Peter and Kathleen Messina moved to Reston four years ago to escape the civil wars of suburbia--those developer-vursus-homeowner skirmishes over commercial expansion.
But Reston has proved to be no refuge, and the Messinas now are rallying with their neighbors to stave off developers' plans to build a large bar and restaurant across the street from their tranquil, park-like neighborhood.
"I'm not opposed to nice bars and restaurants," said Peter Messina. "But I don't want to have one across the street from me, where there's the potential for drunk drivers to hit my children."
These kinds of battles weren't supposed to happen in Reston, where everything was neatly planned to avoid the usual growing pains of developing cities. Reston's spacious houses were set along secluded cul-de-sacs, out of sight of the commercial buildings, which were confined to the main boulevards of town.
"Having a planned town has reduced the amount of controversy," said Richard Reid, staff coordinator for the Fairfax County's zoning and evaluation division. "But it (zoning) is a public process, and you never completely eliminate controversies."
In the past several years, three or four major zoning controversies have erupted in the planned community, Reid said.
In this case, county officials changed the meticulously drawn town plans.
The Messinas live in one of the half-dozen neighborhoods bordering Sunrise Valley Road in southern Reston. Across the road is a long, sloping field of scraggly fir trees and tall weeds, a buffer zone between the residential community and the strip of office buildings that lines the Dulles Airport Access Road on the north horizon.
When the Messinas moved into the neighborhood, the field across the street was zoned for residential development, but two years ago the county Board of Supervisors rezoned it to allow light industrial use. Within the next two years, Campus Commons--twin, six-story office buildings--will sprout on the now-vacant site.
It's not the office buildings that have incurred the residents' wrath, however. It's the 260-seat restaurant and 80-seat, late-night lounge that the developer, Lee Sammis Co., wants to build alongside them. Sammis has asked the supervisors to amend the zoning code again, to allow construction of this restaurant and bar separately. Current regulations would require the restaurant to be within the office complex.
The supervisors are scheduled to vote on the developers' request at their meeting Monday.
According to campaign finance records, the architects of the proposed restaurant, Davis and Carter, contributed to the 1979 campaigns of two of the supervisors. Board chairman John F. Herrity received $400, and supervisor Martha V. Pennino was given $300 by the firm, the records indicate.
Under state and local regulations, Herrity and Pennino aren't disqualified from voting on the issue, but they must make public note of the contributions.
The developers say they can't attract a high-quality restaurant to the complex unless the restaurant is in a separate building and is allowed to keep late hours.
"This restaurant would be a whole two cuts above the better restaurants that are in Reston now," said Richard P. Bonar, vice president of design and engineering for the Reston Land Corp., which sold the property to Sammis. Bonar said the developer is courting three or four "high quality" restaurant chains for the spot.
"The location and size of the restaurant are just too much, with residential homes just a few hundred feet away," said Wendal Yale, who lives in the nearby Hampton Meadow neighborhood. "There'll be car doors slamming 'til all hours of the night, and the possibility of some drivers coming through the streets inebriated."
Reston residents' complaints already prompted the planning commission to order the developers to scale down the plans. As a result, the restaurant has been pared from 260 to 200 seats and the bar from 80 to 40 seats, and the proposed closing hour has been pushed back from 2 a.m. to 1.
That's not enough, according to Yale and approximately 300 neighbors who have signed petitions against the plan. They want to eliminate the bar and close the restaurant at 11 p.m. weekdays.
Bonar counters that the restaurant will be barely visible from the neighborhood. He says Sunrise Valley Road, a wide boulevard, is an effective divider between the residential and nonresidential sections.
"If the package is too big and hours too late, we'd rather see the supervisors stop the project altogether rather than dump a white elephant on us," said Yale.
But not all the residents are as vehemently opposed to the project as Yale.
His neighbors on the South Lakes Council, a local community group, voted not to oppose the restaurant and bar.
"The area is somewhat split," said Yale. "Some want no restaurant at all. Some are totally opposed to a bar in a neighborhood of this sort, directly across from the tennis courts--and some might actually like having a bar near the tennis courts."