To Bubble, or Not to Bubble

To Bubble, or Not to Bubble

A local swim team may be looking for a new place to swim, if a group of Reston residents gets its way.

After 10 years, Frank Pfeilmeier has had enough. He is tired of the "big white light bulb" that sits behind his Turtle Pond townhouse in South Reston, nine months out of the year.

For Maria Allen and her two sons that "light bulb" is an important part of their Reston community and her family's daily lives.

The light bulb is actually the bubble over the Ridge Heights Pool.

Now it is up to the Reston Association to determine whether or not to renew the contract of the company that manages the bubble, Curl Swim Services, when it expires in May. An answer to that question may come as early as next Monday when the RA board meets on March 17.

If RA declines to renew the contract, monthly "float-in" movies, early morning swim club practices and daily lap swims could become a thing of the past at the Ridge Heights Pool.

Tempers flared at last week's monthly RA board of director's meeting when representatives of both sides of the bubble debate pled their case. The debate was cut short after the two sides consistently interrupted the other. "This discussion is really disintegrating," said Susan Jones, RA president, before halting further discussion.

<b>BUILT IN 1980</b>, the bubble was added in 1992, after an RA study found the Ridge Heights pool to be the most suitable for the association's only year-round facility. A follow-up study in 2000, also conducted by RA and cited by pro-bubble supporters, yielded similar results. Shortly after the bubble went up, the Solatar Swim Team set up shop and established the Ridge Heights facility's competitive swimming credentials. When Solatar defaulted on its RA contract in 2000, Curl Burke took over the swim team.

"Many of those kids on the team live in the neighborhood and many joined because it was local. You can't move it away from them, now," Allen, who lives a few blocks from the pool, told the board. "If that bubble wasn't there, my kids would not be the swimmers that they are today."

Allen's two sons, Matthew, 9, and Christopher, 12, have been swimming with the Curl Burke Swim Club for more than three years. They are two of more than 300 members of the club who could be left without a Reston pool.

<b>"I AM NOT A NIMBY</b> [not in my backyard] and I really do believe in Reston services," said John Nelson, a Turtle Pond resident. "We like having the pool in Reston, but after 10 years, we think its time for someone else to share our burden."

Nelson suggested the Lake Audubon pool would better handle the bubble.

When initial discussion about a proposed bubble began more than a decade ago, Nelson said he worried that he would be labeled a NIMBY, and he, and many of his neighbors at time, accepted the bubble into their neighborhood. "We weren't wild about it," he said, "but we went along with it anyway."

The extent of support for the bubble extends beyond swim club members. Lisa Brown is one of those people. "Don't take the bubble off, I can't even understand why people would want to move the bubble," said Brown, who uses the pool for health reasons. "I can't afford to join a health club," she said

At-large board member Robert Poppe asked Brown why she didn't just pay $17.50 for an annual pass to the RCC indoor pool. "I already pay $400 in annual [RA] dues," she answered.

Brown noted that many people who moved into that neighborhood, did so, with the understanding that the bubble was in place. "It's like people that buy houses by airports and then want to close the airport," she said. "I don't understand."

<b>PFEILMEIER DIFFERS</b>. "We have coexisted with the bubble for 10 years and our experience shows, this is not a suitable facility for a program like this," he said, in prepared remarks to the board. "We appreciate the value of recreation for our young people and residents alike ... but the nature of this business relationship, and the consequences on the surrounding community are profoundly negative. Ten years is enough."

Turtle Pond neighbors have three main issues with the bubble, said Pfeilmeier, the president of the 28-home cluster.

The bubble, Pfeilmeier argued, violates Reston design standards and protective covenants. "The harmonious quality of Reston is enhanced by underground utilities and darkened residential streets," he said. "So how does a 40 by 100 foot light bulb fit in? You can't hide it and we can't ignore it."

Besides aesthetic concerns, Pfeilmeier said the presence of the bubble and the neighboring parking lot, along with its pre-dawn parade of "noisy" swim team members, has adversely affected neighborhood property values, not to mention sleep patterns. Patty Murphy, a Realtor and Turtle Pond resident, agreed.

Opponents cited the sale of two homes, with identical floor plans, both of which back up to the bubble, that sold within six months of each other. The home at 2019 Turtle Pond sold for $415,000, or $50,000 less than the townhouse down the block. "Why?" Pfeilmeier asked the board. "One reason is that 2019 is directly adjacent to the parking lot and 2007 is 200 feet away."

<b>NOT ALL OF</b> Pfeilmeier's neighbors object to the bubble in their backyard. "We use it on a regular basis," said Dixon Mitchell, whose Turtle Pond townhouse is located directly behind the Ridge Heights bubble. "It really boils down to whether or not you use it. If you do, then it's great and if you don't, then it's an eyesore."

Dixon's wife, Ellen, also uses the pool to take laps nearly every day and the couple wrote a letter to RA urging them to keep the pool as is. Jeannie Dietz, a real estate agent with Remax, is currently offering a townhouse, with a view of the bubble, for rent. Dietz said she hasn't heard any complaints about property value being affected by the presence of the bubble. "I don't understand. Wasn't there always a swimming pool there?" the Realtor said. "At least it's not a four lane highway running behind their home. I don't think it's a problem."

At last week's board meeting, a pro-bubble supporter stood up and challenged Turtle Pond residents to sell their homes and move, if they were unhappy with bubble. On Monday, Pfeilmeier could only laugh at the suggestion. "The terrorists of 9/11 are not going to run me off and the swim club is not going to run me out of my neighborhood," Pfeilmeier said.

<b>IN LANGUAGE</b> similar to West Market opposition to a YMCA skatepark, the anti-bubble group said a majority of those who use the pool are non-Reston residents. "We estimate that less than 38 percent of daily users of the pool bubble are Reston members," he said.

Rick Curl, the owner of CSS, argued that the Ridge Heights facility was an important asset to the community. "Last year there were 5,000 visits to the bubble by RA members during bubble season."

Bubble opponents insist RA should have an all-year pool, they just don't think it should be directly behind their property. "We live with the pool in the summer. We live across from football and baseball fields and recreational facilities. The schools are there, too," Pfeilmeier said, on Monday. "If RA just moved the pool across the road, we'd be perfectly happy. It should be in an area that is zoned for recreational facilities."

Gerald Volloy, RA executive vice president, said the board is still considering both sides. "Hopefully they will have some thoughts about how they would like to proceed at next week's Monday meeting," Volloy said on Monday. "That may or may not be a final decision by the board and at this point in time I wouldn't dare hazard a guess as to what they are thinking."

Volloy said he was not surprised at the strong feelings expressed at the most recent RA board meeting. "It's a very tough issue."