On Wednesday, Sept. 14, during a special meeting of the Reston Association Board to discuss land use and zoning matters in the community, the directors voted unanimously to oppose the application for the redevelopment of the St. John’s Wood Apartments. The complex, part of the Bozzuto Group, is located at 11555 Old Tiverton Circle, near the intersection of Reston Parkway and Center Harbor Rd. Bozzuto has submitted plans that would more than double the size of the current campus, from 250 units to 511 apartments and 51 townhomes.
In a statement released shortly after the meeting concluded, the Association said they “Move to oppose the current…application for the following reasons related to its consistency with the County Comprehensive Plan with specific focus on:
Environmental impacts, including…such impacts of RA common area and natural areas.
Transportation impacts and parking/overflow.
Density and intensity of redevelopment proposal.
Mitigation of impacts to RA community amenities/facilities.
Impacts to county schools.
According to the release, Reston Association does not believe that the application “has met the express conditions required in the Comprehensive Plan to justify the medium density, multi-family residential use option” – an opinion that left attendee Hank Schonzeit, a board member of the Reston Citizens Association, wondering how then did the plan receive the approval of the Reston Design Review Board at their meeting on July 19. “How could the Reston DRB pass it when so many others say it doesn’t meet the standards?”
THE SPECIAL SESSION was held to inform board members, as well as the public, on the history of land use in Reston, the process by which applications are made, reviewed and accepted, and to discuss the projects currently in the process. John McBride, Esq., Odin Feldman Pittleman, RA’s land use counsel, led this portion of the meeting. After he and RA president Ellen Graves both made clear to the audience that land use applications are ultimately in the domain of Fairfax County and not Reston Association, McBride proceeded to provide an update on 23 projects currently in some stage of the application cycle, from first filing to already “out of the ground.”
McBride used a series of PowerPoint slides to highlight each project, the majority of which are within the zone designated as the Dulles Corridor and therefore not subject to all of the same density and population restrictions as developments within the greater community of Reston or Reston Town Center as per the amended Comprehensive Plan. McBride referred the directors and the residents to the Area III Plan of Fairfax County, Reston Chapter. “It’s important,” he stated. “It’s the guide for future development” in the area.
In all, the projects that McBride spoke of could add more than 9,000 new residential units to the immediate combined Reston region. “It’s a testament to the popularity of Reston,” he said, and indicated that the applications for new properties and for the redevelopment of existing structures just keep coming.
At this point in the meeting, McBride touched on what for many of the attendees was the “elephant in the room” – the redevelopment plans for the St. John’s Wood apartments. According to McBride, the application is about “half way through the process.” Bozzuto has yet to resubmit the application with potential additional traffic-related and operational revisions. He advised anyone in opposition to the plan to address their remarks and concerns directly to the developer “for the record,” and to the Reston Planning and Zoning Commission, to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Reston Association DRB, Hunter Mill District Planning Commission and to Cathy Hudgins, Supervisor for the Hunter Mill District.
Ken Chadwick, Esq., Chadwick, Washington Moriarty & Bunn PC, RA legal counsel, reinforced that message. “I applaud all of you for coming out,” he said to the crowd, who filled the joined conference spaces at the RA offices. To be heard, he said, “You need bodies, so they know.” “Normally you will not win the fight,” warned McBride, but he reiterated that a show of force in numbers and contacting all parties involved were key components to any winning strategy in a war of opposition.
Before McBride could continue discussing the St. John’s Wood application in comparison to the Comprehensive Plan, the meeting was disrupted by a member of the audience who shouted out “Do you take me for a fool? You just keep going forward line by line instead of getting to the point” [of what we are all here for tonight].”
RA president Graves, with the help of other members of the audience who called for the gentleman to allow the meeting and Mr. McBride to continue, eventually got the session back on track. Graves assured all in attendance that ample time would be allowed for comments and questions.
Almost the next two hours of the 4.5 hour-long meeting were soon devoted to those comments, beginning with resident Susanne Andersson-Tosado. Andersson-Tosado read from a letter she has sent to all of the parties (and then some) that McBride advised should be contacted. She also re-presented a petition opposing the St. John’s Wood plan with more than 470 signatures garnered to date.
Speaker after speaker took to the podium to protest the project for a variety of reasons, including increased traffic, safety on Center Harbor Rd. and for the children at Buzz Aldrin Elementary School, the increased pressure on services and infrastructure, and even the appearance of the proposed structures, citing that they do not fit in with the garden-style homes that surround the complex.
AT THE END of the public feedback session, the opponents won the first round in their battle to stop the project in its current form, by gaining the support of the full Reston Association Board. Prior to the vote, At-large Director Ray Wedell, who had voiced his own objections to the plan before a vocal crowd of opponents at the RA Governance Board meeting last month, urged his colleagues to unite behind the residents. Calling the meeting and the decisions before the RA Board a “watershed moment,” Wedell stated that “the people have done the work for us…the research. We need to make the Reston Association an instrument of the people.” Referencing Andersson-Tosado’s petition, Wedell added, “We should add our signatures.”
Before the meeting was adjourned, the board also voted to approve another resolution that would give residents more advance notice regarding proposed development projects. “Resolution 11” would require developers to give 21 days notice on both new and redevelopment information sessions. The notice requirement would also pertain to applications including conceptual plan applications. Members of “Reclaim Reston” and other opponents of the St. John’s Wood project applauded the passage of Resolution 11. Many of them had complained to board members and county officials that there had been insufficient notice of meetings and information sessions about the St. John’s Wood plan, leaving little time to study proposals and to prepare responses if they should so desire.
More information about the St. John’s Wood redevelopment proposal, as well as other projects in the pipeline can be found at Reston Association’s website, www.reston.org. The Hunter Mill District page of the Fairfax County Planning Commission section of the County’s website also highlights details of that plan, and others proposed for the area. “Reclaim Reston” has a Facebook page with additional information. As of publication, no comment was obtained from Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins office in regards to the Board’s opposition, and it is not known if the passage of the opposing motion had any precedent in the Association’s history. Further meetings on the fate of St. John’s Wood are upcoming, and interested parties are urged to keep informed via the Reston and the County’s website, or to contact the Hunter Mill District office at 703-478-0283. A video of the special meeting of the RA Board is available in its entirety on YouTube.