Before the first comment was made and the first sketch analyzed, the sides were drawn, literally. Like a dysfunctional family filing in for a disputed wedding, supporters and opponents crowded into Reston's venerable Brown's Chapel on Monday, June 30. Enthusiastic tennis players to the right. Concerned neighbors to the left.
Throughout the duration of the meeting, the two entrenched sides traded volleys like the Williams sisters in a Wimbledon tennis final, sans the sisterly love, about the pros and the cons of a proposed year-round covered tennis facility at Lake Newport.
Monday's meeting, held just yards from the proposed site, marked Reston Association's (RA) first official public hearing on the topic that has been percolating around the community for years. In its current incarnation, RA has proposed building a permanent structure made of fabric or steel, to cover four of the six existing courts at the Lake Newport Tennis Facility.
"The demand is there," Susan Jones, the RA president, said in her opening remarks, adding that the covered facility idea has been on the books since it was included in the 1993 Reston Recreation Master Plan. RA staff estimates that there are nearly 2,000 very active tennis players in Reston.
Because the plan's $856,883 price tag is well over the $325,000 threshold, Jones said, RA is required to put the issue to referendum. "Ultimately, it will be the home owners who will make the final decision."
Larry Butler, the RA parks and recreation director, walked the crowd through a Power Point presentation touting the benefits of covering four courts at Lake Newport and repeatedly insisted it would be "financially viable" if the four covered courts are aligned. The Reston Racquet Club, which had indoor courts, closed in the early 1990s. Despite being an active recreation community with 49 outdoor tennis courts, Butler said that it was the hope of his staff to finally add indoor courts for year-round tennis. The covered facility, according to RA, would bring in an estimated $530,000 revenue to RA and an additional $1.7 million, before depreciation, over the first 20 years of the facility.
LIKE MANY OF HIS fellow opponents, Bobby Ross came to the RA-sponsored meeting to voice his anger at the proposed plan. In very direct, sometimes confrontational language, Ross challenged RA on their definition of the site. "Is this a private facility for RA use only?" Ross asked Butler and Jones. "Just answer the question."
Butler explained that priority would be given to RA members, but as with the community pools, outsiders would be allowed into the site.
Operating like a lawyer in a courtroom, Ross said RA was going to be operating a commercial facility, a fact disputed by the RA president, on a site and he doubted that RA was permitted to build a commercial recreational facility on the Lake Newport Site. "You better get the zoning changed or someone is going to be very sorry," he said flatly. "You better get your ducks lined up and you better get it right. Don't waste our time and money unless you are for dead sure."
Speaking on behalf of more than 30 of his neighbors, Mike Kogan, the Newport cluster representative, said that the plan would "negatively affect" the property values around the North Reston neighborhood. "I would remind the board that RA is a homeowners association, not a tennis association," Kogan said. "This certainly doesn't fit in a residential area. Recently, Reston residents have already shown on two separate occasions their objections and opposition to covered tennis courts."
Previous RA boards have looked at the possibility of putting covered tennis facilities at South Lakes High School, Barton Hill and Brown's Chapel Park, all three, in part due to angry neighbors, were eventually turned down.
"I THOUGHT IT WENT really well," said Butler, after the hearing. "There were a greater number of supporters than I had anticipated, which was not a bad thing. In fact, it was kind of a pleasant surprise."
Bill Garnett was one of those surprises. Garnett didn't come to talk about property values or neighborhood aesthetics. Like a lot of the people sitting around him, Garnett is a tennis player, has been for 20 years, and he stood up in support of a covered tennis facility in Herndon. "We've had to go to WorldGate, Hidden Creek Country Club and the Herndon Community Center," he said. "It's time we bring it back to Reston. It will be nice to have the year-round opportunity."
And like many of the succeeding tennis players, Garnett repeated the proponent's theme of keeping money in Reston. Kay Slater, a Reston resident since 1969, echoed this idea. "Nobody here ever wants anything in their backyard," Slater said. "I, for one, would prefer to keep my money in Reston. We could all walk to these courts. Let's all work together for the good of Reston."
Garnett's wife, Kathleen also spoke in support of the proposal. "It is rather embarrassing that we don't have indoor courts," she said. "It's such a great amenity. We are really missing out and losing revenue."
Like Kathleen Garnett, Mary Prescott said she was shocked when she moved down to Reston from New Jersey and couldn't find an indoor court to play on during the Winter months. "I sought out this community for its parks and recreation," she said.
As the adults in the audience traded pointed barbs, John Kendall stood up to remind the crowd to remember the hundreds of Reston children who would also benefit from an indoor facility.