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Comment on the 9-18-10 Draft Reston Town Center Committee report

Comment on the 9-18-10 Draft Reston Town Center Committee report

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Published by Terry Maynard
Text of an e-mail sent to the committee and Reston Task Force, among others.
Text of an e-mail sent to the committee and Reston Task Force, among others.

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Published by: Terry Maynard on Sep 21, 2010
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Before the Town Center Committee meets tomorrow morning, I would like tooffer a few comments on key topics in its most recent draft report. My comments touchonly on what I consider to be the most important issues and are not comprehensive.Residential:Office space ratio. First, after rationalizing for pages why a 1:1 res:off space ratio is appropriate, you mis-characterize—if not mis-state—Joe Stowers’ and my proposals for a higher ratio to help bring the residential and workforce in your study areamore in to balance. Here’s what the draft says: “The essential theory animating these proposals is that if 
the amount of jobs in the immediate area is matched by the amount of workers available to fill those jobs
there will be
little or no traffic impacts
whereas if there are not enough workers in the immediate area to fill available jobs there mustinevitably be traffic impacts.” Two points:
 Neither Joe nor I expect a one-for-one match “fill those jobs.” We are lookingfor balance in the use of Metrorail and the DTR, that is, the number comingand going are roughly equal and, moreover, spread over the entirety of theday. To the extent that these residents actually work in TC, great, that willreduce traffic if they bike or walk. But we have no substantial expectations of that. I expect many will work in Tysons (because who will want to livethere?) or points farther east.
 Neither of us expect “little or no traffic impacts” from the proposed doubling(or more) of the workforce and a large growth in residents in TC under anyscenario the TC committee has proposed nor our own ideas. What we expectis that the larger traffic flows will be more balanced and less severe rather than the steeply one-sided TC proposal would create on the DTR, Restonstreets, and Metrorail if the workforce and residential populations are roughlyequal.Your characterization of our positions is inaccurate, simplistic, and prejudicial.I for one will accept (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) that Ballston isthe best existing example of TOD balance in the United States at this moment. That doesnot mean it is ideal—or even good—just the best so far. In fact, communities across thecountry have had tremendous difficulty in advancing to a true TOD resident:workforce population balance in the face of extreme pressures from developers/landowners to buildless demanding and more profitable commercial office space. I commend Arlington for what has accomplished so far and welcome its ongoing efforts to boost
theresidential presence and open space in its TOD areas.In contrast, Reston has the opportunity of avoiding the mistakes Arlingtonessentially acknowledges it made in allowing excessive office space development at theexpense of a balanced residential presence. My recommendation, as I’ve stated before, isthat we set the bar at 2:1 residential:office work space throughout your committee’s studyarea. Even this is far from ideal as Joe as so articulately detailed. But it is progress. It is better than Ballston. It would be the best in the country and consistent with Reston’smantle as a “premier” planned community if it occurred. And, most importantly, itwould help relieve the growth of congestion on our roads and over-capacity one-way useof Metrorail rather than contribute to it as your proposal would.
Implicit in the preceding is my rejection of “a residential collar around the urbancore.” That segregation of purposes would undo the mixed-use community we arestriving to attain within the TOD area. Its effect, like the 1:1 space ratio, would be toforce residents into their vehicles to go to work, shop, and play—exactly what we aretrying to avoid in this planning process. Moreover, it would mean more people driving toReston to work than an integrated res-off neighborhood.Like the “residential collar” concept, you have slipped some other new “features”(not unlike many of Microsoft’s “undocumented features” in its software that are almostalways flaws) that are unsupportable, but consistent with developer interests.
For the first time, the notional future TC household size has swollen from 2.0 to2.6 people per DU (see p. 7)—a 30% increase that is not explained, and not justifiable. In the latter regard, I would note that the latest MWCOGtransportation forecast shows TC area households now at 1.94 people per DU and“swelling” to 1.99 people per DU in 2040.
 How can you justify 2.6 people per  DU?
The obvious impact from this is that developers/landowners can show a prospective 30% larger residential HH size, which simply will not occur, to justify building relative more office space. In the meantime, they can argue that theres:off ratio shouldn’t be increased because so much more population isanticipated.
Somewhere along the line, the committee moved the assumptions about DU andworkspace space allocation to a 1,200 GSF number (…per DU, …per 4 workers)vs. 1,000 GSF. I have read the elaborate footnote on this, but fail to see anadequate justification for the shift in GSF base. The fact of the matter is that,
onthe DU side, every APR that has been submitted in the latest round bases its DU estimate on 1,000GSF per DU. Are they all wrong? What basis do you have for changing this assumption?
If accepted, this assumption would allowdevelopers/landowners to build 20% more office space in a parcel whilesustaining their res:off GFA balance. (And lessees can always squeeze 4 workersinto 1,000GSF—or less—as most planners anticipate.)
 As in the past, you appear to have accepted uncritically the most developer-friendlyassumptions available in your draft report, starting with the 1:1 space ratio. If accepted, just these two changes alone would allow increase the imbalance betweenworker and residential population by more than 50% at the 1:1 space ratio proposed.
There are other such examples sprinkled throughout this developer-driven draft, but I willleave it to committee members and, if they remain, the Task Force to sort those out in theinterest of time and space now. And I’ll be back.Open Space: This draft paper argues almost violently against being subjected to theCounty’s urban open space standards. I strongly endorse the Reston 2020 position thatthe TOD areas should have 25% functional open space and see absolutely no reason whythe County should relax its urban parks standard (I would increase it, given the option.) tomeet the demands of a few property owners. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
Adopt the Montgomery County approach that every parcel owner must devote25% (20% in MC) to useable open space.
Build/preserve large open spaces and complement them with a smaller  percentage functional open space.
Build the town green and small southside green mall you suggest while preserving the USGS natural areas as open space. (You see the last as analternative. It should be a key goal given its existing natural state. I propose that you recommend that discussions with GAO begin now witha view to the preservation of these natural areas under Restongovernance, possibly involving a County purchase and transfer of theland to Reston.)
Require landowners who have not contributed proportionally to the largeopen spaces to make up the difference in onsite useable open space. Myguess is that would be on the order of 10-15% of their space.
Build/preserve large central open space areas (“greens” or parks) in southside,RTC core, and NTC comprising 25% of each of these areas, less the small areascontributed by existing useable open space. This would be the most difficultoption to execute.Although I won’t go into it in detail now, the draft’s definition of “functionalopen spaces” is flawed. Parking garage rooftops are not acceptable, nor are the tops of  buildings—which truly won’t be accessible or even known to most. Essentially, I wouldlimit functional open spaces to those open space that can be reached from a public space(street level, retail shopping floor, or open office building area—such as the lobby)without the need to use stairs, elevators, or escalators. The idea of storm water ponds asfunctional open space if they have a buffer park area around them is a generally good one
(a) the “buffer park area” is at least as large as the high water acreage of the stormwater pond (not just a trail around the pond) and (b) measures are taken to guarantee thatthe storm water pond remains at near peak water depth (to assure that it’s not a dried pit).Infrastructure Requirements. The draft argues early on that the report requires aninfrastructure impact/needs assessment (despite “a number of infrastructureimprovements” listed in Exhibit A) that “could significantly impact the feasibility of our recommendations.” Why would you propose a set of recommendations that may not befeasible? Why don’t you more systematically address the infrastructure needs of the TCarea—north to south—in this report? Certainly a doubling (under your 1:1 res:off spaceratio formula) or more of population (under Maynard & Stowers) there will have someimpact on schools, connectivity, parking, and recreational requirements.Your proposal generally is to throw this burden on the rest of Reston. On parks,“We don’t think those (parks and recreation) are appropriate open space uses in a dense,TOD area of the kind we are outlining for Town Center and TC Metro South. That doesnot eliminate the need for new ball fields, but those spaces should be located outside theTOD areas.” Might I suggest that the rest of Reston would like to throw that challenge back to TC: If you are creating a problem, you need to solve it.

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