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in its most recent draft report. My comments touch only 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 area more 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 must inevitably be traffic impacts.” Two points: • Neither Joe nor I expect a one-for-one match “fill those jobs.” We are looking for balance in the use of Metrorail and the DTR, that is, the number coming and going are roughly equal and, moreover, spread over the entirety of the day. To the extent that these residents actually work in TC, great, that will reduce 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 live there?) 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 any scenario the TC committee has proposed nor our own ideas. What we expect is 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, Reston streets, and Metrorail if the workforce and residential populations are roughly equal. 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 is the best existing example of TOD balance in the United States at this moment. That does not mean it is ideal—or even good—just the best so far. In fact, communities across the country have had tremendous difficulty in advancing to a true TOD resident:workforce population balance in the face of extreme pressures from developers/landowners to build less demanding and more profitable commercial office space. I commend Arlington for what has accomplished so far and welcome its ongoing efforts to boost retroactively the residential presence and open space in its TOD areas. In contrast, Reston has the opportunity of avoiding the mistakes Arlington essentially acknowledges it made in allowing excessive office space development at the expense of a balanced residential presence. My recommendation, as I’ve stated before, is that we set the bar at 2:1 residential:office work space throughout your committee’s study area. 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’s mantle as a “premier” planned community if it occurred. And, most importantly, it would help relieve the growth of congestion on our roads and over-capacity one-way use of Metrorail rather than contribute to it as your proposal would.
Implicit in the preceding is my rejection of “a residential collar around the urban core.” That segregation of purposes would undo the mixed-use community we are striving to attain within the TOD area. Its effect, like the 1:1 space ratio, would be to force residents into their vehicles to go to work, shop, and play—exactly what we are trying to avoid in this planning process. Moreover, it would mean more people driving to Reston 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 almost always flaws) that are unsupportable, but consistent with developer interests. • For the first time, the notional future TC household size has swollen from 2.0 to 2.6 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 MWCOG transportation 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 the res:off ratio shouldn’t be increased because so much more population is anticipated. • Somewhere along the line, the committee moved the assumptions about DU and workspace 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 an adequate justification for the shift in GSF base. The fact of the matter is that, on the 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 allow developers/landowners to build 20% more office space in a parcel while sustaining their res:off GFA balance. (And lessees can always squeeze 4 workers into 1,000GSF—or less—as most planners anticipate.) As in the past, you appear to have accepted uncritically the most developer-friendly assumptions available in your draft report, starting with the 1:1 space ratio. If accepted, just these two changes alone would allow increase the imbalance between worker 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 will leave it to committee members and, if they remain, the Task Force to sort those out in the interest of time and space now. And I’ll be back. Open Space: This draft paper argues almost violently against being subjected to the County’s urban open space standards. I strongly endorse the Reston 2020 position that the TOD areas should have 25% functional open space and see absolutely no reason why the County should relax its urban parks standard (I would increase it, given the option.) to meet 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 devote 25% (20% in MC) to useable open space. Build/preserve large open spaces and complement them with a smaller percentage functional open space. o 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 an alternative. It should be a key goal given its existing natural state. I propose that you recommend that discussions with GAO begin now with a view to the preservation of these natural areas under Reston governance, possibly involving a County purchase and transfer of the land to Reston.) o Require landowners who have not contributed proportionally to the large open spaces to make up the difference in onsite useable open space. My guess 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 areas contributed by existing useable open space. This would be the most difficult option to execute.
Although I won’t go into it in detail now, the draft’s definition of “functional open 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 would limit 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 as functional open space if they have a buffer park area around them is a generally good one IF (a) the “buffer park area” is at least as large as the high water acreage of the storm water pond (not just a trail around the pond) and (b) measures are taken to guarantee that the 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 an infrastructure impact/needs assessment (despite “a number of infrastructure improvements” listed in Exhibit A) that “could significantly impact the feasibility of our recommendations.” Why would you propose a set of recommendations that may not be feasible? Why don’t you more systematically address the infrastructure needs of the TC area—north to south—in this report? Certainly a doubling (under your 1:1 res:off space ratio formula) or more of population (under Maynard & Stowers) there will have some impact 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 does not eliminate the need for new ball fields, but those spaces should be located outside the TOD 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.
On schools, my preliminary estimate is that your proposal will require 2-3 more elementary schools (no new middle or high schools) of average FC size to meet TC needs. Where, why, and how can you justify placing that burden on the rest of Reston. On parking, I am with you directionally in “An additional planning tool that we think should be at the community’s disposal is relaxation of the County residential (and commercial) parking requirements.” Actually, I think the proper characterization is “tightening County maximum parking standards at least to those approved for Tysons Corner.” By my calculations, those maximums would reduce parking (and presumably traffic) 17-36% over the current minimum standards for residential and office space. The whole point is to get people out of their cars in TOD areas whenever feasible. Despite your lengthy discussion of transportation, I remain extremely upset with your limp endorsement of a trans-corridor connectivity: “Strong north-south connectivity is recommended, though there are some physical challenges with creating these links.” Huh? Building the Verrazano Narrows bridge was a physical challenge; building the Chunnel was a physical challenge. Building a bridge or tunnel across the DTR corridor is not a physical (nor even a real “fiscal”) challenge. Surely we can traverse 400 feet of roads and rails somehow—or at least recommend it strongly. Moreover, the connection of Edmund Halley to Town Center Drive is imperative to prevent gridlock on Reston Parkway (where near failing peak period traffic conditions exist near the DTR) for Reston’s own commuters, especially if the committee insists on recommending a 1:1 res:off space ratio. This is the most important transportation improvement you can recommend, and your waffling recommendation does come close to being strong enough. Closing. In general, my view of the TC committee report is that, at every opportunity, the report bows to developer/landowner wishes, especially any that would reduce the space it could develop at add to the costs of development. Limit open space, don’t consider infrastructure needs (whether connectivity, schools, or recreation). Density and the mix of uses are set to maximize developer profits with no consideration of its impact on the community. Assumptions are changed to give the most advantageous outcomes for developers. Only in the most extreme cases, has there been a slight nod to the wishes of the community or the realistic needs of tripling or more the GFA of Town Center, and these are often qualified. This is truly not a community document, it is a developer document. I hope the non-developer members of your committee and the Task Force treat it as such and bring some reality into its finalization. I have a number of other specific concerns as well, but these are at the top of my list at this time. As soon as I have the time, I will show you the workforce and population density impacts of your proposal versus a more reasonable and balance proposal. But I’ve given you enough to think about and work on tomorrow morning. I hope these ideas help inform those discussions.
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