Knowing fallen or diseased trees could be a problem for Lakeside Cluster residents, the cluster association’s president, Steven Morris, earmarked $5,000 in last year’s budget.
But when a tree fell and needed removal, the cluster was charged $3,500. Then an arborist was called in to consult, telling the cluster association it would have to pony up an additional $16,000 to correct the neighborhood’s additional tree problems.
Morris had no way of knowing if he and his cluster association were being overcharged or if they were getting a good deal. That scenario convinced Morris that Lakeside Cluster needed to join a new organization called the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners.
"For me, that’s what really pulled me into ARCH," Morris said last week at the organization’s first meeting. "We can tap into some experts in each area and maybe save some money."
The idea behind ARCH is that its members — cluster and neighborhood association officers — will pool information about contractors to ensure quality and low prices for maintenance work. And clusters that have experience dealing with issues such as trees, paving or roof work can pass their experiences along to other associations.
Marcia McDevitt, president of Inlet Cluster and a founding member of ARCH, said the organization’s information-sharing will particularly benefit aging clusters in need of repairs.
"I’m in a 32-year-old cluster. I have things crumbling all around me," she said. "This committee is going to find people and make sure they're going to do good work."
While Reston Association can provide a list of available contractors, it does not make recommendations or vouch for quality. ARCH will be able to rate vendors based on their price, work and qualifications, McDevitt said.
So far, 40 cluster and neighborhood associations have voted to join ARCH, representing 1,319 homes. Reston has 133 clusters, comprised of roughly 8,000 residential units.
ARCH will represent Reston in its entirety, whereas RA’s membership does not include the area around Reston Town Center.
BUT ARCH WAS NOT only founded to help cluster and homeowner associations make more informed decisions about the contractors they hire for upkeep and repairs. It was also created to take stances on political issues facing the community.
Robert Goudie, a member of ARCH’s Board of Directors representing the Town Center district, said the organization is non-partisan and will be an advocate for homeowners.
"The question is, should there be a group that looks at issues impacting the community, solely from a homeowner’s perspective," Goudie said at the founding meeting last week on Wednesday.
Though taking a position on an issue is a possibility, Goudie said, the more important role is for the organization to educate its members on complicated, relevant issues, such as RA’s governing documents review and pending state legislation requiring more disclosure when selling a residential property.
ARCH could also sponsor community forums when Reston is faced with a major issue, such as when Herndon held meetings about gangs after a 16-year-old was murdered last month.
Though Goudie stressed ARCH will be politically "unbiased," two members of the organization’s self-appointed five-person Board of Directors have been outspoken critics of RA’s governing documents review.
Rumors that ARCH was formed to serve as a conservative voice to balance RA’s Board of Directors are untrue, Goudie said.
"A lot of people have this idea that we were formed to take on RA and the governing documents," he said. "I am here to tell you this is utter nonsense."
ARCH is hoped to take on some of the roles of the Reston Citizens Association, the community’s waning advocacy organization. By joining together, ARCH members will be able to more effectively lobby the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and state representatives, said George Kain, a member of ARCH’s Board of Directors and president of the Deer Forest Neighborhood Association.
"ARCH can be a tremendously valuable resource for all of us to get together and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, what is this? What can be done? How can I help?’" he said.
RICK PUCCIO, president of Sanibel Cluster, said he was deeply skeptical about ARCH because it appears to duplicate functions and services for which his constituents already pay dues to RA.
"We’re just adding government on top of government on top of government," he said.
Puccio also said he does not trust members of ARCH’s Board of Directors when they claim to be "unbiased."
"There’s got to be an agenda," he said.
To join ARCH, member associations are asked to pay annual dues of $100 to $150.
For smaller clusters, such as Hampton Meadows, that slight increase in dues would be felt, said Jay Monroe, a resident of that cluster.
Also, Monroe said he too is skeptical about ARCH’s politics. He said Hampton Meadows Cluster should only sign on if ARCH promised not to use the cluster’s name to support a political position while lobbying.
"I think ARCH could be useful to us, but I’m still worried," he said. "We don’t want to be used in a political debate."