Fairfax County Delays Decision on Reston Density

By Kevin Burke

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On January 23, the Fairfax County Planning Commission met to hear community input on a proposal to increase residential density in the corridor along the Dulles Toll Road and Metro Silver Line in the Reston Planned Residential Community (Reston PRC) District. A large contingent of citizens opposed to the increase, including a representative of the Reston Association (RA), spoke against the zoning amendment. The Planning Commission eventually postponed a vote on whether to recommend the higher limits, and it will next meet on February 13 to debate and vote on a recommendation.

The Proposal and What It Means

In Virginia, local governments like the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have rather limited authority to manage population growth and business development. However, the state government does allow local governments to manage a Comprehensive Master Plan that generally delineates the types of development (e.g., light industrial, residential, mixed use) allowed in specified areas and includes categories of residential development with limits on maximum populations. By amending this Comprehensive Master Plan, local governments can exercise some control over the manner and extent of both residential and business growth. As a result, amendments to the Comprehensive Master Plan have serious consequences for developers, business, government, and residents.

The area that comprises most of Reston is part of a special category of the Master Plan, called a Planned Residential Community. Within the geographic limits of the PRC, the County can maintain some additional controls over development.

The current residential density limit in the Reston PRC is 13 persons per acre. With a population in 2017 of about 63,000, Reston’s residential development will soon reach the limit of 81,195 individuals allowed by this cap, according to the County’s planning staff estimates. The staff is further concerned that if the near-term proposed developments are permitted to be built, the residential limit needed would be as great as14.5 persons per acre. If the limit is not increased, builders have the option of dropping their projects from the PRC and instead building within the much less restrictive general Master Plan for the County. This would seriously undermine the ability of the County to keep Reston’s unique planning directives in effect.

That is why the Planning Commission’s staff is considering increasing the limit to 15 persons per acre, which would accommodate projects already proposed and give a cushion for further development. This would create a residential population limit of over 93,000. County officials believe Reston would not approach this limit before 2050, allowing some time to address the inevitable pressures on transportation, education, public safety, the environment, and other amenities. In addition, the proposed increase in residential limits would be focused on the area between Sunset Hills Drive to the north and Sunrise Valley Drive to the south, but it would include the Reston Town Center and most of the village centers, like South Lakes Village Center.

Reston Association’s Opposition

Several citizen organizations, including RA, spoke against the increased density limits at the January 23rd meeting. RA remains concerned about residential development that would be allowed at the village centers, which could amount to 50 dwelling units per acre. In addition, RA fears that the necessary infrastructure and government services would not be provided to accommodate the growth in population. Although the Planning Commission does not have jurisdiction over roads, schools, public safety, environmental protection, or other community services, RA insists that the Planning Commission does have control over the timing of the approval of zoning amendments. As a result, RA believes that the Planning Commission should not approve the increased density until it has a “reasonable basis for knowing where or when funding” for needed infrastructure and services will be available.

What’s Next?

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors controls the Planning Commission, which is an agency of the county government. As a result, the Planning Commission does not have the final say on the fate of the proposed amendment to the Reston PRC District. Instead, it makes a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will decide to accept or reject the increase to the residential density limit at a public meeting, possibly as early as this March.

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