For months now, Jennifer Blackwell, president of the Reston Association Board, has tried to focus on one superseding message concerning the changes in the proposed governing documents: feedback.
“We’ve heard your comments and been able to incorporate a lot of them,” said Blackwell, in an opening address at Saturday’s first public hearing on the documents, which go to referendum Oct. 31.
She has urged the public to make comments. She has attended several public meetings and reached out to community groups to bring awareness to the proposed changes. She has said over and over that she welcomes e-mails, letters to the editor and any other form of comment. As Blackwell’s colleague on the board, Robin Smyers, has said many times, “We can’t read minds.”
Last Saturday, at a work session that immediately followed the first public hearing on the governing documents, the board again responded to feedback, making further changes to the documents.
FOR THREE HOURS the board listened to comments from residents about the governing documents. In a two-hour work session that immediately followed, the board agreed to eliminate commercial membership in the association, they further specified where revenue from the proposed resale fee would go, they modified the termination clause and they agreed to make changes to their awareness campaign.
Blackwell brought up the first issue: commercial membership in the association. The board had agreed to allow commercial lots to voluntarily join RA and pay dues based on the property’s size.
“I think this is still a concern in the community,” she said. “This is a homeowners association, not a commercial-owners association.”
While Blackwell and others had formerly agreed that commercial membership and their dues might open the door to more revenue, they reconsidered after feedback from the community.
Smyers, who had also argued in favor of commercial membership in the past, was another board member who changed her mind. “In my opinion, it’s not worth it because of all the concerns and thoughts we’ve had from the community,” said Smyers.
Director Doug Bushée (North Point) argued against the provision this time to help increase the chances the documents will be approved. “Why have this issue be another reason people might not vote for the documents?” he said.
The board voted 7-0 to remove commercial membership.
THE BOARD also responded to concerns they heard about the re-sale fee, which would charge $250 to every person buying a home in Reston. RA has estimated that the fee could generate roughly $360,000 a year.
During discussion at the work session, the board maintained that the idea was a good one if residents knew that revenue would offset assessments.
The board agreed to re-draft the clause to direct the money to operating costs, which would help offset assessments. “We can earmark it to existing expenditures and operating expenses,” said Ray Leonhard, RA’s chief financial officer.
“Who can be against that?” said Blackwell.
In another matter, the board reacted to complaints about the termination clause in the proposed governing documents. Many people have argued that the threshold — 80 percent of the total number of votes — is not only high, but impossible. The board agreed to lower the threshold to two-thirds of the total number of votes.
MANY OF THE COMPLAINTS made at the public hearing Saturday focused on RA’s communication campaign to build support for the proposed documents.
Several board members said that public relations strategies needed to be changed and refined.
“We’re not doing well at presenting this,” said Poppe.
Bushée emphasized the importance of the board's message.
“The perception [of the changes] in the community is going to be critical,” said Bushée. “It takes time to get the word out, but I think we’re on the right track.”