The Density of Reston

By Kevin Burke

Proposed Metro Commerce Center at Corner of Sunrise Valley Drive and Wiehle Avenue

Reston was planned to be many things at once: a home, a workplace, an entertainment and shopping center, a cultural hub, and a preserved natural environment. Lately, Reston is becoming much more than that with intensifying office, retail, and housing development and redevelopment. The conflicts between what Reston is and what it is becoming may seem bewildering.  That's why Ripples is initiating this informational series on important issues with the growth and changes that are coming.  An important component of these changes is the concept of density.

Density can mean many things. On the positive side, increased density usually creates a broader tax base, greater variety of housing options, more opportunities for recreation and entertainment, increased employment choices, and more diverse communities. However, density also can put greater pressure on major government services, like water, sewer, safety, transportation, and education. It also can threaten the natural environment, and depending on how it is managed it can imply lower aesthetic and architectural quality. Traffic control becomes more challenging and noise and pollution can be magnified.

It is sometimes a surprise to learn that Reston is already quite densely developed. The current population estimate of Reston is about 59,000. That means Reston’s population density is about 3900 per square mile. This is roughly 1800 percent higher than the average density of the Commonwealth of Virginia and 4200 percent higher than the national average density.

But unlike many other suburbs, Reston’s employment base is significant as well. This combination of residential and commercial development approaches that of many urban areas. In contrast to many cities, though, Reston’s development has been planned from the beginning and designed to preserve open spaces and other non-urban amenities. Housing and commercial development is designed to be highest around the Metro Line, with the Reston Town Center as the focal point, and development away from this transit-based core is supposed to be less dense and more residential.

Reston’s original master plan envisioned this greater density around the toll road and the eventual town center. Nonetheless, the rapid and extensive growth around the three Reston Metro stations is more than Restonians have witnessed before. This is not unanticipated, especially after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved in June 2016 changes to the Comprehensive Plan that increased the maximum density level for the areas on either side of the Dulles Toll Road between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road, including the Reston Town Center. Soon, for example, we are likely to see the demolition of the low-slung three- or four-story office buildings in this area in favor of 15-20-story office buildings like the one at the Wiehle/Reston East Station and the apartments at the Reston Town Center.

What we propose to do in this feature of Lakeport Ripples is to use each issue to bring readers up to date on the nearby developments, like the additional two buildings proposed for Reston Station, the redevelopment of Commerce Park on our side of the Toll Road (see artist’s rendering above), and the new housing and mixed-use developments near the Sheraton and Westin hotels on Sunrise Valley Drive. We will try to point out the effects that these and other projects may have on us who live in Lakeport and how we can learn more and register our views.

Reston is changing rather dramatically. Let's learn as much as we can and help shape that change.

Next issue:  What’s happening on Sunrise Valley Drive.

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