News and notes from Reston (tm).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Masterplanpocalypse Now: RCA Issues Epic Smackdown of Planning Process

County Sad.png We've been remiss in keeping tabs on the progress of the county-backed Reston Master Plan Task Force With an Unpronounceable Acronym(¶), mainly because in recent months there's been a lot of revisions of drafts going back and forth, which reminds us of how just the sight of tracked changes in Microsoft Word make our eyes retract into their sockets. Fortunately, our BFFs at the Reston Citizens Association have been ever vigilant, and they're not exactly super happy about the latest revisions to the plan, which, among other things, double the "walking distance" around each of the new Metro stations to allow more dense development further away. Last week, Terry Maynard, RCA's representative to the task force, issued what, in the highly technical language of comprehensive planning, is called an epic smackdown:

There are two critical ramifications of this amorphous, incomplete, and ultimately dysfunctional draft Plan language. The first is that it gives developers virtually unfettered opportunity to build what they want in the density they wish at places of their choosing. The stretching of boundaries and softening of planned mixes means almost anything can be built anywhere. The easy opportunities for developers to increase densities and alter mixes through proffers and bonuses means, among other things, that we risk development far exceeding even the traffic clogging levels identified in Scenario G.

On the other hand, the draft Plan language essentially calls upon current Restonians to absorb all the burdens created by adding up to 50,000 jobs and 40,000 residents in the station areas.Despite the fact that the County Parks Authority has identified a need for more than 100 acres of parks and recreation facilities to serve those people, the draft plan does not identify space in the station areas to accommodate that need. In fact, it calls upon the current residents of Reston to share their space — which they pay for annually — so that developers can build more and make greater profits. At the same time, the draft plan does not recommend — much less require — that the new station area residents (who are not part of RTCA) become members of RA. This is a double whammy for Restonians.
But other than some minor wording changes, is there anything wrong with way the county has been preparing for growth?
With the exception of work by Comstock, only a few County sidewalk improvements are likely to be completed before rail arrives. The most important improvement, the Soapstone Connector, is still in the feasibility stage and that process began just six months ago. Only $5 million of the estimated $105 million needed to complete the recommended infrastructure has been approved. From Reston’s perspective, the County lacks credibility in delivering even the most basic infrastructure needs —streets, transit, schools, recreational facilities, etc. —much less amenities, such as a performing arts center as they are laid out in this draft plan…

We get it. We know that the County is in significant long-term financial jeopardy and that it hopes that it can increase tax revenues through additional development in Tysons and along the Dulles Corridor. To do this, it feels compelled to give developers what they want. At the same time, it is clearly unwilling to make even the most necessary investments in Reston.Nonetheless, we reject the notion that Reston should be a cash cow for the County and give up its visionary well-planned community to serve the profitability of the private sector or redress bad financial decisions by the Board of Supervisors.
At which point, this didn't happen, but it should have:

In his own blog post, RCA President Colin Mills explained the reasoning behind the takedown.
Perhaps our largest overall concern is that the draft plan language is too soft. Too many “shoulds,” not enough “musts.” Also, in the most recent draft, the amount of developable land around the stations has been increased, simply by changing the calculation of walking distance from the stations. Our community is depending on the plan language to ensure that new development adheres to the Reston vision and maintains our quality of life. If that language contains too many weasel words, it leaves Reston unprotected. (Ironically, several developer representatives complained at the meeting that the language is too prescriptive, and doesn’t leave room for flexibility.)

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been raising these issues for some time. So why are we making such a strong statement now? Because our concerns haven’t been addressed. We’ve been working actively and positively with the Task Force for 4 years. We’ve provided several rounds of comments on the plan details as they’ve emerged. We want this to work just as much as everyone else does.

Unfortunately, from our perspective, the drafts have been moving in the wrong direction. They’ve had progressively less backbone and fewer protections for the interests of Reston citizens. And we’re getting frustrated. Since merely commenting hasn’t been enough, we decided it was time to let our frustration show.

While that may be bad for congeniality at Task Force meetings, perhaps our concerns and disagreements will finally be discussed openly and honestly. And that would be good for the Comprehensive Plan that emerges, and good for Reston. It’s better that we have these contentious discussions now, rather than smiling our way through the meetings and winding up with a plan that doesn’t serve the community.
A more detailed critique of specific details of the plan is available here.

Update: Footage of the actual smackdown has surfaced.


  1. Thanks for the coverage.

    We at RCA are deeply disappointed the Comprehensive Plan process has devolved so far. We hope that pressure from the community on Supr. Hudgins and others will prevent this plan from becoming Reston's future.

  2. Did any of you fools expect the BoS to do anything less than kowtow to the developers?

    There's only one solution to this problem, and that's to become a Town called Reston.

    Now, if we can just inspire someone to go the Taj Mahal by Fairfax Town Center and immolate themselves like that poor fruit vendor did in Tunis, we might be able to start a movement. Until then, the BoS is just going to pay lip service to us while giving the developers everything that they want.


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