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Reston Row changes advance, even with concerns about urban park and dining space swap

Reston Row’s urban park spaces dominated a June 28 discussion by the Fairfax County Planning Commission (Photo via handout/Fairfax County).

Changes to Comstock’s Reston Row neighborhood are moving forward despite concerns about the proposed shift of a public park space into private outdoor dining space for Ebbitt House, an upcoming restaurant.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission recommended on June 28 that the Board of Supervisors approve changes to the project near the Wiehle-Reston Easton Metro station.

Comstock is seeking the county’s permission to reallocate 280,000 square feet of unbuilt but previously approved office space from Reston Station to Reston Row. Specifically, the developer wants to increase the building height of a residential building from 180 feet to 350 feet and from 250 to 350 units.

Other changed elements include increased retail square footage, an elevated sport court, and a shift from two separate garages to a single underground parking garage.

Staff recommended approval of the application even though the project doesn’t fully satisfy the county’s urban parks standards for the area. The total density between the two projects — Reston Row and Reston Station — remains unchanged.

Mary Ann Tsai of the county’s Department of Planning and Development said the decison to approve the application was a “very hard” one.

Even though the application doesn’t meet the urban parks standards, the current plan is an improvement over the previous approval, especially when it comes to additional greenscapes for a corner park at the intersection of Sunset Hills Road and Wiehle Avenue, Tsai said.

“We look at the whole context of the recommendations,” she said, calling staff’s support a “soft” decision.

The outdoor dining area would extend outside Ebbitt House, a spin-off of D.C.’s Old Ebbitt Grill and the leading brand of Clyde’s Restaurant Group.

Jill Parks, an attorney with Hunton Andrews Kurth representing the applicant, said the outdoor dining space is a major placemaking feature of the development instead of a “strip of green.”

“It is more welcoming, it is an amenity and it is a feature to this neighborhood,” Parker said, adding that the applicant “scrubbed every single foot of this project” to improve the urban parks.

Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner said Comstock’s significant investment in the project warrants a closer look at the issue.

“The Ebbitt is a significant addition to the development,” Eichner said. “It has a region-wide standing. If the terms of being able to secure them meant there be an outdoors type of arrangement, I can see the logic of that.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor John Carter concurred that he “actually like[s] the dining space here. This is something for the future.”

Clyde’s Restaurant Group COO Kevin Keller said the outdoor dining space will be a significant amenity for the company’s guests.

“It brings that energy outside and really connects the community,” Keller said.

Overall, the development plan won the approval of the commission. Carter noted that the plan was a hallmark of placemaking that Reston’s transit station areas need.

“Our stations are underperforming. It’s not because of the density. It’s because people can’t get there,” Carter said.

Randall Farran, the Fairfax County Planning Authority’s park planning branch manager, emphasized that failing to meet the urban park standards was seen as a “deficiency,” particularly because supplemental features — like areas fronting buildings — were used to try to meet the 1.2-acre urban park space standard for the development.

“We didn’t feel like it was an equivalent replacement,” Farran said.

Braddock District Commissioner Mary Ann Cortina wasn’t satisfied with the developer’s approach to urban park spaces — even though she understood the need for the private outdoor dining area.

“It does make it difficult to continue to provide what the comprehensive plan expects,” Cortina said, adding that future applicants may argue that the appeal of private amenity space precludes meeting urban spark standards.

The application will go to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing on July 25.