The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning wants to amend the zoning ordinance for Reston, but it was met with a lot of grief during three community meetings this month on May 3 and May 15 at the North County Governmental Center and May 24 at Lake Anne Elementary School.
The changes being proposed would alter the zoning regulations for most of Reston, according to Cathy Belgin, deputy zoning administrator of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning.
The amendment would change the density cap for Reston for areas that are zoned Planned Residential Community (PRC) District. The current cap for these areas is set to an average of 13 people per acre. Belgin’s department is recommending raising it to an average of 16 people per acre.
“The Board of Supervisors, who ultimately makes the decision, will have the flexibility to decide,” she said.
The other change would increase the maximum number of dwelling units per acre for PRC zoned land. Currently, the maximum number is 50 dwelling units per acre.
“But the comprehensive plan created a whole [new] category that allows you to do that, particularly focused around the transit station areas,” she said. “So, we’re looking to update the zoning rules to facilitate the implementation of the plan as it’s adopted,” she said.
Any rezoning or changes to PRC Districts are only permitted in accordance with the area’s correlating comprehensive plan.
As Belgin stated, this has already been done.
The Reston Master Plan Special Study began in 2009 and concluded when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted it on June 2, 2015. The document updated Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan to integrate changes to Reston, including residential neighborhoods, Village Centers, commercial areas and the Reston Transit Station Areas (TSAs).
Belgin and her colleagues at the planning and zoning department are pushing for the amendment, saying it is required to implement the plan.
However, the outrage she and other government officials and employees received introducing the amendment was not the first growing pain Reston has experienced since its comprehensive plan was amended.
$2.2 Billion Infrastructure Plan Already In The Pipeline For Reston TSAs
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the $2.2 billion Reston Transportation Funding Plan on Feb. 28, a reverberation from the Reston Master Plan Special Study adopted two years prior.
This was despite vocal opposition at public meetings throughout the two months the Fairfax County of Transportation pitched it to the community.
In the comprehensive plan, the county designated the Reston Transit Service Area as land near the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority metrorail stations that will serve Reston on the Silver Line: the Reston Town Center, Wiehle-Reston East and Herndon stations.
The new transportation funding plan will construct infrastructure projects the comprehensive plan identifies. These include roadway improvements, intersection improvements and new roadways to add to the TSA’s road network to improve connectivity to, from and around the transit stations.
The funding plan will use $1.2 billion in public funding over 40 years. The county expects in-kind contributions from developers to pay for $716 million, but private funding will make up the $350 million balance.
The Board of Supervisors approved a new road fund for commercial developers and a service district tax for residential and commercial property owners within the TSAs. These property owners will begin paying the fees in 2018.
This new tax is where the community pushed back to no avail.
Despite these plans to build out infrastructure, there were complaints from the audience at the community meetings about the current state of congestion in Reston.
Robert Whitfield of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance stood up on May 3 to claim that Reston would not be able to accommodate the increased density the new zoning amendment would allow.
“I don’t think that we do ourselves well by looking at growth as always putting upon us,” Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who represents Reston and the Hunter Mill District on the Board of Supervisors, said in response.
She then apologized to the crowd because they weren’t going to like what she was about to say or her tone.
“I really see Reston as a community that welcomes people,” she said. “If transportation is bad, yes, it hurts … Virginia doesn’t pay ahead for transportation. I’m sorry, you can go to Maryland if you want that, but that is not what this commonwealth does … We always struggled through to get to a point that transportation catches up with the development. No one is going to build a road before the development comes. We would love it if they did, but they do not.”
Whitfield then tried to interrupt her.
“Mister Whitfield, now I have the mic,” she fired back. “Mister Whitfield, you are with the taxpayers alliance. If you think that it is that much of an onerous to have taxes in the commonwealth, you don’t get the right then to say ‘Why not have the roads built,’ you really don’t.”
Hudgins then asked the crowd a question: “What happens if you say no?”
“Traffic only is here because there is something happening here,” she said. “How do we keep it happening and contributing to everybody? I’m not making a speech for this plan, I’m just making a speech for the attitude that I continue to hear.”
She told the crowd that if we want Reston to be better, the community needs to band together.
Screams from the crowd were then hurled at her: “We are together!”
Together … Against The Amendment
Most of the Restonians at the meetings were together in opposing the amendment.
When community members asked officials on May 3 why this zoning element couldn’t have been accomplished simultaneously with the amendment to the comprehensive plan, they received an answer that made them audibly groan.
“Quite frankly, it was complicated,” Fred Selden, director of Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, said in response. “We just didn’t think we had the capacity to do both of them at the same time.”
During the six years of the planning process, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors established a 40-member Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force to work with county planning staff to make recommendations for changes to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board.
The members represented many organizations throughout Reston, including developers, citizen associations, civic organizations, homeowners’ associations and merchants.
“Over half of them were developers or land-use attorneys,” Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 Committee, said at the May 3 meeting. At the time, he was on the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force as a representative of the Reston Citizens Association.
“The Reston Master Plan does not represent the will of the people,” he added to applause from the crowd.
Dennis Hays, a member of the Reston Citizens Association, also took the microphone on May 3 to talk to the county officials in the room.
“I’m here in Reston as a choice,” Hays said. “I came to Reston because it is a unique place and it needs to be protected as a unique place.”
He summed up the general feeling in the room by stating that the community thinks the plan is “not good for Reston.”
He recommended that the county table the amendment and bring it up the next time the comprehensive plan is reviewed.
Mark Looney of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce then took to the mic to offer a minority opinion. He was a member of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force.
“There was a lot of debate and discussion that went into the comprehensive plan that was implemented,” Looney said. “There are a lot of people who believe in that plan and are continuing to implement that plan.”
He spoke up for developers and their intent for endorsing the amendment.
“As someone who represents developers, the choices that property owners will make are to try and stay true to Reston’s history and remain zoned PRC and then keep the community as a single whole unit, or they will be forced to look for other tools to achieve the objectives that the comprehensive plan put in place,” he said. “And so, the changes that are before here are an effort to try to keep Reston as one community by keeping the same zoning in place and not have Balkanized zoning to where one parcel is zoned one category, another parcel is zoned another category.”
The crowd was silent in response.
The crowd also had concern about adding density without adding more open space to the community.
Golf Course Hullabaloo
Open space has been an important element that the community has been willing to fight for.
The Reston National Golf Course was listed for sale by investment advisory firm ARA Newmark on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
ARA listed the property as “168 acres of by-right residential development.” This is misleading because any owner of the golf course would not have the right to develop the land into residential property by right.
Reston’s comprehensive plan also includes a provision that says, “The Reston National and Hidden Creek Country Club golf courses are planned for private recreation use, more specifically to remain as golf courses.”
Connie Hartke, president of Rescue Reston, and other supporters were at the May 3 meeting wearing bright yellow T-shirts. The grass-roots organization opposes the redevelopment of Reston National Golf Course and has won legal battles in court with developers to preserve the course.
“Everyone knows the golf course is for sale,” Hartke said at the meeting. “There is not an ethical broker or real estate agent in this area who should be promising anyone anything about that being permanent at this point,” she said. “Any property owner has the right to try and change the land use designation.”
Though Hartke said that Belgin was an “ally in our fight for open space,” the group organized and rallied to make it clear they were still watching and making sure the county would make no changes in its support of their mission.
More than 100 members of the group demonstrated in front of the Northwestern Mutual office in Reston on Sunday, May 7. The company is the majority owner of RN Golf Management, which owns the Reston National Golf Course.
“The purpose of Sunday’s rally was to send a message to those bidding on the Reston National Golf Course property that we stand ready to defend the open space land use designation of this property,” Hartke said. “A golf course is what it is, and a golf course is all they are buying. We will defend the vision of Bob Simon and the planned community of Reston.
Calls For Referendum
“How about putting it to a vote for Reston residents?” someone in the crowd stood up and yelled during the meeting. “That would make it democratic.”
The audience cheered and started clapping.
Roars of “Referendum, Referendum” then began echoing in the cramped room.
This, however, is unlikely as the process for the amendment is less egalitarian.
“This is not the last conversation to have,” Hudgins said at the meeting.
If the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorizes the amendment to move forward in the deliberation process in July 2017, the Fairfax County Planning Commission will host a public hearing in September. After the commission provides its recommendation, the Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing and vote in October.
But several members of the crowd were pessimistic about the process, telling the officials about their frustration, accusing them of ignoring the will of the people throughout the process of developing their hometown.
“It makes no difference how many hearings you have and how often we get to say, ‘We hate what you’re doing,’ if you never listen and Supervisor Hudgins and the other supervisors go ahead and approve the things that we hate,” Tammi Petrine, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 Committee, said during the May 3 meeting. “What is the point?”
Hudgins responded to the angst that was brewing in the room.
“Some of what we have talked about tonight is really the plan that has to exist if there is to be a tomorrow here,” she said. “If there is a view that you can have nothing else built after today, and you think the place will still thrive, I think you’ll be mistaken.”
Reston Association Weighs In
The Reston Association Board of Directors adopted a resolution on Thursday, May 24, calling for an additional community meeting to further debate the proposed amendments and specifically petitions the Hunter Mill District Supervisor, Cathy Hudgins, to make it happen.
The resolution states that the association is not currently supportive of the proposed amendments and is seeking more information from the county.
During the May 24 meeting, officials did not want to allow the public to ask questions. However, yelling and shouting of demands forced officials to comply.
The RA resolution condemned county officials for attempting to conduct a meeting without two-way dialogue by saying the board “does not condone Fairfax County staff withholding any information and not fully answering questions from the Reston community.”