The candidates answer questions at a recent forum in Reston. Image is a screenshot of the video of the meeting.

The Reston Citizens Association hosted a forum on April 23 for candidates vying to represent the Hunter Mill district, which covers Reston and Vienna in Fairfax County. Most of the questions focused on issues specific to Reston, which is in the midst of a heated debate over new development, zoning code updates, and the future of the community.

All five Democratic Party primary candidates were at the forum. There are no Republicans running for the seat, so the primary on June 11 will likely determine the winner of November’s General Election. The candidates are Parker Messick, Walter Alcorn, Maggie Parker, Shyamali Hauth, and Laurie Dodd.

In their introductions, Messick, Dodd, Parker, and Alcorn all touted their longstanding local bona fides and work in the community. Hauth noted she was a relative newcomer to Reston, but mentioned she specifically chose the community because of the planning principles set out by its founder Bob Simon. Simon played a big role in everyone’s introduction, and a stylized painting of him loomed over the candidates.

All five said they were motivated to run because of the massive changes going on in Reston, and all want to guide that growth in one way or another.

There were lots of questions about development

Questions on development occupied much of the forum. Each candidate tried to stake out a distinct position—a challenge since most were also trying to stay in a narrow lane between outright hostility towards new development and cautious guidance of it.

On the more anti side, Messick said that he was running to stop “an endless proliferation of high rises” and assured participants that he would be developers’ “worst nightmare.” Dodd was not as aggressive, but said that she felt like Reston was “at risk” and feared overcrowding. In her closing remarks, she warned against “developer-driven changes.”

Hauth was more measured. She said she wanted to ensure that development ‘stayed true’ to Bob Simon’s original vision and was environmentally sustainable. But she also touted her membership in Rescue Reston, a local group that has organized against any and all attempts to redevelop any part of either golf course.

Alcorn said his long experience on Fairfax County’s Planning Commision meant that he has what it takes to work with the community and developers to ensure that new buildings will benefit residents. He believes he can assuage worries about changes to Reston’s Village Centers, and ensure that residents’ desires are captured in Reston’s Master Plan.

Maggie Parker worked at Comstock, a major developer in the Reston area, until recently. But she was quick to note that she would recuse herself from decisions involving her former employer, and her history of volunteering locally within the district meant that she is running as her own woman instead of on behalf of her former employer.

Most of the rest of the questions were related to development, even as they became more specific. Someone questioned the pace of change, and asked whether or not there was a way for the county to ensure that infrastructure kept up with development. Every candidate promised to do what they could to help it keep pace.

What to do about golf courses and climate change?

Candidates also discussed what they would do about Reston’s two golf courses. Messick, Hauth, and Dodd already pledged to do what they could to protect them, so the question for Alcorn and Parker was what they thought about redevelopment proposals.

Alcorn said that the Comprehensive Plan already protects the golf courses by name, but he’s willing to revisit it only if adjacent homeowners around either course are amenable to it. Parker echoed that, but noted that both courses are private property.

One area where the candidates were not as vocal about development was during a question about what they would do as Supervisor to address climate change. All the candidates wanted to prove that they were the environmental choice on the ballot, but their ideas rarely tied back to the land use and development issues that dominated the rest of the forum.

Only Alcorn specifically brought the relationship up, and pointed out that transit-oriented development was one strategy to mitigate climate change. Hauth talked about the need for walkable communities, and in response to an earlier question, said that any redevelopment of the county’s Village Centers needed to be envirionmentally sustainable.

Squaring the circle between affordability and controlling development

All of the candidates said they were concerned about housing affordability in one way or another. However, one questioner was not convinced. They asked how candidates could want to do everything they could for affordabilty, while also remaining skeptical or hostile about additional housing development, and said it seemed like an inherent conflict in priorities.

Messick reemphasized that his sheer opposition to most developers in Reston would give him greater leverage when it came to negotiating benefits like affordable housing units. On the other end, Parker talked about how allowing more apartments expands the county’s tax base and keeps prices stable.

Dodd called out Alcorn, and said that poor planning decisions led to the challenges of today. Alcorn defended his record on the planning board, and said that his work on the Tysons Corner Comprehensive Plan helped lock in commitments to affordable housing in Tysons.

Hauth said that her goals for sustainability and affordability could work together, but said she needed firmer commitments from developers, who she lamented now only build higher-end units.

What’s up next?

There have been at least two more candidate forums since this one, and there are many more planned right up until the primary on June 11. You can also read the candidates’ responses to our questionnaire.

The deadline to register to vote in the June 11 primary is Monday, May 20 (today, if you’re reading this in time — so go register if you aren’t already!). Virginia is an open primary state, so any registered voter with photo ID can vote in the primary, regardless of party affiliation. Fairfax County has both by-mail and in-person absentee voting.