Commentary: Independent Progressive: Community-Fairfax County Summit Making Progress

Commentary: Independent Progressive: Community-Fairfax County Summit Making Progress

Last year a community meeting convened by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins at South Lakes High to discuss the County’s proposed zoning ordinance amendment sharply raising development limits in Reston resulted in an uproar by a hostile crowd (700 or so) like I’ve not seen before. Since then, there have been a handful of exchanges of letters between representatives of the community and Supervisor Hudgins. Community reps voice continued opposition, while the Supervisor dug into her position. Twice the zoning amendment was scheduled to go before the Planning Commission only to be postponed before a final review by the Board of Supervisors. While Ms. Hudgins remained firm, some of her Board of Supervisors colleagues were concerned about a possible political train wreck in Reston if the proposal were to go forward with such broad community opposition.

Cooler heads prevailed. In June, Supervisor Hudgins agreed to additional discussions between a small group of community leaders — the Coalition for a Planned Reston and the Reston Association — and County staff principally from the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ). After preliminary discussions on an agenda, participants and the shape of the conference table (just kidding), a series of four meetings began in mid-July. Discussions focused on transportation; public schools and other public infrastructure; and, parks, open space and recreation dimensions of growth permissible under the County proposal. Community reps posed issues on the various topics. DPZ Director Fred Selden explained how the planning process worked and how issues could be addressed during implementation. Mr. Selden repeatedly stressed that while growth was allowable under the Comprehensive Plan within the zoning ordinance, what actually ended up being built over the plan’s 30-year duration would be a function of many factors in Reston and the region, including the market for new development and community review of individual project proposals. He thought it highly unlikely that full plan potential or population projections would be achieved. Not to worry.

Community reps were skeptical of County assurances that implementation of the plan would protect the quality of life Restonians have come to expect, i.e., that we’ll have adequate, timely transportation, schools and other public infrastructure as well as open space and recreation sufficient to assure that Reston will still be Reston.

As RCA President Dennis Hays put it, “tell us what, when, where, and how” supporting infrastructure will be provided. He noted, e.g., County standards require three additional athletic fields in the Transit Station Areas and 12 elsewhere in Reston to accommodate growth under the Plan—"please explain.” County staff responded that no specific sites for fields have been identified, but developers would be asked to furnish sites or provide funds to acquire them. Development is already underway, but to date no field sites have been identified, much less committed. They have tentative commitments of $10 million, but no actual money. Mr. Hays was not convinced they will materialize, nor was I. This is but one example of many with the same result. There are no real assurances on public infrastructure like schools in the TSAs, or elsewhere for that matter. Additional recreation, open space areas — same problem!

The other overall problem was the discrepancies between the number of housing units and, thus, population achievable with the proposed zoning change. CPR estimated 180,000 at full implementation in 30 years. DPZ seemed to think the maximum was more like 130,000, but acknowledged their numbers needed some reworking, while noting that CPR’s estimate included some double counting, and also needed some reworking. The meetings to date have led to County recognition that community concerns about inadequate, untimely infrastructure to accommodate levels of development allowable have considerable merit. And, there is agreement that the two sides should work together to refine building and population potential. The parties agreed to meet at least one more time decide to decide how to work out differences and where to go from there. I commend both DPZ staff led by Fred Selden, the best in the business, and the hardworking volunteer leaders from CPR and RA whose combined collegial efforts yielded genuine dialog and real progress.