The reason behind Lake Anne Village Center’s revitalization is economic in nature, redeveloping portions of it to make the retail at Washington Plaza viable year-round. While an economic study in 2005 highlighted necessary levels of development to enhance the plaza’s retail operations, there has been no economic study on the costs and benefits for possible future developers.
Such cost-benefit analysis could explain why a consultant-issued report to the county recommends that the Lake Anne comprehensive plan contains density of redevelopment some residents deem too high. "I have a problem with the FAR," said Arthur Hill, chairing Monday night’s Reston Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. Floor to area ratios, FARs, are a measure of density that compare the size of the building to the size of the plot it stands on. "The FARs in the report, they’re just too high," said Hill. He compared the proposed density levels at Lake Anne to density levels in other parts of Reston, such as Reston Town Center and development near the Reston Sheraton, and concluded that the proposed overall density at Lake Anne would be more than in those places. The proposed FARs at Lake Anne are higher than in those other places.
Fred Seldon, of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, warned Reston P&Z committee members not to be overly constrained with FARs. "I would be more comfortable if people said 3,000 units is too much," he said. Also, he added, land parcels should be considered when FARs are evaluated. He said often times Tysons Corner is used to compare densities of proposed developments in the county, yet land blocks in Tysons Corner are quite large, and therefore different than anything that may be seen in some other parts of the county and Lake Anne.
LONGTIME LAKE ANNE resident Joe Stowers said the densities proposed in the consultant report should not be lowered. His argument is that any developer that may wish to redevelop land according to what is yet to be an amended comprehensive plan at Lake Anne needs to be incited to do so. Current recommendations for the plan call for such things as a considerable amount of below grade parking, and some of that as underground parking. Rob Walker, Reston P&Z member, said constructing underground parking costs between $25,000 and $30,000 per parking space. Stowers mentioned other costs developers would incur in the process, including tearing down existing buildings, rebuilding underground utilities and relocating Village Road.
"These costs are extremely high," said Stowers. Lowering the densities would keep the developers out of Lake Anne, and would therefore keep away people who would create business for the merchants on the Washington Plaza. "You need people there to create vitality," said Stowers. He added that the county should instead think about rewarding developers with density bonuses in order to achieve some community goals, such as affordable housing and preservation of open space.
"When you talk about open space, affordable housing and below grade parking, the economics start to be strained," said Walker. "Key would be to remain flexible to let the developers come in."
The lack of economic information on the possible costs to future developers is making it difficult for some in the community to determine what the appropriate density levels should be. Dave Edwards asked if it was possible to reconcile lack of that information with the language in the comprehensive plan, which will guide future development at the village center. "Can we work in some manner of getting more economic understanding," said Edwards.
Stowers said the plan would have to be written with a flexible enough language to entice the developers to the area. Seldon offered a possible solution, inserting development level options into the plan, leaving the economic studies for a later date.
"The language could read, ‘This option is appropriate if it can be determined that underground parking here is feasible,’" Seldon said, giving an example of an option solution.
WHILE OTHERS at the meeting also engaged in the discussion of density and economics, other concerns were also brought up. John Carter, a professional architect who thought the recommended density is too high, said the consultant recommendations for the Lake Anne comprehensive plan did not focus enough on design excellence. "Design excellence is what is going to carry this," said Carter. A major point of concern for Carter was also that the proposed 15 percent of open space is not enough for the village center. "It’s way too low," he said. Carter said 30 percent of all new development at Lake Anne should be open space, including green space and civic space.
Another architect, Guy Rando, who had no problem with the proposed density and would not mind seeing it go even higher, shared the concern about preservation of open space. "I like people and the more people you have the better they’ll be able to support Washington Plaza, but 30 percent open space is key," said Rando. Included in his open space preservation would be keeping Reston Association property as a nature sanctuary. Rando also argued for a need of total separation between pedestrian and vehicular traffic, something the consultant report does not address properly in his view.
Members of the Reston Community Reinvestment Corporation (RCRC), a community group representing Lake Anne residents in the revitalization process, also spoke at Monday’s meeting. Rick Thompson said it was important that each of the five sub areas considered in the consultant report has its own parking. Furthermore, he said, sub area 1 — the current parking lot north of the plaza — would not be able to handle as much parking as is proposed in the consultant report. Sub area 4 — the county-owned parcel where the Crescent Apartments now stand — should accommodate the overflow of parking from sub area 1, said Thompson.
At this point, county staff is reviewing the consultant recommendations and public input received at two public meetings held in March and April at Lake Anne Elementary School. It will use that information, and other public input, to produce a staff report for the Lake Anne comprehensive plan amendment. According to Seldon, county staff originally planned to present its report to the Planning Commission in June or July. It planned to go before the Board of Supervisors for approval in August or September. However, Seldon said at this point that timeline might not be achieved. Hill recommended that county staff hold another public meeting as it moves towards the completion of the staff report.