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Votes

Seeing Things in Different Light

Reston DRB hopes to protect Reston from too much street lighting.

Reston Association’s Design Review Board would like to protect Reston from a threat of too much street lighting. Members of the board fear future development may bring undesirable lighting to parts of the community.

"No one here is trying to advocate dangerous situations," said DRB chairman Richard Newlon. However, too much lighting may make some streets in Reston look like a highway, he said. Such streets would invite the thoughts of, "Let’s put a Wal-Mart right there," said Newlon.

Martin Taylor, a legislative aide in Hunter Mill District Supervisor Catherine Hudgins’s office, said that every year when winter approaches, the office gets more phone calls from residents asking for more streetlights. "Residents are more and more concerned that there isn’t enough lighting," said Taylor.

Part of the reason for the discussion at the June 19 DRB meeting is that a Virginia Dominion Power demonstration project for Reston is nearing its end. The power company agreed to let parts of Reston install 272 desirable streetlights that are more expensive to install and maintain than lights Dominion installs as a standard.

Known as the Reston Demonstration, Dominion operates 262 special lights in the area, only 10 short of capping the project. However, 70 more lights have been proposed for the area by new developments and future county projects, meaning that most will not be of the desirable quality and design, unless the demonstration is expanded.

IN OTHER AREAS of the county and nationwide, a standard system of street lighting is continuous lighting, installing streetlights every so often in a row. Reston uses a different philosophy, said Fairfax County engineer Felix Bermejo. In Reston, shopping centers and major intersections are illuminated with more intensity than most residential streets and neighborhoods. "A completely lighted street in Reston would be a disaster," said Newlon.

Dominion was supposed to keep a record of demonstration lights’ cost-effectiveness. Although they are more expensive to install and maintain, having fewer of them may actually be less expensive than a string of continuous lighting that is less expensive to operate.

"It will be up to Virginia Power if they want to expand [the demonstration]," said Bermejo. "Virginia Power is very conservative, to say the least," he said about the company’s financial decisions.

Michael Miller, member of the DRB board, said all of Reston needs a standard for what type of lighting could be installed. "We gotta get the cops to chop off on it, and I want the RA board behind it," said Miller. Bermejo said that the demonstration was a pilot project, which is why it was limited to a geographic area. "You want it throughout Reston, you will need, to say the least, support of the RA board," said Bermejo. He added that even with that backing, the DRB might not get what it wants. "The key is Virginia Power. They say ‘no’ and that’s it," he said. DRB board member Neal Roseberry said support of the Hunter Mill District supervisor is also critical. The demonstration was initialized thanks to former county supervisor Martha Pennino’s efforts.

Reston Association board’s liaison to the DRB, Mark Watts, agreed with Roseberry’s assessment. "The supervisor would have to be on board with us," he said. Taylor encouraged Watts as a member of the RA board to talk to homeowner associations’ presidents and condominium representatives, because that is the source of phone calls to the supervisor’s office advocating more streetlights.

Captain Deborah Burnett, the commander of the Fairfax County Police Reston District station, said the lighting issue is subjective. She said lighting can be a factor in crime, but crime happens in well-lit areas, as well as dark areas. "Crime that we do have [in Reston] is in both areas," said Burnett. Regardless of the lighting nature of the area, Burnett said residents should be mindful of their surroundings.

IN JULY 1983, the Reston Street Lighting Advisory Committee submitted a report to Pennino, outlining Reston’s need for special lights. "The Reston design, unlike other urban and suburban areas, minimizes — if not eliminates — the need for extensive continuous lighting," reads the report. In light of lack of experience of installing and maintaining the special lights, the report suggests a demonstration program be implemented. "This would serve to speed up the installation of lights in some important locations, while at the same time provide findings on community acceptance, actual field cost data, and other data associated with actual installation."

The committee’s report also finds that continuous lighting is not in Reston’s best interest. "It would not only be a disservice to ‘blight’ Reston at night with streets lined with cobra-head street lights, but Reston’s design concepts make continuous street lighting in the conventional sense unnecessary," states the report. The geographic area of the demonstration was expanded once already, at the request of Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), to include certain renovations — such as the South Lakes High School renovation — and new developments in Reston.

Taylor said that a lot of the people requesting better-lit streets are new to the community. "It’s too bad that when people move to Reston they do not find out what Reston is all about," said DRB board member Beth Burns.