Sam Moyer was 9 years old when he first interviewed Reston founder Robert “Bob” E. Simon.
The Reston native reached out to Simon for a history project after visiting Reston’s Used Book Shop in the Lake Anne Village Center and learning that the real estate developer lived in an apartment nearby.
While the details of that conversation have now faded from memory, Moyer, now 27, recently revisited a second interview that he conducted with Simon in 2012 shortly after graduating from college.
An urban planning enthusiast, Moyer used the second recorded interview, which his mother helped arrange after running into Simon, as an opportunity to gauge Simon’s opinion on the direction in which Reston was headed with the arrival of Metro and other development projects on the horizon at the time.
“I was really interested in how Reston could serve as a role model to all the communities that are growing in Northern Virginia and around the country,” Moyer said.
Moyer never published the interview anywhere, but disagreements between Fairfax County and some Reston community groups over the community’s future prompted him to contact the Fairfax County Times.
The Fairfax County Times article “Reston community groups, county at odds over planned zoning changes” published on Apr. 22 discussed an ongoing debate over a proposal to raise the density cap for Reston’s planned residential community district.
The county rejected proposed amendments to the Reston Master Plan suggested by the Reston Association, the Coalition for a Planned Reston, and other community organizations opposed to increasing the population density from 13 persons per acre to 16 in a written letter on Mar. 28.
Opponents to increasing density in Reston, which is mostly zoned as a PRC district, have argued that doing so would endanger the open space and other characteristics that make Reston a unique planned community.
The Coalition for a Planned Reston recommended that Fairfax County alter the Reston Master Plan to cap the suburb’s overall population at 120,000 people with density limits in both Metro station areas and village center mixed-use areas.
Both CPR and the Reston Association have also cited particular opposition to a proposed road between American Dream Way and Isaac Newton Square that would cut through the Hidden Creek Country Club’s golf course, expressing concerns about losing the golf course and the potential environmental impact.
“We welcome new neighbors and businesses adding diversity, fresh ideas and economic invigoration,” Reston Citizens Association president Dennis Hays said in a press release about a letter that CPR sent to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins on Feb. 5. “We look forward to continued dialogue with the county to amend the master plan in ways that facilitate growth without destroying the things that convinced us to live and raise our families here.”
However, Moyer’s interview with Simon, which was authenticated by Fairfax County Times Editor Gregg MacDonald, who knew the Reston founder, suggests that he might not share the community’s current fears about density.
“There is a relatively small group of active people who are against anything except the status quo,” Simon told Moyer. “…They seem to think that density is bad and they are very anxious to have open space. Well, if you use your head, you’ll figure out that, if you don’t have high-rise buildings, you’re not going to have a lot of open space. Density creates open space. They want to have it both ways, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Simon, who died in 2015 at 101, founded Reston on Apr. 10, 1964 with seven goals as he envisioned a planned community alternative to the commuter-minded sprawl that dominated 1960s suburban America, according to his New York Times obituary.
Outlined in “The Reston Concept: New Town,” Simon’s seven goals prioritized leisure, cultural, and recreational facilities, mixed housing that would meet a variety of income needs, the “importance and dignity of each individual” in planning, people’s ability to work and live in the same community, natural and structural beauty, and financial success, according to the Reston Association.
The original plan for Reston called for seven village centers anchored by supermarkets and supported by “dense residential housing,” Simon said in his interview with Moyer.
Lake Anne Village Center, the first of the planned centers, opened in 1966. It was designed to be a community hub within walking distance of most homes in Reston, missing residential and commercial uses with the natural backdrop of the lake, according to the history on the village center’s website.
Because supermarkets have grown in size and are now able to support more people, Simon allowed in his conversation with Moyer that Reston only has a need for four or five village centers now, but he lamented that the dense residential housing to support the centers mostly did not materialize.
According to Simon, there were supposed to be five high-rise buildings located at the village centers, but community opposition “managed to squelch that.”
“Those are not village centers,” Simon said of the village centers in Reston, excluding Lake Anne. “There are no plazas there, and South Lakes is the most ridiculous of them all, because it has a wonderful lake there and it’s hidden. So, that’s where the increased population should go. That’s where increased density should be.”
At the time of Simon’s interview with Moyer, the Reston community was embroiled in debate over the future of the Reston National Golf Course after RN Golf Management sought to have the course zoned as residential space, raising questions about whether the property owners were considering development.
According to his interview with Moyer, Simon initially staunch in his belief that the golf course needed to remain as it was.
“A friend of mine has been working at me to change my mind, and he’s got me halfway there,” Simon said. “A golf course really doesn’t take care of a lot of people, and there are [other] golf courses in the neighborhood. And this golf course isn’t inexpensive.”
Simon added that he could “conceive” of the course being converted into a park in the style of Central Park in New York City.
A Fairfax County Circuit judge ultimately ruled in November 2015 that the RN Golf would have to file for an amendment to Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan in order to pursue any redevelopment, according to Reston Now.
Though it might not exactly match his original vision, Simon expressed excitement about the direction that Reston was headed at the time he talked to Moyer, saying that there were “an awful lot of wonderful things going on here.”
While Metro did not open its Wiehle-Reston East Silver Line station until 2014, Simon anticipated in 2012 that public transportation, buses, bicycles, and walking will replace cars as the primary modes of travel for Reston community members.
He described Reston Town Center as “the perfect plaza” and singled out the Reston Community Center’s CenterStage theater as an example of how Reston has “all kinds of organizations doing good things here.”
“We don’t claim anything new in Reston at all except the collection of good ideas,” Simon said. “This idea is that, within reason, if you have the right facilities in place, people will come to them. So, the way you want to start a community is with the facilities in place.”