January. The public hearings are a part of the PRC ordinance amendments passed in March, which required that development proposals in the PRC district — most of Reston’s residential zoning — are presented at public hearings in front of the county’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
If approved by the board, JBG Companies is required to submit a site plan, together with a transportation plan, and approval is needed from county departments before any construction takes place. The county staff report recommends that the PRC plan be approved as is currently presented.
"We cannot put one shovel in the ground until we have approval of the site plan and we prove that traffic can be mitigated," said John Schlichting, managing director of development at JBG Companies.
Much of Monday night’s discussion focused on providing a pedestrian connection between Reston Heights — in the southeast corner of the Reston Parkway interchange with Dulles Toll Road — and the proposed metro station in the median of the Dulles Access Road west of Reston Parkway. Committee member Dave Edwards said the proposal is clearly not transit-oriented development, despite its proximity to the planned metro station. "There has to be some means other than other vehicles to get hundreds of residents to transit," said Edwards. Without the connection, he said, "It is just another high-density development. It might as well be on Hunter Mill Road."
JBG representatives said they are brainstorming ways to deliver a project that would enable its residents to get to the proposed metro station. "This project doesn’t work unless we can get people to the metro station," said Schlichting. One of the ideas on the table is a skywalk, in some concepts with moving sidewalks, which would take people from the property over Reston Parkway and onto a platform by the proposed metro station. Reston P&Z chair David Vanell encouraged JBG representatives to consider such options, which do not bring into conflict vehicular traffic on Reston Parkway with the pedestrian traffic. Other members of the committee agreed. "You ought to put it in your books as one of the number one things to do," said Ron Weber. Reston resident Joe Stowers said the skywalk was one of the best pedestrian improvements discussed in a long time.
According to Jeff Kelley, the project manager, JBG is committed to preserve 12 percent of the units on site as workforce housing. It is also committing almost $215,000 towards Reston Parkway improvements. Recreational uses and landscaping plazas for future residents and Reston community are also in the plan. Schlichting said approval of the maximum residential density is necessary in order to make the 12 percent workforce housing commitment economically viable.