Reston rethinks increased density. Vienna doesn’t. 3/13/2019

Posted on March 13, 2019

Just in case you may have missed it, there’s been quite a controversy going on in Reston over increased building density.  The County was on a roll to rewrite the zoning there to allow higher density (more persons and dwelling units per acre).  They got a lot of pushback from the citizens.  And now, that plan for increased density has been indefinitely deferred.

It’s not clear at this point whether that deferral will be the sort of sham that the Vienna MAC moratorium is shaping up to be.  But there is at least the possibility that they may genuinely try to rethink higher density in Reston.  (See this page for my talk with a Board of Supervisors candidate Parker Messick, whose main platform plank is opposition to excess development in the Hunter Mill district.)

You may wonder why I call the MAC moratorium a sham. Well, there are a lot of reasons.  Unlike my usual writing, I’m not even going to provide citations as to source (links) here.   If you’ve been reading my website, you’ll know that I have been pointing out these facts (with a handful of guesses) for some time.

First, the peculiar 270 day length of the MAC moratorium dovetailed with the Town’s May 7 election date.   I pointed that out at the time, and I still believe that was impetus for the choice of 270 days.  The June moratorium end date is conveniently after the next election, but before any newly-elected Town Council members are seated.  Not only does that, in theory, take MAC off the table for the upcoming elections, the moratorium end date now becomes the excuse for railroading proposed changes to MAC through the currently pro-MAC Town Council, rather than wait and see who gets elected in May.  Message:  The voice of the people be damned.

Second, citizens objected to the size of the 444 Maple West building, with more than 1100 signing an on-line petition against it. So the Town’s response is to write that size of building explicitly into law, to make sure that buildings that size are absolutely unchallengeable under the revised MAC code.  As I have said elsewhere on this website, “Town to Citizens:  Drop Dead”.  You want smaller buildings?  Great, we’ll do the opposite.

Third, citizens want open, green space.  That’s what my survey said.  The Town’s 15% “open space” requirement under the old law was completely ineffective.  It literally did nothing that was not required by existing rules about setbacks and landscaping.  So in the new revisions to the law, the response is to scrap any mention of open space, and instead require 10% “gathering space”.  This eliminates any explicit requirement for open space at all, while fixing none of the problems of double-counting space that were inherent in the old version of MAC.  Once gain, “Town to Citizens:  Drop Dead”.  You want open, green space?  Great, well make sure you get the opposite.

Fourth, the decision-making process is clearly a sham. There’s supposed to be a critical traffic study to determine the capability of Maple to absorb additional traffic in the long run.   Except that the study the Town has contracted for a)  doesn’t study that, and b) won’t be available in final form until September — after the Town has voted on the amendments to MAC.  There’s supposed to be critical citizen input at the end of this month that could provide a crucial check point for deciding whether to proceed with MAC.  Except that “input” is going to be based on the Department of Planning and Zoning’s interpretation of what citizens write on post-it notes, if citizens care to do so, at the Town’s propaganda exercise, um family-friendly fun fair, um community workshop.

I could go on.

The “visual preference survey” where more than half the buildings shown would literally be illegal and/or impossible under MAC (e.g., for having convenient front-of-store parking), and where the Town once again used tiny cute little buildings in their illustrations — buildings orders-of-magnitude smaller than 444 Maple West (Tequile Grande).

And now we find that four-floors-is-actually-five-floors-is-A-OK, AKA, MAC does not bar five floor-buildings, currently in process with both 380 Maple West and the proposed Sunrise nursing home.

And somehow Giant Food redevelopment went from being such a secret that it was an in-joke at one meeting — there were titters in the audience when Town Council member apologized for using the word “giant” — to the main topic of discussion at the last Planning Commission meeting.  Suddenly, people were openly talking about the forthcoming redevelopment of the Giant Food property so much that the Chair of that commission had to state a disclaimer that they had no knowledge of any firm plans for redevelopment of that property.

In the last Town Council work session, some members of the Town Council vigorously defended their right to meet in private (i.e., secretly) with developers, and to avoid giving any public notice that such meetings had occurred.  Despite a sense from other bodies (Planning Commission) that all such meetings should at least be publicly reported after-the-fact.  This is in a Town where there is now hundreds of millions of dollars of profit at stake in Maple Avenue redevelopment.  And where literally literally no campaign finance laws apply, i..e, there is no reporting of any campaign contributions and no requirement to report any.  (That one, I guess I had better show the reference. Search “25,”).

So at some point, you have to realize this isn’t a good-faith effort to listen to the citizens.  This is a way to stiff-arm the citizens to give Maple Avenue property developers what they want.  In as much of a hurry as they can muster.  Just in case the May 7 election turns out to be an expression of anti-MAC sentiment.

But this has been going on for a while now.  Why am I in such as foul mood about it now?  Tonight I get to waste my time sitting in on … golly, it looks like four and a half hours of public meeting — on the off chance that anything positive happens, so that I can then report that on this website tomorrow.   Don’t hold your breath.