Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, May 31, 2013

Transportation pie, Fairfax Times, May 31, 2013

This commentary by Eileen Curtis, President of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, provides an interesting perspective on the different views of the No. Va. Transportation Authority vs. the No. Va. Transportation Alliance on the proposed allocation of the $189 million coming to the area for transportation improvements.
A recent breakfast gathering of the transportation cognoscenti of the region and presented by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance posed this question: How will our various Northern Virginia jurisdictions split up the pie of new transportation money? County leaders or their representatives from Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington and Loudoun comprised the panel of presenters. Perhaps the most interesting information, however, came from the discussion sheets provided to the audience. . .
. . . The Authority comprises appointees drawn mainly from the chairs/mayors of the nine cities and counties comprising the Authority, along with a smattering of General Assembly members, transportation officials and gubernatorial appointees. By its nature, the pie will be split according to parochial interests. There is another transportation group that has been on the ground for a number of years, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, headed by Bob Chase. He and his organizations are the gurus to which our chamber and most all other chambers pay attention when questions arise about roads and bridges. They are nonpartisan, and they are experts. Mass transit is not part of their core mission.
After presenting the differing lists of the Authority vs. the Alliance, the article continues:
 Only the Authority requested monies for public transit alternatives such as work at three VRE stations and two WMATA projects: traction power upgrades on the Orange Line and 10 new buses on Virginia routes, together totaling $12,000,000.
What does this mean to us citizens? It gives two different views of how to prioritize transportation needs, one from a mainly legislative body, one from a transportation expert viewpoint, one encompassing both roads and mass transit, the other just roads. I hope you will use it as a road map to inform your own point of view and to share that with your legislators. It will be the Authority that cuts the pie.
Get the details here. 

Its useful to have this kind of perspective from a regional business executive as we think about what to do with the scarce funding available to improve our abominable transportation situation.  



Thursday, May 30, 2013

Upcoming RCC Meetings Considering the RCC Recreation Center Proposal

Upcoming Public Meetings of the
Reston Community Center Board of Governors 
BOG Committee Meeting

The Reston Community Center Board of Governors seeks public input as it considers plans for RCC facilities and programming. Reston residents are invited to the following public meetings at which comments are welcome. Key agenda items are listed under the applicable meeting date. Regular monthly meeting Board packages are posted to the RCC website three calendar days prior to the meeting (Friday afternoons).

Monday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Long Range Planning Committee Meeting
Delivery of the Brailsford & Dunlavey update to the indoor recreation market study & financial analysis. Public comments at conclusion.
Monday, June 3 at 8:00 p.m.
June Regular Monthly Board Meeting
Discussion of proposed RCC fee changes (Aquatics, Land Aerobics, Ceramics and Facility Rentals). Public comments at beginning.
Monday, June 17 at 6:30 p.m.
Annual Public Hearing for Programs and Budget
RCC's presentation of its FY15 Budget Outline, Three Year Capital Improvement Plan and Capital Maintenance Plan. Following public comment, the Board of Governors will provide further guidance to staff regarding its FY15 Budget Submission and planning in conjunction with the Fairfax County Park Authority as it explores the Master Plan for Baron Cameron Park. RCC's Annual Report is also distributed at this meeting.
All meetings will be held at RCC Hunters Woods (2310 Colts Neck Rd., Reston, VA). 
Can't make the meeting? Reston residents and businesses are invited to share thoughts via email to RCCContact@fairfaxcounty.gov 
  Following the June 17 meeting, a copy of the Annual Report will be available online at www.restoncommunitycenter.com
 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Agenda: Reston Task Force Meeting, May 28, 2013



RESTON MASTER PLAN SPECIAL STUDY TASK FORCE
 May 28, 2013

Task Force Meeting
Reston Community Center at Lake Anne
Washington Plaza, Reston



AGENDA



7:00 p.m.         Public Comment Period

7:10 p.m.         Administrative Items – Patty Nicoson, Task Force Chair

7:15 p.m.    Updates re: Wiehle Access from Fairfax County Department of Transportation
(FCDOT) Staff –Chris Wells, Capital Projects and Operations Division, FCDOT Mike Garcia, Transportation Planning Division, FCDOT


 
8:00 p.m.    Presentation re: version 3 Draft Comprehensive Plan text –
   New Public Facilities section
Heidi Merkel, Department of Planning and Zoning

8:55 p.m.    Next Task Force Meeting – Discussion of Version 3 draft Plan text and additional Areawide sections to be circulated
   June 11th, Location TBD

9:00 p.m.         Adjourn – Patty Nicoson


 
PLEASE NOTE: The Version 3 Draft Comprehensive Plan Text will be posted on the study webpage by 2:00 TODAY, Tuesday May 28, 2013.


 
 


Please see additional information at the Reston Ma/ster Plan Special Study Webpage:

Individual work spaces shrink 20% or more, Federal Times, October 2, 2011


Lawmakers are putting the squeeze on federal work spaces.
A House committee is directing that federal employees at newly leased offices get 157 square feet of work space per person or less. That space includes administrative and common areas such as conference or break rooms, employee workstations, executive offices and snack bars, but excludes space such as bathrooms, stairwells, lobbies, storage space, connecting hallways and utility closets. . .
 That amount of work space is roughly 20 percent less than the 200-square-feet-per-person standard the government used for its leased offices nearly a decade ago, which is the last time it had such a standard.
The latest leases approved by the House panel last month are illustrative:
• 1,059 employees of the State, Justice and Veterans Affairs departments will each have 155 square feet of working space. That $216 million, 15-year lease for 294,000 square feet at 1800 G Street NW in Washington takes effect in May.
• 1,361 State Department employees, currently working in numerous leased offices, will be consolidated to two facilities — one in Washington and one in Arlington, Va. — before the end of 2012. Under that $345 million, 15-year 469,000-square-foot lease, the employees will be limited to 156 square feet per person.
• 510 Department of Homeland Security employees will have 138 square feet per person under an $88 million, 10-year 147,000-square-foot lease in New York. The lease will take effect before the end of 2012. . . .
While the US Government isn't a  major player in Fairfax County commercial real estate, its policies set a tone for the private sector companies with which it works.  It will be hard for a "beltway bandit" to justify 300 square feet for each employee under contract with the USG.  And this was one and a half years ago.


Friday, May 24, 2013

One Forecast of Shrinking Office Work Space

InSiteSF, a San Francisco commercial real estate blog, reports the following from a presentation at a recent real estate seminar:

At a recent CORFAC seminar in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to hear Chris Lee of CEL & Associates, Inc present an intriguing overview of the U.S. commercial real estate market. Among the nuggets that pertain specifically to the office market:
  • The amount of office space per worker could shrink to 50sf – 75sf, and 25% of workers will be “Club” employees
  • Office buildings will shift from 8 to 6 to 24/7 activity centers
  • “My Place” will replace “My Space” as workers seek opportunities to create virtual offices, connective portals and “swarming” venues
  • Office space will be leased by units of consumption rather than square footage
  • Future leasing decisions will be made by the Director of Human Resources to reduce growing generational conflicts and enhance worker productivity
  • Moveable, “intelligent” walls will replace fixed offices. Windows will have electro-chromic glass which turn them into multi-touch screens
  • “Pop-Up” workplace cubicles, exercise and/or ergonomic office furniture and pink noise systems will be commonplace.
Will office buildings “function more like a Marriott and operate like Sabre”?
Wow! . . but Fairfax planners continue to assert that office space per worker is 300 square feet.  

Follow-up Letter to Chairman Bulova on Planning Assumption re Office Space per Worker, May 24, 2013

The following letter follows up on a letter sent to Chairman Bulova a month ago noting that, contrary to County staff assuming that office space per worker is growing to 300 GSF per worker, current work space is about 200 GSF and falling, possibly to 100 GSF or less. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tolls, Taxes, the Portsmouth Judge...and MWAA and the Dulles Toll Road?

Last week, in a surprising decision, Virginia Circuit Judge James A. Cales, Jr., ruled that the planned tolls on the Portsmouth Midtown-Downtown tunnel were unconstitutional under the Virginia Constitution because they constituted taxation without representation.  In a subsequent ruling, the judge refused to stay his decision as requested by the Commonwealth. 

The judge's rationale was that the tolls are taxes, and only the Commonwealth has the authority to levy taxes, since taxation requires representation under the Virginia Constitution.  This is essentially the same argument that has been made in a local case (Corr, Grigsby v. MWAA) against MWAA for raising tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay off bonds for construction of the Silver Line.  That case is now before a Virginia Appeals Court after having been rejected by the circuit court, i.e.--the opposite decision on the same basic argument made in the Portsmouth case.

In the Portsmouth case, the tolls are the result of a public-private partnership (PPP) to construct the tunnel.  In northern Virginia, MWAA's authority stems from an agreement with the Commonwealth to take over management of the DTR, including the authority to raise tolls.

Both the Portsmouth tunnel and the DTR cases stem from the utter refusal of state legislators to raise taxes or tolls of any kind anywhere for fear they will lose votes in the next election.  Increasing taxes and tolls is anathema.  So they have tried to ditch this apparently responsibility apparently dictated by the Virginia Constitution.  That way, they can just shrug their shoulders when MWAA or the PPP charges or raises tolls--"It's not my fault they did that."  But of course it is.

The Washington Examiner reacted this way editorially to the judge's decision:
A Portsmouth judge's recent ruling in a case involving Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act has sent shock waves through the commonwealth and the financial markets, as well it should. Members of the General Assembly have been hiding behind the PPTA by allowing unaccountable bureaucrats and political appointees to do the dirty work of raising taxes to fund major transportation projects. 
The 1995, the PPTA was designed to allow the state to leverage scarce tax dollars by partnering with private companies. Under the Virginia Constitution, only elected members of the General Assembly — who are accountable to the people at the ballot box — have the authority to raise taxes. The PPTA was not supposed to supplant the legislature. But over the years, it has been used to justify what amounts to taxation without representation. . .
The Examiner editorial notes that "Fitch Ratings has already warned investors that Virginia may be on the hook for $1 billion if the Portsmouth decision is upheld."

And, yes, this case (as well as the MWAA case) are far from over.  They will no doubt go to the Virginia Supreme Court where a decision is expected before the Portsmouth tunnel opens in February 2014.

The ramifications for continuing the planned (actually, expected) toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road to cover Metrorail bond payments are not clear--and probably won't be for some time.  If the cases are ultimately rejected, there will be no change in the planned toll increases.  On the other hand, if the Portsmouth judge's ruling is upheld, there appear to be two types of outcomes for the DTR:
  • The General Assembly will approve toll increases very much the same as are already planned for DTR users at the risk of being tossed out of office by their constituents.  
  • The General Assembly will approve a state-wide tax hike to cover the cost the cost of the Metrorail bond payments--at the risk of legislators outside NoVa getting thrown out of office--and tolls will not rise to the astronomic levels projected.  
Either way (or some other way), the bonds will be paid.  

Stay tuned....

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

RCA Raises Questions About RCC Rec Center Proposal, Reston Patch, May 22, 2013

Colin Mills
On Monday, at the RCA Board meeting, our primary topic of discussion was one of Reston’s hottest issues: the RCC proposal to construct a new rec center.  It’s no surprise that this was one of our most spirited meetings ever.  We emerged with a new report that takes a hard look at the questions we need to answer before we decide whether and how to proceed with a rec center, a resolution calling for much more community input in the process, and a proposal for achieving that input.

Our report, The Reston Recreation Center Initiative: Unanswered Questions on Need, Facilities, Location, Financing, and Decision Making, was drafted by our stellar analyst Terry Maynard.  The paper spotlights issues that haven’t been resolved yet in the rec center proposal, and raises questions for further exploration. These questions include:

Community Needs: If you’re familiar with RCC’s long waiting lists for popular programs (especially in aquatics) and the heavy usage of its facilities, the need for a new facility may seem like a no-brainer, particularly with the new residents coming with the Metro.  But those new residents mean that Reston will have other needs too.

We’ll need new schools.  We’ll need updated and expanded public facilities, such as a new library.  We’ll need to maintain RA’s aging infrastructure, and likely provide new amenities as well.  And as RCA has stated repeatedly, we’ll need major transportation improvements to keep Reston moving and preserve our quality of life.

Unfortunately, we can’t afford to build everything we might want.  Given that, where does a new rec center fall in our list of priorities?  Should public funding be used to meet the demand for new indoor recreation space, or will private recreation and fitness providers be sufficient?

The updated market survey that’s due on June 3rd should provide insight on the second question.  But the first question can only be answered through a community-wide discussion of priorities.

Facilities and Services: If we do build a rec center, what should be in it?  The centerpiece of the rec center proposal is an indoor pool.  Should it be a 25-yard pool (like the one RCC has currently), or a 50-meter pool?  Should a leisure pool or a therapy pool also be included?  What about weight rooms or gymasiums?  What about meeting rooms?  Should we include features targeted at seniors (such as reading rooms) and youth (such as a game room?

In general, we believe that the new rec center, if it’s built, should be as comprehensive as we can make it.  Whatever we build will need to meet our community’s needs for decades to come.  We should be as forward-looking as possible in thinking about future demand.  Hopefully, the updated market survey can provide some guidance here as well.

Location: This has been the most contentious issue so far, with many speakers at the public hearings opposing the idea of building at Baron Cameron Park, which has been discussed.  RCC says that they have made no decisions on the location, but the Baron Cameron option is the only one presented so far.  According to RCC representatives at our Monday meeting, they have not conducted a systematic study of alternative locations.

Our paper presented options that could be plausible alternatives: at Tall Oaks, on FCPA land near the North County Government Center, at Isaac Newton Square, and in the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park.  Surely there are others.  Maybe some won’t prove to be feasible, but the only way to know is to fully evaluate the options. Our paper also proposes criteria for evaluating potential sites.

Financing: Currently, RCC proposes to build the facility using their existing Small Tax District #5.  Most other public recreation centers in Fairfax County, however, were built and funded using the County-wide real estate tax, and maintained by the Park Authority.

One possibility would be to lobby the County to build the rec center, as they have done elsewhere.  But that would mean waiting at least a decade – and maybe more – before County capital funds became available.  Do we want to wait that long, or is this a high enough priority that we in Reston should fund it ourselves?

Other factors may come into play.  For instance, how many Restonians vs. non-Restonians are expected to use the rec center?  If it will be used predominantly by non-Restonians, perhaps County funding makes more sense.  If we do use Small District 5, would adding the facility require raising the current tax rate?  The expected influx of new residents and businesses will provide more revenue within the current rate, but will the growth be enough to offset the costs?

The updated market survey should provide help here as well.  In addition to providing updated estimates of how much the rec center might cost, it will also give us an idea of how much of the center’s operating budget might need to be subsidized by Reston taxpayers.

Decision Process: If Small Tax District #5 is to be used to fund the rec center, the RCC Board will make the decision to proceed or not.  And ultimately, the citizens of Reston will have the final say, as they would vote on the rec center bond referendum.

But before we reach that point, much more community input is needed, to answer the questions described above and more.  I give RCC credit for soliciting public input earlier in the process compared to the Brown’s Chapel proposal in 2009, and they’ve done quite a bit of preliminary research to get us to this point.  But the issues we’ve discussed above impact all of Reston, and we need a community-wide conversation.  Involving the entire community in the discussion also makes it more likely that the bond referendum, if one occurs, would pass.

How do we hold that community-wide conversation?  Our recommendation is for a panel with representatives from RCC, RCA, and the Reston Association to review the options (including the questions asked above), take in the full breadth of community opinion, and recommend a proposal that would provide the best possible outcome for Reston.  At the meeting, Terry cited the example of Aurora, Illinois, which convened a task force with a broad cross-section of community representatives working in concert to generate a proposal for its rec center.  I like that model of widespread participation.

Whatever model we choose, we should ensure that the whole community is represented in the discussion, and that there are multiple opportunities for them to speak and be heard on this issue.  A series of community forums throughout Reston would be a good way to gather this input.

If you’d like to know more about our recommendations, you can read our report in full here.  And rest assured that we at RCA are far from done talking about this; we’re going to continue studying the issue, debating it, and pushing for a process that generates the best outcome for the community.

Notes: Reston Planning and Zoning Committee Meeting, May 14, 2013



                                                                                   R Rogers
                                                                                   22 May 2014

Notes from the Reston P&Z Committee Meeting: 20 May 2013

Discussion of Wiehle Station Access

Summary: The RPZ came out strongly in favor of improved access to the southside of the station.  They apparently are planning to comment on this. County staff said there had been one meeting with Vornado related officials on a pedestrian walkway, but there was no consensus among the various owners.  Concerns were expressed about safety of Sunrise Valley crossings.

Meeting

Bill Penniman and Patti Nicoson were the featured speakers.  Dick Rogers also commented based on the RCA Wiehle Station access paper. The County was represented by:
  • Chris Wells—pedestrian coordinator
  • Eric Titleman
  • Mark Canale—FC/DOT Silver Line Coordinator

Southside Access

Chris Wells said there definitely will be a sidewalk linking Wiehle to the southside escalator along the DTR exit. (This comment was triggered by reference to the ongoing bus ramp construction in the area and the current absence of a sidewalk).

Wells said the county has had one meeting with Vornado re pedestrian access through there property.  The county has already set aside $ for a walkway through the property.  He noted that several owners are involved grouped together in an Association.  “There is not unanimous agreement” among them. He commented that he did not think “they will prevent people from walking though the property” even if there is no public sidewalk. They are concerned about liability but if you build a public walkway the county accepts liability.

However, the Association is absolutely against vehicular access.  There was speculation at the meeting about how vehicular access via either Commerce Park Drive or the service area road from Association Drive West along the DTR to the garages would be controlled. .  Gates were mentioned as a possibility. No one knew who actually owns the garage—Vornado of the Association. (Comment: The buildings are used not only by office workers but by bank customers and customers of a major gastroenterology practice.  How the customers’ auto access would be controlled is a question.)

Richard Kennedy of the RPZ strongly argued for vehicular access via the service road.  He said he had looked at the site and thought there was plenty of room for a bus and “kiss and ride” turn around.  It would take 30-45 parking spaces but additional spaces could be provided on top of the garage. (Comment: In Supervisor Hudgins' response to the RCA Metro access paper the response was somewhat ambiguous about county attitudes toward vehicular access. It did not comment on this directly, but said “the ultimate goal is to develop specific pedestrian facility (sic) when the properties on the south side redevelop.” Emphasis added.)

Sunrise Valley: Safety

RPZ member Steve Cerney, who said he lives along Sunrise Valley (SRV) and takes the bus there, asked about intersection improvements at Commerce Park Drive and Great Meadows.  He said SRV was difficult enough now for pedestrians and he is concerned about crossing safety.  He is concerned about people jumping off buses and trying to cross to the station to avoid the Wiehle Bridge.

County officials said a signal at Commerce Park Drive is unlikely because VDOT was not likely to approve it. There are plans for some intersection crossing improvements, but they are several years off.  The # 1 priority is constructing a new crossing at Wiehle and Sunrise Valley.  The idea is to try to create some sort of refuge in the median. (Comment: No mention was made re a “kiss and ride” drop off.)

North Side Issues

VDOT is replacing the signal at the McDonalds intersection.  There will be “pedestrian modernization” but it will not involve a median refuge.  A crossing of the W&OD is funded—Chris Wells thinks it probably would be an underpass.

Garage

Bill Penniman noted that COMSTOCK has constructed a potential exit from the garage directly onto the Dulles Toll Road access ramp (it is now just an opening in the garage wall). Mark Canale said that the county, which will operate the garage, will use a Metro-like system that will operate like other garages in the system.

Future

Chair Michael Romeo said the RPZ will probably comment on the situation since recommendations from the Committee sound like they will be useful.

Notes: Reston Task Force Meeting, May 14, 2013



                                                                       R. Rogers
                                                                   15 May 2013

Notes on the Reston Task Force Meeting, May 14, 2013


Summary: The meeting focused on reviewing the land use planning section of the master plan and discussing new text on the environment and parks.  John Carter called for a more visionary approach on these issues that would make Reston a model and example.

General Comments

Judy Pew read a note concerning the desirability of locating a rec center at North Town Center.

Dick Rogers mentioned 2020 activity re schools, noting the existence of an FCPS recommendation to DPZ on plan text, and the 2020 paper on Soapstone.  He noted that RCA will be meeting soon on a major paper on the rec center issue, which has considerable planning implications.

An unidentified man representing a Reston housing association (?) praised the work of the RMPTF and DPZ in maintaining a sensible jobs-housing balance in Reston.  He said he had treated this issue in a letter to the Washington Post.

The chair commented on Metro Silver line progress and noted that MWAA Board meets today to finalize the phase 2 contract.  She said the bid was lower than expected and will significantly reduce financing costs.  She also mentioned that a civic group had named her “Lady Fairfax” because of her volunteer contributions.

Land Use Review

Heidi Merkel initiated a general discussion of the DPZ plan draft released on Monday. The initial discussion, by a meeting that was well attended, was a review of DPZ comments and changes on the land use section discussed at the last meeting.

She noted in particular that language had been added that further degradation of transportation should be avoided and that certain areas within one half mile of the station, such as south of Sunrise Valley, were out of consideration for re-development.

The development community asked many questions on various issues.  In response to Heidi’s mention that a section had been added on affordable housing (saying the higher the density the greater the proportion should be of affordable housing)  Mark Looney asked how this might relate to non-residential development and particularly if re-development was simply “commercial replacement”.  The answers was that this will be reviewed.  Kohann Williams asked if DPZ was taking into account the fact that Reston already has a high proportion of the county’s affordable housing.  Heidi agreed that Reston already has “a generous share” of such housing.
Parcel consolidation was discussed at length. Greg Trimmer (JBG) asked how this might relate to the bucket idea outside the ¼ mile limit.  Mark Looney said that he could foresee cooperation by different owners but not necessarily consolidation.

Environmental Section

The issue of LEED standards for new development triggered considerable discussion.  Art Murphy led off by commenting that going through the LEED certification process is slow and expensive and that some developers were simply adopting the standards but avoiding the certification process.  It was also noted that the standards were routinely changing as practices improve—what was LEED Gold is now LEED Silver.  Some noted that smaller projects might have more difficulty than bigger projects in complying.  Heidi spoke of having the DPZ “LEEDs” man come in to talk with the RMPTF,

John Carter offered sweeping comments that he thought the RMPTF on environmental issues should take a more visionary approach. He thought not enough was being asked on different environmental issues (sustainable green development, transportation and protecting the natural environment).  He suggested the approach be “LEEDs neighborhoods” rather than just buildings.  He said the RMPTF should “put Reston on the map” by taking a forward leaning approach and be a model community.

In this context the JBG rep suggested an article (?) “Designing Walkable Urban Neighborhoods.”

A more conservative view was expressed by Greg Riegle who said “we cannot be everything in the corridor” and “we cannot legislate sustainability.”

Mark Looney raised the issue of how some sweeping new storm water regulations (NFI) relate to the draft text. Heidi said DPZ is still studying this.

Parks

Heidi noted that the parks section incorporates material from the county wide policy plan that has been pending.

Art Murphy noted that in the Tysons context there is a conceptual park map that has been a challenge to deal with (and apparently legally challenged). Heidi noted that a map on p. 36 that identified “opportunity areas” (Comment: It is so vague and generalized as to be meaningless.)

A discussion ensued about the need to be more specific on park needs. Heidi noted that more specific ideas will be discussed in the TOD stations sections. Larry Butler of RA spoke up on the need to look at this more carefully. John Carter (not Bob Simon!) put in a pitch for more about plazas.

Dick Rogers raised the issue of Lake Fairfax Park, noting it could help meet the athletic fields need.   Kohann Williams asked about better access to the park from Reston. Heidi responded “I don’t want to be bureaucratic but the park is not in the TOD areas.”

Next Up

Heidi noted that in response to Andy Sigle’s request at the previous meeting to pay more attention to Wiehle station access issues, there will be a presentation at the 28 May meeting by FC/DOT staff.  DPZ will post more information on the website. She invited comment on issues to be discussed.

On May 28 there will be additional plan text on public facilities and transportation for discussion.   Draft sections on TOD station area recommendations will come up for the meeting, tentatively set for 11 June.