The Reston Task Force effort is nearing its end with County plans to take its draft revised Reston Comprehensive Plan language to the County Planning Commission on October 30.
. . . and the density grab is now in full swing!
The avaricious drive for more a more profitable higher density or a more office-centric use mix has come on like gangbusters in the last two RTF meetings as developers and their friends strive to squeeze every last potential square foot into the new Comprehensive Plan.
These efforts are not about building a better Reston. They are about corporate greed.
Let’s take a look at what’s been happening.
First, there is “walking distance,” the distance people are willing to walk to take transit, specifically the new Silver Line. The standard—and County policy—is that high-density can be permitted within a quarter-mile circle of the platform because that is the distance people will walk to get there, more so for residents than workers. Many analyses show that willingness to walk drops substantially by that distance as the attached graphic shows. (For those of us who are metrically challenged, 400 meters = 1/4 mile.)
But, oh, no, developer friends say, the “REAL” distance should be measured from the station entrances which, in the Silver Line’s case, are at least 200’ from the platform. As the County image analysis below shows, that adds 29% to the area for higher density development. Does anyone suppose that the people who live or work in this extra 29% will actually walk to the station entrance and expect a train to pick them up there? There really is a logical reason to make the limit at ¼-mile from the platform. Greed is the only rationale for extending it.
Second, why not count hotels as residential space instead of commercial space? This is important because one of the key focuses of the task force efforts has been to bring non-residential commercial and residential space into balance. Why? Because that markedly increases transit use and reduces automobile trips, easing congestion growth.
So, if you move hotels from the left, non-residential side of the ledger to the right, residential side, you decrease real residential space--the places where people live--by 5-10 percentage points (roughly the amount of space hotels will occupy) and increase commercial (mostly office) development by the same amount. As a result, instead of a 50-50 jobs-residential space balance, you end up with something like a 60-40 jobs-residential balance. Result: Fewer transit riders, more vehicle trips, greater congestion, more environmental damage, and a greater need for road infrastructure. A very bad planning idea, but great for someone’s bottom line.
Third, if that hotel ploy doesn’t work and if, as the current draft Plan language proposes, we are allowing up to 30% of proposed development space that is hotels, retail, or “certain” institutional use not to count against the mix balance, the why not also allow it not to count against density??? Voila! We’ve just increased density by nearly a third—and it’s non-residential density at that! Ka-ching! Millions more in profits even if it means perpetual gridlock on Reston’s streets.
From a Reston planning perspective, the right thing to do is to eliminate the free pass for hotels, retail, and “certain” institutional uses all together. All of these businesses have employees who commute to work. The space they require should count as non-residential space in County calculations.
And since last Tuesday’s meeting, more harebrained density increase, mix unbalancing schemes have been brought up in private e-mail, telephone, and other exchanges among task force members by what can only be called the “Friends of Office Density” or FOOD.
As FOOD, these schemes are inedible, even poisonous. They are exactly what drove RCA to make its serious complaint about the course of the draft Comprehensive Plan at its August 10th meeting along with a wide variety of other, more complex language that would, in the County’s vernacular, “add flexibility” to the Comprehensive Plan. As it stands now, the Plan language is so flexible there is no spine to it. The draft language virtually guarantees that the density and mix goals laid out in Scenario G will not be achievable, much less achieved.
We need to stop this last ditch density grab in its tracks!
RCA Representative to the Reston Task Force
RCA Board of Directors