News and notes from Reston (tm).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wiehle Metro Development: We Make Wildly Uneducated Guesses After Skimming a 355-Page Planning Document

Reston's answer to the Mariana Trench goes under the spotlight this week. Tonight's master plan meeting, scheduled for 7pm at South Lakes High School, will focus on input from community meetings for both Wiehle Avenue and Herndon-Monroe. Then Thursday, the Fairfax County Planning Commission takes a stab at the awesome Grand Canyon of the Toll Road Comstock Wiehle Metro development. Fairfax County's fancy "web site" doesn't make it easy to find, but here's what we think are the final plans for the development (long, slow-loading PDF, especially when using the Atari 800 connected to a 300-baud modem here at Restonian World Headquarters). The county planning staff recommends denial of the proposal "as submitted," but includes two lengthy "development conditions" in appendices, on the assumption it'll get approved anyway.

Screen shot 2010-03-22 at 11.43.20 PM.jpg

The proposal includes something called a "tree pit," so yay nature! Also, it looks like Comstock is emphasizing its plan to block off most of what it's calling the "Civic Plaza" -- the narrow, canyon-like space between several buildings -- to automobile traffic, with a subterranean level providing what it calls "multi-modal" access to cars and buses and trolls and whatnot.

So that's exciting. But the even better news? It sounds like our exhortations for more rad '80s art have not fallen on deaf ears! It's in black and white, but check out this drawring:

Screen shot 2010-03-22 at 11.46.44 PM.jpg
Awesome! Add a few pastel colors, and doesn't this look like it would have been right at home on the second Tubes album, if there ever had been one?

Anyway, don't take our word for any of this -- we skimmed through all 355 pages of the document in about 3 minutes. Read the docs for yourself and share in the comments.


  1. Yet again the Restonian is the first to announce a meeting that may be important for us to attend . . . I could have found it if I looked on the RA website buried deep in the links . . . Seems like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to me.

    IF the RA was really serious, they would make public announcements about this stuff through their email list or through facebook????

  2. Can anyone tell me what the zoning change is? From I-4 to PDC?

    Can anyone tell me what the term "air rights" is in association with the metro? I have heard it used but haven't understood what it meant.


  3. This plan is proposing 2.5 FAR whatever that means . . . does anyone know these numbers for other metro stations? How does this stack up?

  4. At least the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says "Don't Panic" on the cover. Does the RA site say that?

  5. I recall that a 2.6 FAR tapering off to 1.6 FAR is what's recommended for the 1/4 mi radius from the rail stops per the county's TOD guidelines. I believe the offices in the RTC are zoned at an FAR of 3 if you exclude the land devoted to parking.

  6. " with a subterranean level providing what it calls "multi-modal" access to cars and buses and trolls and whatnot."

    It sounds like Comstock is copying Bethesda Metro Center.

  7. will this place have mall cops like RTC?

    also, will it have fake urban neighborhood names like "midotwn" and "south of market"?

  8. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonMarch 23, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Way too much to digest in one fell swoop. However, I did note the following comments from various Fairfax County departments about the much-vaunted plaza that forms the hallowed "open space" of this proposed development.

    -- P. 287, comments from the chief of the Environment and Development Review Branch of the DPZ:

    "The applicant has submitted a shadow study which shows that the majority of the plaza will be shaded nine months of the year."

    -- P. 348, comments from the Fairfax County Park Authority:

    "Little or no green space or landscaping to alleviate the bulk of the paving"


    "Failure to meet the urban parkland service level standard"

  9. Was there really only one Tubes album?

  10. Air rights is a term referring to building a platform over a roadway and constructing buildings on top of that.

    The zoning change will allow residential units in the RCIG which previously were not allowed.

    Town Center's FAR is just below 2.

    RA doesn't want any of the homeowners to know anything, otherwise they would have told people last year or the year before. Vote carefully. Some of the candidates support keeping us in the dark so the county can work its will on Reston.

    The average FAR for the Rosslyn-Ballston stations is 1.78, much less than 2.5.

  11. Thanks, is there an equivalent FAR metro station exisitng to the 2.5 that I can visually compare with Wiehle?

  12. Hey Peasant . . . if this goes through and Wiehle gets widened to six lanes, I'll be joining you on the south side.

    - - Peasant from Tall Oaks

  13. The Town Center's average FAR includes open space and structures devoted to parking. The FAR on individual parcels in Town Center goes as high as 3 or 4 if you exclude the parking. With the Wiehle parking garage at the lower levels, the FAR is going to be on the high side.

  14. The "FAR' is the "floor area ratio" and reflects how much building can be done on a site. Unfortunately, this does NOT include parking. In the case of the Comstock Wiehle proposal, this nearly doubles the density of building there to between 4 & 5 FAR--but we'll pretend it's "only" 2.5 FAR.

    Restonian shows some drawings of the site elsewhere which gives you a feel of the density of this development. It will be over 200' tall, depending on the building, 10-14 stories of office, residential, or hotel space above six stories of parking ramp (plus four levels of parking underground for Metro). It is taller by 50-60' than any building in RTC.

    With the buildings built around the periphery of this site, it leaves a "plaza" about the the length and two-thirds the width of a football field (about the size of Washington Plaza at Lake Anne). This plaza largely consists of a driveway for dropping off people--good for pedestrian dodge'm. Surrounded by 200' buildings, it gets next to no sunlight--ever. It will have potted trees for "green" effects, which will die because of a lack of sunlight.


  15. sooo ... to change subjects... anyone gonna watch the Masters with Tiger showing up..???

  16. Who cares about Tiger? This is FAR more sexier and interesting.

  17. ahh ... good point. who cares about those fairway matters, when we have our own.

  18. Any more puns, I smell a contest.

  19. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonMarch 23, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    OK, Anon 2:20, you asked for it:

    Perhaps this proposed Comstock project is a case of ..schlock and awrrrgh? (I rock!)

  20. Well, not bad Peasant -- but we know you can do better.

  21. Hopefully our Master Plan differs from Tiger's Masters Plan... (yea... good)

  22. That sexy flying-V guitar art makes me want to masturplan.

  23. Master plan... looks more like plans for the Death Star. Thanks Restonian for posting these, but too much to read in one night. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

  24. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonMarch 23, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    David (9:57 a.m.) asked if this awesome development will have "fake urban neighborhood names like "midtown" and "south of market"? I presume we're talking about hip and edgy monikers like those in NYC such as TriBeCa, SoHo, and DUMBO (that last one is for real).

    Let's see, what can we do along these lines. From David himself unintentionally comes the very first one:

    Fake Urban Neighborhood -- FUN

    North Of Tollroad And West Of Wiehle -- NOT A WOW

    South of Isaac Newton Square -- SINS

    Supersized Uninspiring Buildings Parading Across Reston -- SUB PAR

    Reston's Other Transparently Fake Little Metropolitan Area Oddity - ROTFLMAO (I guess that one's already taken)

    And for that fabulous public space we're being promised:

    COmstock Wiehle's PLanned Open Plaza - COW PLOP

  25. Well done Peasant...

  26. Balance says:

    Thanks Anon 12:48 for taking a stab at explaining FAR. As someone who is not deeply involved in planning and zoning, I find that term almost useless. I know, it is a term of art that is significant "in the industry" but to most of it, it's akin to describing the weight of gold in terms of its specific gravity.

    For other casual observers, like myself, FAR is a ratio of total floor area to the area of a plot of land. If one owns a quarter-acre (10,890 sq. ft.) and erects a one story building with a footprint of 2,500 sq.ft., the FAR is .23. Add a second level and the FAR is .46. A six-level building (each 2,500 sq.ft.) would have a FAR of 1.4.

    Now, take a 10 acre site (435,600 sq.ft.) where you are limited to a FAR of 2.5. What size building can you put on it? Covering every inch of land, a one story building that is 1,043' x 1,043'. Or a two story building 521' x 521'. Wait, that's silly. You have to have roadway, sidewalks, open area (green space), etc., Assume half the building will cover 50% of the land and the rest goes to parking, roads, etc.

    The footprint is 217,800 sq.ft. (half of the land area) and you can build 1,089,000 sq.ft. of floor space....three stories. Make the footprint a bit smaller and you are at 4 stories. If you are inclined, run to a calculator and work out the options as to size of footprint and number of stories.

    Now, do you have a good picture in your mind as to what this development will look like? No, I didn't think so. Are you now wishing you had never heard of FAR and instead people were talking about "percentage of land that is covered" and "maximum height of building"? Dream on.

    To all those who are fluent in FAR-see, I apologize for this diversion. But you should be aware that most of us can't conceptualize the difference between FAR 2.0 and FAR 4.0. And most of us are not content to play along as if we could.

    (Oh, come on, FAR-see was a decent pun.)

  27. FAR comparisons . . . I was looking for a shock value such as the FAR for Wiehle is greater than . . . Grand Central Station or the like . . . Federal Triangle or the Tyson's Station etc to show how crazy this plan is . . . This looks like Crystal City or worst . . . Dallas, TX.

  28. If Reston were smart we would build a parking garage w/ a news paper stand - case closed.

    If any remolding is done it should be to all the old buildings surrounding the planned stop. Building a fortress at the Metro Stop is not only going to look extremely odd, it will be a traffic nightmare.

    Studies have shown residents and metro riders will walk just over 1/4 to a metro stop/place of employment, which means there are a handful of buildings in that radius where this could be accomplished.

    Building what is planned is just going to be a mess.

  29. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonMarch 24, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Anon 1:40 a.m./Balance:

    Thanks for that explanation of FAR.

    But I ran from the FAR-see pun.

  30. I'm with you on this, 7:53. If you think all of those people in these gleaming towers are going to be without cars, then you're a bigger fool than I am. Presumably they won't use them during the week as they commute to jobs to the East -- which is a big IF, I might add -- but they will certainly use them on weekends to run their errands and to avail themselves of leisure activities in the area that are not accessible on Metro. If you think the grocery stores are busy now, just wait until there are 50% more people all trying buy groceries at the same time.

    The only SMART growth for Reston is NO GROWTH. (Except for a roller rink. We definitely need a roller rink and a roller derby team.)

  31. How is pushing growth outside of Reston going to help our traffic situation? As long as we're between them and D.C., we lose. Dumb plan. Not smart.

  32. Maybe instead of pushing them to the West of Reston, we push them to the East. Increasing density around the District is smart. Next.

  33. Hey Anon 12:15 do you live in Reston? You don't own the bank building, do you or other land nearby? or are a developer? Or perhaps live near the Herndon Monroe Park and Ride?

    I can't imagine why anyone living in Reston would want this high density unless they expect to make a profit from it. . . please enlighten me.

  34. I would suspect that those who would buy a condo at the Wiehle station currently live East of us. I can't imagine others living further west to pay more money to live in such a tight space walking distance to nowhere . . . no grocery store, no restaurants, no nightlife. I expect that maybe the proposal has a drycleaners and perhaps a small goods shop but not everything for city life. I agree with The Convict . . . moving further in is smart growth, not out to Reston.

  35. Convict

    One of the oldest axioms of urban studies/anthropology is people want to live upwind and upstream from where they get their food(their job to you moderns).

    The District and PG are neither to Tysons (now, or soon to be, a larger employment center than downtown DC).

    Therefore, it's counter-intuitive to work in Tysons and live in PG.

    Doesn't mean it never happens but does mean it's less desirable and only something like beautiful beaches (Long Island) will overcome that intuitive move for most humans.

    And to that the modern inclination to "drive until you qualify" (drive away from the place of employment until the monthly mortgage payment required for the single family detached home equals a weekly pay check) and you have your explanation for worker-bees in Tyson/Dulles Corridor living in Hagerstown, Harrisburg, Martinsburg and Winchester (but only after you account for the exclusionary zoning schemes of Fairfax, Loudoun, PWC, Fauquier & Clarke counties.)

    Mix well and you have the current mess that is Metro Washington traffic.

    Comstock's comparatively little project is not going to change those galactic forces even a whisker.

  36. Part of the FAR discussion:

    Fairfax County does not count parking as part of FAR. The Comstock Wiehle plan with 2,300 underground and the balance up to 7,500 spaces above ground inside the high rise buildings does not count towards the "floor" part of the calculation. The parking doubles the square footage of the development, but it doesn't count. Some jurisdictions also do not count residential as part of FAR.

  37. I understand what you're saying, 2:30. That's why the matter shouldn't be left up to the developers. People will do what people will do unless there's a roadblock put in the way, like a zoning board that refuses to approve any expansion. Without that, the developers (who, btw, don't live in Reston) will simply act to meet others' economic demands.

    Frankly, as a matter of reality, development is going to happen. However, that doesn't mean that we need to expedite it or let the developers determine how much, when and where. Remember, for them, Reston is just a bottom line, nothing more.

  38. Anon 2:59 Residential is more frequently measured by units per acre but sometimes is measured by FAR especially in more dense development like Comstock's.

    Because zoning ordinances set parking requirements for non-residential uses based on the square footage of non-residential use, setting the FAR sets the parking. To do other wise would be double counting the non-residential space.

  39. convict

    remember the deal: the County wants a big garage to service the Weihle metro stop and doesn't want to pay for it. Comstock pays for it and gets a development in return.

    No Comstock, no big Weilhe Metro garage.

  40. Yeah, that's the part that I don't get. It seems to me that the county should pay to put up the garage, charge county residents a nominal fee and then gouge the LoCo's who will park there regardless of the fee. By the time the Silver line gets extended into LoCo, the county might possibly have recovered the construction and maintenance costs all on the backs of our neighbors to the West. Instead, our neighbors to the West will be getting a free ride based on the mortgages and leases of occupants of the ROFLMAO. Remember, it's a county lot, not a Metro lot.

    BTW, the HM P&R lot is also a county lot, right? So, tell me again, why are the LoCo's allowed to park there for free? Is LoCo helping to subsidize the Fairfax Connector?

  41. Comstock isn't paying for the garage. The county floated a $110 million bond to pay for it. And over the course of that bond (30 years) each parking space will cost $12 a day. All 2,300 of them. And since they will be charging, $4.50 a day, where will the rest come from? It's a mystery.

  42. Anon 6:06

    Isn't Comstock making up the difference as part of the PPA agmt?

  43. Balance to Peasant

    "I ran from the FAR-see pun" Damn, that was good, I wish I had thought of it.

  44. TRAFFIC . . .

    OK document manics . . . I am VERY concerned about the traffic and I want to inform my neighbors

    (well, whomever will listen to me anymore after all of this Sky Is Falling with the Metro ranting)

    and convince them to storm the Fairfax Planning Commission before the April 14th deferred date.

    I want to get involved and get the word out. Any suggestions? Points of discussion? - Reston 2020 Transportation group or anyone else for that matter want to guide me in the right direction?

    Haven't looked at the Comstock Traffic Study yet but I did read the VDOT (until the migrane hit from the small charts).

    Am I interpreting it correctly that the development will cause an additional 1400 trips her day through the intersection over and above the metro station.

    That the lane design changes will actually improve the grades temporarily in 2013.

    However, by 2015, daily trips will be 11,000 higher than currently and most of routes studied would be failing the VDOT standards and they had no additional recommendations . . . stating that widening Wiehle would NOT be recommended due to the safety of the pedestrians and bicylists.

  45. OK I mis-spoke, at no point does it get better . . . starts out failing a little bit and gets worse . . .

    To give a comparison for 2015 (only 5 years away) with Metro but without this development 18 measurements by VDOT fail. Taking into consideration the proposed development (does this include the buildout of other parcels?-think so) 34 measurements fail.

    Unless this is addressed, Wiehle, Sunset Hills, and Issac Newton will be a nice parking lot.

    Leaving only one option widen Wiehle which will invite more traffic into the area . . . this was one of the main contentions in the RA Board letter but it wasn't made loud enough . . .

    Have Soapstone cross the tollway as part of the solution as recommended? Hey, Soapstone area residents, aware of this one?

  46. Anon 7:48

    Yeah, the Soapstone folks know about it and some dope thinks the answer is to put the Lawyers Road style suicide lane on Soapstone.



    Eliminating one lane in each direction on Soapstone will only back traffic up from the Toll Rd. to Lawyers. Dumb.

  47. For Anon at 7:28 and 7:48:

    You're both on target. The current conditions at the main Wiehle intersections at Sunset & Sunrise earn the following grades (A to F, including E)/time delays (seconds) during peak hour:

    Sunset Hills overall: AM--D/36.8; PM--E/59.4
    Sunrise Valley overall: AM--C/28.7; PM--C/34.7

    The TIA looks at all the smaller intersections around the area as well.

    The TIA then goes on to examine a wide variety of time frames, development options, and remedial traffic measures (most required by VDOT). The results for these hundreds of scenarios indicate that in virtually every case, traffic conditions will get worse--and under many scenarios the grade will be F with waiting times on the order of a minute and a half at peak hours.

    Have a nice day!

  48. I expect that Loudoun buses will redirect to Wiehle. The left turn from Fairway onto Wiehle and vice versa will probably have to be eliminated, or there'll be a lot of accidents.

  49. Is there any recourse for eminent domain? Can they take a business condo development for "parking", which likely means they will tear it down to rebuild fancier and costly office buildings that they will rent to the highest bidder?

  50. Anon 4:47

    After Kelo, not so much.


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