Members of the Reston business community will have increased influence on the Reston Community Center (RCC) Board if a recommendation from the RCC governance review panel is adopted by the board next month.
Looking to quiet criticism from several sectors of the community, foremost the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, the panel voted 10 to 1 to add an additional geographic district at its Thursday, June 19 meeting. In a compromise proposal submitted by Richard Eckhardt and Bill Keefe, the panel suggests dividing a nine-member RCC board into five geographic divisions and four at-large seats.
In the panel’s June 5 meeting, it unanimously agreed to a motion granting four geographical regions and five at-large seats. The four seats follow Reston Association’s four districts—South Lakes, Hunters Woods, Lake Anne and North Point.
Eckhardt and Keefe’s proposal added an extra district, unofficially dubbed the Toll Road Corridor, which would run along the Dulles Toll Road in the Hunter Mill District between Sunset Hill Road to the north and Sunrise Valley Drive to the south. By its nature, the district would include the previously neglected Reston Town Center, neighboring Plaza America and the town home community of West Market, one of the loudest opposition voices in the skate park debate, a debate that helped spur the creation of the current governance panel.
"I think Bill and Richard’s plan is pretty good," said RCC board member Terry Smith, one of three board representatives on the panel." It does capture that area that we have not got before. There is a business interest there, and it would give them a voice."
Robert Goudie, a panel member and West Market resident, agreed. "There is tremendous concern that the four centers are not adequate," he said. "This addresses that."
UNDER TERMS of the approved plan, if no nominees in a given district came forward by as-yet-to-be-determined time, the district would be labeled, "at-large." As was decided at an earlier meeting, the governance panel, in its final report due out next week, will recommend allowing homeowners, renters and Reston business owners (even if they live outside of Reston), to vote in the RCC’s preference poll.
The vote to add one district, a district with a large majority business interest, was not enough for one panel member.
Michael Horwatt, the chamber’s appointed delegate, told his colleagues that their actions were neither acceptable nor comprehensive enough to satisfy the community’s business interests. "The community with the largest property owners in Reston find the present arrangement unacceptable," Horwatt said. "The largest tax payers have no voice or say as to what their money goes."
Eckhardt said it was important to get the business interests up to the table. "This plan gives another community the chance to recognized and to put forth a candidate for the RCC board."
For his part, Keefe, the South Lakes representative on the panel, insisted that this alternative was more than fair for the businesses in the area. "Whether we can find people who will take this job seriously and come to all the nightly meetings," Keefe said. "Whether they are out there, I don’t know."
As he did several times throughout the meeting, Horwatt complained that the deal was a losing proposition for Reston’s big business interests. "It falls far short of what business community will accept. There will be so much dissatisfaction," he said.
After the 10 to 1 vote approving the plan, Horwatt became even angrier and more pointed. "This is a preservation of the status quo. This is a repudiation of the business community, make no mistake about it," Horwatt said.
Alone in his dissenting vote, Horwatt also turned his ire at two fellow pro-business leaning panelists, Susann Gerstein and Robert Goudie. "I don’t know how you voted for this, or how Susan voted for it."
RUTH OVERTON, THE RCC CHAIR and a member of the panel, reacted to the notion that her board is spending its taxpayer dollars unwisely or recklessly on large projects. "I think — I hope — the business community is more interested than just capital expenditures, Overton said. "The function of the RCC board is to provide service to the community."
Horwatt, the chamber’s selection, assured the panel that, assuming tangible changes emerged from the panel’s work, that RCC had nothing to fear from the business community. "I don’t think the business community has any interest in intruding on the mission of the RCC," Horwatt said. "But this is a time of scarcity and competition. There is a real concern about capital expenditures because that is what affects the tax rate."
Clearly frustrated with the proceedings, Horwatt explicitly warned the panel that failure to act boldly would only call the RCC’s current reputation into further question. "My prediction is that this will go to the Board of Supervisors if we keep the status quo. The community will no accept the status quo," the chamber representative said. "The future of special tax districts in Reston hinges on what comes out of this study. There will be a very strong move to limit the mission of the RCC," Horwatt said. "Take the tax district in McLean, for example. McLean runs that center, that’s all it does."
Smith objected to Horwatt’s threats. "You are trying to bring us back to square one. I think you would be driving a stake through the head of the tax district," Smith said. "[I] understand where you are coming from, I just oppose it. If you and Susan [Gerstein] wanted to run, you could and you could probably win."
Gerstein, a small business owner in Lake Anne, told the panel that there was a "philosophical divide" among the members. "I think it’s prudent to be a collaborative board to represent all the true stakeholders and to preserve small tax district or we will lose programs that we all care deeply about," Gerstein said. "We’ve got to look at collaborative ideas and not just what we’ve done before."
From her perspective, Overton said she thought the board had always looked for business input into the business of RCC, but she added, "There is a big difference in business owners and property owners."
Under the new proposal, however, small business owners and large Reston property owners would get the same treatment. "To me that is a major change, property owners not living in Reston will now have a voice that wasn’t there before," Overton said.
SITTING ACROSS THE TABLE from one another, Smith and Horwatt found little to agree upon during the three-hour back-and-forth discussion. Smith said he agreed that if, as Horwatt insisted, there was "sufficient outrage," then the Board of Supervisors should take a look at RCC governance issues. For Smith, there was one big problem. "I have yet to see the outrage," Smith, who chairs the center’s program and policy committee. "I just don’t see it."
Siding with Smith, panelist Roger Lowen took his support of RCC’s current relationship to the business community one step farther. "Let’s not forget that [the businesses] also enjoy the ambiance and amenities of Reston and this community without contributing to RA," he said. "I know of no cases where the companies have a vote."
While ultimately voting for the plan, Lowen nonetheless cautioned that adding a fifth district, even if it wasn’t solely devoted to business interests could be opening up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. "Then watch out," he said. "What’s next a labor district, a Hispanic district?"
Horwatt asked the group how Boston Property, one of the chief developers behind the Reston Town Center, was going to vote and watch out for their interests.
"I wouldn’t worry about business," Lowen retorted, "business is well represented."
"Boston Property has a lot of employees who live in Reston," Eckhardt responded. "They can certainly encourage their employees to run if Boston Property cares as much about this as you think they do, that won’t be a problem."
The group's final report is expected to be made public at its last scheduled meeting on