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

If you made it out for the Founder’s Day celebration last Saturday, then you know what a terrific event it was. The weather was dazzlingly beautiful, providing a perfect backdrop for the ceremony. Our elected officials spoke in praise of Bob Simon and Reston. The South Lakes Theatre Arts kids did a couple songs from their spring musical. The Bobby Pins, a quintet of ladies from the Reston Chorale, sang “Restonation,” a song written to honor our community. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to Bob and enjoyed delicious cupcakes in the sunshine. A good time was had by all.

My daughter Leslie and I decided to try the scavenger hunt put together by the Reston Museum. We were handed a sheet containing clues to various locations around Reston, and we had two hours to visit them all. I loved that the hunt spotlighted some of Reston’s more obscure locations, places that even longtime Restonians might not have visited in years, or ever.

One such location was the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. What’s that? It’s the plaza located behind the International Center and the Chili’s. Many Restonians have no idea it’s there. Sadly, it’s likely to be demolished when the Reston Heights development gets underway.

On the plaza is a plaque containing a quote from Dag Hammarskjold himself. (For those who don’t know, he was the second Secretary General of the United Nations.) The quote reads:

The qualities leadership requires are those which I feel we all need today: perseverance and patience, a firm grip on realities, careful but imaginative planning, a clear awareness of the dangers but also of the fact that fate is what we make it and that the safest climber is he who never questions his ability to overcome all difficulties.

That quote really stuck with me; I returned later that day to write it down. I’ve been reflecting on it in the days since. I believe this message could guide us as the Master Plan Task Force continues deliberating on the future of Reston.

Hammarskjold’s advice resonates in many ways. Given that the Master Plan Special Study has been underway since 2010, “perseverance and patience” have certainly been necessary for everyone involved. And “careful but imaginative planning” summarizes well what has made Reston so successful, and so attractive to those of us who have made our lives here. It also summarizes what will be needed to ensure that Reston can grow while retaining its essential character into the future.
The Task Force has done a good job taking these points to heart. But we may be falling short in maintaining “a firm grip on realities” and “a clear awareness of the dangers.” Recent revelations regarding the impact of development suggest that the Task Force has more work to do to ensure that Reston remains a good place to live, work, and play.

Last week, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation presented its analysis of the Task Force’s current development plan, called Scenario G. (For explanation of Scenario G, see my previous post on the subject.) RCA’s Terry Maynard wrote a letter to Patch summarizing the findings of that analysis. The bottom line is that many of Reston’s key intersections are projected to have a Level of Service grade “F” during rush hours, creating near-gridlock condition on the roads near the Toll Road.

Is an “F” grade for traffic acceptable for our future? If not, what can be done to make it better? The DOT presenters noted that a large portion of the traffic on our major north-south roads (Wiehle, Reston Parkway, and Fairfax County Parkway) is from people passing through Reston on the way to somewhere else. Can we discourage those cars from coming through Reston, or provide alternative routes for people traveling within Reston? Traffic is a serious danger to Reston’s quality of life.

Another potential danger lies in our school capacity. Our school system is generally regarded as top-notch; it’s a significant attraction for families. But according to a memo prepared by Fairfax County Public Schools that RCA obtained this month, Scenario G could bring almost 3,000 new students to Reston schools. To accommodate the demand, we would need two new elementary schools, a new middle school, and a high school to accommodate students in Reston and communities to the west.
School crowding could be an issue well before Scenario G is built out. According to the memo, South Lakes High could be more than 850 students over capacity within the next five years. And most of Reston’s elementary and middle schools are also forecast to be overcrowded, many severely, by that time. This isn’t a problem that a few trailers can fix; this would require significant new construction.

To its credit, FCPS is looking at options to handle the influx of new students. But the Task Force has barely considered the question of schools at all. The FCPS memo was written in December; the Task Force had not seen it until RCA made it public this month. Why hadn’t the Task Force seen it sooner? How are we supposed to plan if we don’t know what we’re planning for?

Overcrowded roads and schools are real dangers to Reston’s quality of life. We can build beautiful new developments, but if it comes at the cost of what makes Reston great, we’ll have a hard time attracting residents and businesses to fill them. We must deal with these realities if Reston’s future growth is to be successful.

At the same time, we must also be realistic about what we can expect. Not adding any new density to Reston is not a realistic option. If we want to maximize our investment in the Silver Line, we should encourage development in the station areas. Concentrating growth around the station encourages the use of transit and reduces the traffic on our roads. But we must be aware of the dangers and plan to minimize them.

Fortunately, I believe that we have the ability to overcome the difficulties in the planning process. Revising the Master Plan isn’t easy. But we have a lot of expertise in the room, between the County planning staff, the developers, and the dedicated citizens. There is no reason why we can’t develop a vision that preserves Reston’s quality of life and amenities while allowing for new growth. We need to consider all of the information at our disposal, have serious conversations about the tradeoffs we will need to make, and make a plan that works for all of us.

Dag Hammarskjold died before Reston was born, so he never got to see our community or the plaza that bears his name. But I think he would be pleased to know that his words remain an inspiration to us. And I believe that those who are planning Reston’s future would do well to seek out the plaza, read the plaque, and think about his message. Perhaps when the plaza is demolished to make way for Reston Heights, we can relocate the plaque to the new Wiehle Station. Hopefully, the people getting off the Silver Line will see examples of Reston’s “careful but imaginative planning” all around.