Reston Restonians are trying their best to stop a proposed amendment that would
raise the density of Reston in its tracks.
“We don’t want this!” “Referendum!” “Moratorium!” the majority white and baby-boom aged crowd shouted as county officials tried to justify their proposal.
The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning-proposed amendment would alter the zoning regulations by changing the density cap in Reston for areas that are zoned Planned Residential Community (PRC) District. The current cap for these areas, which the majority of Reston is zoned, is set to an average of 13 people per acre. The DPZ is recommending raising the cap to an average of 16 people per acre.
The amendment would also increase the maximum number of dwelling units per acre for PRC zoned land. The maximum number is currently 50 dwelling units per acre and the DPZ is recommending raising it to a range of 70-75.
MORE THAN 700 PEOPLE stuffed into the South Lakes High
School cafeteria to voice their frustrations. Doors were closed at 6:50 p.m. for the 7 o’clock meeting, with county staff directing those who couldn’t fit to sit in a lecture hall down the hall, which was designated as an overflow room where the meeting was live-streamed on a large projector screen. The overflow room could hold a capacity of 169 people. The meeting was also live-streamed on Fairfax County Government Television Channel 16.
The DPZ has billed the proposed zoning ordinance amendment as a regulatory change that would support the future implementation of the Reston Master Plan over a time frame of the next 40 years.
“This isn’t a new thing that has suddenly become needed,” DPZ Deputy Zoning Administrator Cathy Belgin said during the meeting. “The need has been something that staff has anticipated for over 10 years now, even prior to the comprehensive plan being amended in anticipation of metro.
“What we’re proposing with this amendment is not a rezoning,” she added. “It would not change the zoning designation of any properties in Reston and it would not approve any new dwellings. It’s not a proposal to add the dwellings
or the people that you may have heard about. Any proposed development going forward is still subject to the standard development review process. This wouldn’t change any of that.”
As she spoke, rumblings began to rise from the crowd.
“I do see your feedback; thank you for that,” Belgin said as the crowd flashed red signs at her to visually show their disapproval.
The county estimates that the population of Reston’s PRC District zoned land is currently 74,192. The county also estimates that it is at 11.88 people per acre. Under the 13 people per acre average maximum, the population could grow to 81,195. Lifting the cap to 16 people per acre, as county planning and zoning staff encourage, would allow the population of PRC District zoned land to grow to 99,932.
However, county officials say that the only areas planned to take advantage of
the density increase and high-density development within the PRC District zoned land are the St. John’s Woods Apartments and the village centers: Lake Anne, Town Center North, and the South Lakes, Hunter Woods, Northpoint and Tall Oaks.
But opponents remain skeptical.
“[Original planners] did not contemplate a Reston with three transit areas; they did not contemplate a Reston that—quite frankly—has been a hub for corporate entities and headquarter office buildings,” Fred Selden, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning, said during the meeting.
Opponents are convinced that the amendment is developer driven and not in the best interest of current residents.
“We’re at basically 12 dwellings per acre currently with applications that have been approved,” DPZ Hunter Mill Division Branch Chief William Mayland said
during the meeting. “We have applications that are currently submitted that are undergoing the review process. We have three applications that are currently in process. If those three applications would be approved, they would exceed 13 dwellings per acre.”
According to Mayland, the three proposed applications that would push Reston past the 13 cap are:
1) The Greenblum and Bernstein property at 1941 Roland Clarke Place, which is proposing to build a mixed-use development with 699 residential units;
2) A Boston Properties’ parcel called the Reston Gateway located between the W&OD Trail and Sunset Hills Road, which is proposing to build a mixed-use office, residential, hotel and retail space with 1,710 residential units; and
3) The 49.9-acre Fairfax County-Inova Health System parcel called Reston Town Center North, a mixed-use site that will house the redeveloped Reston Regional Library, Embry Rucker Community Shelter, programming space for the community and private commercial development, as well as 3,200 residential units.
The meeting was previously scheduled for Monday, Sept. 25, at Lake Anne Elementary School, but was halted as the cafeteria became overcrowded. The capacity for the room set by the Fire Marshal Code is 210 people, and there were 313 people who signed into the meeting on sheets provided at the door. However, there were many more people waiting outside who couldn’t get in. More people also avoided the lines to sign in, which made the crowd closer to 400 or 500 in size.
County officials have been met with significant pushback from Restonians during the original three community meetings about the amendment earlier this summer on May 3 and May 15 at the North County Governmental Center and May 24 at Lake Anne Elementary School. The meetings have all been consistent in that the tone from community members who attend the meetings have been of frustration and anger.
The discontent of the engaged citizens has only grown as they feel like they are continually being ignored.
Representatives from the Reston Citizens Association, Reclaim Reston, Rescue Reston and the Reston 20/20 Committee have been leading the resistance to the amendment, organizing community members to action. The group held a forum on Sept. 20 where presentations were given to a standing-room-only crowd about why they should join in opposing the amendment.
Board members of the Reston Association have also made personal statements about their concern or outright disapproval to the amendment. The board will discuss the matter at its next meeting this Thursday and will be voting on a formal position.
In the meantime, Reclaim Reston posted a “Reston Zoning Moratorium Petition” online on iPetitions that has gotten more than 1,200 signatures and more than 500 comments.
“[The group’s] goal is to work with the county to put together a new, more reasonable proposal generated after careful study of its impacts on the community and linked concretely—including funding—to concurrent infrastructure development,” Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 Committee said in an email.
In anticipation of the meeting, the group organized a “Call Cathy Day” on Friday, Oct. 20, encouraging people to flood their supervisor’s office with calls about their “concerns about the county’s plant to raise the cap on Reston’s zoning density.”
“We’ve gotten lots of questions,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Catherine Hudgins said at the beginning of the meeting. “We thank you for your phone calls, for your emails and for your letters.”
While Hudgins agreed that there is an infrastructure challenge and congestion problem with traffic, she seemed unmoved in voting against increased density. Community members demanded to know if she would vote against the proposal.
“I tell you … some of what I hear chills me,” Hudgins said in closing remarks.
Reston was planned for economic diversity, but Hudgins argued that it has become unwelcoming for the “breadth of people that have been here for so long.”
PEOPLE IN THE CROWD shouted that the developments allowed from the density increase would not offer opportunity for affordable housing, rather more high-priced, luxury apartments and condominiums.
She agreed that more affordable housing is needed, but said Reston has to “keep up with the numbers in some way to benefit some of that development.”
“Can we make it what Reston is supposed to be?” she asked the crowd.
Those in the room were fired up to petition the other members of the Board of Supervisors in order to halt the process and potentially reopen the comprehensive planning process to solidify their position of stopping growth in the community. They also expressed irritation that their representative on the board ignored their plea to quash the amendment, alleging that Hudgins had already “dug her heels in.”
If the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorizes the amendment to move forward in the deliberation process, the Fairfax County Planning Commission could host a public hearing early next year. After the commission provides its recommendation, the Board of Supervisors could host a public hearing and vote shortly thereafter.