The latest draft Reston transit station area Comprehensive Plan draft language (V6, 144 pages, large PDF file) calls for two new athletic fields in the emerging transit station areas to serve a projected population of 49,000 residents, roughly 7,000 of whom will be kids. How do you fit 7,000 kids and thousands of active adults on two athletic fields?
It continues: Any other “urban parks, their sizes and distribution will be determined by the amount and type of new development.” That’s it.
Not only won’t we build parks until development is well advanced, we won’t even plan for the parks nor acquire the land until then—by which time all the space will be committed to profit-making high-rise buildings.
It makes you wonder what Bob Simon’s Reston would look like now if, in developing his plan for our community a half-century ago, he had the same limited and vague vision of the important role of parks and recreation in community-building. Do you suppose we would have 1,200 acres of open space and lakes with 22 athletic fields, 15 swimming pools, 55 miles of paved trails, 50 tennis courts, and the countless other community amenities we are blessed with?
Worse than that, the draft Plan language is not remotely consistent with the need for athletic fields for the transit station areas identified by the County Park Authority in its March 2013 memorandum to the County planning staff which states that the three station areas should have a total of 25 athletic fields—12 diamonds, 13 rectangles. Those 25 fields would require about 40 acres of playing space (plus parking, stands, facilities, etc.) and would mean about one field for every 200 kids or one field per 1,500 residents. The Park Authority memorandum also cites the need for other park facilities such as multi-purpose courts, playgrounds, etc. The needs statement is based on the County Park Authority’s “Adopted Service Level Standard” described in its 2010-2010 park system plan, “Great Parks, Great Communities.”
So the draft Comprehensive Plan language for the station areas understates explicit County standards for athletic fields by more than an order of magnitude. The draft Plan doesn’t even try to identify how much or how many of the other types of park facilities should be in the station areas.
Why does the draft Plan include less than one-tenth of the athletic fields the Parks staff says we need? It’s all about the money. Acquiring the land for parks would be expensive and parks don’t generate tax revenue (although they tend to raise the value of nearby real estate).
So this spring the Board of Supervisors adopted the “Urban Parks Framework” as the County policy for its emerging urban areas. That policy calls for 1.5 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents plus one acre per 10,000 workers. By that standard, the station areas should have at least 84 acres of parks to meet the station area’s projected residential and job growth. In contrast, the County’s suburban standard calls for 5 acres per 1,000 residents. By that standard, the station areas would have 246 acres of parks. That’s a two-thirds reduction in County park space standards for Reston’s station areas.
How bad is that? Using Trust for Public Lands data, a detailed analysis RCA provided to the County this spring noted that Reston’s station areas, viewed as a “city” with a potential population of 49,000 residents and 107,000 jobs two decades from now, would rank third from last in park acreage per 1,000 residents among the nation’s 100 largest cities using the County’s urban standard. It would put the station area’s per capita park area at less than three-quarters that available to the residents of Manhattan Borough, the most densely populated jurisdiction in the United States.
This draft Plan language doesn’t even commit the County to the 84 acres the station area deserves under the County’s urban parks policy, much less its “Adopted Service Level Standard,” much less its suburban park land standard for the rest of the County, much less the Restonians’ expectations for their well-planned community. In short, the draft Plan language promises an urban parks wasteland in the area around the Metrorail stations.
If this draft Plan language stands, the result will be a gross adverse impact on the citizens of Reston. Park-starved station area residents will use RA’s facilities in large numbers. Other Reston residents will have to fight to use the park and recreation facilities that they have paid for decades. Moreover, RA’s costs—and your annual assessment fee—will climb steeply to build additional facilities and keep the existing ones operating to meet the huge new demand.
What the County is proposing is a massive reduction in Reston’s quality of life, including an increase in costs for Reston’s residents. The Plan must include explicit language on the acreage within each station area that must be set aside for park and recreation development purposes consistent with the County’s park needs statement. The allocation of at least at least 84 acres of land to specific park facilities, including close to two dozen athletic fields, out of a total of 1,683 acres in the station areas—a measly five percent of the total area—is not too much to ask.
Even that would barely meet the new Reston open space Planning Principle #9 that states, “The transit station areas . . . should include a variety of public spaces such as a large urban central park, recreational facilities, village greens, urban plazas, pocket parks, playgrounds, and other public amenities within easy walking distance for area residents, workers, and visitors.”
To do otherwise would abandon a key Reston planning principle, take value from existing Reston residential properties, force Reston residents to absorb the use and the cost of its parks and recreation spaces by station area residents and workers, and reduce the stature of Reston as a community rich with planned open space, natural areas, parks, and recreation.