Commentary: Independent Progressive: Planning Commissioner with Vision

Between the terrible inhumanity and downright evil flowing out of Washington and the Board change at Reston Association signaling an end to vital management reform and financial controls, it was difficult to find positive material for a column this week as steamy July begins. But I did catch one break.

Recently I interviewed the new Fairfax County Planning Commissioner for Hunter Mill District/Reston, John Carter. John is a neighbor at Lake Anne who retired as Chief of Community Planning for Montgomery County (Md.) last year and was appointed to the Fairfax County Planning Commission by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins in January. I was pleased by Ms. Hudgins choice and invited John to be a guest on my community affairs TV program, Reston Impact.

Having seen him participate in the task force revising the Reston Master Plan a few years ago, I already respected his experience and competence in urban planning and had begun to appreciate in him a talent rarely seen in this County — vision. When we talked in front of the cameras, I was not disappointed. In response to my initial questions, he explained the role of the Planning Commission and how it differed somewhat from the Montgomery County processes. As we delved into recent and coming developments, I was impressed with not only his command of planning, but also his sense of Reston, our history and expectations as seen in development around the community. In one case, a project on Sunrise Valley approved just before he assumed the job, he clearly would have done it a bit differently, including increasing the setback (a concept lost to county planners in recent years) and other adjustments so that the large building would have fit more gracefully into the neighborhood.

I asked Mr. Carter if he had in mind any special projects he would encourage to enhance our special community. He responded that he had already recommended a performing arts center, and could envisage higher education centers of excellence in the future. Exactly the bit of vision I was looking for!

A performing arts center was a dream of Founder Robert Simon.Town Center owner Boston Properties had committed to building it—next to the coming Town Center Metro station--only to renege on the promise shortly after Bob passed on. Now, Boston Properties has agreed to Carter’s recommendation, albeit on a reduced scale on Block J near the earlier site. But, BP is offering no funding for building. And, no operator is committed, although Reston Community Center is a possibility. The proposal will be considered by the Planning Commission on July 12.

The new Commissioner is also taking an active role in the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, a shell of its former self, perhaps in hopes of reviving it.

At P & Z’s last meeting the community got its first peek at a general concept for the redevelopment of Isaac Newton Square. The developers presenting it made it sound lovely, filled with mature oak trees, little streets with shady sidewalks, a soccer field and more. In his comments, Carter suggested the developers follow through on the promising concept, do a better job of connecting roads and pedestrian ways to adjoining parts of the community, and take advantage of a unique opportunity to include a linear park! Indeed, real enhancements.

Mr. Carter also has in mind a concept to enhance Reston’s open space and generate space for social infrastructure to support growth in the transit corridor consistent with the Reston vision. It is a concept that he has helped implement elsewhere. More on this later. Meanwhile, he is off to a promising start employing his experience, strong intellect, and that vision thing. Now, we’ll have to see how he handles Fairfax County politics and the pressures they bring to his job.

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