Column: Why Can’t Everyone Be Cool?—Part 2

Column: Why Can’t Everyone Be Cool?—Part 2

Lake Anne homeowners still bound by covenant to the aging Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning (RELAC) chilled water system have petitioned Reston Association to hold a referendum on eliminating the covenant. Elimination would allow all homeowners to have a choice among alternative A/C systems or continuing with RELAC. The referendum likely will be held in the fall. A referendum held seven years ago failed by a vote of 130 to 100. The campaign pitted neighbor against neighbor. A third of affected homeowners opted not to vote. The core problem is that the aging, once innovative, system is the same as when it was built 50 years ago, while conventional A/C has greatly improved and cools more effectively and quietly now, at a lower cost, than RELAC. Many homeowners are unhappy. They are unable to cool their homes to a comfortable level, and must contend with high electric bills as well as soaring RELAC bills, up nearly 60 percent in recent years. But, others with homes exposed to less direct sunlight, better location on the distribution system or condition of pipes, or more tolerance for higher temps are reluctant to invest in new A/C equipment. Meanwhile, Lake Anne businesses and the Community Center have been granted exceptions to the monopoly because they serve the public and don’t feel they get adequate cooling from RELAC. The firm redeveloping Lake Anne says they will not use RELAC in new residential or commercial units. One ardent covenant supporter in the last referendum opted off RELAC to install conventional A/C needed by an ailing spouse. About 30 others have gotten exemptions for health reasons. The system may still be adequate for some, it is not for others. The last referendum campaign was unpleasant. Some favoring continued monopoly accused those favoring free choice of simply failing to maintain their homes and RELAC system. As one who replaced every single window and door in our home, installed a new reflective roof, and religiously maintains the A/C system, I resent such unfounded arguments.

Another argument of the RELAC faithful is that given free choice, many might opt to invest in conventional A/C causing RELAC to further raise their costs or go out of business. I doubt it is that simple. In fact, if some left the system, RELAC can reduce costs, perhaps improve service with a less demand on it.

In this connection, it seems to me that the Reston Association could ease tensions, and perform a vitally important service for its members tied to RELAC. Instead of making exemptions to RELAC more difficult to obtain as the current RA Board is doing with Lake Anne reps leading the charge, why shouldn’t RA instead help to clarify for all the principal issues involved by bringing independent technical expertise to bear on them. RA could contract with experts to examine the level of service being provided to representative home and business sites to see in fact if there are different levels of service being delivered and how they compare to that delivered by conventional A/C in side-by-side locations, for example. Why do businesses, the Community Center, developers and doctors see differences? RA cannot, of course, dictate to RELAC how it conducts its business. But, it seems well within its mandate to look out for member property values and general welfare by providing sorely needed, independently sourced information before the referendum. Or, we can go through another nasty campaign with an outcome based on charges and countercharges instead of providing voters with valid data.