News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reston Master Plan: Strawmen and Sympathy

wizard scarecrow fire.JPG.jpegHow much fun was the Reston Master Plan meeting earlier in the week? The "strawman" was propped up by county officials and then copy-edited, and three different groups shared their own visions of Reston's future.

Heidi Merkel, a senior planner with the county's department of planning and zoning, started the meeting by presenting Reston Founder Bob Simon's original principles, then presenting examples staff came up with. Simon's original goals focused on providing a wide variety of leisure options, housing options, the importance of living and working in the same community and more.

Merkel said the staff examples were only presented to start discussion. They included preserving the long-term stability of Reston, promoting a wide range of mobility options, encouraging a transportation network that supports the planned land uses, improve connectivity throughout the community and encouraging the expansion of housing diversity, among others.

Jerry Volloy, representing the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners, presented the group's position paper on planning principles. He said the study should determine how much development is possible versus how much is best for the community. He said development should be well planned and the necessary infrastructure and transportation improvements should be in place before development occurs.

Reston resident Kathy Kaplan presented a plan she created with Guy Rando, also of Reston. Their planning principles included world class design, 33.3 percent open space, complete separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, living green roof technology, LEED gold standards, and more.

Dick Stillson, Reston resident and cochairman of the Reston 2020 Committee, said the principles the county already has in place are good but have room for improvement. He said planning must be for the whole of Reston, rather than by looking at one specific area at a time.
He said the study should stress excellence in planning, design in architecture, require transportation improvements that support development, and confining higher densities to the Reston Center for Industry and Government, Reston Town Center and the village centers.

Merkel said a key goal of the county is to protect existing stable neighborhoods by not allowing new development to encroach on them. Reston resident Diana Carter asked how open space belonging to Reston Association, clusters, homeowners and business owners will be treated. Merkel said because those are private property they will not be used for development unless entire clusters sell to developers or RA conveys property by referenda.
And we all know how successful those referenda have been for the RA of late!

Meanwhile, that strawman was, if not beaten with sticks, edited a bit. Reston 2020's Terry Maynard points out how subtle distinctions could make a big difference.
Kathy Kaplan’s presentation was noteworthy for dissecting the wording of the county “strawman,” especially language that equivocated or has a special—even peculiar—meaning in the development world (see below). Some of her proposed editing was fairly obvious, for example, dropping the phrase “to the extent possible” from the idea of preserving open space, a classic equivocation. Others were more subtle like deleting the word “enhancing” from the principle of preserving stability in Reston neighborhoods. She reported that, to developers, “enhancing” means adding commercial and retail space into existing residential neighborhoods. The phrase “in proximity to” in the principle regarding existing uses also would foster such an outcome and she proposed it be deleted. She also proposed adding specific clarifying language to the county’s principle on natural and structural beauty in Reston, which would more likely assure the desired outcome.

One final note on Ms. Kaplan’s presentation: She said that adoption of the 20 proposed “APR nominations” or modifications to the Comprehensive Plan would add more than 20,000 dwelling units to the Dulles Corridor (23,413 units by one detailed count). By her calculations, this would require the County to provide 74 acres of additional parkland to meet its own stated requirement of providing .00148 acres of parkland per person.
But would that parkland include a juicery?

Copies of the county's presentation and the edited strawman are available at this link. Here's Maynard's takeaway from the meeting:
What impressed this observer was the sense that the three citizen group presentations were extremely consistent, yet constructively complementary. ARCH’s proposal tended to focus on the look and feel of the Reston result after development—a thematic focus on vision such as higher density around rail stations, but lower at the mid-point between. Reston 2020’s proposals focused on implementation issues, including orderly phasing of development and infrastructure and trading off density in one place for another. The Kaplan-Rando plan was highly focused on specific metrics. All the presentations sought to preserve and protect Reston’s existing neighborhoods, preserve if not expand Reston’s open space, and positive steps to improve infrastructure—especially transportation—in concert with development. Blended together, the proposals could probably weave a clear, powerful, and comprehensive set of planning principles that well represented the interests of Reston’s citizens.

From this writer’s perspective, the dominant theme principles coming out of the community meeting based on the group presentations, the ensuing discussion, and a macro-scan of the "dots" on the boards seem to focus on
--preservation and protection of existing residential neighborhoods,
--developing infrastructure—especially transportation infrastructure—before or as part of development, and
--preserving and expanding Reston’s open space and natural areas.
I would expect the county tabulation of the preference poll to show similar areas of interest as reflected in the “dots,” possibly spread across all four of the principle proposals laid out during the evening.
Meanwhile, Bob Simon apologized for his comments during an earlier meeting, where he reportedly called critics of development "asinine" and told them to "go take a shower."
I apologize for any intemperate remarks I made at the meeting that may have offended. While not an excuse, I am wildly impatient for there to be movement toward revitalization. Discussions began with regard to revitalization more than 10 years ago during good economic times. Delays in any real movement toward revitalization find us now in economic times that make revitalization more difficult. While organizations such as the Reston 2020 group have every right to make their views known to the County Task Force and the community at large, it feels very much, to me at least, like another delaying tactic of the kind that has kept anything meaningful from happening to date. I certainly hope I am wrong.
During this week's meeting, Simon said he wanted people to remember that "density is not evil." He said density is what makes up a community and it is not a bad idea to expand the community. He said if someone wants to live alone on two acres, that's fine but "density equals community."

The next community meeting, to be held sometime in February, will focus on the Herndon-Monroe Metro station and hopefully include a shiny 99-story building to replace its Targetville doppelganger, the end.


  1. "Lorraine, you are my community"

  2. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)January 29, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    I knew there was a reason I liked Bob Simon so much, and it wasn't only because of the night when he rescued me from my leather coat at a prior meeting at South Lakes HS! While I think Mr. Simon was totally off-base with his name-calling I DO agree with the premise that more and more people trying to get involved and present their OWN plans instead of waiting for a draft county plan and then tweaking it to present alternatives that there will NOT be a new master plan in place BEFORE Metrorail gets here. It sounds to me like Ms. Kaplan, Mr. Rando, Mr. Stillson, and others just have no faith whatsoever in their county's governance and aren't willing to give them an opportunity to try to present their OWN vision for Reston's future that can then be critiqued. Contrary to popular belief Catherine Hudgins and Robin Smyers aren't the anti-Christs.

    With all due respect some of the alternative plans sound like "we need to keep Reston exactly the same way as it is now." Folks, I hate to say this, but jobs continue to come here. With jobs come people---lots of them. People require housing. Metrorail is on its way. With that comes a massive influx of people looking to live in transit-oriented development to eschew their vehicles as often as they can. Reston has changed and evolved greatly since the 1960s and will CONTINUE to do so. I generally hate name-calling, but I WILL toss around the word "NIMBY" to describe a lot of what I've been gathering from people as of late in regards to the planning process.

    Instead of telling me to "shut up and move to Arlington" could some of you please try to seriously look at some of the GOOD elements that has won Arlington so many planning awards and see how any of those can be incorporated into Reston, or even improved upon? I'm not saying we have to have a concrete jungle in Reston (nor do I want that at all!) What I'm saying is if we don't want Reston just to become another God-forsaken suburban wasteland we need to examine ways to make the community more pedestrian- and cyclist-oriented. We need to find better ways to link our "fake downtown island" to the rest of the community around the multi-lane high-speed roadways and surface parking lots that surround it. We need to think about building VERTICALLY as much as possible to cram in as many people as possible on the smallest land footprint possible so we can accommodate everyone WITHOUT destroying the open space and flora that make Reston unique. I suppose that latest point is one that I find to be puzzling about Ms. Kaplan's and Mr. Rando's proposal. They advocate a REQUIREMENT to preserve open space, yet they also seek height limitations on new construction. Wouldn't encouraging more medium-height buildings spread out all over town defeat the purpose of keeping Reston green whereas encouraging fewer developments that happen to be TALL serve the dual purposes of increasing housing capacity AND preserving our scenery?

    Essentially I'm just pretty much tired of anti-development people claiming to be the "voice of Reston." If we wanted the TRUE "voice of Reston," then let's have a voting referendum on the final product of the planning process. If anti-development wins, then I'll be humbled and accept that. However, some in Reston need to realize that not everyone wants us to become a puke-fest like Ashburn with lots more low-density development sprawling all over the place.

  3. I'd be up for a referendum on the "final product of the planning process." Fat chance.

    I hope you have a peek at the development proposals currently on hold until the Task Force completes its comprehensive plan rewrite.

  4. BiCO -- you are spot on -- keep your voice in the conversation...


  5. Bico- you are 100% wrong about Hudgins. She's the person responsable for ensuring that the folks of Reston didn't even get to vote on whether we should become an incorporated town with control over our own zoning. Why do you think she did that?

    As for a referendum- are you kidding? When the county officials would even let us decide whether we should be a TOWN or not??

  6. "to cram in as many people as possible on the smallest land footprint possible so we can accommodate everyone WITHOUT destroying the open space and flora that make Reston unique"

    Like you, BiCO, all those crammed in folks will bring their cars with them. And then they will whine and complain that OTHER PEOPLE aren't using mass transit. I guess they will be BiCO clones. How many BiCO clones do you think our fair isle can accomodate? 125,000? 150,000? 200,000?

  7. The Convict in the GulagJanuary 29, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    I'm sorry, BiCO. While I believe that we need better transportation in the area -- and Metro will go along way towards solving that issue -- I don't want more people living around me. As far as I am concerned, we already have too many people in our area. For me, more people are NOT welcome.

    In spite of your long-winded sophistry, we don't need more commercial, retail and residential spaces. We don't need higher densities. We don't need the attendant problems that come with living and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of humanity, like higher prices and taxes, crime, pollution and lack of privacy and disappearing community.

    That's right, I wrote disappearing communities. My experience has been that the more people you stuff in an area, the less likely they are to be concerned about each other. When you've got a low density, there are fewer people around with whom you have to be concerned and, accordingly, the more important their opinions of you become. In a high density area, your actions, no matter what they are, are going to piss off somebody, so why even bother. Density doesn't create community; it destroys it.

    To be honest with you, I liked Reston a lot better when it was a sleepy bedroom community than a high-tech jobs center with a fancy faux town center. It had a lot more charm then than it does now. If I could, I would undo a lot of the development that has already happened in the last 25 years. Unfortunately, that train has already left the station.

    Admittedly, Reston is aging and in need of a face lift. But that doesn't mean that it has to be completely redesigned from the ground up.

    I liken it to my home. It's a small townhouse, which was built in 1972. The bathrooms and kitchen were original when I bought it 10 years ago and it still had shag carpeting. In short, it was in need of some TLC. What I didn't do was to tear the damn thing down and put in a McMansion or split it into two apartments. Instead I gutted the home and put in new cabinets, fixtures, appliances and flooring and slapped a new roof and paint onto the exterior. It's still the same old house with the same amount of square footage and the same number of occupants, but more efficient and comfortable for the EXISTING occupants.

    I understand that you want to live in a place with a higher density and more options for the 20-somethings. I get that. But that's not the Reston that I bought into. Considering that you seem to be able to find what you are looking for to the east -- albeit with the problems mentioned above -- I don't understand your reluctance to relocate. If you really are that uncomfortable here, the only person making you stay would be you.

  8. BICO, I was raised in public housing. My current domicile was chosen so my own brats wouldn't grow up in an environment in which Advanced Switchblade was a life skill.

    Those of us who have escaped the slums read "high density" and "subsidized housing" as the slums coming after us.

  9. I am confused about why Bico thinks that increasing the number of housing units in Reston is unavoidable. Zoning is zoning. If the developers don't get permission to get rid of existing housing (or to bulldoze our common areas), there will be no more housing. Which is as it should be. We are built out- our roads/schools/park spaces won't accommodate 20,000 (or 50,000) more people.

  10. There are rumors floating that the county would like to redevelop 25 to 30% of our older clusters (those 40 years old) and all the apartment buildings and condominiums. There is language in the comprehensive plan to do just that. It's called neighborhood consolidation. Of course, the developers would be happy to oblige the county.

    Do we have a say?

  11. BICO doesn't know anything about Arlington. Those height 'limitations' are higher than what you'd find around Ballston and other metro stations in Arlington. I doubt that he's ever been outside the Metro. If he has, he's never even seen the suburban-style neighborhoods in Arlington that sit less than 1/2 mile from the urban core around the Metro line.

  12. Amen to Anons 1:33 and 3:43, and to Convict and Scubadiver for your comments, which are all right on-target. Now stand by for incoming fire from BiCO that you are ignorant NIMBYs caught in the past who need to be enlightened.

  13. eh, bico's post don't hold much weight with me. He's lived here less than a year and has said that he would prefer to live elsewhere if he had more money. I find it a little strange that one would move to a community and then spit on it continuously because you don't like it or it's longtime residents, none of whom are forcing you to stay here.

    I have a very dear friend who recently had a cross-country move to a new community. She didn't like it. At all. So you know what? She moved. She didn't spew vitriol on her neighbors or try to change the town to accommodate her because she felt like she was more important than the original residents.

  14. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonJanuary 29, 2010 at 7:41 PM

    Somehow, though, it just doesn't seem too reassuring that this whole process is named after the character in The Wizard of Oz whose signature line was "if I only had a brain".

  15. Pardon the anonymity (in the interests of time) -- my compliments to Restonian for the detailed reporting -- whatever our slant, it's a benefit that we can,if we wish to reade carefully, all begin from a base of facts! Bueno!

  16. Convict,
    I completely agree with what you said 100%. Reston was much more charming before the "clown center" came in and screwed it all up.

    Old Bob Simon, while he may be 'dear leader,' had no right to criticize his critics. The temerity to castigate dissent at his re-jiggered master plan!

    And BiCO, one reason your view lacks legitimacy in my eyes and if you call it NIMBY fine but:

    I am a homeowner in this community. I stand to lose on my investment when 24 story apartment builings overlook my (currently) private back yard.

    I have a small child who will be going to the nearby elementary school. I want it to be the same excellent school it is now with all of its enrichment programs and not an overcrowded dump with all its programs cut once the Fairway apartments come in and swamp the system.

    You are a transient renter with nothing to lose from a redevelopment plan that by all liklihood you won't stick around to see anyway.

    Your point of view comes off as selfish and oriented towards immediate self=gratification not a vision of what the community has been for the past 40 years.

    Seriously, move to Washington DC and get some room mates. It is what 20-something people do. Your quality of life will improve immensely.


  17. My 2 cents -- Reston is becoming less and less viable financially ... we cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure, we are becoming more and more of a drive-through area, versus a drive-to area. To be sustainable, we do need more density, especially around transit-accessible or walk-able cores (like the ones being planned)... A major economic corridor has sprouted along the Dulles Toll Road – our demographics are going to change as a result. We need to find a way to embrace our new urbanization, take an active role in its management and planning, and oversee its development. This isn’t about urban vs. suburban, it’s about developing our communities to be sustainable, safe, and livable for future generations. Bob Simon, a developer, had this vision 40 years ago – while he never got to completely finish -- it’s still a good vision.

  18. BiCO -- you are spot on... as a long time resident of Reston, I refuse to see negelct, selfish interests, and a NIMBY attitude speak for me. What we face is inevitable -- we either get involved and make sure our interests are heard and incorporated as best as possible, or we watch our beautiful community die on the vine.

  19. Anon @ 11 - Restonian didn't report on this. Just copied and pasted other writer's work.


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