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Planning Commission defers decision on Reston Comprehensive Plan overhaul

The Reston Town Center expansion (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously deferred a decision on the Reston Comprehensive Plan overhaul at a public hearing Wednesday (June 14) night.

The move — which delays a vote to June 28 — came as public testimony at the hearing centered around a challenge facing Reston: navigating growing pains as it chases a new transit-oriented future while also trying to preserve its past.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said county staff and the commission will release a new document that outlines community requests by chapter, staff responses and the commission’s decision on each item.

“We’re going to be working hard in the next couple of weeks,” Carter said.

Some residents and community organizations asked the commission to defer a vote because they needed more time to review a supplement to the plan that staff released on June 13, one day before the hearing.

“We are still pouring through the 25-page addendum,” said Lynne Mulston, president of the Reston Citizens’ Association.

Notable revisions in the addendum include a recommendation that multifamily housing be allowed anywhere in Reston’s transit station areas, not just within a half-mile of the Metro stations, and language encouraging the addition of affordable housing, not just the preservation of existing units.

Underway since 2020, the Reston Comprehensive Plan update lays out the county’s vision for the 6,750-acre area’s development, touching on everything from transportation to density recommendations for the transit station areas and village centers.

The proposed draft was shaped by county staff and a community task force convened by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn in 2020.

Speakers overwhelmingly opposed a proposed vehicular connection between North Shore Drive and Sunset Hill Road via American Dream Way. Citing concerns about traffic safety, residents argued that the proposal would turn North Shore Drive into a thoroughfare and cut-through street.

“It would be highly unsuitable and dangerous for North Shore Drive to become a thoroughfare,” said local resident Christopher Bean.

Another resident who took issue with the proposal said he moved to the area to have a place for his daughter, who stood alongside him as he testified.

Speaking on behalf of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, Mike Jennings emphasized that the task force did not reach consensus on the version it produced.

Jennings said a tie vote on the initial plan was broken when an abstaining member shifted the vote in favor of the plan. He called staff’s version of the plan a “significant improvement” because it trimmed down “erroneous,” “impractical,” and “prescriptive” language.

Trimming the task force’s version of the draft plan from 180 pages to 133, county staff’s version is intended to avoid prescriptive language in specific areas, especially land use, that could conflict with countywide policies. Initially separate chapters about equity and community health were consolidated into one chapter related to “new town” elements.

The plan also covers Reston Town Center North — an area that is in limbo but is also slated for major redevelopment. The proposed draft recommends limiting residential development to 1,000 dwelling units with all new market rate units consolidated on three blocks. The remaining four blocks would have up to 150,000 square feet of nonresidential development, including civic and public uses.

Carter said another task force currently working on planning for the area will determine the specific civic uses, but the Reston Comprehensive Plan — if approved — will set the general guidance.

Tammi Petrine — a task force member and resident — delivered impassioned testimony about her experience with a county staff member. She described “surprise edits,” including one in the staff addendum she said would allow 30 affordable townhouses in RTC North to be replaced with hundreds of low-income housing units.

“This is outrageous,” Petrine said. Her testimony was interrupted by Planning Commission Chair Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, who asked for constructive comments and not a personal attack on a staffer.

Per the addendum, staff removed a line stating that 30 existing affordable townhomes near the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in RTC North shall remain, saying that the units shouldn’t be referenced in a section on housing and facilities for the homeless population.

The section has also been revised to remove language deemed “prescriptive” and to “allow greater flexibility if needs are adjusted” for a planned replacement and expansion of the shelter.

Carter said he would also like to see more visuals, fonts and efforts to make the plan more engaging for the public. Some of those elements were removed from the existing plan.

“It’s not very visionary for me,” Carter said, adding that he understood the impracticality of incorporating text and visuals from a planning perspective.

Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina lauded staff’s version of the transportation chapter of the plan. But she also called for more careful attention to pedestrian connectivity and pedestrian safety.

“It defeats the purpose to cross a six-lane road to get to the [Reston Town Center] Metro station,” Cortina said.

The Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental advocacy organization, asked for the reinstatement of edits proposed by the task force on environmental measures like stronger protections against runoff and enhanced electric vehicle charging guidance.

The Baltimore-DC Building Trades Council suggested the plan incorporate workforce protections and training programs to promote the local workforce.