I am finding it increasingly difficult to watch our community struggle with Supervisor Cathy Hudgins over Fairfax County’s proposal to increase Reston’s zoning ceiling from 13 to 16 persons per acre.
The proposal on its face sounds innocuous enough, but when examined by an analyst like Reston 2020’s Terry Maynard we see that it opens the way for Reston to grow from our current population of 60,000 to a whopping 180,000. And, regrettably, this starting point is not the soft suburbia it once was. With just 60,000 of us, traffic congestion is already a fact of life.
It is unusual to see this Supervisor at loggerheads with the community. In an early community meeting about this zoning change, Hudgins indicated a willingness to compromise somewhere between 13 and 16 people per acre, but in later meetings her position hardened. She now insists that 16 per acre is absolutely essential to implement the Reston Master Plan she spent five years discussing with Reston stakeholders, a group weighted towards developers.
The last large community meeting generated more heat than light. Most of the 900 or so participants accepted additional growth, within limits. However, there was stiff opposition to high density redevelopment of residential neighborhoods and insistence that development be preceded or accompanied by essential supporting infrastructure—i.e. roads, schools, parks, public facilities. Some opposed any growth.
A fringe suggested the Supervisor was doing the bidding of developers—presumably in return for financial support. The latter is pure foolishness. I’ve reviewed campaign contributions for supervisors. Supervisor Hudgins takes very little from developers; in fact, she generally accepts less than any other supervisor.
However, Supervisor Hudgins appears to be overly influenced by County staff who may in turn be influenced by the developers who are constantly in touch with them, and by the County’s ever-growing appetite for revenue. What better place to get revenue than more properties to tax in Reston?
On the other side, some County staff regard community criticism as coming from the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) element. While there is indeed some NIMBY sentiment, in my view there is more of what is referred to as the QUIMBY (a term used in Portland, Ore., meaning QUality In My BackYard) persuasion—among which I include myself. QUIMBY encompasses, for example, design excellence, new building accompanied by all necessary physical and cultural support infrastructure, moderation, and sticking to our founding principles.
Now community groups led by the Coalition for a Planned Reston (CPR), Reston Association and Reston Citizens Association have introduced a well thought out alternative to the County’s over-zoning proposal. Drafted largely by Mr. Maynard, the Coalition alternative proposes amending the Reston Master Plan, which reflects considerable agreement among developers and community stakeholders. The amendment would allow considerable growth up to an absolute cap of 120,000 people, rather than the 180,000 achievable in the County proposal.
But, unlike the County’s over-zoning approach, this proposal limits higher density growth to the Transit Station Areas and under certain conditions in Village Center mixed-use areas. Furthermore, the Coalition assures significant affordable and workforce housing, protects residential neighborhoods and sets forth strict requirements for phasing in transportation and public facilities along with, or before, new growth construction. It includes provision for monitoring and reporting on phasing. Parks and recreation and cultural facilities will be consistent with Reston principles and County policy. In sum, the Coalition seeks to deliver substantial but moderated growth so that our future is in tune with our Reston vision and the founding principles.
Last week, Supervisor Hudgins suggested creating small work groups of County staff and reps from only the Coalition and RA to focus on issues before us. This is a positive, if small, step to a sorely needed discussion to resolve major differences. She should use the Coalition’s proposal as the framework for dialog if we are to avoid the train wreck with the community feared by many of us.