Forums Focus on Density

Forums Focus on Density

The county has proposed zoning changes that would allow additional housing for 16,000 to 20,000 people.

Reston residents will soon have an opportunity to sound off on density and redevelopment.

At the request of Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee will host a series of public forums where residents can share their views on density issues.

The first forum will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Langston Hughes Middle School.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Stephen Cerny, a P&Z board member. “It will be an opportunity for the people of Reston to come together and make some decisions about what Reston will look like in the next 10 to 20 years.”

County staff will provide support for the meetings, including a presentation of proposed changes to Reston’s zoning ordinance that would allow additional density and incorporate greater legislative controls.

The ordinance currently allows an additional 4,100 high-rise residential units, before hitting a density “cap” that limits Reston’s total residential density to 13 persons per acre. But more than half of those units are already accounted for by residential development applications making their way through the approval process.

THE COUNTY, led by chief planner Jim Zook, released an eight-page staff paper that made several recommendations that will be the basis for community discussion:

* Staff agrees the density cap of 13 persons per acre should be retained for now, but should be open to future scrutiny.

* Under the ordinance, calculating density is determined based on population factors for various housing types — 3.5 persons per single family detached, 3 persons per single family attached, 2.5 persons per garden apartment and 2 persons per elevator apartment. Staff said these values are antiquated and should be reduced, which would allow for greater density. Staff’s recommended reductions in the factors would increase allowable residential development by an additional 3,800 high-rise units.

* To prevent redevelopment from bypassing public comment and the approval of elected officials, staff recommends that rezoning require review and approval by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Public hearings precede zoning changes considered by the Planning Commission and the Board.

* Staff believes the Comprehensive Plan provides sufficient guidance for future redevelopment, but may need to be amended to clarify existing residential development, depicted now as low, medium or high, so that they match specifications used for the rest of the county (dwelling units per acre).

* Staff recommends that planning for Lake Anne should be first priority.

If the proposed recommendations were passed, an additional 3,800 high rise units would be permitted under the cap. When that figure is added to what’s already available under the cap — 4,100 high rise units — the change allows a total density increase of 16,000 to 20,000 people.

“The bottom line is, instead of raising the bridge, they’ve lowered the water,” said Mike Corrigan, president of the Reston Citizens Association. “But the result is the same.”

MEMBERS OF P&Z, as well as members of other community groups, such as RCA, which recently held a forum on the topic, have urged residents to attend the meetings.

“Most people in Reston don’t want to see any changes in their neighborhoods,” said Cerny. “So, it’s an opportunity to protect our neighborhoods from inappropriate development, or inappropriate redevelopment.” Cerny added that he was not against redevelopment or additional density. But if it does occur, he wanted to ensure that changes were governed by community input.

Ron Weber, a 30-year Reston resident and P&Z board member, thinks the outcome will affect several aspects of life in Reston, particularly traffic.

“The whole question is where does [additional development] go and how big do you want to grow,” said Weber. “If the street system can’t handle it, don’t do it, as far as I’m concerned because you change your whole quality of life.”

Some residents fear that the voice of the community could be muted by the meetings’ proposed format. Earlier this month, the county suggested that meeting participants break down into smaller groups if turnout is large.

Some people have opposed this format. “Why does it have to be a format of breaking into groups?” said Sue Merk, a Reston resident.

Opponents charged that a small group format will drown out individual viewpoints.