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The Proposed Reston PRC Zoning Ordinance Amendment

The County’s Rush to Ruin Reston
Reston 20/20 Committee
June 26, 2017

Fairfax County is proceeding at an accelerated pace to garner the approval of an
amendment to Reston’s Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance that
would substantially increase overall community density and eliminate any cap on any
“high density” development. A look at the impact of that change on traffic, parks,
and schools shows that the County is grossly understating the infrastructure needs of
Reston with planned growth. Nonetheless, the County is pushing to increase the cap
quickly ostensibly because Reston’s “calculated population” is reaching the current
cap. A review of Reston population growth, real and “calculated,” shows that there is
ample time for study of the proposal, its impacts, and amendment as appropriate.

The proposed Reston PRC zoning amendment appears to be part of a broader Board
strategy to maximize tax-generating development while minimizing the County’s
commitment to costly infrastructure construction and operation without regard to
the impact on community livability and values. The only reason that we can
reasonably identify for this irresponsible behavior is that Fairfax County faces
massive structural financial challenges, primarily in funding pensions. As a result, it is
pursuing a County-wide development strategy that is politically expedient yet morally
and fiscally bankrupt.

Over the last two months, the County has presented its Reston PRC zoning ordinance amendment
proposal three times to Restonians. The proposal would increase the allowable population in the
Reston PRC (which excludes most of Reston’s transit station areas) by more than 23%, allow unlimited
residential development in key areas of Reston Town Center, and give the Board of Supervisors
unfettered discretion in approving residential development proposals within Reston’s Planned
Residential Community (PRC) “high density” areas. The proposal has met with exceptionally negative
feedback from the community—its leadership, grassroots organizations, and residents themselves—as
an ill-conceived and totally unassessed proposal that would destroy not only Reston as it exists, but the
Reston envisioned by its late founder Robert E. Simon as a place to live, work, and play. In this report,
we take a look at what is being proposed, challenge the need for the hurried approval of the zoning
amendment, take a look at some impacts of approving the proposal, and question why the Board of
Supervisors is pursuing this course.

Figure 1: The Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) Land Area

Source: Proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment Regarding Residential Density in the
Reston PRC District, Fairfax County Department of Planning & Zoning Presentation, p. 13.

The Reston PRC Zoning Amendment Proposal

So what is the hubbub about? Specifically, it is about two proposed changes in the Reston PRC zoning

First, the County proposes raising the overall allowable density in the Reston PRC from 13 persons
per acre to 16 persons per acre. That would allow Reston’s population in the PRC area (largely
suburban) to increase from about 81,000 to 100,000. Most of that increase would be in Reston Town
Center (RTC) north of the Metro station, Town Center North, and Ridge Heights in the southeast
quadrant of RTC. Some would be in village centers and four “hot spots” identified in the plan near
Hidden Creek Country Club.

Second, and more dangerously, the plan proposes eliminating any restrictions on density in “high
density” areas of the Reston PRC. That restriction is now set at 50 dwelling units (DUs) per acre.
Instead, the PRC zoning ordinance would allow the Board of Supervisors complete discretion consistent

with the badly flawed Reston Master Plan in approving development proposals—which is often waived
when proposals for densities higher than those in the plan are brought for its consideration.

The only rationale the County has given for the proposed zoning changes is that they are necessary to
implement the growth in the Reston Master Plan. It makes absolutely no judgments about the
suitability of the recommendations in the Reston plan nor does it explain what impact the plan would
have on Restonians. Those plan changes would permit the addition of at least 88,000 residents (44,000
dwelling units) to Reston, including 76,000 or more people (38,140 dwelling units) in Reston’s station
areas—most of whom are covered by an even more expansive PDC/PRM zoning ordinance than the
PRC zoning ordinance.

Figure 2: Overall Reston Development Potential in the Comprehensive Plan

Source: Reston Master Plan, 3-14-2017, p. 103.

Figure 3: Reston Transit Station Area (TSA) Development Potential in the Comprehensive Plan

Source: Reston Funding Plan: Proposed Cost Allocations, Reston Network Analysis Group,
Fairfax County Department of Transportation, 2-22-2016, p. 18.

If the Board of Supervisors limited itself to approving development plans within the limits of the
Comprehensive Plan—which it often does not do—it would still have no constraints under the
proposed Reston PRC amendment on approving residential development in two key areas of Reston
Town Center: the Town Center Urban Core and Town Center North.

 The plan language for the Town Center Urban Core explicitly states (p. 167) that, “Residential
uses do not have a maximum density.” So what legal discretion does the Board of Supervisors
have to limit grotesque excessive residential development in this Dillon Rule state? It certainly
did not demonstrate any discretion in limiting the density of the Akridge office building on a
parcel with no FAR limits in Town Center North, approving a 330’ tall, 23-story, FAR 4.1
 The language for Town Center North (TCN) calls for a minimum of 1,000 dwelling units to be
built there, characterizing the area as residential-focused, but sets no maximum. The Spectrum
Center area that comprises the eastern portion of TCN has already been approved for 50
DU/acre—the highest allowable density under the current PRC ordinance. And neither
Spectrum Center nor Town Center North is within the ½-mile ring that defines transit-oriented
development’s (TOD’s) boundary for high-density development in Fairfax County TOD policy.

Figure 4: Reston Town Center Urban Core and Town Center North

½-mile TOD ring limit

In short, there is no need to eliminate the existing “high density” cap except to accommodate for-
profit development in the Town Center Urban Core and Town Center North. Instead, the cap could be
raised slightly from the current 50 DU/acre, if at all. To incorporate the proposed absence of DU limits
into the zoning ordinance would give developers the absolute legal right to build any number of
residences they wish, stacked as high as they want, parcel boundary to boundary, with increasingly
limited requirements for supporting infrastructure or community amenities thanks to state legislation,
and no way back to lower densities in Virginia’s Dillon Rule state.

Some Impacts of the Amendment’s Approval

The volume of residential development that is planned and would be permitted if the Board approves
the PRC zoning amendment as proposed would overwhelm Reston’s existing and even planned
infrastructure. Moreover, the County has yet to provide a roadmap as to how it plans to link added
infrastructure to new development in direct contravention of Reston Planning Principle #3: “The
phasing and funding of the expansion and modification of adequate transportation infrastructure
and programs, and other infrastructure components such as schools, parks, and other public facilities
should occur with development. Development will be phased with infrastructure.” While we cannot
be as authoritative as the County, which has so far refused to take on the task of assessing the impact
of allowable development on the Reston PRC and other zoning ordinances, we can make some
preliminary judgments based on various County planning efforts and guidelines in important areas.

Traffic. The community is near the end of a nearly two-year process called the Reston Network
Analysis Group (RNAG) in which FCDOT has developed plans for improving Reston’s streets to
accommodate the traffic created by the addition of 76,000 people in its station areas over the plan
period. The Reston Master Plan shows that this includes a planned reduction in vehicle trips averaging
about 35%-40% within the station areas and 20% beyond the station areas. Still, the proposed street
improvements are not tied to the stated goal. In fact, the County has not modelled the overall effects
of the street improvements it has proposed as part of the RNAG process (if it has, it has not disclosed
the results), so it doesn’t know what impact the changes will have on traffic conditions.

Figure 5: Reston Master Plan Peak Hour Vehicle Reduction Goals

Source: Reston Master Plan, Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, 3-14-17, p. 136.

US Census data for 2015 shows that more than 80% of Restonians commute to work by auto—alone or
in a carpool—so that share should drop to about 55%-60% of all commuting traffic by 2050 if the
County accomplishes its goal. Yet Reston population will increase some 250% if Reston’s plan is
fulfilled, meaning that somewhere between 50%-75% more vehicles will be using Reston’s streets to
commute as currently do. So, while the road improvements may reduce vehicle share of commuting,
traffic volume will actually increase substantially and the County has not been assessed its proposed
street improvements against its modal share goals to see if they can be accomplished.

And, maybe worst of all, the Board of Supervisors has deemed it appropriate to pass a Transportation
Service District (TSD) property tax on station area businesses and residents with a tax rate it can change
annually. Examination of the proposed use of these taxes shows that the bulk of them will be used to
build outlying areas of the “grid of streets.” As a result, Reston station area homeowners will be
subsidizing the for-profit efforts of developers (and County tax coffers) who will be generating more
traffic, not less, in areas around the Metro stations that could not otherwise be profitably developed.

Yet, to preserve the appearance of improvement in Reston’s traffic congestion, the County has lowered
its “urban” traffic standards from Level of Service (LOS) “D” to LOS “E”—meaning 55-80 second delays
at each stoplight are acceptable during the peak hour.

Nonetheless, recent experience in Reston suggests the County will not meet even these modal share or
LOS goals, however, because it will not devote sufficient County funding to the effort despite the
billions in tax revenues that the new development in Reston’s station areas will generate. Even now,
the first major traffic infrastructure element—the Soapstone Connector across the Dulles Toll Road—
that was proposed in 2009 is not “scheduled” to be completed for more than another decade or more
while development continues unabated.

Parks. Several years ago, the County adopted an Urban Parks Framework policy and Park Facility
Service Level Standards in the County’s Comprehensive Plan for parks and recreation that was intended
to guide the provision of County parks and their facilities, not those private facilities provided by RA.
These documents have very specific requirements for acreage and scope of facilities added population
requires. Here are some specific guidelines for Reston’s prospective huge station area population
increase (76,000), not counting a much smaller additional amount needed for additional employees, all
of which should be within a 10-minute walk (1/2 mile) of each resident:

 1.5 acres of park space for each 1,000 residents, or 114 acres of additional public park space for
Reston’s planned new population according to the Urban Parks Framework;
 28 added rectangular fields (soccer, etc.) for 76,000 new station area residents;
 27 playgrounds for those station area residents, about 8,000 of whom will be school-aged kids;
 Another public golf course (not losing an existing one); and
 A 135,000 GSF RECenter for all Reston’s future population (148,000), much less the rest of the
Hunter Mill District, among numerous other County park facility “standards.”

Virtually none of this will be built in Reston under the current plan and the PRC zoning ordinance
doesn’t even address the matter. County plans do call for a 90,000 square foot RECenter in Town
Center sometime in the “distant” future, about three-quarters of what the County standard calls for.
The Reston plan also calls for just three ballfields, about one-ninth of what the County has set as its
standard. And that doesn’t address the dozen or so other types of fields and facilities covered by the
County plan. No additional park land or any other park or recreational facilities are in the plan.

Schools. There may be no infrastructure element more important to most Reston families than their
children’s’ access to good nearby public schools. It has been a feature of living in Fairfax County. And,
like almost every other feature of Reston’s needed infrastructure and amenities, the County again
comes up short in its plan.

The Reston plan states that it expects about 2,900 new school-age children to be added to Reston’s
schools the next 20-30 years (p. 49), half to three-quarters the four decade horizon of the Reston plan.
About half of those children would be elementary age, one-sixth intermediate school-age, and the
remaining third high school age. It proposes elementary schools in Town Center North and the Central
Sunrise Valley District (near USGS—and less than ¼-mile from the existing Dogwood Elementary). It
also proposes building an intermediate and high school to the west of Reston to accommodate a shift
in some enrollment westward to prevent overcrowding.

Unfortunately, that assessment was based on Fairfax County Public School’s (FCPS’s) use of “Scenario
G,” a development scenario used in the Reston task force’s planning process, but not its final result. As
reflected in the FCPS memo providing the above estimate, that scenario anticipated the total number
of dwelling units in the station areas would reach only 24,559. Yet, according to the County
Department of Transportation (FCDOT) presentation of February 22, 2016, the Reston plan calls for the
total number of dwelling units in Reston’s station areas to reach about 44,000, nearly double the
amount laid out in Scenario G. The FCPS calculations also did not account for growing population in
Reston beyond the station areas, which may be especially significant around its village centers under
the new Reston plan.

As a result, we have a much different accounting for Reston’s school requirement based on the
planning factors FCPS used in its memorandum on Scenario G. Specifically, we believe that Reston’s
overall planned population increase (88,000-plus) is likely to add nearly 7,600 children to Reston area
schools, two and one-half times as many as the County has planned for. In particular, the FCPS
planning factor indicates that 8.7% of all the population in high-rise, multi-family development will be
school-age children, resulting in our calculation. (The share of school-age children is much higher in
other types of housing, but we chose to be conservative here recognizing that virtually all new Reston
development will be high-rise, multi-family, even beyond the station areas.) That population would
require five new elementary schools, and virtually fill one additional intermediate and high school in
Reston alone. The Reston plan makes absolutely no accommodation for this potential growth, yet the
proposed PRC zoning ordinance change would allow it.

What’s the Hurry?

The impacts outlined above highlight the need for the County and Reston to take a step back and
consider in depth what level of development ought to be allowed in Reston and what infrastructure will
be needed to support that development at a current—or better—quality of life. The County’s only
argument for the need for speed in approving added density in Reston’s PRC is that the community is
quickly reaching its current maximum allowable population density of 13 persons per acre. Actually, as
the County presented, the current “calculated population” of the Reston PRC is 74,192 people out of an
allowable 81,195 people, just 7,002 people short of the cap. That “calculated population” figure
includes all approved, but still unbuilt, residential development in addition to the real number of
people here. For those developers who haven’t proceeded to construction yet, amending the zoning
ordinance would give them an opportunity to go back and increase the density of their proposals
under the new legal authority.

According to the US Census, the number of people estimated to be living in the Reston Census
Designated Place (CDP) was 60,112 in 2015. The 2010 census put Reston’s population at 58,404, so
Reston’s population has been growing at well less than 500 people per year. It could be 62,000 in mid-
2017. That leaves a 19,000 person gap until the present ceiling is reached.

Figure 6: County Presentation on Reston PRC “Calculated Population” in 2006.

Source: Reston 20/20 blog, September 10, 2015, p.8.

Moreover, in a County exercise to change the Reston PRC population factors a decade ago put Reston’s
“calculated population” at 64,227 in 2006. That means Reston’s “calculated population” has been
growing at about 1,000 persons per year over the last decade and we have as much as seven years
before we will reach the current population cap. We don’t need to take seven years before making a
change in the zoning ordinance, if any, but we certainly have abundant time to study what zoning
ordinance changes should be made and why. In short, there is no reason the County should not
understand what it’s doing before it makes an irrevocable decision to increase the population cap.

Finally, forty years of experience with transit oriented development in Arlington County indicates that
Fairfax County is wildly optimistic in its planning and zoning for Reston station area growth. Between
1970 and 2009, Arlington County added fewer than 22,000 dwelling units (44,000 people) to the five
Metro station areas between Rosslyn and Ballston. That is in a County closer to the economic center
of the Metropolitan DC area on a then-new subway system during a period of overall greater job and
residential growth than Fairfax County is experiencing today. Yet Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan
calls for the addition of four times as many dwelling units across seven station areas in Tysons and
Reston—50,000 in Tysons and 38,000 in Reston.

Figure 7: Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor 40-Year Development with Transit Oriented Development

Source: Arlington County (Brosnan) presentation to Reston Master Plan
Task Force, February 23, 2010, p. 41.

Our own calculation of the future growth of in Reston’s station areas suggests that the Arlington
experience is likely to be replicated in Reston. We reviewed MWCOG data (Round 8.3) providing

forecasts for population, households, and jobs through 2040 by traffic analysis zones (TAZ) and
extrapolated that rate to 2056—the 40-year horizon for the Reston plan. It suggests that the number
of households in Reston’s three station areas may grow by about 16,000 dwelling units in that
timeframe, less than half the 38,000 laid out last year by FCDOT. This lower MWCOG forecast is
generally consistent with Arlington’s experience across five station areas.

Figure 8: 40-Year Forecast Growth in Reston’s TSAs by TAZ as Calculated in MWCOG 8.3

Despite innumerable community requests for the County to take the time to consider the impacts of
the proposal and residents’ concerns that this does not follow Reston’s founding principles, the
County’s website on the proposed zoning change shows the same rush to approval in October it did
nearly two months ago (see below).

The only concession to the community’s negative feedback has been adding the words “Under Review”
to the timeline. Despite the fact that the revised Reston Master Plan has been in place for several
years, the County has not performed any impact analysis of the plan or the proposed zoning ordinance
change it intends to implement, a seeming dereliction of its responsibility.

Figure 9: Fairfax County Schedule for Approval of Reston PRC Zoning Ordinance Amendment

Source: Reston Planned Residential Community District (PRC) Zoning Ordinance Amendment,
Fairfax County website.

In so doing, the County continues to ignore the Reston Association Board of Director’s resolution
expressing a lack of support for the proposal, noting its concern about the County withholding
information from RA on the proposed change, and not answering questions from the community about
the proposal. It also ignores a petition and letter from Reclaim Reston, a grassroots Reston advocacy
group striving to protect the community. The County has also ignored the outrage expressed by scores,
if not hundreds, of Restonians at the three community meetings on the topic. In short, Supervisor
Hudgins, the Department of Planning and Zoning, and the Board of Supervisors have ignored the
concerns of Restonians about their community once again. The lone exception: Annotating the County
schedule that it’s “Under Review.”

What is the County doing?

We believe that the Board of Supervisors, abetted by the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ),
is trying to push the Reston PRC amendment through before the oversized permissiveness of the
proposal, fallacies in the Reston plan, its inconsistencies with the Reston vision and planning
principles, and its incompatibility with the wishes of Restonians is fully appreciated. In so doing, it
intends to open the doors to developers for virtually unlimited County property tax-generating high
density development in the Reston Town Center area as well as other parts of Reston without regard to
its impact on the community.

At the same time, the County continues to understate the infrastructure and amenities (and their
cost) needed to support the development it is irrevocably proposing to allow. We have already
pointed out some specifics out in the case of Reston’s streets, its parks, and its schools. For the most
part, these shortcomings stem from the failure of the County to purchase land it can use for community
purposes, and the cost will increase the longer the acquisitions are delayed and the properties become
more commercially viable. The impact of this County shortsightedness on Reston’s quality of life will be
tremendous, undermining the vision laid out by Robert E. Simon for our “planned” community where
one could live, work, and play.

In a larger context, the proposed Reston PRC zoning amendment appears to be part of a broader
Board strategy to maximize tax revenue-generating development while minimizing its commitment
to costly infrastructure construction and operation no matter what the cost to livability, quality of
life, and community values. This violates the stated intent of the County’s Zoning Ordinance, “The
Zoning Ordinance of Fairfax County, Virginia, is intended to promote the health, safety and general
welfare of the public and to implement the adopted comprehensive plan for the orderly and controlled
development of the County (Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance, Article 1, Part 2, 1-200 Purpose and
Intent).” Nothing in that zoning ordinance intent is about maximizing County tax revenues. The
zoning ordinance is supposed to be all about public welfare and orderly development, which is the anti-
thesis of the Reston PRC zoning ordinance amendment.

It’s all part of a disturbing pattern that takes on the appearance of a deliberate strategy. Put
together, the County Board and staff appear to be:

 Putting in place legislation—comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances (such as the proposed
Reston PRC amendment)—that maximizes development opportunities by raising or eliminating
FAR non-residential density, population, or DU caps,
 Ignoring the County’s own key infrastructure standards and guidelines as well as portions of
the Reston (and other) plan(s) intended to constrain and guide development, such as
community vision and planning principles,
 Understating community infrastructure and amenity requirements to support potential
development allowed by the community plan or zoning,
 Overstating development unit sizes (e.g.—DU square footage, office space per worker) to
maximize allowable development density, and
 Disregarding the will of communities, including Reston, that identify and object to these and
numerous other shortcomings by accelerating the time from proposal to passage to avoid
unwelcome, but much needed, discussion and modification of the proposal.

We expect this pattern, and more, to be applied to the more than one dozen areas of the County
designated for higher density redevelopment and covered by the PDC/PRM zoning ordinance. (See
Figure 10 below.) The zoning ordinance allows development to a FAR 5.0 level, roughly 180 DU/acre,
subject to restraints in the area plan. (This PDC/PRM zoning ordinance also applies to Reston station
areas not covered by the PRC.)

This pattern suggests that Fairfax County is in more serious financial circumstances than the public—
residents, legislators, media, bond rating agencies, etc.—has been led to believe. This desperation is
not driven by a fear of County bankruptcy, but by fear of a politically unacceptable downgrade in
Fairfax County’s AAA bond rating, costing the County its standing among the few counties nationwide
holding that rating.

In fact, it is fair to say that the County reacted with outrage when Moody’s gave the County an AAA
rating with a “negative outlook” in 2014. Moody’s negative outlook was based largely on the County’s
growing pension obligations against faltering growth in revenues from federal government spending

locally. The County responded that it was meeting (and exceeding) its obligations as required by
County code, without ever saying whether its code was adequate to meet its long-term pension
commitments, and blamed Moody’s assessment on a change in its pension-rating methodology. In
short, it evaded the issue.

Clearly Chairman Sharon Bulova and other members of the Board of Supervisors do not want to see a
lowered County bond rating on their watch and they appear to be going to extremes, including the
destruction of community quality of life in Reston and county-wide, to make sure that won’t happen.
Their successors will be left to clean up the County financial and standard of living mess. In our view,
this politically expedient strategy is morally and fiscally bankrupt governance of the County.

Figure 10: PDC/PRM FAR 5.0 Zoned Areas of Fairfax County

Source: “Modifications to the PDC and PRM Districts and Related Changes: Proposed Zoning Ordinance
Amendment,” Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning Presentation, January 20, 2016, p. 19.