Elections are happening all over Fairfax County this year, and at least four seats are open on the county's Board of Supervisors. In the Hunter Mill District, home to both Reston and Vienna, current member Cathy Hudgins is retiring. The three declared candidates, thus far, all have platforms which argue the county has been too favorable to development in Reston.
About the Hunter Mill district
The Hunter Mill district stretches along the Dulles Toll Road in the northern portion of the county's core. It includes the Town of Vienna and Reston, a master planned community developed in the 1960s, while parts of Oakton and areas between Reston and Dulles Airport make up the rest of the district. It also contains a small portion of Tysons Corner and borders the Spring Hill and Greensboro Metro stations.
The area has seen rapid change over the past couple of decades. The arrival of Metro's Silver Line is the latest in a long series of changes. Hudgins oversaw those changes since 1999, when she was elected to the Board of Supervisors. She has lived in Reston since 1969. Hudgins also has long sat on the WMATA Board of Directors and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Some of the changes have led to severe growing pains. In Reston, the arrival of Metro and evolution from suburban master plan to something that includes more people living closer together has led to a big political fight over even small adjustments in zoning regulations, regulations determined by the county's Board of Supervisors.
Vienna struggles with its identity as a small town in the middle of a big urban area as well. Tysons Corner is just down the road, and the area has grown on every other side as well.
While the town council, not the Board of Supervisors, governs land-use and zoning for Vienna, that dynamic is still in play because whoever sits on the board makes important transportation, schooling, and other decisions that affect that town. That tension has been seen as the town has tried to update its zoning along Maple Avenue, the main commercial corridor of the town, to allow for homes on top of businesses which would necessarily make some buildings taller.
The area is also very, very blue in an already-blue county with some of the voting precincts having the highest percentage of Democratic voters in the state. That might be one reason why only Democrats so far have decided to run in June's primary.
With so much prosperity, opportunity, and brand-new infrastructure running through the middle of the district, you can expect that all the candidates currently in the race are ready to build on that success and help the district transform from a fast-growing suburb outside Washington, DC into an economic powerhouse of its own. Well, about that…
As I mentioned, both Reston and Vienna are in the midst of big fights over zoning and land-use that envisions a future where more people are living in Reston and Vienna in denser buildings. A lot of people don't like that and all three candidates currently in the race are tapping into that.
Hudgins' support for the Reston Master Plan and the county's plan to raise some density limits across Reston raised a lot of ire against her, leading multiple people to run even before she announced her decision to retire (it's possible that this competition was a factor in her decision).
Parker Messick wants to “stop big development”
The first candidate to declare was Parker Messick, who wants to “stop big development.” That's literally what is says on the front page of his campaign website.
Messick grew up in the area and is a recent graduate of Roanoke College who's now back home ready to launch his political career. He says that he wants to stop big development in Reston from destroying the legacy of Bob Simon, the developer whom Reston is named after.
He's tapped in to some other big gripes around the district. In addition to his pledge to stop the “big development” of Reston and Vienna, he also wants to see an end to paid parking at Reston Town Center.
In 2017 Boston Properties, which owns and manages most of the real estate and parking garages that make up Reston Town Center, decided to start charging for parking. It led to a huge backlash and even lawsuits from restaurants in Reston Town Center, which said the scheme would hurt business. Messick says he'll negotiatie with Boston Properties to end the plan.
Messick also pledges to help families struggling to find affordable housing or dealing with awful commutes while improving education and the environment. Those are lofty goals, and it will be interesting to see what solutions are out there that could stop developers from building new housing while making existing housing more affordable.
Shyamali Hauth already “rescued” Reston once
Shyamali Hauth was second candidate to run for the seat. She has a long history in Democratic Party politics, both statewide and locally, and also leans on her experience in the Air Force.
Locally, she also touts her membership in Rescue Reston, a group formed to ensure that no part of the Reston National Golf Course (one of two in Reston) could be turned into offices or housing near where the Silver Line runs today. Among her issues, she calls for expanded public transportation, affordable housing programs, and improvements to public education and social services across Fairfax.
She also cites Fairfax's “One Fairfax” policy as something to uphold. One Fairfax is a policy recently passed by the county and Fairfax County School Board aimed at improving racial and economic equity in future decision making from both bodies. Notably, Cathy Hudgins was a big proponent for One Fairfax.
Laurie Tyler Dodd wants to keep a “small town feel” for Vienna
Finally Laurie Tyler Dodd, a lawyer from Reston, is also running for the seat. She doesn't appear to have a website yet but in a Facebook post she notes that two of her goals are to:
- Keep Reston “low-density” outside of the areas near Silver Line stations (note: this is basically the plan today), and
- For Vienna to keep its “small town feel” (note: Vienna has its own Town Council that governs land-use instead of the county).
Will others run?
It's already a pretty crowded Democratic primary, but all three seem to be running to some degree as anti-Hudgins-es, especially since she hadn't decided to retire until recently. It's possible someone from Hudgins' base of support might yet run as well in an effort to be her successor. Hudgins certainly could drive some votes by making an endorsement at some point.
Thus far, all three candidates are threading a needle. They want to run on progressive bona fides while also ensuring that changes in the district aren't too drastic, if it means more people living in taller buildings closer to Metro. It's something a lot of area politicians struggle with as the region grows overall and effects spill over into Hunter Mill no matter what happens.
Whoever wins will find themselves guiding one of the most dynamic electoral districts across Virginia and the rest of the Washington region as well. Let's hope they're ready.