Thursday, August 15, 2013

RCA Criticizes Draft Task Force Plan

This post by RCA President Colin Mills was originally published on Reston Patch.

If you weren’t at Tuesday night’s Master Plan Task Force meeting, you missed a show.  The Task Force was discussing the latest iteration of the proposed Comprehensive Plan prepared by County staff, and several members voiced strong criticisms of the plan as it stands.  This was pretty unusual, as the Task Force meetings have generally been congenial so far.  Even Bob Simon criticized the plan, believing that it didn’t give enough emphasis to the importance of plazas and excellent architecture.

The strongest disapproval, though, came from RCA’s Terry Maynard.  He read a statement that highlighted the serious shortcomings in the draft plan.  He also indicated that RCA will not support the draft as it’s currently written.  (You can read Terry’s statement in full on our website.)  This statement produced a strong reaction at the meeting, so I wanted to discuss it here.  I’ll highlight our biggest objections to the draft plan, explain why we’re taking such a strong stand now, and describe the road ahead.

If you’ve been following our discussions on the Master Plan, either through my blog here or on Reston 20/20’s website, our concerns should be familiar.  These are issues that we’ve championed throughout the Task Force process.  But this is the first time we’ve collected them in a single statement.

Perhaps our largest overall concern is that the draft plan language is too soft.   Too many “shoulds,” not enough “musts.”  Also, in the most recent draft, the amount of developable land around the stations has been increased, simply by changing the calculation of walking distance from the stations.  Our community is depending on the plan language to ensure that new development adheres to the Reston vision and maintains our quality of life.  If that language contains too many weasel words, it leaves Reston unprotected.  (Ironically, several developer representatives complained at the meeting that the language is too prescriptive, and doesn’t leave room for flexibility.)

We’re also concerned about recreation facilities for the new development along the Toll Road.  There are going to be a lot of new residents, and they’re going to need parks, athletic fields, pools, paths, and other amenities.  But there won’t be room for those amenities in the corridor itself.  Which means they’re going to be using amenities elsewhere in Reston, many of which they’d have to drive to reach, which would make our traffic that much worse. 

With the influx of new demand for recreation, RA is going to have to meet that demand, either by expanding existing facilities or building new ones.  Which might not be so bad… except that there’s no requirement that the new residents in the corridor be members of RA.  If they don’t join, that means that the assessments on current RA members (that’s us!) would have to rise in order to provide facilities for these new, non-RA residents.  That’s not right and it’s not fair.  Those residents are likely to use RA amenities, and they should have to pay for them.

Another issue concerns implementation and financing.  RCA and others on the Task Force have pointed out that you can draw up all the plans you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t have a strategy to implement them.  The draft plan has little to say about implementation, and the Task Force hasn’t developed a separate implementation plan either.

Past experience has shown that we can’t count on the County to handle the necessary implementation.  The RMAG study (in which I participated) recommended over $100 million worth of critical transportation improvements necessary to get Restonians to and from the Wiehle station.  Wiehle is set to open in a few months, and how much money has been spent to implement RMAG’s recommendations?  Just $5 million.  And that study was 5 years ago!  Is the County going to step up to the plate on funding and implementing the Task Force’s recommendations?  And if not, who will pay for the infrastructure we need?  Are Reston’s citizens going to have to pay for that too?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been raising these issues for some time.  So why are we making such a strong statement now?  Because our concerns haven’t been addressed.  We’ve been working actively and positively with the Task Force for 4 years.  We’ve provided several rounds of comments on the plan details as they’ve emerged.  We want this to work just as much as everyone else does.

Unfortunately, from our perspective, the drafts have been moving in the wrong direction.   They’ve had progressively less backbone and fewer protections for the interests of Reston citizens.  And we’re getting frustrated.  Since merely commenting hasn’t been enough, we decided it was time to let our frustration show. 

While that may be bad for congeniality at Task Force meetings, perhaps our concerns and disagreements will finally be discussed openly and honestly.  And that would be good for the Comprehensive Plan that emerges, and good for Reston.  It’s better that we have these contentious discussions now, rather than smiling our way through the meetings and winding up with a plan that doesn’t serve the community.

Some people have wondered if this statement means that we’re giving up on the Task Force or the process.  We’re not.  We remain hopeful that the draft plan can be improved into something we support.  We are exploring ways to work with other community groups to highlight the issues that matter to Restonians, and to ensure that those changes are made to the plan before it’s approved.  Stay tuned for further details on that.

So, the bottom line: We don’t support the draft plan as it stands.  It doesn’t provide enough protection to ensure that future growth is in keeping with the community’s priorities and values.  But neither RCA nor Reston’s citizens are ready to quit the fight.  We will continue working to ensure that the new Comprehensive Plan represents Reston’s best interests.  And we’ll continue talking with our citizens to keep you informed and get your opinions as we plan Reston’s future.

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