A comment by a “guest” in a recent RestonNow article on the Planning Commission hearing on the PRC zoning issue that, “We can't slow down development AND we can't speed up providing the associated infrastructure,” was stunning and highly accurate. It reminded me of the White Rabbit’s comment in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
And, yes, that’s what happening across areas of growth in Fairfax County, not just Reston. It describes the poor decision making of the County Board that keeps approving residential development while being unwilling to provide the necessary supporting infrastructure from sidewalks to schools. The result, of course, is the declining quality of life throughout our county, especially in faster growing communities like Reston.
County officials, including the Planning Commission, attribute this behavior to Virginia’s nefarious state Supreme Court “Dillon Rule” decision. In brief, the Dillon Rule assumes all local governments are corrupt and, therefore, prevents them from making any decisions not explicitly permitted by the state legislature. Development moratoriums and stiff proffers are, according to Fairfax County officials, not among those authorities.
So we are stuck with a county government—planning staff, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors--that believes it must approve virtually all development proposals presented to it with no promise of timely commensurate infrastructure availability. Otherwise, they risk the wrath of a developer law suit, they say. And to say that Fairfax County is law suit risk averse is a massive understatement.
The result is, as we are seeing in Reston, growth continues unabated while the supporting infrastructure is deferred…and delayed…and postponed because of a lack of funding or the means to acquire it. Indeed, the state legislature—under great developer pressure and even greater financial contributions—has taken steps in recent years to restrict further what local governments can do to generate proffers and other infrastructure commitments from developers.
This occurs, as I pointed out in a previous RestonNow op-ed, because residential development requires more community services (schools, rec centers, libraries, parks, etc.) to sustain a given quality of life than commercial development. Both require streets, water and sewage, public safety, and other services, but residents require more.
In fact, multiple studies, including a “meta-analysis” of more than one hundred community studies, have shown the cost of community services for residential development almost universally exceeds the tax revenues (property, sales, etc.) that development generates. Normally, that tax revenue deficit is between 10%-20%. On the other hand, tax revenues generated on commercial and agricultural development, on average, more than doubles the cost of services they require. Nonetheless, senior county staff has denied to me personally that this will be true in Reston—and presumably the remainder of the county—without any explanation. They say, “Trust us.” Right!
There is only one possible outcome from this county self-deception: The quality of life in Reston and other rapidly growing residential communities in Fairfax County will continue to decline as the demand for resources to support needed infrastructure for residents increasingly distances the supply. We are already seeing minimum two-decade lead times for key infrastructure development (such as the Soapstone overpass) as our needed schools, streets, libraries, recreation centers, etc., remain unfunded. In Reston’s case, we face the worst-case scenario in which we may even lose existing referendum-approved bond funding for a new library in the face of county bungling in getting it built.
In short: The hurrier we go, the behinder we get.
The next step in the battle to bring some reason to the growth-infrastructure balance in Reston is to oppose the pending Reston PRC (our suburban areas plus parts of Town Center) zoning ordinance amendment that would increase allowable residential density from 81,000 to 94,000 people—not counting affordable housing and related “bonus” market units that could raise that number to 113,000 people or more—doubling all of Reston’s current population. That’s on top of the plan potential for 91,000 residents in the PRM-zoned areas covering most of Reston’s Metro station areas. This call for allowing additional density comes at a time when the county puts Reston’s 2018 population at a mere 63,774. What’s the rush?
We all need to take two actions:
• Write the Board of Supervisors (email@example.com) and express your concern over the proposed increase in the Reston PRC allowable density. Writing to Supervisor Hudgins will not help: She is the principal advocate for the density increase.
• Attend the March 5, 2019, Board of Supervisors hearing on the proposed PRC zoning amendment that begins at 4:30PM in the government center auditorium. And wear your YELLOW shirt supporting Reston if you have one. (You may buy one from Reclaim Reston at the government center before the hearing if you wish.) Note: This will probably be a long meeting with other hearings on the agenda as well.
We need everyone to help in bringing some coherence into our Reston development process, and maybe set an example for good development management in the rest of the county. After all, we are one of the world’s premier planned communities. Let’s not lose that community prominence because of county incompetence.