Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Truth About D.C.'s Growing Knowledge-Based Economy, Atlantic Cities, October 31, 2013

This article by Richard Florida is a good look at the Washington area's apparent evolution away from being a government-centric economy.  Here's the short finding:
The bottom line: Greater D.C. has evolved into a leading-edge knowledge economy, where private sector knowledge, professional, and creative jobs outnumber direct government jobs. But government remains the central pivot point of the region's knowledge economy, stimulating a wide range of direct and indirect spinoff jobs.
Indeed, that second sentence points to the continuing dominance of government in the local technology sector:  Virtually all the local "knowledge" companies are involved primarily with contracts with the US Government, primarily Defense Department (where the big bucks are).  There are no emerging Googles or Facebooks or Microsofts (much less Apples), although there is a declining AOL,  focused on knowledge services for the private sector.  Although the entrepreneurial tech spirit is budding here, it is generally far from blossoming as it has in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

The adverse impact of this one-client technology sector town can be seen clearly in the economic slowdown caused by sequestration and the recent government shutdown had on the area's contractors.  Many laid off their employees for the duration of the shutdown.  And while government employees received back pay for their layoff period, few of the contractor employees did, cutting significantly into the local economy.  Sequestration continues to hurt employment in the technology industry.   

So, until we figure out how to be more successfully entrepreneurial in the Washington area "knowledge economy," we will remain highly dependent on the US Government and its contracts as well as its public employment base. 

Maybe an emerging Reston urban area can provide a good breeding ground for success entrepreneurial efforts that will serve us locally as well as regionally.

In any event, the article is well worth a read..   

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Tough Night for Reston, Colin Mills, RCA President, October 30, 2013

Last night, four years of work on the Reston Master Plan Task Force came to a frustrating and disappointing conclusion.  The Task Force voted to send the new Comprehensive Plan to the Planning Commission, starting it down the road to approval before the Board of Supervisors.  RCA’s representative, Terry Maynard, voted “no” on the final product.  I did not have a vote on the Task Force, but if I had, I would have voted the same way.
RCA was not satisfied with the latest draft of the Comp Plan, as evidenced by the report card that our Reston 20/20 Committee prepared this week, which gave it an overall grade of D.  We felt that the plan was seriously lacking in many areas, most notably parks and recreation, transportation, and implementation.  We joined with ARCH and RA to produce a joint comment describing the areas that we felt needed improvement. 
Unfortunately, the few changes approved by the Task Force last night did little to improve the plan.  Therefore, we felt that we had no choice but to oppose it.
The lack of changes to the draft plan was not for a lack of suggestions.  By my count, there were 15 sets of comments submitted suggesting changes to the plan, including ours.  Unfortunately, the discussion last night was limited to a handful of subjects selected by the Task Force chair, Patty Nicoson.  The Task Force did not even consider all of the comments made by its members.  Major topics such as transportation and implementation weren’t even discussed at all!  Since those were two of the areas that needed the most work, I was extremely disappointed that they weren’t even raised.
In fairness to Patty, the meeting lasted over three hours as it was; discussing all of the comments in detail would have taken forever.  But this only underscored the problem: The fact that such major disagreements still existed among the Task Force after four years of work is baffling.  We were trying to have debates in one night that should have been had over weeks and months long ago.
As an example, one of the few subjects that did receive healthy discussion last night was athletic fields.  Terry, with the support of some other Task Force members, pushed for more athletic fields to serve the new development and to locate them closer to the corridor.  The Park Authority’s representative explained the process by which they arrived at the language in the plan.  A thoughtful discussion ensued, involving Terry and other citizen reps, the Park Authority, and developer representatives.  In my view, everyone made good points. 
But in the end, the Task Force had to punt, calling for a follow-on motion to address the question later.  Of course we weren’t going to be able to resolve such a complex issue in one night.  But why didn’t we have this discussion a month ago, or a year ago?  Why were we having to cram this topic into a frenzied back-and-forth at the very end? 
That’s a failure of process, and illustrates my overall frustration with the Task Force.  For too long, we weren’t having discussions about the real disagreements that existed among the members.  Instead, we chatted amiably but aimlessly among ourselves, smiled and nodded.  By the time the Task Force started having the discussions we needed to have, it was too late.  And that brought us to last night. The Task Force had to hold a rushed vote, because the Planning Commission deadline was a ticking clock, and everyone is so sick of the process that many members were probably grateful just to pass something and move on.
I can understand that.  And I can understand and respect those (including the representatives from RA and ARCH) who voted “yes” because they wanted to lock in the positive things in the plan, or felt it was the best they could get.  And there were positives in the plan: after our successful joint community forum, County staff listened to our concerns, and addressed some of them, especially on environmental issues.  I’m proud of the collaboration with RA and ARCH, and I think we made the plan better than it would have been otherwise.
But transportation and parks & rec have been two of RCA’s biggest issues with the plan, ones that we’ve been concerned about for years now.  And we weren’t satisfied with where the plan ended up on those issues.  Therefore, we just couldn’t support the plan as it was.
Sounds like a lot of bad news, doesn’t it?  It was, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that.  I left the meeting last night feeling gloomy.  But there is some good news: This isn’t over, and we’re not done fighting for the community.
As I mentioned earlier, this plan has to go before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors before it’s approved.  We at RCA are going to continue pushing for the changes that we feel are important, and our colleagues at RA and ARCH have vowed to do the same.  It will likely be a more uphill battle at this stage, but we’re not going to let that dissuade us.
Also, we’re interested in that follow-on motion about the fields.  The question of how many fields we need, where they’ll be located, and how they’ll be paid for is very important for our community.  We need to find a solution that works for everyone.  I certainly intend for us to take a leading role in the discussions, and if we can help guide the way to a good solution, that will be an important accomplishment.

So yes, last night was a disappointment on a lot of levels; there’s no disputing that.  But we’re not out of the game, and we’re not going to let this setback take us down.  We’ve got a lot of work left to do, and we’ve got three committed community organizations that are ready to do it.  Let’s get started.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Librarians' Letter to Library Board Evaluation and Communication Committee, October 29, 2013




October 29, 2013

Dear members of the Evaluation and Communication Committee:

On behalf of the dedicated employees of Fairfax County -- librarians, engineers, deputy sheriffs, mental health professionals and more -- we are writing to share our perspective on the recent round of public forums to discuss the future of our libraries. As you know, these forums were intended to elicit public and employee comment on library reforms, after the library board voted unanimously to suspend the "beta plan." These forums mark an important first step in the effort to engage the community in strengthening our libraries for generations to come.

As you prepare your draft report for the full library board, we hope that report will include the following key findings from the public forums:


(1) The "Library Customer Service Specialist (LCSS)" job class must be abolished. The LCSS position disregards the rigorous education and experience that professional and paraprofessional librarians bring to their job, and it disregards the essential and critical role of circulation staff in maintaining excellence in our libraries. This makes it harder for Fairfax County to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.

(2) There is deep and overwhelming community support for strengthening our libraries; NOT for cutting library services or jobs. As you have heard from nearly every speaker at every one of the public meetings, there is overwhelming support from local residents, families and small business owners for maintaining and strengthening our excellent library system.

(3) Youth services departments, with librarians and assistants, are needed at every branch to provide educational support and resources to the community. Concerned residents at every public meeting have spoken out about the need to retain MLS-degreed youth services librarians in every branch to provide reader's advisory and homework research help to children. Local families will suffer if youth services librarians are cut. County residents expect and deserve strong youth services departments that focus on all the needs of the youngest library patrons, and which support our local education system.

(4) We need much more public engagement on a broad scale. Despite the overwhelming support for libraries at the public hearings, we believe that the process so far has failed to engage sufficient numbers of the general public. The forums were organized quickly, and we applaud the committee for their effort. However, there was insufficient advance notice or communication, with most residents unaware that any changes are being proposed to their beloved libraries. We believe that deeper and broader engagement will result in better outcomes.

(5) Each library should reflect the needs of the community it serves. The proposed "beta plan" contained both negative and positive reforms. However, we reject the "one size fits all" approach. We believe that each library should reflect the needs of the community it serves. As such, some elements of the beta plan may be well implemented in certain libraries (such as an adequately staffed single-service desk at a small library, and increasing promotional opportunities for all staff), but not others.


We thank each of you for your time, effort and commitment to our wonderful public libraries.

We know that you feel as we do: that our libraries and librarians foster an unparalleled love of learning and sense of community, which helps move our local economy forward. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that Fairfax County maintains its wonderful library system for generations to come.

Sincerely,

David Broder
SEIU Virginia 512

Jennifer McCullough
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association

Paula Woodrum
Fairfax County Government Employees Union, SEIU Virginia 512





cc: Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

RCA: Master Plan Draft Gets a ‘D’, RestonNow, October 29, 2013

By Karen Goff
 The Reston Master Plan Task Force is about to publish what could be its final draft  for the future of development around Reston’s Metro stations, and the Reston 2020 Committee is giving those plans a ‘D’ grade.
Reston 2020, the community planning entity of the Reston Citizens Association, presented the findings to RCA at its regular meeting on Monday. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.  

RCC Rejects Most Spots Checked as Pool Possibilities, RestonNow, October 29, 2013

By Karen Goff
Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors, examining the feasibility of building a new recreation center featuring a 50-meter indoor pool, said on Monday only three locations in Reston would be viable options for the center: Reston Town Center North, Baron Cameron Park or renovating the existing pool at Hunters Woods.
The board has been discussing the idea with residents and with consultants with Brailsford & Dunlavey since February. The idea, which would have to be put to a public referendum with voters in Small Tax District 5 in order to move forward, has been met with mixed reaction. Many swimmers are in favor.
Residents near Baron Cameron Park — where RCC could build on Fairfax County Park Authority land for no cost — are not. There is also concern from many residents that Small Tax District 5 should not be burdened with the cost of the $35 million facility.
The RCC Board building committee toured 10 sites in Reston over the summer and has now sent a letter to Deputy County Executive Rob Stalzer asking the county to consider planning for a rec facility in the area known as Reston Town Center North. Building there would also be a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority. . . .
Click here to read the rest of this article, including an overview of the strengths & weaknesses of each site.  

RCA Board Resolves to Oppose Draft Reston Master Plan in Current Form

The following resolution was approved by the RCA Board of Directors at its October 28, 2013 meeting.  The resolution calls for the task force to redress key shortcomings and directs its representative to the task force to vote against it "in its current form."

Comments and Proposed Amendments to the Draft Reston Comprehensive Plan by Task Force Members

Below is a list of links to comments and proposed amendments offered by Reston Task Force members to Version 10 of the draft Reston Comprehensive Plan.  They are all scheduled to be reviewed and reported upon at this evening's meeting of the RTF (7PM, RA HQ).  At the end of the review of these proposals, the task force is scheduled to vote on endorsing the draft Reston Comprehensive Plan.

Lists of comments and amendments (in no particular order):

RCA Reston 2020 Committee gives draft Reston Plan a "D" Grade

In a report card presented to the RCA's Board of Directors at its meeting on October 28, 2013, RCA's Reston 2020 Committee gave the draft Reston Comprehensive Plan an overall grade of "D."  The grades was based on a section-by-section weighted review of the latest draft Plan (Version 10) based on the Plan's likely impact on Restonians' quality of life and the community's vision and values.  The full report card is provided below. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Joint RA-RCA-ARCH Letter Updates Community Comments on Draft Reston Plan, Version 10

This letter updates the joint letter sent by RA, RCA, and ARCH concerning proposed amendments to the draft Reston Comprehensive Plan being considered by the Reston Task Force.  It recognizes that some of the earlier recommendations concerning Sustaining Reston and Environmental Stability have been incorporated in the latest draft.  This letter adds new text addressing new language concerning parks and recreation in Version 10 of the draft Plan. 

These changes and changes submitted by other organizations on the task force will be considered at tomorrow's possibly final meeting of the task force.  It will be held at the RA Headquarters Conference Center, 7PM, October 29, 2013. 

The Reston Station Athletic Fields Situation Gets Worse, Terry Maynard, Reston Patch, October 28, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Commentary: Draft Plan Jeopardizes Urban Reston, John Lovaas, Reston Connection, October 23, 2013

An overflow crowd at the Joint Community Forum last Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Reston Association learned the outlines of the draft Reston Master Plan for the Dulles Rail Corridor. The sobering assessment by community representatives on the Master Plan Task Force which began its work four years ago left the audience with many unanswered questions and concerns about the quality of planned growth for 40,000 more people and 60,000 more jobs in the corridor.
Six themes dominated the assessment and dialogue during the evening. . .
Click here for the rest of this commentary.

Recap: Joint Forum on Reston's Future, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, October 23, 2013



RCA, RCA and ARCH came together to inform our citizens about how the Comp Plan will affect our community. It was a great event - and a preview of collaborations to come.

When you’re a community leader, you want to feel that you’re doing real good for your community.  I’ve never had that feeling more strongly than last week, when we held a joint forum with Reston Association and ARCH on the draft Comprehensive Plan.  Civic organizations coming together to inform our citizens about a complex issue with big implications for our future… that’s my idea of doing good.  The forum was a triumph for our organizations and for Reston.

I’ve talked many times about my desire to work with other organization to help the community.  Happily, the leadership at RA and ARCH feels the same way, and we’ve had many productive conversations about how we can join forces.  The Master Plan Task Force provided the spark to bring us together; we realized that we shared many of the same concerns, and we decided we would be more effective as a chorus, rather than as solo voices. 

We developed a joint statement of principles that we felt should guide the Comprehensive Plan.  And we decided to hold a community meeting to let our citizens know where the Task Force process stands, the areas where we think the Comp Plan could be made better, and why this all matters.  We also wanted to give our citizens a chance to ask questions and share their concerns. 

We expected the forum would be well attended, but we didn’t realize how popular it would be.  The meeting took place in the RA Conference Center, and it was standing room only.  We set up an overflow room where people could watch on video, and that was standing room only as well.  All told, over 250 folks showed up for.  I haven’t seen a crowd that big at a community meeting since the Rescue Reston rally last September.  It was great to see so many Restonians concerned about the community’s future!

Task Force chair Patty Nicoson started us off by explaining the Task Force’s vision for the Metro station areas.  Next, Richard Lambert of the County Department of Planning and Zoning provided an overview of the Comp Plan as it stands.  Then we turned it over to our panel, consisting of RA’s Andy Sigle, RCA’s Terry Maynard, and ARCH’s Jerry Volloy.  Together, they addressed each of the principles in our joint statement, outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the Plan in those areas, and provided suggestions for improving it.  (Those suggestions became a joint comment our three organizations submitted to the Task Force after the forum.)

After that, we took questions from the audience.  My only regret is that we didn’t have time to answer them all; there were a lot of thoughtful comments.  We did try to address common questions that were asked by a lot of different folks.  Through these common questions, a picture emerged.  Our citizens are concerned about what development will do to our traffic.  They’re eager to see pedestrian and bike connections as well as roads.  They’re worried about the impact to our environment and open spaces.  They’re curious how we’ll find enough recreation space, so that the people who live and work here can also play here.  They’re excited about the Silver Line, but worried about how the changes it brings will affect the Reston they love.

I closed out the forum by explaining why the Comprehensive Plan process matters. The decisions we’re making now will set the ground rules for development in Reston for the next 40 or 50 years.  We’re creating the Reston that our children and grandchildren will live in.  We’re seeking to balance the ability for Reston to grow and remain vital with the timeless values that we’ve always held dear. 

This process brings a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous risk.  If we get this right, we’ll succeed in updating Bob Simon’s vision and maintaining a vibrant community into the future.  If we get it wrong, we risk losing the qualities and the balance that make Reston special.  The Comprehensive Plan has real consequences for our traffic, our open spaces, our environment, our recreational amenities, and our quality of life.

All in all, it was a tremendous event.  If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch the recording provided by RA.
Now it’s your turn.  The best way to ensure that the Comp Plan is right for Reston is for you to speak up and get involved.  The more citizens that the County and the Task Force hear from, the better chance we have.  Fortunately, there are still opportunities for you to make your voice heard.

Please come to the next Task Force meeting, on Tuesday, October 29th at 7 PM at RA Headquarters.  Members of the public can speak at the meeting.  The Task Force is used to hearing the same old voices, and it would be great to see and hear from some new faces.

Once the Task Force approves the Comprehensive Plan, it will go before the Planning Commission on November 13, and the Board of Supervisors in December.  We want to see a big turnout of Restonians who care about our community’s future!

In addition to the public speaking opportunities, you can also email your thoughts directly to the Task Force and to Supervisor Hudgins.  Whether you like the Comp Plan or don’t, they need to hear what you have to say. 

I’m grateful to RA and ARCH for standing together with us and keeping the public informed on this issue.  (Thanks especially to Cate Fulkerson and the RA staff for their great work in setting up the forum.)  I’m glad Patty and Richard came to give the Task Force side of the story.  And I’m proud and honored that so many of our citizens showed up to see what we had to say.

The best part?  We’re just getting started.  All three of our organizations have really enjoyed collaborating, and we’re actively seeking other ways that we can work together for the good of the community.  We are the custodians of Reston’s future, and we take that duty seriously.  Stay tuned to see how else we will work to make Reston a better place.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Letter: Time to pay attention to the Reston Master Plan, Dick Rogers, Fairfax Times, October 17, 2013

The planning process for a new Reston has moved slowly over the last four years but now is reaching conclusion. If you think Bob Simon’s initial vision for Reston was worthwhile, you should be paying attention at this point.

There are positive elements in the new plan, particularly its stress on mixed residential and commercial redevelopment around the Metro stations. It promises to bring in 40,000 new residents and 60,000 new office employees to the already congested areas around the new stations.

Reston Association and the Reston Citizens Association have each made extensive comments on the plan to Fairfax County to support sensible redevelopment. Unfortunately, some of their points have been dismissed and most have been ignored by a county apparently bent on getting more tax money from the property owners.

The plans for parks and recreation are inadequate for the population proposed. No specific parks areas are laid out and the assumption seems to be that many of the recreation needs will be met by RA using facilities its members have already paid for. Although the county originally called for 25 ball and soccer fields, this has been cut back to 12. And only three are planned for the station area!

The proposed plan and its flexible and unpredictable density have given headaches to transportation planners. VDOT has provided a 16-page critique of the transportation plan and warned it could lead to “failing levels of (roadway) service many hours of the day.”

The plan calls for a number of road improvements including three new crossings of the Dulles Toll Road. But the County record on delivering on such promises is not good. Four years ago a major study was done on how to improve access to the Wiehle Metro Station. But now we are faced with no convenient access from South Reston and the Soapstone crossing, called for in the study, is years away from construction.

To add insult to injury, the plan leaves unclear who is going to pay for all the promised infrastructure. In the similar case of Tysons Corner redevelopment, a 4 cent tax per $100 assessed value was levied on all residents — and this will go to 8 cents in the future. Is that the future of Reston, when the development community stands to make windfall profits?

Find out for yourself what this means to you. The last planned meeting of the task force working on the Master Plan is on Oct. 29 at RA Headquarters.

Dick Rogers, RCA Alternate
The writer is part of the Reston Master Planning Task Force.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Joint RA, RCA, ARCH Letter to the County Planning Staff on Version 9 of the Draft Reston Comprehensive Plan, October 18, 2013

Video: Joint Reston Community Forum on Draft Revised Reston Master Plan, October 17, 2013

Last night, Reston Association (RA), Reston Citizens Association (RCA), and the Association of Reston Clusters & Homeowners (ARCH) held a joint forum on their key concerns with the current draft Reston Master Plan.  More than 250 people attended, including overflow crowds in both the RA Conference Center and a second large room where the forum was livestreamed. 

RA President Ken Kneuven opened the forum welcoming all the attendees and highlighting the importance of the Reston Master Plan Task Force.  He then introduced Patty Nicoson, the task force chairman, who spoke about the task force and its vision and planning principles for the community (12:10).  After her presentation, Richard Lambert of the County Planning Staff provided an overview of the draft plan (28:20)

The forum was then turned over to the task force representatives--RA's Andy Sigle, RCA's Terry Maynard, and ARCH's Jerry Volloy--to discuss the six topic areas of special interest to the Reston community in assuring the uniqueness and quality of life of Reston.  The six topic areas are:
  • Sustaining Reston (Begins at 52:35)
  • Open Space, Parks, & Recreation  (1:02:05)
  • Flexibility (1:10:50)
  • Environmental Sustainability (1:17:10)
  • Mobility (1:21:50)
  • Implementation (1:28:40)
Ken Kneuven then read questions from the audience for the forum panel to address (1:34:45).  Colin Mills, RCA's President, wrapped up the forum with a call to action by the community (1:58:20).

The full video is provided below.

 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

As Reston Grows, Will Parks Keep Up? Connie Hartke, Reston Patch, October 16, 2013

The train is about to arrive at the station and if Restonians don’t start making some noise, Fairfax County is going to leave us in the dust again.

Fairfax County has countywide Service Level Standards for Park Facilities based on population. The Reston Citizens Association (RCA) has analyzed how the draft Reston Comprehensive Plan stacks up after 49,000+ new residents move into the high rises that will be built between Sunrise Valley and Sunset Hills Roads.  More details Thursday, October 17 at the RA/RCA/ARCH forum.

As one example, let’s look at the County requirement for sports fields.  The 49,000 new residents within the Reston transit area corridor require 12 diamond & 13 rectangular fields.  This number can probably be reduced to 6 and 6 assuming artificial turf and lighting which increases usage capacity.  

So the County Standard is 25 fields of this type; reasonable people can compromise on 12 if built for high capacity usage.  How many ball fields does the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan call for?  Two.

I see only one County Park Facilities Standard that Reston already meets, no thanks to this effort.  The County has a standard of one hole of golf for every 3,200 citizens.  Using a projected Reston population of 114,118 we need 36 holes.  Fantastic!  Reston has two privately owned, publicly accessible golf courses which cost us taxpayers nothing.  Check that one off the list.  This doesn’t mean that the golf course battle is over, but knowing about this standard will help us hold our County Supervisors accountable.

We have a short window of opportunity to press the developers to make a real commitment to our community by providing space (yes, there's enough!) and substantial funding for courts, playgrounds and other amenities - just as they're required to do in the rest of the County.  So far, though, the developers keep asking for more "flexibility" in the Plan - and they're winning. 

Please attend the RA/RCA/ARCH forum on Thursday, October 17 at 7 p.m. at RA headquarters to learn about this aspect of the Plan and several other key areas of concern. We’ll give you the short version.  Then we’ll suggest what can be done to affect change.

Then mark your calendar for Tuesday, October 29.  This will be the Reston Comprehensive Plan Special Study Task Force meeting, possibly the last one.  Come to this meeting with your family, neighbors and sports teams.  The comprehensive plan is still in draft format, but it’s about to go final.  It is not too late for input and to affect change.  

Letter: Saving Public Libraries, Kathy Kaplan, Reston Connection, October 16, 2013

The following beginning to a letter by Reston resident Kathy Kaplan clearly and factually lays out the poor state and prospects for our County's libraries, including Reston Regional Library set as the guinea pig for the new County library vision.
 To the Editor:
A significant number of planners expect the nation to be illiterate by 2050, so books will not be needed. Instead of planning for my grandchildren’s needs today, the county has decided to prepare for their grandchildren’s needs in an imaginary future where people no longer read, where electronic devices enable them to communicate without written language, where books no longer exist. (From a study on architect Grimm & Parker’s website.)
Changes being currently considered to the Reston Regional Library will eliminate the children’s desk and all Youth Services. All children’s librarians will be eliminated. Information librarians will be eliminated. Professional degrees for librarians will no longer be required even for the position of library director. Staff will be cut by a third, from 20.5 to 13.5.
Because of the community uproar over book dumping by FCPL, citizens and taxpayers have been given a little time for public input to consider the proposed changes (the Beta Plan). Supervisor Cathy Hudgins will host a public meeting Oct. 30 at the Hunters Woods Elementary School at 2401 Colts Neck Road, Reston, at 7 p.m.
If library services are something you value, you need to attend this meeting and let your opinions be known. . .
Click here to read the rest of this excellent letter.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Losing Lakeside: Small Businesses and Reston, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, October 16, 2013

With the Lakeside Inn closing down, we're losing another local business in Reston. What can we do to help small restaurants and shops thrive here?

 

As faithful readers of Patch know, the longtime restaurant stalwart Lakeside Inn is closing its doors after over 20 years in business.  This has generated a surprising (to me) amount of commentary, both positive and negative.  Fans of the Lakeside lament the loss of a great neighborhood watering hole where the regulars felt a real sense of community; detractors claim that the food was mediocre and the décor was outdated, and whatever comes next can only be an improvement.

I can’t comment on that debate one way or the other; I didn’t go to the Lakeside Inn.  But I do lament the loss of a truly local restaurant, and I hope that we can do more to encourage the location of locally-owned small businesses in Reston.  We often talk about how Reston is a special and unique place, and independent businesses do a lot to contribute to that sense of place.

I tend to look at the small business issue through the lens of restaurants, because I love to eat.  Reston has a reputation as the land of chain eateries.  This reputation isn’t entirely fair, as we do have several great independent restaurants (my favorites include Ariake, Pollo Peru, and El Manantial).  But it’s undeniable that there are a lot of chains in Reston, especially in and around the Town Center.

There’s nothing inherently evil about chain restaurants: they tend to be fast, affordable, and reliable.  But if your restaurant scene is dominated by the same chains that can be found in thousands of suburbs all across the country, it’s hard to feel a real sense of place.  You could be in Anytown, USA.  The Reston I know prides itself on not being Anytown.
And it’s not just the chains themselves that create a sense of sameness; there’s also an unfortunate lack of diversity in the restaurant options.  American, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tex-Mex cuisines are all well-represented in Reston.  But we have a tremendously diverse population; why don’t we have a wider variety of restaurants? 

Why don’t we have a German or Eastern European restaurant here?  Why aren’t African or South American cuisines better represented?  Couldn’t we support a good Korean place?  Our restaurant options don’t do justice to the wide variety of cultures we have here.

Not only can restaurants express the diversity of a community, they can also provide a place for the community to come together.  Whether you liked the Lakeside or not, there’s no denying that it was a great gathering place.  Neighbors rubbed elbows here, talked and watched sports and enjoyed each other’s company in a friendly, relaxed setting.  And in our increasingly atomized society, we need places like that.

In the Master Plan Task Force meetings, Bob Simon regularly stresses the importance of plazas, as they provide a place for community members to gather, or just to pass each other and strike up unexpected conversations.  Neighborhood bars and restaurants serve the same function.  They get us out of our cars and our self-created isolation chambers and into contact with our fellow citizens.  We need more of that in Reston.

One of the bigger barriers to having more independent restaurants and small businesses in Reston, I suspect, is the relatively high land values and corresponding high rents.  It’s hard for a small restaurant or a niche shop to make money if they have to pay sky-high lease rates.  In recent months, we’ve seen several small businesses (such as Lakeside and At Play Café) close up shop due to lease rates issues.  As the Silver Line arrives and redevelopment gets underway, the cost of doing business will only get higher.  That’s only going to drive more small businesses out of Reston, unless we plan carefully to avoid that fate.

What can we do?  The best way to encourage small businesses is to set up a specific area or areas where they are encourages.  A lot of communities have a “Main Street” or “Old Town” area where the storefronts are small and local businesses are encouraged. 

We don’t have an old-fashioned Main Street, but we do have Lake Anne Plaza.  The shops on the Plaza are all locally-owned small business.  I don’t know if the same will be true with the redevelopment occurring around Lake Anne, but I hope so; Lake Anne is an ideal location for small shops and restaurants, and the new development will provide the foot traffic that will help them survive and thrive.

If not Lake Anne, how about Tall Oaks?  It’s already home to El Manantial, Mama Wok, and Pho Reston 75, fine local establishments all.  If it were turned into a mecca for small business (possibly with a redesigned layout to encourage pedestrians), that might be what draws people back over there. 

The Lakeside Inn is going away, and we’re not going to be able to bring it back.  But we must find a way to encourage small businesses and restaurants to thrive in Reston.  They are crucial to creating a sense of uniqueness and a sense of place, and they provide places for us to gather and commune with each other.  Our community is growing and growing up.  But it’s important to maintain some places where, just like they said in “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.

If you could bring in a new restaurant or small business to Reston, what would it be?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Countywide Park Facilities Adopted Service Level Standards Applied to Reston New Urban and Suburban Areas

One of the most contentious points in the current Reston Master Planning process is just how many of each type of park facility should be built in Reston's emerging transit station areas (TSAs).  In fact, the County has population-based Adopted Service Level Standards for park facilities listed in a table in the County's Parks and Recreation Policy Plan.  It is important to note that these standards are NOT "suburban" or "urban"; they are "countywide."

Below is a table showing these facility standards as they apply to Reston's TSAs as projected by the County for two decades hence as well as an estimate of the population in the rest of Reston then.  The requirements for new park facilities is huge. 

Meanwhile, the County has only called for one athletic field each in the Wiehle and Reston Town Center TSAs in the latest draft Reston Master Plan when the standard is for 35 athletic fields of various types.

Here is that table in its entirety:

 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thursday’s Joint Reston Community Forum: The Preview…, Reston Patch, October 14, 2013

This Thursday evening, October 17, at 7:00 PM, Reston Association (RA), Reston Citizens Association (RCA), and the Alliance for Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) will hold Reston’s first-ever joint community forum at RA headquarters.  The forum will focus on key areas of concern about the current draft Reston Comprehensive Plan held by all three organizations as we plan to add 60,000 jobs and 40,000 people to the Dulles Corridor and Town Center areas over the next quarter century. 
Introduced by host RA President Ken Kneuven, Reston Task Force Chairman Patty Nicoson and County Planning Staff Lead Heidi Merkel will start with a brief overview of the plan’s vision and planning principles as well as a broad brush overview of the new plan.  Then representatives of each of the three partner Reston community organizations will discuss six issue areas they believe need further attention in the latest draft Comprehensive Plan for Reston. 
Here’s a quick rundown on the six issue themes:
Sustaining Reston.  The draft plan does not establish a way to guide the massive development proposed in the draft plan in a manner consistent with Reston’s values and history.  The discussion will focus on the importance of Reston’s two leading homeowner associations—RA and the Reston Town Center Association—continuing their community oversight and how that might be accomplished.
Environmental Sustainability.   Among Reston’s most important core values is its commitment to sustaining—even improving—our environment from new green buildings to protecting natural areas in the face of the coming development.  This discussion will look at what more needs to be done to make sure Restonians may be assured that its tradition of environmental excellence itself is sustained.
Flexibility.  Flexibility in a plan can be both good and bad.  We don’t want a plan that is so rigid that it is unrealistic.  On the other hand, we don’t want a plan that is so flexible that we are unlikely to achieve the development and other goals laid out in the plan.  This discussion will look at some areas of the plan where flexibility may be overdone and needs some constraint.
Open Spaces, Parks, & Recreation.   Like environmental sustainability—even part of it—is Reston’s commitment to meeting the parks, recreation, and open space needs of the community as a critical element of Restonians’ quality of life.  This is the least developed topic area in the draft plan and the panel will discuss what needs to be done to help assure Restonians that they will continue to be a community of abundant parks, recreation, and open space.
Mobility.  Restonians are all too familiar with the difficulty of transiting the Dulles Corridor by car during peak traffic periods.  The huge planned jobs and housing developed proposed for the area will badly aggravate the situation unless aggressive measures are made to mitigate the problem.  The panel will discuss the community’s interest in improving road, transit, biking, and walking infrastructure to meet that problem along with transportation demand management (TDM) policy measures to prevent a further deterioration in community mobility.
Implementation.  Like most development planning, this draft plan provides an extensive description of what the community would like to achieve in its transit station areas, but it is wanting in matters of how that might be accomplished.   Implementation questions include how to achieve the plan’s density and balance goals, how to assure that needed infrastructure is created concurrently with development (phasing), how to pay for all this (financing), and how those many important decisions will be made (governance). 
Everyone who attends will have an opportunity to ask questions about all these topics at the end of this discussion.  When those questions are answered, RCA President Colin Mills will wrap up the meeting and offer the community ideas on how it can help Reston’s community organizations achieve a better Reston for the next generation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lots of outrage expressed at community meeting on the library system, Annandale VA blog, October 11, 2013

Supervisor Linda Smyth with two of the library books she found in a dumpster.

People who came to a forum on libraries convened by Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth Oct. 10 raised serious concerns—about Fairfax County Public Libraries’ policy for trashing many thousands of books, cuts to the library budget, attempts to downgrade professional librarians, and much more.

Smyth held up two large reference books she rescued from a dumpster—an atlas of Western art and a classic text on gardening—that were in good condition. She also brought to the meeting 30 perfectly usable books she found in a dumpster at the FCPL Technical Operation Center that she said would fetch a total of 6 cents from a recycling company.

“That’s an enormous waste,” Smyth said. . . .

Click here for the rest of this article on Supervisor Smyth's initiative to save Fairfax County libraries. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Looking into Reston's future, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, October 9, 2013

Want to know what sort of changes are in store for Reston? Come to our community meeting, where RCA, RA and ARCH will tell you how the new Comp Plan will affect us - and how it could be better.

Lately, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about how much better it is to do things together than to go it alone.  As I mentioned last week, I recently got married.  From my perspective, married life has a lot to recommend it. 
It’s great on a practical level – you have someone to split the chores with – but also on an emotional level.  Having someone to help celebrate your triumphs and lighten your burdens, a trusted confidante and companion, and someone to start and end each day with… it’s all a blessing.  It’s great to have someone else on your team.
What’s true for individuals is also true for organizations.  I’ve written on many occasions about how crucial it is for our community organizations to work together.  And I’m happy to report that three of Reston’s leading organizations – RCA, RA, and the Association of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) – are working together on a key issue for Reston’s future: the draft Comprehensive Plan that’s emerging from the Reston Master Plan Task Force.  Not only that, we’re holding a meeting next week to let our citizens know what the future holds for Reston.  (Keep reading for details!)
RCA has been working very hard on the Task Force, but it has been a long and lonely struggle at times.  As you know if you have followed our comments, we believe the draft Comprehensive Plan less than ideal for Restonians in a lot of ways.  But we’re only one voice on the Task Force; there’s only so much we can accomplish on our own.
Happily, we’ve discovered that we aren’t alone.  In conversations with leaders from RA and ARCH, we’ve found that we have a lot of views in common.  And we agreed that our voices would be amplified if we spoke up together.  So we decided to stand up together on behalf of the citizens of Reston.
Like a good marriage, our collaboration allows us to benefit from each organization’s strength.  We at RCA bring our analytical skills and deep involvement throughout the process to the table.  RA brings its formidable resources to the table.  For instance, they’ve been able to hire a land use attorney as an advisor (something we could never afford), and they have a much larger megaphone to communicate with our citizens.  ARCH contributes its community connections and experience in complex community issues.  When we unite those strengths, it’s a very powerful combination.
Our collaboration is starting to pay off.  We’ve agreed on a joint statement expressing our guiding principles for the Phase I Comprehensive Plan.  We’re working on a joint comment for the Task Force expressing our common views on how the plan can be improved.  And we’re holding a community forum to let Restonians know what’s in the plan, how it will affect Reston’s future, and our ideas for making it better.
The forum will be on Thursday, October 17th from 7 to 9 PM at RA headquarters.  Task Force chair Patty Nicoson will be there to talk about the work that’s been done so far.  Heidi Merkel of the County’s Department of Planning and Zoning will talk about the plan from a County Perspective.  And then representatives from RA, RCA, and ARCH will share our thoughts about the plan and how it will affect Reston’s future.
We’re having this meeting because we want to make sure our citizens know what’s in store for our community.  But we also want to hear from you, and find out what matters most to you, so that we can better represent the community’s interests and concerns.  So we won’t just be there to speak to you; we’ll also make sure you have the opportunity to make your voice heard.
This is a really crucial meeting to attend if you’re a Restonian and you care about our community’s future.  The new Comprehensive Plan, and the new development that will be built around the Silver Line, will change the face of Reston for decades to come.  It will impact our traffic, our vitality, our environmental quality, our parks and recreation facilities, and our future direction. 
If you’ve been following the process closely, now is the time to speak out and make yourself heard.  If you haven’t been following it, now is the time to get informed and involved. 
I’m really glad that our three organizations are coming together on behalf of our citizens.  We’re much more powerful and effective when we speak as a united voice.  And it’s particularly important for us to join forces on the Task Force.  The developer representatives, while they don’t agree on everything, have shown themselves as a fairly united force throughout the process.  They know how the game is played, they know what they want, and they know how to get it. 
The citizen representatives need to have the same unity of purpose and resolve.  Together, we can push for a plan that builds on Bob Simon’s vision and creates a community that’s ready for the future while maintaining the values and amenities that we all love about the Reston of today.
I hope to see you at the meeting next week.  And I look forward to working with RA, ARCH, and other civic organizations to ensure that Reston’s future lives up to its past.  Just like my marriage, I hope that our organizational partnership lasts a long time, and that we’re able to enjoy a lot of success together.