Battle over Reston zoning change ends, but the war rages on

Michael Dranove Politics

Opponents of a proposed zoning change that would have opened the door for further development in Reston, celebrated victory earlier this month after local officials deferred decision on the zoning change indefinitely.  The fight revolved around Reston’s unique density guidelines, which limit its number of residents per acre, rather than the more commonly used limits on dwellings per acre.  The proposal would have raised the limits in certain districts from 13 to 16 residents per acre, allowing for the city to take in an additional 1518,000 residents on top of its current number of 65,000

The battle began in mid-2017, after Fairfax County publicized a map (below) of which areas of Reston they believed would see increased development in the coming years. 

Upon seeing the map, many skeptics of the government’s plans came to the conclusion that the planned changes could significantly increase problems related to overcrowding.  They pointed out that a large number of areas that the city plans to develop are not Metro accessible, and as for the developments close to Silver Line, there would be no guarantee that incoming residents would utilize public transportation.  Opponents also pointed to school overcrowding as another possible outcome.  In short, the issue quickly became a flashpoint for all those who wanted to voice their concerns about the lack of infrastructure development in Reston, as well as the rapidly changing character of the historically unique planned community more generally.

On the other side of the debate, Reston officials and other proponents pointed to the Reston Master Plan, a guideline for Reston which was updated over a six year period between 2009-2015.  The plan called for higher population density at Reston’s Village Centers.  Proponents argued that scrapping proposed density changes would thereby be turning back the clock on six years of careful planning.  Proponents also pointed to the affordable housing opportunities more development could offer.   

By winter of 2017, debate over the changes became heated, with yellow shirted opponents packing town halls to voice their concerns to city officials.  Officials, who were booed and shouted down at these meetings, told Restonians that despite the backlash they intended to go through with the planned zoning changes.  This announcement, predictably, sparked more outrage, and after more meetings and more heated debate, the city finally blinked earlier this month by moving to defer action on the zoning changes indefinitely. 

The debate over Reston’s future is by no means over, and proponents are already gearing up for the next battle in the war.  There have even been murmurings from those in power about quietly scrapping Reston’s unique zoning laws altogether, let alone altering them slightly.

For now, however, opponents of the zoning changes are claiming victory in what could be merely the opening salvo of this fight.