Reston from above.

Reston from above.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reston 20/20 Comments on latest JAG proposal for Tall Oaks Village Center

From:  Tammi Petrine 

Dear Fairfax County Planning Commissioners,

I would like to refute several of Mark Looney’s statements made at the Tall Oaks hearing last Thursday that were very cleverly crafted to misrepresent some of the circumstances regarding the Tall Oaks redevelopment effort.  From my perspective as a very alert, active community member for the last 6 years of Reston master planning, I have witnessed similar tactics over and over.  

Very few of us citizens have either the time or the knowledge to protest the enormous development that Fairfax Co. in general and Reston in specific are undergoing by attending multiple meetings and hearings.   I was encouraged at this hearing to hear good questions coming from some commissioners that signal that perhaps there is a modicum of hope to reign in some of the outrageously poorly designed projects.  The Tall Oaks Village Center is such a beast.

  • Tall Oaks Village Center plan as presented now is neither a village center in spirit nor design.
o   There is not enough retail to qualify.  8500 square ft. is ridiculously small.  The question was asked of Looney: How many stores would 8500 sq. ft. accommodate?  His answer between 8 – 10.  8500 / 8 = 106.25 sq. ft.   Info from brief online search: An average 7/11 in this country is between 2400 – 3000 sq. ft.  The average size small restaurant that seats 58 is 2550 sq. ft.  The required work space alone for a small bakery would be 1500 sq. ft.   Retail and seating spaces would be extra.  A small ice cream retail shop with no seating needs 400 sq. ft. (Check out this link for more info on required sq. footages for other types of stores:  I think you get the idea.  PS: We would be thrilled with 8 - 10 stores!  Please require more retail square footage to make that possible.  The reason Reston was planned with 5 Village Centers is to make it walkable in the medium density areas with enough parking to accommodate the SFH residents who would likely drive to designations.
o   The outdoor community space is contrived and too small.  The county staff is abrogating the required backyard 200 sq. ft. per unit, claiming that there is community space for the owners to use instead.   Using grandiose terms like ‘promenade’ for a sidewalk does not make the proposed space either usable or sufficient for community gatherings for even the new # of units proposed for Tall Oaks let alone the wider neighborhood!  The closest existing neighbor is an assisted living center yet this developer claims to be serving that neighbor by providing fitness equipment in the public area.  Seriously?  A person is not in an assisted living center if s/he can jog outside to do stretches, etc.  What would be appropriate and appreciated is an adult-scale row of cocoon swings (with backs and arms).  The water feature with surrounding benches and children’s’ climbing area are great for intergenerational activity.  However, the outdoor congregating area is too small for concerts, puppet shows or other entertainment/meetings needed to qualify for community meeting space.
o   The public parking is totally unreasonable and inadequate.  There is NO adjacent street parking for this site.
o   Can you imagine 2 public bus lines (RIBS & Fairfax Connector) turning down your internal narrow residential access street on a regular basis to accommodate in internal bus stop?  One glance at this plan shows the inadequacy of the layout and over-crowded site plan.  I am astonished that this ever made it through the staff review!
  • Traffic in this area is already catastrophically impacted by arrival in Metro.   
    • In the AM, when existing residents of this area attempt to exit neighborhood going southbound onto Wiehle, the cars already backed up from the Sunset Hills Road intersection prevent  left turns: Tall Oaks residents have zero space to merge.  Light cycle after light cycle provides no relief. 
    • The Tall Oaks neighborhood east of Wiehle which includes this new JAG development has NO other exit.  If the developer wants to add well over 100 more living units to the mix, he could provide another northbound-only exit to Wiehle.   A community architect met with Robert Simon about this dismal plan before Simon’s death and went over the plan to provide such an exit.  He also made a trip over to FDOT to discuss this and was assured this would doable.  JAG wanted nothing to do with it and ended the conversation.
  • Mr. Looney alluded to the idea that Reston Association’s own Design Review Board had given its blessing to this plan.  Please realize that the RA DRB has NO influence on the content of the plan; it can only regulate the external finishes and details.  It IS the job of the Fairfax County planning and zoning staff to regulate the major details of the plan re: Village Center requirements, parking, building clearances, canopy cover, etc.  You heard multiple issues with insufficient info re: traffic and clearances from just your few questions.  How did this ever get approved for your review?
  • Mr. Looney told you JAG had spent two years and held 54 community meetings of one type or another before arriving at this plan.  Yes, JAG started out with a slightly different plan and was clearly shocked by the idea that Reston was a planned community with specific requirements.  The number of advertised, public meetings were minimal.  Mr. Looney cited one such meeting sponsored by Supervisor Hudgins in the empty Giant.  Let me tell you about that meeting.  (BTW, Reston Association has always generously allowed developers to hold meetings in its state-of-the-art conference center.  In addition, the new supervisor’s office has a large appropriate conference/meeting room so the location was one that JAG selected voluntarily.)

This spring’s last public meeting was a classic ‘check the box’ offering but with a couple of twists:  The space was dark and freezing cold.  JAG had set up a buffet of food (?) but did not have either adequate lighting, heat or enough folding chairs to accommodate  even ½ of those to who turned out to hear JAG’s long awaited “new” proposal that was supposed to answer previously defined problems.  JAG had provided 4 or 5 construction lights on tripods to light the ‘meeting space’ which was bounded by tape stretched between roof support posts.  They had a slide show but NO microphone.  The kicker was that the generator that provided the power for the lights and projector/computer was so loud that no one could hear a thing.  Repeated requests for speakers to talk/yell loud enough for everyone to hear failed.  

To add insult to injury, the time limitations on the evening meeting prohibited many folks who came to the meeting from asking questions or giving comments except for one current tenant of the shopping center who is the owner of the nail salon.  He spoke at length TWICE denying others a turn.  You should know that at previous meetings, he and other tenants had railed against the former owner, detailing how horribly they had been treated and leaving no question as to why other tenants had fled the center.  Now at this meeting, Mr. Nail Guy lifted the barricade tape and made his way to the front of the seating area to inform us how wonderful this current JAG plan was and how we needed to support it as scary guys were now casing his business and he was afraid of being robbed.  He expounded that we would never get anything better and he was sick of waiting, etc.   Imagine our surprise when it was disclosed that JAG had offered him a prime space in the newly acquired office building!   
This meeting was manipulated for maximum effect by Looney and JAG.  There is a recently vacated restaurant space two stores down from the Giant space that was adjacent to an operating business.  It has low ceilings and JAG could’ve run an extension cord from next door to provide a satisfactory space with lighting and a microphone where folks could see, hear and speak.  Nope.  JAG wanted to showcase an empty grocery store cavern to make us believe that retail would fail in this location.  Barbara Byron of the Fairfax Revitalization office was sitting right in front of me.  Something Looney said in his remarks set her off.  She told the lady next to her that something was inaccurate.  She made a beeline for him after the meeting but I was never able to discern the issue that so angered her.  I would love to know.

The community is not responsible for the time JAG is taking to come up with a decent plan...  You heard Looney insinuate that we are the problem because we cannot make up our  minds.  He blames the victim.  It is not Restonians holding up progress but rather JAG’s inability to accept that a PRC means something out of their typical realm.  We pay a high price for living in Reston.  For that, we expect that our community remain true to the master plan.  This iteration fails in numerous respects. 

The types of housing proposed take up too much space and the number of units is too high.  Living spaces that are smashed together with minimal clearances/driveways/garages/sidewalks are not what should be approved.  The result optimizes profit at the expense of all in the Reston community, new residents and existing neighbors.  Would you want to live in a development billed as a Village Center with insufficient retail, minimal open space, walls of fences and alley-way type streets, limited parking, already terrible traffic where you are smashed into a ‘cluster’ devoid of any of the requirements of a planned community?  Will this development provide a long-term success for Reston or for just the pockets of Mr. Looney and JAG?  Does this plan in any way satisfy the requirement of a Village Center?  The answer is unequivocally “NO!”

I have lived in Reston for over 40 years, have attended over 600 planning meetings and know what is required to keep our community viable.  Slowly the continued approval of poorly conceived projects is killing our gem and ultimately Fairfax County’s tax revenues.  Please send this iteration of JAG’s plan back to the drawing board.  It is not ready for prime time.

Thank you.
Tammi Petrine
Co-Chair, Reston 2020

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Key Issues in RA’s Planned Independent Tetra Audit, Reston 20/20, July 10, 2016

The paper below identifies eight issues and numerous related questions that Reston 20/20 believes the RA independent audit of the Tetra debacle should address.  The paper has been sent to the RA Board of Directors for its consideration and action by the Board Governance Committee.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Find out about new road taxes at the RNAG Community meeting next week.

Next Monday, June 27, 7PM, North County Government Center, FCDOT will present a community meeting on funding the proposed re-shaping of the roadways in and around the Dulles Corridor to accommodate the massive growth planned there over the next 40 years.  We anticipate two key elements of the FCDOT presentation (although we do not have the presentation). 

  • First, an update on the scope of the mitigation efforts that will be required to handle the traffic expected as density mushrooms along the Dulles Corridor.   So far, FCDOT has gone through two of the three tiers of mitigation (from easiest/cheapest to most difficult/expensive).  According to  in late March, even with these Tier 2 improvements, 31 station area intersections will still be operating at Level of Service (LOS) “F” during the peak AM or PM or both hours.   

Second, in a presentation to just the Advisory Group this week, FCDOT noted that it has found unexplained $223,000,000 in savings for the “grid of streets,” which were always planned to be paid for by developers only.  However, no explanation is provided on how all this money is to be saved.  

We are perplexed by how FCDOT managed to reduce the cost of the “grid of streets” for developers by nearly a quarter-billion dollars (22%) without significantly lowering County expectations for these roadways.   We don’t know what features (number of lanes) or amenities (bike lanes) might have been cut to achieve this savings.  In short, it sounds too good to be true. 

On the other hand, FCDOT is proposing that station area residents pay a new property-based tax.   It described two new funding options (new #6 and new #7) that would entail a new Tax Service District (like the one all Restonians pay for the Reston Community Center) for station area residents that would cost them $0.015/$100 valuation to fill an $85-$110 million funding gap depending on the option selected.   Please see the footnote below that says New Option #6 would actually need to have another $0.005/$100 valuation—or a total of $0.020/$100 valuation—to cover cash flow needs.  Always read the small print.  FCDOT says this would add $75 to $100 to each taxpayer’s bill (depending on the option) for a property valued at $500,000.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we would make the following points on the proposed taxation of Reston station area residents to fund these roadway improvements:

  • Station area residents will derive no benefit from these roadway improvements; in fact, just the opposite.  It is the stated intent of FCDOT to degrade to intersection Level of Service goal for these streets from LOS “D” to LOS “E.”  More broadly, this degraded service intent extends specifically to the through streets—the ones Restonians beyond the station areas use to travel from one side of Reston to the other—even though they do not intend to go to or from the station areas.    
  • At the same time, developers will likely earn nearly $6 BILLION over the next five years from their existing and new Reston station area construction.   The roughly 6,000 homeowners in the station areas will not receive one extra dollar in income because they live in the station areas, yet they will be taxed an added $85-$111 million over the same five-year timeframe.   If that tax cost were paid by the developers, it would represent less than two percent of their net operating income in the same five-year period.
And please note that:
  • The $.015/$100 valuation (or the more likely $.020/$100 valuation) tax is almost certainly a “teaser rate” introductory tax.  Tysons’ Tax Service District tax rate went up one full penny per $100 valuation in one year, and will likely continue to rise.  We can expect the same in Reston.
  • Property appreciation will have its usual impact on property taxes:  As the property value rises, so will the Tax Service District tax—even if the rate doesn’t change.
  • Tax Service District will never go away.  Just because the construction cost gap is closed in five years doesn’t mean there won’t be maintenance costs forever that will be paid by this residential tax.  And it is not at all clear that the money will even go to Reston or to roads.
  • Forcing residents of the station areas (or all Reston as previously proposed) to pay an additional tax for roads that will be less passable than at present is nothing less than massive and grotesque corporate welfare served up by the County to appease developers who are already making billions in profits each year.

Moreover, if $233 million FCDOT cut in the “grid of streets” cost can be cut from developers’ contribution to the grid, why couldn’t the developers easily pick up the $85-111 million FCDOT wants the residents of the Dulles Corridor to pay?  After all, to do so would still mean a savings of $122 million or more for them—and presumably decent streets.

All these are observations and questions Reston attendees at next week’s RNAG community meeting may want to pursue with FCDOT.  Again, that meeting is next Monday, June 27, at 7PM at the North County Government Center.  

Come and learn about the cost and financing of future streets in our station areas and how much you may have to pay for them.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

RA is counting pennies while spending millions on Tetra.

Among the agenda items for the RA Board of Directors meeting this week is an item (Item I) to review whether RA should answer RA members’ requests for information about Tetra or refer it to the not-as-yet approved “independent” task force already on the agenda.  The topic arises because three Restonians, including myself, have asked for information concerning Tetra.  
For the record, Cate Fulkerson has been very good about answering our questions (and we presume questions asked by others).  But within the last week, Eve Thompson—a maniacally obsessed supporter of all things Tetra—asked Cate to keep the Board informed about these inquiries.  Danielle DeLaRosa and President Ellen Graves quickly endorsed Ms. Thompson’s query.  Here is what Eve & Dannielle said and Ellen concurred in:

  • Eve:  “given the scope of this request for information would you please provide the Board with an estimate of man-hours it will take to assemble this data?”
  • Dannielle:  “I have a similar question to Eve.  Can you tell us the cost of those man-hours?  . . . some of this will take a lot of staff time.  The accounting department is already down a full time person.”

Cate said she would compile the information requested by the Board (but not the answers to the questions).  

As readers can see in the Board packet, the queries the three of us posed are pretty straightforward.  They are most definitely the kind of questions a thorough “independent” task force will be asking of RA staff if one is approved by the RA Board of Directors and appointed. 

One of our highlighted questions, in fact, will be answered at this month’s Board meeting:  What is the specific source in the Operating Budget of the $430K the RA Board so easily transferred without knowing (or even asking) what RA would need to give up to shift funds to cover the huge Tetra cost overrun?  Ms. Fulkerson has now prepared a “Permanent Variance” spreadsheet that will be discussed at this month’s meeting (Item G, p. 100). 

For the record, Reston 20/20 discovered an error in the “Permanent Variance” spreadsheet in reviewing this month’s RA Board agenda package.  We informed Ms. Fulkerson that there is an error in the estimated impact for the January-May 2016 timeframe in the Permanent Variance table.  The total should be $255,650, not $225,650 as printed, a $30K shortfall.  A typo no doubt, but then who’s proofreading the documents sent to the Board?   

Please note that we did this on our own initiative without having Ms. Fulkerson fill out any forms or charging RA for the cost of time and materials to make her record correct.  We have not been thanked yet for our correction.

The other of our “questions” is not really a question, it is an offer for RA to review a cash flow spreadsheet we prepared on the amount RA has spent on Tetra and the associated revenues.  RA has not responded, but others discovered an error in my calculations (actually favoring RA) that we corrected.  We have since published the revised spreadsheet with a blog post.    

The bottom line of that post is that RA has spent more than $687,000 of Restonians’ money to repair and renovate Tetra (about $28/household), the total Tetra R&R costs, including Tetra Properties’ $275,000 to make exterior improvements, have skyrocketed to $962,000, and the total net cash flow loss through the first two years will be $911,000 (or about $41 per RA household)And that doesn’t include the $1.2 million the Tetra working group has proposed to spend on the Tetra grounds.   

You’d think RA would appreciate the opportunity to comment on these massive cost overruns, but apparently not.

A pair of questions we asked separately and are not on the agenda here concern how RA arrived at its new forecast of $175K for program revenues (not profits) this year (May-December 2016) and $389K next year—both of which are much higher than forecast earlier in the year (notwithstanding the previously expected $100K rent from Tetra Partners this year).    We can't help but observe that suddenly the prospects for program revenues look so much rosier in the face of the huge renovation cost overruns.  

We simply wanted to know how these large figures were calculated.  What fees/rates were used?  What assumptions were made about usage rates (market demand)?  What percentage would be RA vs. non-RA usage (presumably at higher rates)? etc.  In fact, we believe the new program revenue forecast vastly overstates the program revenues Restonians will see generated by Tetra through next year and, therefore, will require added RA assessment fee increases or more program cuts. 

More importantly, we find this sudden visored “tsk, tsk” bookkeeping cost-consciousness by RA’s Board disingenuous and hypocritical in the extreme.  This cost questioning comes from some of the same Board members who:
  • Purchased the Tetra property at more than twice its market price, costing Restonians and extra $1.3 million;
  • Stated that Tetra Partners would pay the cost of exterior repairs at $275,000, and still ran over budget costing Restonians more than $30,000;
  • Stated that the cost of renovations and re-purchasing the interior of the facility would cost $250,000 when the cost is now nearly triple that at $687,000; and
  • Stated that exterior repairs and renovations would cost $9,000 in their financial statement supporting the referendum and a consultant now tells us it will cost $1.2 million. 

Suddenly the RA Board is all atwitter about three information requests when it failed abysmally to carry out any kind of fiduciary responsibility in getting the costs somewhere near correct in selling the Tetra purchase to RA members.

And now we even have a cost figure for one of the requests as prepared by RA, which—in the end—highlights both how overstated it is and how the referendum vastly understated the costs of renovating Tetra were going to be.  According to RA (see the document below), the cost of answering one of Mr. Dean’s questions will be $1,231.  Yes, that is $1,231 for 27 hours of work by 3 people!

Using that same average hourly rate ($1,231/27 = $46/hour), all the work RA proposed needed to be done on the interior of the Tetra property ($250,000) could have been done by the same three people in 45 weeks. 

Do either of those outcomes make any sense at all?  NO, they are both imaginary numbers to make a point:  How cheap it was going to be to fix Tetra and how expensive it’s going to be to answer a simple question.    

This is your RA staff and Board trying to mis-lead Restonians again, just as they did a year ago, to save a few pennies while spending millions more on Tetra. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Did RA commit to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Tetra without Board authorization?

Below is a spreadsheet provided by Reston Association showing RA costs it has budgeted and incurred ("Actuals" in green) on Tetra as of May 2016.  As we all think we know at this time, the RA Board of Directors authorized $259,000 towards the renovation and re-purposing of the Tetra office building to RA uses in 2016.

What the table appears to show by way of the green cells extended across the calendar year is that RA committed to spending $625K on Tetra before the May 2016 meeting at which the Board added $430K to cover cost overruns above the $259K budget, including $504.5K to the general contractor for interior work.  The single line, covering actual and expected payments to "Construction--General Contractor, Interior" suggests that RA knew by March (when the first payment was made) that it had a contract or other agreement with this contractor to pay nearly double what the RA Board had budgeted for work on Tetra.  Actually, RA had made payments on eight of these contractual arrangements before the May RA Board meeting, all pointing to contracts or agreements reached months in advance of Board approval to commit to this spending.  In fact, the RA staff had to get the RA Board of Directors' approval at the May Board meeting because more than $249K was due in that month--which would have blown up the budget--alone on top of the $139K spent already this year. 

If we are reading this spreadsheet correctly, it appears that RA staff committed RA and Restonians to spending some $366K that the Board had not approved and, in fact, may not have even been aware of.  Of course, this all occurred in RA Board election season, so it would have been impolitic for RA or the Board to let the public know of these known large cost overruns on a timely basis.  It could have been very costly to incumbents trying to be re-elected.

If the above is true, shouldn't those RA staff who were not authorized to commit these funds be removed from their positions for this egregious breach of trust?   And if members of the Board of Directors knew about these unauthorized financial commitments before the May Board meeting, shouldn't they be removed from office?

Planning Commission endorses higher density for redevelopment areas, Annandale Blog, June 16, 2016

The following is a re-post of an article by Allie Ashford posted on the Annandale blog.  Please note that the Board of Supervisors' hearing on this proposal is next week--June 21, 2016.  This train is rolling!

Planning Commission endorses higher density for redevelopment areas

This mixed-use (residential and retail) building planned for a 2.6-acre site at 301 W. Broad St., Falls Church, has a FAR of 3.33, states a report by Fairfax County Planning and Zoning staff on the zoning ordinance amendment. The FAR would increase if the building had more stories. [DPZ]
The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted to endorse unanimously a zoning ordinance amendment Oct. 15 that would pave the way for higher density in revitalization areas like Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners.

The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on the amendment for June 21.

The measure would set a maximum floor-area ratio (FAR) of up to 5.0 in all 20 of the county’s transit station areas (TSAs), community redevelopment districts (CRDs), and commercial business centers (CBCs). 

A FAR of 5.0 would allow a developer to build structures with floor space that is five times greater than the area of the parcel of land on which it sits. That’s significantly greater density than currently allowed in older commercial areas – or anywhere else in the county. The current plan for the area at Reston’s Town Center Metro station, for example, calls for a FAR of 4.0 (with a bonus of 0.5).

Several activists from Mason District spoke out against the amendment at a Planning Commission hearing  last month. They argued a 5.0 FAR would encourage inappropriately high density next to residential areas that are not within walking distance of Metro.

During the Planning Commission discussion June 15, Commissioner James Hart (at large) proposed an amendment to allow a FAR of 5.0 in TSAs but lower the maximum FAR to 4.0 in CRDs and CBCs. That amendment was defeated 4-7.

Commissioner Julie Strandlie (Mason) said she opposed Hart’s amendment because limiting the FAR to 4.0 could prevent redevelopment in Seven Corners and Annandale as envisioned in the comprehensive plans already adopted for those areas.

Raising the FAR to 5.0 doesn’t mean all redevelopment areas will end up with that much density; it just provides for more flexibility, said Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill), who supports the original amendment.

Commissioner Timothy Sargeant (at large) said raising the allowable FAR to 5.0 would not exempt a developer from compliance with any state or county regulation and would not eliminate the need for a traffic management analysis or any other existing requirements.

Every application will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Hart, who joined the commissioners in supporting the original amendment. “If  it’s ridiculous or inappropriate, we’re  capable of making that decision.”

Tetra to cost another $1.2 MILLION for grounds work.

At last night's Lake House (Tetra) Working Group (LHWG) meeting, the working group members were told by RA's consultants Kimley-Horn that the work they planned to have done on the "exterior" (the grounds, not the building) would cost $1.2 million.  For those who don't recall, the official RA Pro Forma Financials put forth as part of last year's Voter's Guide had the cost at $9,000 (on top of the $250K for interior repairs--now at more than $600K).  So the new price tag for the exterior repairs & improvements is 133 times what RA told Restonians a year ago.  The original RA estimate isn't even within the rounding error.

The LHWG made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the financial aspects of these repairs and improvements.  They argued those decisions needed to be made by the RA Board.  Yet, we can't help but note that the pricing offered last evening was on the repairs and renovations proposed by the LHWG.  Certainly the LHWG didn't expect them to be free, yet the LHWG included a substantial number of unnecessary bells and whistles.  The list of concerns and recommendations they discussed at their April meeting included:
• Increase green spaces
• Install native plantings, raingarden, butterfly garden 
• Add benches/seating areas
• Deck/dock 
• Active area closest to the “lake-side” of the building
• Add wayfinding signage
• Address existing pedestrian and lighting concerns
• Install guard railing to prevent parking on common areas
• Increase pedestrian and parking accessibility facilities
• Reduce impervious surfaces
The recommended exterior plan looks like this:

Kimley-Horn saw this work being completed in four phases:

1. Parking & access: the traffic circle at the entrance to the building. 
2. Site improvements: Grading, roads and walkways, stormwater management
3. Waterfront improvement: walkways, a dock, landscaping
4. Brown's Chapel Park improvements: grading, paving,, walkways ($47,000)
This prioritization was consistent with what the LHWG recommended at its April meeting when it ranked parking and guard rails at the top of its priority list.

The good news, if any, in this story is that the LHWG made it a point to note that the $1.2 million added cost should not be borne in RA member assessment fees.  The idea of some corporate sponsor ponying up the money was raised, but what corporation (most likely a high-density residential developer) would want their name tagged to the Tetra fiasco.  You can bet, however, that RA will press for developer proffers to help pay for these improvements.  Until then, most of this proposed work just may not get done.

And, BTW, the Lake House will be open on June 27.

Total anticipated cost for Tetra renovation so far, including the proposed grounds work:  $2.2 MILLION on a $2.65MM purchase that was double fair market value.