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Wiehle Station Site Development: Comstock Reston Station Holdings

The Reston Citizens Association Board and RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee
Statement before the Fairfax County Planning Commission, March 25, 2010

I am Richard Stillson and I am representing The Reston Citizen’s Association Board and
its Reston 2020 Committee. I thank you for the opportunity of presenting our views about the
Comstock proposal for development at the future Wiehle Ave. metro station.

We urge the Planning Commission reject the Comstock Rezoning Application as


presented. We understand the need for a parking facility to be constructed in time for the
opening of the Wiehle Avenue metro station and we think that the partially underground facility
and the plaza over the parking garage proposed by Comstock—Phase I in its proposal—is better
than any alternative that has been suggested.

We strongly believe, however, that Comstock’s plan for development on top of the plaza
is greatly flawed and that the Commission should turn it down. At a community meeting of the
Reston Task Force on Saturday, March 20, the almost 200 participants clearly voiced a view that
the site should exemplify the excellence in architecture and community planning that has made
Reston famous for over 40 years. Restonians envision the Wiehle Avenue Transit-Oriented
Design (TOD) area as a 24-hour a day destination, and a rich educational and cultural center,
building on the educational institutions already in the area. It should not be primarily a place for
commuters to park their cars. The Comstock plan for development on the plaza falls woefully
short of these expectations. Moreover, the Comstock proposal is inconsistent with current and
prospective Reston Planning Principles and the County’s guidelines for TOD.

The flaws in the Comstock proposal for development on the plaza have been extensively
discussed and documented, and are available to the Planning Commission. The Reston
Association, the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, and the Reston Association
Transportation Advisory Committee have all submitted detailed critiques of the Comstock Plan.
We agree with and endorse these papers prepared by Reston’s civic groups. Moreover, a number
of individual citizens have provided you with criticisms and suggestions for improving the
Comstock proposal.

In our view, the worst problems of the Comstock proposal are:

One, the excessive parking garage, in addition to the metro parking, which will result in
well about 6,000 congestion-inducing parking spaces overall for the five acre parcel.

Two, the height of the buildings on the south side of the plaza which will cast the plaza in
excessive shadow,
Three, the presence of traffic on the plaza which will restrict the pedestrian movement
and ambiance of the plaza,

We feel that these shortcomings can be substantially ameliorated with changes to the
Comstock’s proposal. For example, concerning the problems of excessive parking and
congestion, one can:
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First, reduce substantially the minimum parking requirement for this block to be more
in line with the County’s transit-oriented development policy “best practices.” In
this area, one should not need 3,000 spaces additional to the metro parking. If about
6,000 parking spaces are built, we can expect more than 6,000 vehicles to travel there
daily, most at peak traffic hours. You build it and they will come. Moreover,
reducing the parking requirement should reduce the number of floors of aboveground
parking, permitting Comstock to create a better looking complex with a smaller
building footprint and larger plaza area.

Also, some or most of the underground Metro-related parking may be not be


necessary when Metrorail is extended to Dulles and Wiehle Avenue is no longer a
terminus. The planned parking at Herndon-Monroe and Route 28 should be more
than sufficient to meet the needs of commuters arriving from Loudoun County and
beyond. The excess metro parking can then be used by the residents and office
workers. And

Finally, the parking requirement and congestion can be reduced if the site’s mix of
uses emphasizes more residential construction and less office space. This would help
to make the Wiehle TOD area a 24-hour community destination, not primarily a daily
commuter stop. The current Comstock proposal offers residential construction below
the Plan’s authorized overall limit of 40 percent for the site and this proportion should
be increased.

As we have said, Restonians want the plaza at this Metro station site to be a large,
attractive, sunlit public place for people to use and enjoy. For that one needs to reduce the height
of the buildings on the south side of the plaza and substantially reduce or eliminate cars from the
plaza. Otherwise, Comstock’s plaza will end up serving as a congested “kiss and ride” drop-off,
a crowded hotel entrance, and a pick-up point for commuters and shoppers. But cars on the
plaza and tall buildings to the south are not necessary. Consider, for example,

Although Comstock has argued that the hotel requires an aboveground access for
visitors, a quick look at major hotels elsewhere shows this is not the case. For
example, the Westin Peachtree Plaza in central Atlanta, a huge five-star hotel, has an
underground entrance. Comstock could build the same type of partially underground
entry on the north side of this block.

Also, one can reduce the heights of the buildings on the south side of the site and
increase the heights of the buildings on the north while maintaining the overall
density of the parcel at the currently authorized level. We understand that this would
require more substantial footings in the underground parking garage and further
amendment of the site’s height limitations. The financing for these footings must be
found.
Finally, additional building space on the north and west of the parcel may be obtained
by exercising air rights over the proposed Reston Station Boulevard, thus maintaining
the overall parcel density with lower buildings on the south of the site.
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Beyond approval of the partially underground parking garage and plaza, there is no need
to act swiftly on this proposal. Given the state of the real estate market, it is unlikely that there
will be any commercial development on the site for several years. Comstock acknowledged that
it would likely build only the Metro parking garage by 2013. We urge the Commission to
approve the parking lot and plaza on the Wiehle Avenue Block 1 site, but direct Comstock to
revise its proposal for building on the plaza. Comstock should be able to develop a plan that is
profitable, attractive, consistent with County TOD policy, and meeting Reston’s needs. The
resulting development should be one that the County, Reston, and Comstock can all be proud to
call the cornerstone of TOD development in the Dulles Metrorail corridor.
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