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Residents Complain about RELAC System

The Lake Anne air conditioning system's owners say they plan to improve its efficiency next year.

Over the last several years, Lake Anne resident Kaye King said she has seen the efficiency of her air conditioning decline while its price has remained steady.

Kaye's home is one of 342 residences on the aging RELAC system, which draws water from Lake Anne and chills it before sending it via underground pipes to surrounding homes.

"It has been 40 years, as the declining efficiency of RELAC can attest," King said. "The quality has gone down, but the price remains the same."

King was one of roughly 50 residents on the RELAC system who complained to the system's owners, Aqua Virginia, at a community meeting Saturday morning.

In addition to King's concerns, others complained that the company is too slow to fix problems and rarely responds to customer complaints.

Also, several people said the system's rigid schedule leaves residents in hot homes during unseasonably warm weather. The air conditioning is only turned on from May 22 to Oct. 9, unless the Pennsylvania-based owner is informed about the hot weather.

Last April, the company powered up the system early because this year has been unusually warm, said Greg Odell, Aqua Virginia's regional manager.

Odell said his company is considering asking Virginia's State Corporation Commission to allow for greater flexibility over when the system can be operated.

THE NEGOTIATION over the tariff permitting use of the RELAC system is likely to come next year, as RELAC installs a $200,000 cooling tower, which Odell said will make the system more efficient.

Along with the new cooling tower, which will recycle water drawn from the lake, residents may see an increase in rates, Odell said.

"There may be an increase, there may not," he said. "It's too early to know."

Residents living in Hickory, Washington Plaza, Waterview, Governours Square, Coleson and Moorings clusters are on the system, as are condominium owners at Heron House and elsewhere at Lake Anne.

Under Reston Association's protective covenants, residents on the RELAC system cannot replace it with an individual air conditioning unit, though health exemptions are permitted.

At the meeting Saturday, there appeared to be substantial interest in amending that rule, though it can only be changed with a two-thirds vote by residents in the clusters. Condominium residents would not have a vote.

This all may be changed when RA's Board of Directors completes its review of the community's governing documents in the next few months. Those changes are expected to be sent to RA members sometime next spring for approval by referendum.

The RELAC question might be removed from the referendum because some residents are concerned that Reston residents not on the system could make a decision affecting those who are.

"The board needs to take into consideration whether this needs to be part of the whole package or if it should be voted on individually," said Vicky Wingert, an at-large member of RA's board and herself a Lake Anne resident on RELAC.

ANOTHER CONCERN is that residents not on the system, but living in affected clusters would have a vote. Though there are 342 residential units on the RELAC system, almost twice that number could vote on changing the policy.

"That was an oversight when the documents were drafted years ago," said Ray Leonhard, RA's acting executive vice president.

Richard Speier, a resident whose home is on the RELAC system, said that requiring two-thirds to approve a change is far too high of a burden.

"Is it even possible to get a two-thirds vote?" he said. "Or is this a fig leaf to make it look like there is some semblance of a democratic process to change this?"