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Sweating with RELAC

Some Reston residents forced to use the RELAC air conditioning system are fed up.

Despite his air conditioning blasting, Jeff Ashley sweats as much inside as he does outside.

At this point, the entire third floor of Ashley’s townhouse is unlivable, unless of course he wants to convert it into a sauna.

Last week, when temperatures were reaching record highs, Ashley’s home couldn’t get below 80 degrees; his third floor couldn’t get below 90 degrees; and the entire home had over 60 percent humidity levels.

Ashley, who moved to Reston last September, is being forced to use the RELAC air conditioning system — a water-based cooling system that he says has failed him.

If allowed, Ashley would change the system, but he can’t because of a clause in the Reston Association governing documents that requires him and about 400 other households near Lake Anne to use RELAC. It costs these customers between $600 and $1,100 to use the RELAC system per season. Commercial properties are exempt from using the system, and residents with health conditions can receive a health exemption. Otherwise, if the residents want A/C, they must use RELAC.

"I moved to Reston to improve my quality of life, which it was until this summer," Ashley said to the RA board of directors last Thursday.

Since last winter, when the weather outside was freezing and air conditioning was the last thing on everyone’s minds, several Reston residents on the RELAC system begged RA to help them resolve their A/C woes.

SINCE THE RA has begun its process for revising its governing documents, many residents on the RELAC system have asked that the clause mandating that they use RELAC be eliminated.

"Give the people the opportunity of choice is really all I’m asking," said Ashley, who added that the system has worked well for some people.

For Richard Speier, who has become a regular at RA meetings and governing documents working sessions, a decision is overdue. Speier said that the anger he hears from neighbors that was once aimed at RELAC is now aimed at the RA board.

"It’s now the middle of summer, and the board is deferring, deferring, deferring, deferring," said Speier, who has been fighting for a decision on this issue for six months.

The response Speier and others have received from RA is a steady stream of assurances. "We are working as hard as we can on this issue," said Jennifer Blackwell, president of RA. "I promise we are doing our best."

Except for board member statements that a decision needs to be made, the board has postponed discussion of RELAC even though it’s been scheduled for consideration several times. Instead, the board has talked about the issue behind closed doors in executive session. Working with the RA legal team, the board wants to be sure that any future decisions on RELAC do not have legal ramifications for the association.

"We want to ensure that we don’t open RA to legal exposure," said RA Vice President Douglas Bushée. "We’ve done everything we can to bring both sides together."

Aqua Virginia, Inc., based in Richmond, owner of the RELAC system, has not been responsive to RA requests to talk about the issue, said Bushée.

TO FACILITATE a response, RA asked Bob Diamond of ReedSmith LLC, who was hired by RA last year to assist with the revision of the governing documents, to contact Aqua Virginia. At the RA special meeting, July 19, Diamond reported that he contacted an Aqua Virginia representative who agreed to meet with RA. That meeting took place Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Gregory O’Dell, division manager of Aqua Virginia, met with three RA board members, staff and legal counsel to discuss RELAC. "Our plan is to operate the system the best we can, make improvements where they’re needed, and be a better keeper of the system than our predecessor was year ago," said O’Dell in an interview after the meeting. "The system’s got great possibility, and we plan on investing more capital to make it more reliable," O’Dell said.

Taking the RELAC clause out of the governing documents was not discussed, according to O’Dell. "There’s no intent to take it out of the documents from what I understand," he said. Complaints about the system, O’Dell said, have to be handled on an individual basis. For people interested in securing the right to get off the system, O’Dell said, "The rules of the covenants rule those things if they want to get off."

If RA is unable to resolve whatever legal concerns it may have, many dissatisfied Reston RELAC customers will continue to sweat through the summer.

"If [RELAC] can’t meet my requirements [to cool my home], then why should I be forced by RA covenants to use it?" said Ashley.