Goodbye 2005, Hello 2006

Goodbye 2005, Hello 2006

Restonians considered changes in land use, governance and transportation in 2005.

In 2005, the Reston community celebrated the richness of its past while making plans for its future. How should Reston govern itself and should the community become a town were just two of the many questions that Restonians asked themselves last year.

<sh>Revising RA’s Governing Documents

<bt>In February 2006, Reston Association members will be asked to vote on changes to RA’s governing documents. The three-year effort to update and revise the documents which have governed the association for the past 21 years dominated the news this past year as the RA board conducted numerous public hearings and meetings to solicit community input on policy changes to the proposed documents.

Some of the most significant policy changes included a transfer fee, which charges $250 to new residents buying a home in Reston; a modified maximum assessment cap, which provides the board with more budget flexibility in the future; a referendum quorum change, which lowers the voter turnout for "super" referendums from 40 percent to 25 percent; and the authorization to add non-contiguous communities interested in becoming part of RA.

RA board members have argued that the outcome of the referendum may be the biggest decision made in Reston in the next 20 years, influencing the association’s ability to protect the value and desirability of the community.

<sh>Headache on Hunter Mill

<bt>Every four or five years, property owners and developers have proposed increasing the density of about 226 acres around the intersection of Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads.

The land is planned for one house per two acres and is the edge of the low-density "green belt" around Reston designed to keep the higher densities from creeping toward Tysons.

In 2004, developers WCI/Renaissance and K. Hovnanian proposed an increase that would allow up to 16 units per acre.

The Board of Supervisors voted in March to appoint a citizen task force to study the land and make a non-binding recommendation about what to do with it.

The 20-member task force began meeting in June, and held a two-part community input session. Hundreds of people came out to support sticking to the current large-lot plan of one home per two acres.

Some people came to speak in favor of increasing the density, but many of them were affiliated with the development team. The task force was bogged down with small things and really didn't much talk about the land use issues, although they did get extensive briefings about impacts of increasing the density on various services.

The task force was to have finished its work by the end of the year. It did not make its deadline, but the end is likely near.

The group might be ready to recommend no change to the density levels in the Comprehensive Plan. However some other changes, such as adding text to recognize the historic nature of Hunter Mill Road, may be on the agenda.

The Task Force should finish its work in early 2006. Their recommendations will then be forwarded on and any proposed change would require a public hearing before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors before its adoption.

<sh>ResTOWNers Delayed, Not Dismayed

<bt>After several community meetings and town charter drafts, the Reston Citizens Association stayed hopeful that Reston residents would have the chance to vote on township in 2006.

The ambitious RCA timeline of "ResTOWN 2006" was stalled indefinitely last November when Reston’s county and state representatives refused to request a referendum in Virginia’s 2006 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, 2006.

Taking the setback in stride, RCA board members have already begun organizing for another push in 2007 — one they say will be aided by their experiences in 2005. They’ve already worked through several boundary issues, keeping the proposed borders specific to the Reston Master Plan.

In addition, RCA has grappled with cost-benefit analyses, showing that the average Restonian would pay less in taxes under their town plan. "We will work on a revised schedule for ResTOWN 2007," said Mike Corrigan, RCA president.

<sh>RCC: A Board Divided

<bt>While the RCC board is responsible for seemingly non-partisan tasks of establishing center policies, making programming and services decisions, and setting the center’s budget, the board is split on political lines, resulting in a rancorous end to 2005.

Just when the Reston Community Center hired a new executive director — Bonnie Freeman, the people of Small Tax District 5 elected four new people to the Board of Governors in October. Running as an anti-tax slate, the new members included Mary Buff, Kevin Deasy, George Lawton and Peter von zur Muehlen. Teaming with incumbent board member, Joseph Lombardo, the slate gained a majority on the board. They proceeded to elect Lombardo as chairman of the board, who has said lowering the tax rate for Small Tax District 5 residents is a chief goal in 2006.

Aligned with the Alliance for a Better Community, Bill Bouie, Beverly Cosham, Roger Lowen and Terry Smith make up the remaining incumbent board members who now find they represent a minority opposition on the board. In 2006, the two slates will continue to bang heads on policy issues.

<sh>Lake Anne Revitalization

<bt>Spearheaded by the Reston Community Reinvestment Corporation, the effort to revitalize the Lake Anne Village Center reached two milestones in 2005. The county-funded economic analysis of the area was completed and released in March, assessing the needs of businesses and the residential community.

Then, over the summer, RCRC requested and secured $30,000 from the county to conduct a charrette for Lake Anne revitalization. After a series of focus groups, residents sounded off during a three-day powwow led by independent planners and architects. Though the final charrette report was due in September, it has yet to be released.

The RCRC has also been working with county officials this past year to include three Lake Anne projects worth $28 million in this year’s revitalization bond referendum. Property owners in the revitalization area have also considered forming a limited liability corporation to present a unified voice when talking to developers.

This year, the RCRC hopes to find funding to hire a consultant to develop a design concept for the area.

<sh>Downtown Condo Craze

<bt>Four development plans could add about 1,400 new condo units to Reston’s downtown area. Each of the plans is in various stages in the development process, and all four could come before the Fairfax County Planning Commission in 2006.

The Oracle Corporation proposes to build 452 units in two buildings on its campus on Sunset Hills Road. Another proposal covers two blocks of the town center, owned by Boston properties. Boston wants to construct a three-building office complex on one of the blocks, while working with a residential developer to construct as many as 400 units on the other.

A third plan would construct a new set of buildings on what is now commonly known as the Ruby Tuesday parking lot. The site, owned by Equity Office Properties Trust, is already planned for office use, and the Trust is seeking a residential option.

Finally, the Prison Fellowship property on Old Reston Avenue is proposing to add about 60 large condo units.

<sh>RELAC: Coolly Preserved

<bt>For about 40 years now, 343 households in several clusters near Lake Anne have been using a water-based air-conditioning system called RELAC. Under an obscure clause in the Reston Association governing documents, these residents are mandated to use the system, owned by Aqua Virginia.

For most of 2005, residents dissatisfied with the system had told the Reston Association that it rarely kept their homes cool and asked for a vote to have the clause removed from the governing documents.

RA allowed the referendum for the households during a three-week period in September, when voters decided to keep the mandate in the governing documents. Of 230 valid votes, 130 votes were cast against removing the clause, and 100 were cast to remove it. In order for the provision to have been removed, the referendum required two-thirds of the votes to be in favor of removal.

During the first eight months of the year, RA had heard only opposition to the 40-plus-year-old system, including a petition against the system signed by 106 households. However, once RA granted the vote, several residents also on the system argued that the covenant be maintained.

RELAC had originally been selected by early Restonians because of its lack of external noise and aesthetic appeal. Supporters of the cooling system feared what might happen if people were allowed to go off the RELAC system, arguing that it would cause the downfall of the RELAC system and a transition to noisy individual air conditioning units.