You're probably heard by now that the Board of Supervisors approved that 23-story office tower this week. And if you've been reading me regularly, you know that RCA, RA, and ARCH were united in opposition to the tower proposal. We met with Cathy Hudgins last week to discuss our concerns about the proposal, which reflected the comments of our constituents. Supervisor Hudgins heard our views, but went ahead and voted for the tower anyway.
Naturally, I'm disappointed by this decision. Our Supervisor went against the opinion of our leading civic organizations, as well as the vision outlined by her own Reston Master Plan Task Force and the views of County planning staff, which recommended denying this application. I believe that, contrary to the claims espoused by the developer and endorsed by our Supervisor, this is not an example of transit-oriented development. It's too far away from the Metro station, and as a result it's going to worsen the traffic on Reston's roads. And it's likely to hamper efforts to build denser development closer to the station, where it would do us more good. This is the wrong place for a building this size.
That said, I can understand that Supervisor Hudgins was in a difficult spot, due to the unusual circumstances of this parcel of land. The parcel received a rezoning approval and Comprehensive Plan amendment from the Board of Supervisors back in 1978. It was lumped into the approval process for South Lakes Village Center, believe it or not. And the approved zoning for the parcel contained no restrictions on height and density. It's the only parcel in Fairfax County with no such restrictions.
Given that zoning, the developer had unusual leverage in developing a plan for this site. Now that it's approved, we'll need to mitigate the negative effects the project will have on traffic and development in Reston. I understand that Supervisor Hudgins is working with the developer to limit the amount of parking on the site, which is a step in the right direction. I will be happy to support her in efforts to reduce the negative impact of this development for our community.
More importantly, we should be looking beyond this individual project at the larger picture of development in Reston. This parcel's peculiar zoning means that it shouldn't serve as a precedent, so fears that this approval will turn Reston into Manhattan might be overblown.
But the discussion about this building reflects the bigger issue: What is Reston going to look like in the future? What principles will guide its development? And who will decide those principles?
Shaping Reston's future development was supposed to be the job of the Master Plan Task Force. Our Supervisor put together the task force so that developers, planners, and community representatives could build a vision for the future of Reston together. (I serve on the Task Force as an alternate.) But the Task Force has been at work for well over two years now, and we haven't approved any plan language or finalized our development recommendations yet. And so far, we've only looked at the Toll Road corridor and the areas around the Metro stations; we haven't even considered the rest of Reston. At the rate the Task Force is moving, Reston may be redeveloped before we issue our recommendations. Also, given the fact that Supervisor Hudgins voted to approve a development that flew in the face of the vision developed by the Task Force's Town Center sub-committee, will she ultimately go along with the Task Force's final recommendations?
The Task Force may be slow in forming its opinions. Not so Reston's founder. As you may know, Bob Simon supports the proposed office tower, and has not been shy about saying so. The development fits right in with what he thinks Reston should be. Among the people I've talked to who support the tower, one of the more popular arguments is: "If Bob Simon's in favor of it, that means it's right for Reston."
I greatly admire Bob Simon. Without his vision and hard work, Reston wouldn't exist. And I'm very glad that he's still around to offer his opinions on how Reston should develop. But he is not the master developer any longer. His views certainly deserve consideration, but they are not the last word.
Bob created a vision for a New Town. In my view, it's a great vision. And over the last 50 years, Reston's citizens have brought that vision to life, and shaped it in ways Bob probably couldn't have dreamed of. A lot has changed in that time; Bob freely admits that Reston hasn't developed exactly as he envisioned. In 1963, when things got started, Reston was Bob's town. In 2012, it's our town. We as Restonians have spent 50 years building this community, and we as Restonians should be have a strong voice in shaping its future.
So let's have the discussion. Bob believes, and has said many times, that density builds community. Cathy Hudgins appears to share that view. It's a defensible opinion, and I welcome the opportunity to hear their case. But a lot of Restonians don't agree with that view, and we should be heard in that discussion as well.
Which brings me to the most encouraging news to emerge from all of this. For the first time in recorded memory, RCA, RA and ARCH united to form a common position and advocate for it jointly. Yes, we lost this battle, but we gained something important: The leaders of our three organizations have agreed to meet regularly, discuss the issues facing our community, and when we share a common view, we will band together and speak up together. And being able to speak with a united voice can only benefit Reston.
We learned some important lessons from this experience. For one thing, we came together fairly late in this process, and we've learned the importance of starting earlier. We're also going to work on expanding our communication with the citizens of Reston, spending more time educating the public and rallying support for our positions. We're also going to talk among ourselves about strategy, and the best ways to influence these decisions.
But we know, and I want all of you to know, that we are committed. We're not going away. We take this seriously, and we are goign to do everything we can to ensure that our vision for Reston is heard and incorporated into the plans for the future.
Is the decision on this office tower a setback? Sure. But by bringing our civic organizations together, we'll gain more than we've lost. And I look forward to working with my colleagues to promote constructive discussions and a well-thought-out plan for Reston's future.