Lake Anne Plaza, Reston's original village center. Image by Daniel Kelly used with permission.

Reston is a great place to live and work, but will we allow it to grow? Current proposals aimed at helping Reston develop into its original vision are still under threat over fears of tall buildings and new neighbors. Let county officials hear from you today so they hear support for smart and sustainable growth in Reston's village centers.

Reston is a planned community in Fairfax County. Historically, it was notable for embracing mixed-use, walkable development at a time when the conventional wisdom said it was better to drive everywhere. The community developed a network of paths and trails connecting neighborhoods to local shopping centers and civic spaces. In the 1990s, Reston Town Center built on that legacy with its small but growing grid of streets that quickly became a gathering point for not just Restonians, but for all of Northern Virginia.

Now with Metro's Silver Line partially opened and with more stations opening soon, Reston is ready to enter a new phase that will continue to build on the legacy that began in the 1960s, except for an increasingly outspoken chorus of anxious neighbors.

Reston is growing despite density limits

Much of residential Reston is governed by a density limit known as the Planned Residential Community (PRC). The PRC basically sets density levels by saying only so many people per acre can live in a particular area. The densest parts of Reston (at Reston Town Center and close to Metro) have PRC limits upwards of 60 people per acre. The lowest PRC limits dip down to only 3.8 people per acre, basically limiting those areas to single-family homes.

Currently, there is a proposal to change the overall average PRC limit across Reston from 13 to 16 people per acre. Doing so would let a few areas in Reston that are are already dense grow a little bit more. That density would help provide even more amenities that all Restonians (no matter how dense their own neighborhood is) can enjoy.

New PRC Limits are only going in places highlighted red. That includes Reston Town Center. Image by Fairfax County.

Increasing the cap would also allow Reston's village centers to grow in a way that fits with what Reston was envisioned to be. Most of Reston's village centers today are sprawling shopping centers dominated by parking lots rather than any real civic space. The new PRC limits would allow Reston's village centers to add housing in addition to the retail. The housing would still fit inside Reston's medium density limits, similar to the townhome and garden apartment communities that already dot Reston.

So in the end, this comes down to putting apartments on top of grocery stores. Growth has to go somewhere, and these village centers are very sensible places for some of it to go. If it doesn't go here then it'll end up somewhere worse, creating more traffic and pollution.

This type of development would help Reston's local businesses by providing more customers. It would help current Restonians by making nearby shopping centers more walkable so fewer people would have to use their cars for basic errands. It would help everybody by providing the civic space and sense of community Reston is famous for and was designed to foster.

One of Reston's sprawling shopping centers. Image by David Whitehead used with permission.

Some people in Reston don't want new neighbors

Opposition to the planned changes is fierce. Multiple groups have organized against any updates to Reston's current zoning, crying out that Reston is soon to become the next Tysons or Rosslyn. This is despite the fact that the proposed changes are limited to the village centers and areas close to Metro.

These opponents have claimed that letting more people live in Reston will overwhelm the area and destroy current residents' quality of life — even though most of the community is unaffected by the proposed changes. They seem to find building apartments on top of grocery stores and other retail too radical an idea to work in Reston, even though it's already been happening.

Apartments on top of grocery stores in Vancouver, Canada. A similar design could work in Reston. Image by Stephen Rees licensed under Creative Commons.

If Reston is not allowed to grow, maybe some will think that Reston is complete. However, the idea that a town or city is ever “finished” is untrue and does not help solve any of the real problems that face Reston today.

Northern Virginia is growing overall, and Reston is already a blueprint for many other areas. We demonstrate how a community can grow and improve amenities for current and future residents alike. It has provided a place for my family to live and permitted me to walk, bike, and take transit in an area where that is increasingly out of reach for many families like mine.

Right now county officials have only been hearing from the loudest and most reactionary neighbors. That’s not all of us. Take a moment today to send a different message to our county officials: Reston’s not finished yet, and that’s ok.

Email county officials today and tell them to increase the PRC in Reston.

Click to email county officials!