This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Joe Stowers January 31, 2010
Introduction This paper is a substantial revision of a brief email proposal sent to the Chairperson of Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force on January 14, 2010 for including additional planning principles in discussion planned for January 26. These substantial revisions were obviously needed if the Task Force could be convinced to consider the content of these recommendations. It was very clear to me that much further explanation of these proposed planning principles was needed based on the community discussion that took place at that January 26 meeting. This paper proposes that 4 additional planning principles be added to those presented at that January 26 meeting: (1) all planned high-density areas of Reston should be planned as urban areas rather than as suburban areas, (2) all planned high-density areas should include grids of local circulation urban streets, (3) the Reston Master Plan should include a commitment to work toward quantitative measures of balance between major land uses, especially improved balance between jobs and housing, but also target ratios of balances among convenience retail, comparison-shopping retail, cultural, recreational, open spaces and facilities for concerts and performances, and other uses, and (4) the costs of housing, especially low and moderate income housing in high-density urban areas, should be reduced by modifying existing County standards that unnecessarily drive up the costs of housing, especially parking requirements, but also many other standards that are inappropriate in highdensity urban areas. 1. All planned high-density areas of Reston should be planned as urban, not suburban, areas, including all of Town Center (not just the Urban Core), the Rail Transit Station Areas, the Village Centers, and the High Density Sinews. The County has much more to learn about how to plan for urban high-density areas. Staff should study the lessons learned through the 1980s planning of Reston town center, the recent planning of Tysons Corner, the RMAG work, Lake Anne’s Urban Design Guidelines, and Lake Anne’s Parking and Transportation study done by P B Placemaking. They should also walk the streets of Town Center and talk with residents about their changes in life style that have resulted from moving from suburban areas to an urban area, as relates to urban planning principles (those changes in life style are described in qualitative terms here in the paragraphs below, and in quantitative terms in #2 below). I know many of these people well and they all love the amenities they enjoy in their own neighborhood. None of them will probably ever want to go back to live in a suburban environment. In the 1980s Reston community leaders successfully encouraged Reston Land to conduct a national design competition for the Urban Core of Town Center, resulting in the selection of a winning architectural team who integrated some of the better design ideas from among the 3 competing teams. Community representatives successfully urged the developer and the County to commit to providing a minimum (no maximum specified) number of
residential units in order to make it urban, humanize the commercial center, and to make it a safer and livelier place. We also took the lead in planning for many of the center's amenities. We attracted a national hospital system to build in the center after discussions with 2 other national hospital systems, and convinced the developer to reserve space for a bus station, a homeless shelter, and to create and support for 10 years a transit advocacy and traffic management organization, as well as many other amenities. The plan for Town Center unfortunately required a long period of lobbying on our part for approval, including a hard push for a 25 percent reduction in required parking spaces in recognition of the known affects of such urban high-density mixed-use development on reducing the demand for parking. Unfortunately we were completely unsuccessful in getting the County and VDOT to permit the public streets to be designed and built as urban streets, with parking and other traffic calming features like the developer did with the private streets within the Urban Core in order to slow down the traffic in that area and make them safe for pedestrians and bikers. It will require years of lobbying and substantial cost to make these very suburban arterials into safe urban streets. At this time we have a great opportunity to plan and build, hopefully even more attractive urban places in our other planned high-density areas. We need to ask the County to be the leader, not the reluctant, resistant force it has been at times in the past. This should not be seen as an effort to impose urban conditions on those who prefer to continue to live in planned lower density areas, which comprise the majority of all land in Reston and will probably continue to be so for the foreseeable future. What these planning principles seek to do is to improve the quality of life in these planned high-density areas for those choosing to live there, as well as to reduce the negative impacts of what would otherwise occur on those choosing to live in nearby lower-density areas while providing them easy access to the improved amenities of the new urban areas. The community should learn to understand that it is really inevitable that existing planned high density areas will become actual high density areas over the foreseeable future, partly because of market forces, and partly because of Virginia law which strongly supports vested rights of property owners. We should realize that almost all of the substantial change that is likely to take place over the foreseeable future will take place in these planned highdensity areas. Our major job is to plan well for these areas. Unfortunately, most of the thinking of residents and much of the thinking of our community and County staff leaders is misdirected toward suburban rather than urban planning. The quality of life in our future high-density areas cannot be enhanced very much, if at all, if this continues and becomes our guiding plan. Relatively few of our current residents and leaders have ever had the positive experience of living in high quality cities or emerging urban areas. However, we do have a few people who had such positive experiences, including a growing number of Town Center residents. We also have easy access to, and can study the
planning reports referenced above. Finally, there is a growing body of national and international planning and research literature that should be studied. I will make a short list of some of the best of this material and make the list available to others. 2. One of the most important aspects of urban planning principles for our high-density urban areas is that they should all have well-planned and designed grids of local circulation streets and pedestrian/bike networks. Our best example of this is our Town Center Urban Core. Other good examples are in the RMAG report, the Tysons Plan, and the rail station areas of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. One of the best national examples is the City of Bellevue, Washington, which is the city I was referring to in my introduction as a new alternate member of the RMPSS Task Force at its January 12 meeting – the only city I know of which has consciously planned its transition from a suburban to an urban center. Among its many good achievements it has developed a set of design guidelines and standards for its urban street and pedestrian/bike grid and has been implementing these over the last 3 decades. See the following 8 documents: http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/ http://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/PCD/Urban_Land_Article.pdf http://www.bellevuedowntown.org/transmanage/index.html http://search.bellevuewa.gov/search?q=downtown+standards&Go=Go http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/bel-red_intro.htm http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/pdf/PCD/Part_20_25D_Council_Draft_05_11_09_w_DG.pdf http://www.bellevuewa.gov/bellcode/Bellevue14/Bellevue1410.html http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/light-rail.htm 3. Perhaps the most important aspect of urban planning principles is the need for quantitatively balanced uses – jobs and housing, but also convenience retail, comparison-shopping retail, cultural, recreational, open spaces and facilities for concerts and performances, and other uses. This may be the most important aspect of urban planning principles, because it is probably the least well understood in Reston and Fairfax county and because, despite some good achievements in recent years, there are important forces working in the opposite direction. One of these forces is the market, which more often than not, depending on the relative strengths of the commercial and residential markets, is more attractive for commercial development investors. A re-enforcing factor is that relatively few developers have good knowledge and experience with mixed-use development and know that it is often a more attractive investment than pure office, pure retail, or pure residential development in highdensity areas. Another factor is that, even though the RCIG covenant restrictions on residential (and retail and hotels) are likely to be removed soon, much of the existing environmental conditions along the RCIG corridor may not be as attractive for residential as compared to commercial development.
A final and perhaps most important factor is the unfortunate strength of community opposition to removing or increasing the existing overall residential density cap of 13 persons per acre under the PRC ordinance. Fortunately, however, that limit is not likely to be applied in the RCIG corridor, at least not to a significant extent. However, that limit will have to be removed or substantially increased in order to accommodate the revitalization of other highdensity areas; otherwise they will eventually all become suburban slums. Despite these opposing forces, it is critically important for this important planning principle to become part of a revised Comprehensive Plan for Reston. This is probably the most important thing that can be done to reduce per capita motor vehicle traffic. The County and the community as part of the work of the RMPSS Task Force should undertake an educational campaign. To help support this, I will give a brief summary explanation below of why this is true, and will later provide the Task Force and others a more complete explanation which I prepared a few years ago in a three-part series published in the Reston Times. In order to maximize the reduction in per capita motor vehicle traffic we have to accomplish this goal in two ways: (1) achieve as nearly as feasible an exact balance between jobs in Reston and the resident labor force in Reston, and (2) achieve a similar balance in each of our urban high density centers – i.e., Town Center, rail station areas, and village centers. In working toward this goal we need to recognize that almost every unit of FAR that becomes residential pays off doubly toward this goal because it usually results in one less unit of commercial development. Achievement of this goal will create the ideal situation from the perspective of per capita motor vehicle traffic. It will: (a) Maximize short and medium distance pedestrian and bicycle trips between home and work (b) Minimize per capita car ownership (c) Maximize a two-way peak period transit use, with more nearly balanced flow on rail and major bus routes (d) Minimize the average motor vehicle trip length (e) Maximize the spreading of peak-period motor vehicle traffic over longer periods of time (f) In summary, minimize the overall peak period motor vehicle traffic in either direction on all of the Reston area’s arterial streets and highways, and thereby minimize the need for any further widenings of existing roadways or intersection improvements and the negative impacts such widenings would have on adjoining and nearby areas. My guess is that under the best of circumstances, including the wisest of policy decision-making, we will not achieve anything close to an exact balance between jobs and resident labor force within the foreseeable future given all the countervailing forces and the current excess of the ratio of jobs to labor force (which I roughly estimate to be about 2:1). However, I think we need to commit to reducing this imbalance as much as possible as a basic goal of the Reston Master Plan. Every step in that direction will improve our quality of life as
we reduce the motor vehicle travel per capita and increase our use of transit, bicycles, and increase our average miles of walking per day per person. In evaluating the impact of these proposed changes from suburban to urban planning and development, the County and VDOT should cease to rely on old suburban sources and analytical procedures. The County and VDOT have been continuing to require developers and their consultants to use out-of-date sources and methods that are incorporated in manuals and publications of the Institute of Traffic Engineers. These materials have been developed using data collected in typical suburban developments. They should be replaced by newer urban transportation planning data and evaluation methods. Unfortunately there are only a few consulting firms practicing in this area who have these real urban transportation capabilities. They include those consultants who have performed those studies cited in #1 above -- i.e., the transportation planning work done for the Tysons Plan, RMAG, and Lake Anne. The importance of this difference between the suburban and true urban transportation planning methodologies is that the former procedures often result in much greater forecasts of motor vehicle traffic and often lead to recommendations for much wider and less safe arterials in urban high density areas, and thus are likely to be serious threat to planned high-density areas as well as to the community as a whole. 4. Review and revise all Fairfax County standards that increase the costs of housing in highdensity urban areas. This is necessary in order to support the above planning principles relating to housing in general, but is particularly important in achieving the goal of maximizing the diversity of housing, especially at the lower third of the income range. Perhaps most importantly in dollar cost terms are two related parking requirements that should be eliminated or at least substantially moderated for high-density areas: (1) minimum numbers of parking spaces per dwelling unit and (2) minimum number of off-street parking spaces per dwelling unit. Zero or one parking space per unit on or off street is a typical and reasonable urban amenity, especially for affordable dwelling units. Elimination of these two requirements could cut the costs of construction of small units in high-density areas by 50% or more. Other standards that should be reviewed and eliminated under some or all circumstances include (3) setback requirements, (4) developer fees for review and approval of development plans, site plans, occupancy permits, etc., and (5) building height limits, (6) restrictions on rentals of rooms, (7) street-lighting requirements, and (8) many more requirements that should be carefully reviewed.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.