Chairs were at a premium and residents were lined up out the doors of the Reston Association's board room for last Thursday's monthly RA board of directors meeting. While there were no public hearings scheduled to tackle the Ridge Heights pool bubble or the equally controversial proposal to build a structure over four of six tennis courts at Lake Newport, there was no shortage of puplic comment on the two issues.
Proponents and opponents of both issues jammed the RA meeting hall to let their voices be heard during the resident comment portion of the monthly board meeting.
"The enthusiasm never ceases to surprise me on these types of issues, well maybe the first time, but not anymore," said Bertha Hoskins, who presided over her final directors' meeting as RA vice president. "These issues definitely strike a chord with folks who are worried about what is best for their neighborhoods and those that think they have the best interests of the entire community, at stake. They aren't easy issues."
Judging by Thursday's packed house, Hoskins, who supports both facilities, anticipates her former board members can look forward to a wild, raucous and well-attended public hearing for the two issues. "I think that is great, I encourage people on both sides of the various issues to come out and have their voices heard."
SUSIE EVANS WAS ONE of those people. An avid tennis player now, Evans didn't start playing seriously until 1976, when she was 30 years old. One of the reasons Evans didn't pick up a racket earlier was that she didn't have the opportunities that young tennis players in Reston have today. With 49 RA owned and operated tennis courts, all of which are outdoors, Reston residents have unparalleled access to outdoor courts. But Evans likes to play all year round, something she currently cannot due in Reston. Instead, Evans says she spends hundreds of dollars a year in neighboring Herndon to play year-round tennis at the Herndon Community Center. "I don't want my dollars going over there to Herndon if I don't have to," Evans told the board.
Evans insisted that covered tennis courts were an untapped revenue source and "the only thing I can't walk to in Reston."
NOT EVERYONE was as enthusiastic as Evans about the prospect of covering four of the six courts at Lake Newport. Several speakers said similar structures were "ugly" and "unsightly," while neighbors worried aloud about a potential decline in property values. Some like Dan Gerhig expressed their concerns, similar to some of those who oppose the Ridge Heights bubble, that the covered facility should be located in a commercial location because it should be considered a business operation that runs seven days a week. "Of course, it adversely impacts on the quality of our neighborhoods," Gerhig said. "Reston goes to great lengths to mitigate the community and the neighborhoods."
Others like Dan Pitzgar were short and to the point. Pitzgar didn't understand why the community goes to great lengths to help out the tennis players. "It's a big waste of money," he said. "The tennis courts are in my backyard."
Robert Ross also lives near the tennis courts and he said he might never have moved there if he would have known a covered facility might be constructed. Ross said he also feared "amplified noise" and security problems that may arise from covered courts.
Robert Simon, the founder of Reston, did not like what people like Ross had to say. Simon railed against one of his favorite targets, the NIMBYs (Not in my backyard). "I was just disgusted with the NIMBYs, there were NIMBYs with the tennis courts and NIMBYs with the bubble," he said on Monday. "The covering the courts would have a negligible impact, at most."
WHILE NEITHER issue was up for a final vote Thursday night, aspects of both were discussed by the board. In the case of the tennis facility, the board did vote, 6 to 3, to continue to pursue the possibility of covering two thirds of the six Lake Newport courts. Board members Douglas Bushee (North Point), Joe Leighton (South Lakes) and Robert Poppe (at-large) voted unsuccessfully to end RA's flirtation with covered tennis courts at Lake Newport. RA executive director Gerald Volloy said he thought the board would take up the issue again in May, at the earliest.
Volloy and many board members are looking forward to seeing new depictions of what the final product may look like. "We will be going to go out with vendors and get together with an architect to get a more accurate depiction of what it might look like," Volloy said. "I don't know if it would look like the Hidden Creek courts, there may be a more acceptable alternative. The one thing I know is that it is not a bubble."
Bushee, a proponent of the Ridge Heights Pool, said he doesn't want to see a similar argument develop with a covered tennis facility. After 10 years of the bubble, it would be unfair to take it down now, he said. "It's important that we don't interrupt the training of our kids and young athletes," he said.
After going into closed session at the end of the marathon five-hour meeting, the board also voted 6 to 2 (with Leighton and Poppe dissenting) to allow Curl Swim Club to submit a proposal to the staff and the board that would include a site mitigation study, Volloy said. Volloy added that RA was anxious to hear from the county's zoning department as it continues to look into the issues surrounding parking at the Ridge Heights bubble. "We hope to have a proposal and a site mitigation plan from Curl by the end of this week," Volloy said.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE NEED for indoor tennis, Bushee said that Lake Newport, which is in his district, is not the right location. Bushee stressed that the community should actively look to find common areas that would better reflect the commercial aspect of the covered tennis facility.
Board member Vicki Wingert agreed that the board has difficult questions to sort through as they continue to explore the possibilities. "We are faced with a mandate to balance individual property rights with the needs of our entire community," she said. "It's a difficult balancing act."
RA president Susan Jones again assured the board and the audience that, no matter the vote, the board was still "at the beginning of the process." Thursday's presentation marked the first time the entire board had seen staff's presentation about a proposed covered facility. "Rest assured, this board will fully discuss this issue."