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Votes

Bubble Stays

Swim-team members relieved, neighborhood upset over the RA’s decision.

The bubble burst late Thursday night for neighbors opposed to a covered swimming pool in the Ridge Heights neighborhood of South Reston.

After a closed door Reston Association (RA) Board of Directors meeting May 22, RA announced it had reached an agreement to continue providing a covered pool facility, or bubble, at the Ridge Heights pool.

Given the complaints of the neighbors near the Ridge Heights pool, Susan Jones, RA president, said the decision to renew the contract with Curl Swim Services Unlimited, a private Maryland-based company, was not an easy one for the board to make. "This was a tough decision for the board," Jones said in a release announcing the decision. "In balancing the concerns of the neighbors and the desire of the board to have a covered pool facility in Reston where our members can enjoy the opportunity for swimming during the colder weather months, and where hundreds of young swimmers can compete and train in competitive swimming events."

The finalized three-year contract was approved after RA insisted on some concessions from the contractor. Under terms of the agreement, RA will require Curl to "mitigate the visual and sound impacts upon the neighbors." The vote of the board is also contingent upon Curl’s meeting all parking and permitting requirements that were stipulated by Fairfax County, according to RA officials. Only directors Bob Poppe and Joe Leighton, the South Lakes region representative, voted against the motion.

To accomplish this, Curl will have to implement a Design Review Board (DRB) approved landscaping plan that calls for the planting of more than two dozen Leyland cypress trees between the bubble and the neighboring homes along Turtle Pond Drive. In addition, RA insisted that when the bubble goes up again next fall that it be wired with sound-absorbent panels to reduce noise levels.

Located in South Reston near Langston Hughes Middle and Terraset Elementary schools, the Ridge Heights pool is one of 15 RA-run neighborhood pools. Each year, shortly after Labor Day, the pool is fitted with a heated airtight bubble for use during the colder months. During this time, RA turns over operation of the Ridge Heights pool to Curl for the indoor swimming season.

Many neighbors along Turtle Pond Drive who live behind the Ridge Heights Road facility have lobbied the board for months to put an end to what they call the "big, white, light bulb" in their backyard. Frank Pfeilmeier has led the charge for those opposed to the Ridge Heights bubble.

While expressing disappointment at the board’s decision, Pfeilmeier said he was not surprised but he insisted that the battle over the bubble was not over. "Obviously, we are very disappointed in the board’s action," Pfeilmeier, who lives a stone’s throw from the community pool. "We feel our issues about covenants, bylaws, and property values were totally ignored. We are not going to roll over and we have other options to pursue."

WHILE MANY of the West Cove cluster neighbors were upset at the ruling, members of the Curl Burke Swim Club were understandably excited about the board’s action. "We are thrilled to be back at the home we have had for 13 or 14 years," said head coach Marilyn Mangels. "We’re real happy because we have a great program going on over there and we’re glad it’s going to continue and will continue to feed super swimmers into Herndon High School teams and South Lakes High School as well as Oakton and Chantilly high schools."

Had RA’s contract with Curl not been extended, many local parents would have been forced to send their children to sites outside of Reston. Laura Dillon, 13, and her younger brother Brad, 11, spend a "large part of their day" at the pool, said their father, Dave Dillon. Had RA rejected the motion, more than 300 youth swimmers would have been left without a covered pool in Reston. "It’s a big part of their normal everyday activities," Dillon said expressing relief at the news. "We wrote letters to the board and [Laura] spoke a public hearing, that’s how important it was. I am very happy to hear that the contract was extended."

When the Dillons moved to Reston from Atlanta in 1998, one of the selling points to their neighborhood was its close proximity to the Ridge Heights pool, Dave Dillon said. "That was very important to us," he said. "The kids have been using it ever since."

Maria Allen also has two children involved in the Curl Burke Swim Team and she, too, expressed excitement at the news that she would not have to find alternate teams outside of Reston. "It’s a relief, definitely. The kids really count on Curl," she said. "I am very, very thankful that the RA board voted this way. It was in the best interest of the town and the best interest of the kids in the town. What could be more important than that?"

MANY TURTLE POND residents met the decision with disappointment and few expressed confidence that the measures to mitigate sound and light would have much effect.

Pfeilmeier said that when the pool was originally built there was landscaping added to ease some of the same concerns. "Landscaping was created to shield the parking lot," he said. "You know what happened to all that? It died. Who will be responsible for maintaining these new trees?"

Pfeilmeier said that 40 percent of the height of the bubble is visible from the third-floor balcony of his town home. "They aren’t going to have trees tall enough to hide the bubble," he said. "Anyone that thinks this plan will work either has not been out here or is rationalizing their decision."

"I understand they are trying to meet a lot of needs but when nearly 75 percent of the users are not Restonians then I am questioning the allocation of our resources and the sharing of our resources among the residents," said John Nelson, a Turtle Pond resident and bubble critic.

The large number of non-Reston users was a key argument for those, like Nelson and Pfeilmeier, who opposed prolonging the life of a covered facility at Ridge Heights. The pool was originally built in 1980 and the controversial bubble was added 12 years later where it has remained, during the off-season, ever since. To offset charges that it caters to non-Reston residents, Curl will offer RA members a 10 percent discount on all Curl Swim services and activities, RA said.

"When the original bubble arrangement was conceived, it was done with a small local club in mind," Pfeilmeier said. "Back in 1992, 90 percent of the swim-team members hailed from Reston. It was basically an extension of the community pool concept."

That has all changed, Pfeilmeier insisted. He also said that the last annual permit to construct and operate the bubble was filed back in 1994, by Solitar, a now-defunct contractor who operated the covered pool before Curl took over in 2000. "It’s interesting to wonder if this was pure oversight by everyone or if RA and Curl Swim just conveniently forgot."

Not all of Pfeilmeier’s West Cove neighbors were disappointed at the ruling, however. Dixon Mitchell, who can see the bubble from his back windows, is happy that the board decided to renew Curl’s contract. Mitchell’s wife, Ellen, uses the pool in the winter for exercise nearly every day, he said. "I’m excited that it will be back but I am really sorry that there was so much controversy around it. I guess it proves that we all might have to give a little back," Mitchell said. "I don’t really understand what all the fuss was about or what the downside is to be honest. So there’s a little extra light back there, so what?"