A new urban vision for Reston has been approved. Will it work?


The Farmers Market at Reston Town Center. (Jeffrey Porter for The Washington Post)

When Fairfax County officials approved a new plan for Reston on Tuesday, it looked a lot like the plan the county passed for Tysons in 2010.

But Reston is no Tysons.

Reston Town Center, the “downtown” of Reston, is already one of the most dense, walkable parts of Northern Virginia, and one of the most urban parts of Fairfax County on most measures. Many of the things people in Tysons Corner can’t wait to have — public plazas, sidewalk cafes, a farmers market, people strolling out of the office for lunch — are already happening in Reston Town Center.

“Reston already has more urban infrastructure than Tysons,” said Fairfax County planner Richard Lambert. “Tysons was a large group of office parks. They had the car shops and retailers all along there, where this area of Reston already has some higher-density areas.”

Some companies prefer Reston Town Center to Tysons Corner so much that they sometimes pay 50 percent more in rent to be there. Raymond Ritchey, developer of much of Reston Town Center and head of the Washington area office of Boston Properties, is fond of saying that companies never leave Reston Town Center for Tysons. Planners think that’s partly because Reston Town Center feels more like a neighborhood.

“In Tysons, people wanted what was happening in Tysons to be separate from the communities around it, where Reston wants integration with the areas around the [Dulles] Toll Road with the rest of Reston, culturally and economically,” Lambert said.

The Reston plan approved Tuesday offers a blueprint for what the county would like to see built around three Silver Line Metro stations: the Wiehle-Reston East station, scheduled to open this year, and the Reston Town Center and Herndon stations, which will be built as part of the second phase. In all, the plan allows for 30 million square feet of office space and 28,000 housing units around the stations.

There are similarities to the Tysons plan. For one, the station areas need more residents, which in turn will likely lead to more station usage and amenities such as shops and restaurants. Within a quarter-mile of the three stations, the plan calls for equal amounts of residential and office development, but residential can make up more (up to 75 percent) of the development between a quarter-mile and half-mile from each stop.

“We’re truly trying to make this area a place where people can live,” Lambert said. “We’re trying to bring more housing into the area, because right now it’s still mostly just a major employment center in Fairfax.”

There are no restrictions on how high buildings can be built. Like in Tysons (and Arlington before it), the idea is to have the tallest buildings closest to the stations, and zoning decisions will be made with that in mind.

“It doesn’t say you can’t build a certain height, but if you want to build a 40-story building and you’re a half-mile from the station and everything close to the station is shorter than you, that probably isn’t the best use,” Lambert said.

The business community applauded the plan’s passage. “Change is coming to Reston, and we believe that the Master Plan captures and enhances the original principles for Reston’s growth: mixed-use development, expanded public transportation, appreciation for design, and respect for the environment,” said Mark Ingrao, president and chief executive of Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

The plan passed 7 to 2.

But not everyone in Fairfax is applauding the proposed changes. Some detractors say that allowing so much to be built before the Silver Line is operating runs the risk of dramatically worsening traffic, particularly if Metro does not succeed in wooing riders. And the shadow of a new tax district looms.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) said he voted against it because he fears that too much of the costs of the needed transportation improvements will fall on residents and businesses rather than the developers building the projects.

“It is my fear that just as we did in Tysons, these requirements will be funded by a new tax on the residents and businesses in Reston,” he said in a statement.

Herrity didn’t much like the Tysons plan either. He voted against that one, as well.

To read more about local development plans around the region, go to capbiz.biz.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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