This is part 4 of a 6-part series discussing essential points that are sometimes missing from the ongoing dialogue about Fairfax County Staff’s pending density recommendation for Reston. Each op-ed focuses on a piece of a recent letter sent to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in support of Staff’s recommendation, from a group of community leaders who were either members of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force (which made the recommendations to the Comprehensive Plan related to Metrorail’s arrival in Reston), or who were supportive of that process.
Last week in part 3, I highlighted that a diversity of housing stock – from urban, to suburban, to even more rural – is expressly protected under the Plan. This week’s focus is on why adding significant new residential development is central to the Task Force recommendations and essential to ensure balanced growth. For the first 45 years of Reston’s existence, residential development was precluded along most of the Dulles Toll Road. That area, originally designated as the Reston Center for Industry and Government, was set aside as an employment corridor. Reston succeeded in attracting major employers who brought tens of thousands of jobs to the community, but the inability to locate housing near those same jobs created transportation headaches as commuters had few options but to drive. As we move forward, it must be underscored that much of the commercial development that will add to what already exists in the corridor was already entitled under existing zoning. Enabling and encouraging robust residential growth to help balance that oncoming commercial development was an essential element of the plan the Task Force approved. Why?
The experts the Task Force consulted – academics, planners, and consultants – all confirmed that the single best tool to mitigate traffic/congestion impacts are balanced jobs-to-household ratios. Growing residential populations within walking distance of the major job centers that exist today (and will continue growing in the years to come) will maximize the potential for reducing vehicular trips in and through our community. Neighboring Arlington County is a leading example of the effectiveness of mixed use as a transportation demand management tool dramatically reducing the use of vehicles for travel.
In contrast to certain of the ongoing community dialogue, the concern of the Task Force was not that we would have too much residential but that we might not get enough to achieve optimal jobs-to-household ratios (experts also advised that getting new residential built in developed areas is especially challenging).
Unduly limiting residential development disrupts the balances sought in the Comprehensive Plan, undermines the goals for the individual transit station areas and village centers, and is not in the community's best interests. Staff’s recommendation is simply an administrative necessity to ensure fulfillment of that vision. Next week’s op-ed will talk about how the Plan requires that adequate infrastructure be phased with development.