Revised Virginia laws delay hearings, decision on Reston Comprehensive Plan

In front of the Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The years-long process to overhaul the Reston Comprehensive Plan will take a little longer than expected.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting today (Tuesday), Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn announced that changes to Virginia’s laws regarding public notice and hearing requirements will push public hearings on the long-running update to the plan into September.

“It’s an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the statutory amendments, but we want the county to move forward on all these matters in a manner that leaves no doubt about the soundness of our public hearing process,” Alcorn said.

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 Alcorn in 2020. During a planning commission meeting in June, some residents criticized the county for releasing a supplement to the draft plan less than 24 hours before the public hearing.

The statutory changes will also affect the timeline for the work of a task force studying development and other related issues in the Reston Town Center North (RTC North) area, along with the approval of Reston’s Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) applications.

Alcorn said he hopes that the SSPA process will pick up in the fall following the adoption of the Reston Comprehensive Plan.

New rules adopted by the Virginia General Assembly require notices of ordinance amendments or land use applications to be published no more than 14 days before the items are intended to be adopted or passed.

Local boards must take a final vote on items following a public hearing or advertise another public hearing, when action will likely be taken. Notice for those hearings must be published no more than two weeks before the planned vote.

The board must also advertise land use applications or ordinance amendments in a local newspaper no more than 14 days before the items are intended to be adopted.

All public meetings and meeting documents must be posted at least three days before the meeting. Similar changes apply to planning commissions in the county.

The county is in the midst of taking a special look at several major redevelopment applications and land use changes. Other applications throughout the county are being considered as part of a separate work program.

The change allows for more opportunities for public feedback on the Reston Comprehensive Plan, Alcorn said. An additional planning commission public hearing is slated for July 19 before the plan goes to the board for a hearing on Sept. 12, according to Alcorn.

Other processes impacted by the new laws include comprehensive plan updates for the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield, which has been proposed for redevelopment, and special exception applications. Loudoun County and other neighboring jurisdictions were also affected.

Alcorn said the move was undertaken “out of an abundance of caution.”

That means the public will now have at least four more chances to provide input on the plan. Along with the hearings before the commission and board, Alcorn plans to hold a town hall on July 27 at the North County Government Center and a virtual meeting ahead in August ahead of the September hearing.

Alcorn said he plans to distribute a mark-up of the plan before the board’s vote on the proposal.