After a contentious meeting last week, the Reston Association agreed for the first time to give up some of its designated parkland to a developer to help pave the way for the redevelopment of the Lake Anne Village Center. Republic Land Development had originally planned to place parking underground at the new and expanded village center, since it will be eliminating the current surface parking lot. But when it found that wasn’t feasible, they picked out a vacant, treed lot along North Shore Drive and offered to swap another acre of land along Baron Cameron Drive in order to build parking.
There were heavy hitters on both sides of the debate, including Reston founding father Robert Simon on the side of making the tradeoff for development, and a number of environmentalists and longtime Reston residents who opposed the plan. They said Republic could and would come up with another alternative if rebuffed by the Reston Association, though Republic said it had explored many other options. This is all part of the grand plan to redevelop both Lake Anne and the Crescent apartment complex just north of the village center, replacing 185 apartments with 935 townhouse and apartment units.
Reston, with 60,000 people the largest population center in Fairfax County, was originally envisioned by Simon as a place where trees and nature were an essential part of the community. Parts of Reston have been permanently designated as parkland. But Simon’s vision also imagined dense vertical development around the village centers, so that housing and shops wouldn’t spread haphazardly over the pastoral neighborhoods and recreation areas. Lake Anne was Reston’s first village center, and Simon still lives there, but it has been financially fading for years.
And after Republic dialed back its proposal to only 0.7 acres of the lot, and promised to preserve as many trees as possible, the Reston Association voted 6-2 to swap the land to Republic in exchange for two strips along Baron Cameron. Charlie Maier, a spokesman for Republic, said the project was “at least three years away from construction on the exchange parcel, but work is already under way on a preservation plan to safeguard and stregthen the trees that will remain undisturbed on an estimated 30 percent of the property, perhaps most importantly many of those that ring” the village center.
A member of the association’s environmental advisory committee resigned the next day in protest. “This is a sad day for Reston,” member Diane Blust wrote her colleagues. “As far as I know, it is the first time RA has given up a dedicated natural area – and it had to be for a parking garage.” Blust said in a later e-mail to me that two more committee members had resigned, and that “the land swap process was flawed, largely due to a lack of transparency. Although senior RA staff was aware of the plan, neither RA environmental staff nor the volunteers on the Environmental Advisory Committee were told that RA was considering giving up an acre of natural area as RA’s contribution to the revitalization of Lake Anne…there appeared to be no understanding on the part of most Board members that we were talking about more than just a few trees. The little acre in question is an ecosystem.”
Karen Goff of the new Reston Now blog has more details about the association’s decision here. She also reported that “Republic must work with Reston’s Design Review Board to make sure the parking garage achieves excellence in design” — that should be a hilarious process, for anyone who’s ever dealt with that board — and “Republic must provide assurance that a minimum of 30 percent of the parcel remain undisturbed and must work to ensure the proposed facility does not have further environmental impact.”