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Votes

RA Offers RELAC Users Relief

Last week, the Reston Association announced it will allow RELAC users to vote for choice on air conditioning.

For many on the RELAC air conditioning system, it’s rather cooling to know that in one short month they might finally be able to choose what air conditioner to use in their homes.

Last Friday, Aug. 12, by electronic vote, the Reston Association board unanimously decided to send to referendum the issue of revoking the covenant that mandates that certain townhouse homeowners near Lake Anne use RELAC.

As it is now, whether these homeowners like it or not, they are required by the covenant in the governing documents to use RELAC, a water-based cooling system that many users have said doesn’t adequately cool their homes.

The decision by the board will allow the 343 RA members who are mandated to use RELAC to vote next month whether or not they want to revoke the covenant. On Aug. 29, the RA board will hold a special meeting to receive comments on RELAC and approve the RELAC referendum question. Ballots will be sent out Sept. 9 and will be due back by Sept. 23. The result will be announced Sept. 29.

To revoke the RELAC mandate, the referendum will need two-thirds vote of the 343 residents mandated to use the system. Passage will require 229 “yes” votes for revoking the RELAC directive.

According to board members, the decision to send the issue to referendum comes after months of careful legal consideration. “Certainly, we would not want to expose the association to needless litigation,” said RA President Jennifer Blackwell. “We needed to make sure those concerns and views were looked at carefully.” Blackwell said that this issue has been at the forefront of things the board has been trying to consider the past several months.

RA Director Robert Poppe (at-large) also said that he and the board had long wanted to help resolve this issue.

“Having cleared our legal concerns, we could indeed do what we’re doing,” he said “We are, by this action, seeking to remove RA from the picture.”

Robin Smyers, RA director representing the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district, said that the referendum was the result of hard work “behind the scenes” by board members, board staff and general counsel. “There were boxes, literally boxes, of materials that legal counsel had to go through,” said Smyers. Given all the work required, she said that RA’s response was fairly quick. “In five months, we’ve taken this from a request to a referendum,” she said.

IN FEBRUARY, people on the RELAC system submitted a petition with 106 signatures that asked RA to “delete all RELAC language from [the governing documents] and allow any homeowner to use an individual air conditioning unit.”

The covenant, however, states that it “may only be amended or revoked by at least two-thirds vote of the Category A Members of all residential Clusters on the service.” So, unhappy RELAC users included in their request to RA that they be allowed to vote on the issue.

At RA’s last board meeting, July 28, several Reston residents asked the board to allow such a vote, a request that many had made at various meetings since winter.

For Richard Speier, who had repeatedly asked RA for this vote, it didn’t take long to begin working for the referendum’s passage. The day after RA announced a referendum would take place, Speier went to the Reston Farmers’ Market at Lake Anne Village Center to look for volunteers to help campaign to pass the referendum, which has yet to be written. Speier has also distributed flyers to all the voters that explains why he and others are for free choice on air conditioning.

“Basically, we want to explain to people who are happy with RELAC that a vote for free choice is the right thing to do for their neighbors who are suffering with RELAC,” he said, explaining the educational campaign ahead. “We also want to explain that a vote for free choice is likely to increase their property values, and that neighborhood environment and their RELAC rates will be protected.”

Speier, a long-time dissatisfied RELAC customer, said that he has been unable to get his bedroom below the high 70s on hot nights. However, he considers himself lucky. He has heard numerous “horror stories” of neighbors who can’t get the third floor of their townhouses below 90 degrees and the rest of their homes below 80 degrees. “It’s now in the hands of the voters,” said Speier, appreciative to RA for allowing the vote.

THE RELAC SYSTEM, a central air-conditioning system that pulls water from Lake Anne, was originally selected because of its lack of external noise and its aesthetic appeal, according to an RA press release. Forty years ago, the system was once considered “state of the art,” but has since drawn the ire of users over the years who have said the system doesn’t come on early enough, doesn’t adequately cool their homes and can cause humidity problems.

“The RELAC system is the only system of its kind in the U.S., and complaints have routinely surfaced, not only about the poor maintenance and repair of the system, but also of the lack of responsiveness of the owners, Aqua Virginia, based in Richmond, to correct its problems,” said an RA press release.