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Nicoson: One of the Best

<bt>(This article is the first in a series spotlighting the 2002 Best of Reston award winners.)

<bt>Bill Nicoson said he has considered leaving Reston at certain points in his life.

Once, just after he was divorced, he considered selling his house and moving into the District of Columbia. But a love for the community kept Nicoson in Reston.

"I’ve worked at the federal level, the state level but, frankly, I find that working on the community level gives me far greater satisfaction," Nicoson said. "Your friends and neighbors surround you. So what happens at the community level is very important to your life. At the federal level, you are quite removed from people’s lives."

Nicoson was around during the formative years of some of Reston’s oldest institutions. A lawyer by trade, he set up legal arrangements for the Reston Historic Trust, pushing the organization through the Internal Revenue Service. He is president of Reston’s Planned Community Archives, a collection of documents relating to Reston’s history. And he spent many years on the board of the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE), assisting the arts organization during a period of transition. For all his work, Reston Interfaith and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce are presenting him with a 2002 Best of Reston Award.

Nicoson came to the Washington area in 1970 to run the new community development program for the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). His job was to study planned communities and oversee their development. He decided to live in one of those new communities, "to see what I was working on."

So, Nicoson decided to look for houses in Reston and Columbia, another planned community in Maryland.

"In 1970 Lake Anne was it for Reston," Nicoson said. "There was nothing else. I said, ‘Wow, this is masterful planning.' I never got to Columbia."

Nicoson said Lake Anne, in 1970, was unconventional. He remembers critics who scoffed at the Lake Anne design, with condominiums built above shops. But Nicoson argued that every city in United States has dwelling units above commercial storefronts.

"At the time Lake Anne was too advanced, people didn’t like it," Nicoson said. "But to my eyes, it was a blessing. Lake Anne attracted people who were interested in the arts. I still feel blessed when I walk around the plaza."

<mh>GRACEful

<bt>Nicoson said he has probably spent more time on the board of GRACE than on the board of any other organization. He helped stabilize the arts center when a developer was selling off all the developed structures in Reston to another developer. At that time GRACE was located in a studio on Lake Anne, now occupied by the Reston Art Gallery.

"GRACE had a special deal with the first developer to pay low rent rates," Nicoson said. "But in the course of making the deal, the new developer would not honor that agreement. So, we organized a partnership, the Friends of GRACE. There were 30 partners and we raised $30,000 for a down-payment to purchase the space. Then we offered it to GRACE at a below-market rate."

Although Sarah Larson conceived the idea for the Reston Historic Trust, Nicoson handled the legal arrangements to get the organization off the ground. The Historic Trust, which runs the Reston museum on Lake Anne, is in place to keep Reston’s history intact. This is an important goal, according to Nicoson.

"People often take for granted the context in which they live, the physical context and certainly the historical context as well," he said. "The [Reston Historic Trust] has taken to overcoming this. It makes a vast difference in the way in which people enjoy their lives if they are aware of the way in which things developed."

<mh>Archival

<bt>For the sake of historical awareness, Nicoson became president of the Planned Community Archives. Nicoson became involved in the Planned Community Archives when he was approached by long-time Restonians Tom Grubisich and Peter McCandliss. The men were writing a book about Reston, and they wanted to create an organization to collect documents related to the development of Reston. Nicoson, again, handled the legal work in getting the archives together, and he also negotiated an agreement to house the archives at George Mason University.

"My hope is that the archives will become a source of major research in the field," Nicoson said. "It’s not just meant to be a storehouse. There is the potential for a lot of different papers, on topics like how sprawl can be avoided with sufficient scale."

Recently, Nicoson gave chess lessons at the Reston YMCA Teen Center, and he has been involved in the campaign to get air-rights over Dulles Toll Road, in anticipation of rail-to-Dulles.

Robert Simon, Reston’s founder, nominated Nicoson for the Best of Reston Award. Simon said Nicoson is a good example of someone who has volunteered his professional skills to help the community.

"I’m sure there are many talented people in Reston who haven’t yet gotten involved in the community," Simon said. "If anybody wants to get started, come to the museum. It will inspire you with a direction to go with your talents. Quite a few people know the Town Center, but they never get to Lake Anne. Lake Anne is what it is all about."

Sixteen years ago Nicoson married Patricia Nicoson, the current president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association which is examining ways to bring rail to Reston.

"Patricia is a city girl, and I was a little worried she would find Reston boring," Nicoson said. "But what she’s doing is turning Reston into a big city."