Nobody said it would be easy. That much they knew. But at a public meeting on Thursday, Nov. 3 hosted by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D), and attended by Reston’s state representatives, the board members of the Reston Citizens Association sat and listened as local politicians listed all the obstacles to Reston becoming a town.
And big obstacles do exist. The county has issued a moratorium on new towns. If township were to take a route through the courts, state law says a new town can’t exceed 200 people per mile, yet Fairfax County is populated on average by nearly 5,000 people per square mile.
But Mike Corrigan, president of the RCA, has heard it all before, and he says that none of it matters if the people of Reston were granted a referendum to decide for themselves.
But getting a referendum isn’t easy either. A vote would have to be brought to both the House of Delegates and the state Senate and pass with two-thirds approval. The only difference, Corrigan points out, is that it has been done before. In 1980, concerned Reston citizens were able to convince legislators in Richmond to allow a referendum.
Reston’s state representatives, Del. Ken Plum (D-36) and state Senator Janet Howell (D-36), who both campaigned in favor of becoming a town in 1980, are reluctant to bring such a vote now because, they said, RCA hasn’t demonstrated widespread support in the community.
For a vote to be brought to Richmond, Plum said, RCA needs to show support from the Reston Association, the Reston Community Center and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "If I go to Richmond, I need to say with a clear voice that Reston needs to be a town because why?" said Plum, who added that the effort in 1980 was able to point to services that weren’t being delivered.
AT THE NOV. 3 MEETING, which despite less than a week’s notice drew a crowd of about 80 people, Corrigan outlined some of the reasons Reston residents support incorporation. More than 600 people have signed an RCA petition supporting a referendum on incorporation, which was submitted to Hudgins.
Corrigan said many people want more control over planning and zoning in order to have more influence on development. He said people also want one-stop shopping for things that should be easy, like getting a sidewalk.
"In a county of 1 million people, there is the potential for feeling the loss of community," said Corrigan, trying to explain the intangible, underlying reason residents support township — the need for a stronger voice.
A DOZEN or so at the meeting didn’t support incorporation. "I’m definitely not one of the pro-towners. We already have three governments [RA, RCC and county], we don’t need another one," said Michael Neff of Reston. Neff, quoting Thomas Jefferson, said the government that governs least, governs best. He said if a referendum were ever granted, he would campaign "vigorously" against it.
Yet many more people at the meeting agreed with Corrigan. "I don’t agree with the speaker who said we have a voice," said Robert E. Simon, founder of Reston and town supporter. "In Richmond, they don’t even know who we are." Simon also suggested that the effort could be made more difficult because it pits citizens against the business community. "It’s pretty clear that this is going to be supported more by the residents than the commercial people," said Simon.
Joe Stowers, who moved to Reston in 1965, not only thinks incorporation is a good idea but is an important one. "This issue is the number one issue I’ve seen in the 37 years I’ve been involved in community affairs," said Stowers. "Most of us would pay less in terms of taxes and it’s very possible we’d have fewer bureaucrats."
ANOTHER LONG-TIME resident, John Lovaas, said incorporation is vital to the future of Reston. "I’m not a resident of Hunter Mill, I’m a resident of something very special called Reston," said Lovaas. "Reston should have control over its own destiny in future development."
For Hudgins, though, the services Reston receives from the county are already "considered exceptional."
"I am hard pressed to find a service need that justifies granting a town," said Hudgins. She also said Reston currently has a strong and influential voice in county matters, which has not only benefited Reston over the years but has also benefited the rest of the county. "We have been the model for making Fairfax County a good county and we can continue to be that model," said Hudgins. While residents may not always perceive their voice as being strong, she said it is. Hudgins noted that 60 percent of her appointees are from Reston and are being heard on issues everyday.
Thomas Wilkins, a long-time Reston resident, said he was for Reston becoming a town in 1980 and he’s for it now. "We all agree on one thing: what is best for Reston," said Wilkins, who received the largest audience approval at the meeting when he pointed out that Thomas Jefferson also said the best government is government closest to the people. Wilkins likened the obstacles before township to other, past causes that seemed insurmountable, like civil rights. "They said it couldn’t be done then, too."
STILL PLAYING neutral brokers, Hudgins, Howell and Plum say they will wait to act on incorporation until sufficient support is shown. But representatives of the RCA say this requirement throws their effort into a Catch-22. Corrigan said the referendum is ultimately the only comprehensive way to gauge support. Hudgins, who said the Board of Supervisors is preparing the county’s legislative package for next year, doesn’t plan to ask the other supervisors to add Reston incorporation to it. She said that since RCA’s town proposal was not ready, it could "draw fire" from other supervisors and be detrimental to their cause.
But Corrigan and his colleagues at RCA pledge to keep pushing forward. "We have not given up on having legislation being submitted this year," said Corrigan. "And if it isn’t [this year], we don’t plan on giving up on trying to get legislation submitted next year."