Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Silver Line Reston Bus Routes

This Fairfax Connector webpage displays the new Fairfax Connector bus routes for the Reston area when the Silver Line arrives.  It also lists the bus routes and you can obtain printable bus route and schedule information for each route by clicking on the route name.  For example, below is a copy of the detailed information for several of the south Reston Fairfax Connector routes after the Silver Line begins service.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Restonians, listen up! Here are your instructions from the County on re-planning Reston.

The following is an e-mail sent by the County's Planning Staff providing the Reston community instructions on how the re-planning of the established suburban Reston will proceed.
From: RestonMasterPlanSpecialStudy <RestonMasterPlanSpecialStudy@FAIRFAXCOUNTY.GOV>
To: <RESTONMASTERPLANSPECIALSTUDY@LISTSERV.FAIRFAXCOUNTY.GOV>
Subject: Reston Master Plan Special Study (Phase II) Open House and On-line Submission

Restonians,

The Reston community is invited to a Phase II Open House on June 7th <http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/reston/publicmeetings-2014/06-07-2014_open_house.htm>where information will be provided on this effort to update the Reston MasterPlan, including the scope, schedule and opportunities for public input.

Information regarding existing conditions will also be provided. This event is a "walk about", so feel free to come anytime between 8:30am and 10:30am to peruse the displays and ask questions of staff.

In September, the community will have an opportunity to review draft "strawman" Comprehensive Plan text for Reston that will specifically address preserving stable residential neighborhoods by better aligning the plan with existing development. The draft "strawman" text will also establish a general vision for Village Centers that will guide future development and outline the community engagement process that should be conducted with any proposed redevelopment of a Village Center.

Phase II Online Submission Form
Phase II of the Reston Master Plan Special Study also provides an opportunity for individuals to submit a property-specific land use proposals to be considered by staff and the community during this planning process.
Submissions will be accepted from May 22, 2014 through July 11, 2014.
Proposed changes should be submitted for consideration via the on-line submission form <http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/reston/submissionform.htm> provided on the Reston Master Plan Special Study website.

Scope of the Phase II Online Submission
Submissions made through the Phase II process should be limited to site-specific land use recommendations.  General policy or other types of recommendations will not be accepted for review.

A nominator may submit only one suggestion for the specific land area that he or she proposes for consideration. The land area may consist of one or many parcels.

In addition to a completed submission form, the proposal package must also include a description of what development under this new Plan would look like, and a written justification. The justification should either explain how the proposal would achieve the Reston Plan's Vision and Principles <http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/projects/reston/vision_principles/vision_planning_princ_03_15_2011.pdf> or explain how there are oversights or land use related inequities in the currently adopted UP5 Reston Community Planning Sector<http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/comprehensiveplan/area3/upperpotomac.pdf> text.

Proposal Review
As proposals are received, they will be placed on the website<http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/reston/submissionform.htm> to allow for the community to view.  Staff review of proposed changes will begin at the close of the July 11, 2014 submission deadline.  All proposals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Proposed plan changes that are supported by staff will be reflected in the draft "strawman" Comprehensive Plan text.
Staff will provide a summary matrix that will summarize each proposal and provide reasons for the proposal's inclusion or exclusion from the draft plan text.

The draft "strawmen" will be posted on the project website in September, along with the summary matrix  evaluating the proposals.
Thank you for your time. We hope to see you at the June 7th Open House. If your neighbors would also like to receive information, please have them visit our email distribution page<http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/reston/listservsubscribe.htm> to sign up for continued updates.

Sincerely,

[Description: cid:666014014@25012011-0E4B]
Richard A Lambert Jr
Planner II
Department of Planning & Zoning
County of Fairfax, Virginia
P:  703-324-1497
F:  703-324-3056

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Are suburbs regaining their appeal--or do we need to re-define "suburb"?

A Wall Street Journal article by Neil Shah today has made quite a splash across the media world.  The article, "Signs of a Suburban Comeback," argues:
The long tug of war between big cities and suburbs is tilting ever so slightly back to the land of lawns and malls. After two years of solid urban growth, more Americans are moving again to suburbs and beyond.
Fourteen of the nation's 20 biggest cities saw their growth slow or their populations fall outright in 2012-2013 compared with 2011-2012, led by cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. . . .
Overall, cities are still growing slightly faster than the suburbs—a historical anomaly after decades of American migration to the burbs. Some of the growth has been fueled by younger Americans and retirees preferring city life, either for life-style reasons or to downsize their living arrangements.
Anything resembling the post-World War II trend of Americans streaming to the suburbs appears unlikely given the difficulties many debt-strapped young Americans face in buying a home. Still, the Census numbers show a cooling off in the growth rate of urban dwellers.
 And offers this graphic to support the point:



BUT James Bacon of Bacon's Rebellion has a different take on the Census data that seems more on point:


. .  (T)he (WSJ) article touches not at all upon a trend that renders suspect any analysis based upon comparisons between population growth in “urban core,” “suburban” and “exurban” jurisdictions. That trend is densification and re-development. Some unknown percentage of “suburban” growth can be attributed to re-development initiatives occurring in places such as Tysons, in Fairfax County. That so-called “suburban” jurisdiction is fostering higher-density, transit-oriented development around five soon-to-open Metro stations. In effect, the dense, mixed-use land use patterns typical of the urban core, in Washington, D.C., are transforming the “suburbs.”
By proclaiming that “suburbs regain their appeal” and displaying a photograph of a low-density, cul de sac subdivision”outside of Chicago,” the headline suggests that the pattern of metropolitan growth that prevailed between 1945 and 2007, commonly called “suburban sprawl,” has reasserted itself. That’s just plain wrong. . .
Bacon’s bottom line: Measuring population growth in jurisdictions defined as “urban core,” “suburban” and “exurban” doesn’t tell us much at all about what is happening in America’s major metropolitan regions. The spread of walkable, mixed-use development into so-called “suburban” counties makes a hash of the traditional categories we use to analyze population trends.
Click here for the rest of the bacon.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

It makes one think a little differently about what may happen to our suburban Reston--in part through the Phase 2 exercise of the Reston Master Plan effort--in the decades ahead.

Colin Mills: Story Is Not Over For Libraries, RestonNow, May 22, 2014

Real life doesn’t work like it does in the movies. We all know this is true for a lot of reasons. But one in particular is especially challenging: Storylines don’t resolve into neat and tidy endings.  That’s one of the aspects of movies that we love, and it’s easy to see why. The leading man proposes to his beloved, or the underdog wins the big game, or the hero finally defeats the villain, and then… roll credits.  Story over.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked the same way? Alas, life insists that we keep going, even after the “happy ending.” Can the romantic couple deal with the day-to-day nature of married life? Will the lovable underdog play well again next season, under the burden of higher expectations? Can the hero help the city rebuild after the climactic battle, or defeat the next bad guy that shows up? Movies rarely address those questions, but they’re what real life is all about.

This challenge is particularly acute in politics, especially at the more local levels. Most people don’t follow the ins and outs of local and state politics; there’s too much else going on in their lives. They generally start paying attention when something big happens, something that’s perceived as a real benefit or a real threat.

When those potential threats or benefits arise, it’s easy to get people paying attention. Those moments are tremendous and inspiring. But they only right before a big event: a crucial vote, an important hearing, a major decision.
The good news is that when people show up and make their voices heard, our elected officials tend to listen.  The problem is that once that key vote or hearing occurs, most people treat it like the climax of a movie.  That’s it; story’s over.

Time to roll the credits and go home.

But politics is all about the long struggle. Getting hundreds of people in a room for one meeting is impressive, but politicians know that a few months later, most of those people won’t remain engaged, and may not even remember the issue. That’s why delays are so common in the political process; citizens have short attention spans, and often, even widespread grassroots outrage fades away given enough time.

That’s why, if an issue is important to you, it’s vital to stay engaged. You can’t assume the battle is won after the big vote or the big meeting; you need to keep showing up, keep speaking out, and keep the pressure on our leaders to do the right thing.

The battle over the future of our libraries is a perfect example. Many of us were deeply upset when we learned about the proposed “Beta Plan,” which proposed dramatically reducing and de-professionalizing library staff, as well as the major culling of books in recent years. Widespread outrage over the Beta Plan and book trashing spread like wildfire over the course of last summer.

The public outcry climaxed at the Library Board of Trustees meeting last September. An overflow crowd of hundreds showed up to express their love for the libraries, and the Board voted unanimously to suspend the Beta Plan and book culling indefinitely.

That September meeting was a terrific feel-good event. Both audience members and Trustees spoke eloquently about the importance of the library system. We got exactly the result we were looking for. If you were writing a movie about the library saga, this is the scene you’d end on. Roll credits!

But that wasn’t the end of the story.  The Chairman of the Board of Trustees said as much that night; he mentioned his hope that he’d see every one of us at the County budget hearings in April, showing support for increased library funding. He noted that most years, he was the only one present to support the libraries. It’s likely no coincidence that library funding as a share of the County budget declined sharply the last few years; it’s easier to cut things that no one speaks up about. (Happily, the 2015 budget includes a modest increase in library funding, thanks to the public pressure.)

The story continued in another important way after the September library meeting. At that meeting, the Trustees created an ad hoc Communication and Evaluation Committee. That committee was charged with collecting public input, considering the future direction of the library system, and coming up with, essentially, an alternative to the Beta Plan.

That committee has been fairly quiet in the months since, but they are now planning to hold a public meeting to collect input. This meeting is coming up soon – Tuesday, June 3 at 7 p.m. – and it’s right nearby, at the Oakton Library.  To the best of our knowledge, this is the only public meeting that the committee intends to hold.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that we’ll see a repeat of the impressive turnout that occurred last September.  For too many people, the library battle is over and “won.” The library system hasn’t been in the news much in recent months, and most people have turned their attention back to other issues and to their daily.

If you care about the future of our library system, and if you think the Beta Plan is the wrong direction for the future, you need to be at this meeting. The committee needs to see the same enthusiasm and passion for our libraries that we showed last September. They need to know that Fairfax County residents expect first-class libraries, and that we want to see them properly staffed, stocked, and funded.

In life, unlike in the movies, there are no final victories.  Rather, it’s a continuing process.  If you walk away once you think you’ve “won,” you risk seeing your victory overturned behind your back.  The battle for the future of our libraries isn’t over; we still need your support.  I hope to see you at Oakton Library on June 3.  I hope that we can show that we have a lasting commitment to our libraries.

Interested in Reston’s future?  Run for the RCA Board!  The deadline for candidates to file is Friday, so click here to download the form today!

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who Will Pay For The Silver Line's Delays? WAMU 88.5, May 21, 2014

This lede from Martin Di Caro's latest report on the Silver Line says it all:

It's not yet clear who will pick up the tab for additional repair work on the Silver Line.

And here is the nub of his report:
As far as who pays for the repair work now—MWAA or the contractor—Paolino said Bechtel covers the expenses at first, but who will ultimately pay will be sorted our later. "The contractor undertakes the work, such as replacing the speakers, and then there are processes within the contract that lay out how the cost is allocated afterwards," Paolino says.
This is the closest Paolino came to saying someone else may have to pay for the Silver Line's delays: "Obviously there will be a time after the project is complete to look back and address any needs such as addressing additional costs."
Does it not seem odd, if not incompetent, that MWAA lets Bechtel proceed with millions of dollars of repairs without having decided who is going to pay for it?

You know they're not talking because, under the "Funding Partners Agreement" among MWAA, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, Dulles Toll Road users--who neither built the shoddy railway nor poorly managed its construction--will be stuck with three-quarters of the cost.

Click here for the rest of Di Caro's report, including the soundtrack.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Op-Ed: Things To Think About If Cell Phone Tower Rises, Connie Hartke, RestonNow, May 16, 2014

Cell phone towers at South Lakes HS
Photo: Cell phone towers at South Lakes High School/file photo
Property values, loss of tree canopy, concerns for children’s safety: these were some of the issues brought up by a concerned group of homeowners at a public information meeting held on May 12 at the Reston Community Center.
Reston Association is considering a proposal from Milestone Communications to allow construction of a 115′ monopole in Hunters Woods Park. Milestone has created a website for this project, Hunters Woods Wireless Pole.

The proposal is to lease RA land at the north end of the soccer field for the pole and its accompanying ground equipment (consisting of up to 4 – 12×20 buildings). Payment would be a percentage of revenue that the monopole supplier receives from a wireless carrier.

The Milestone representative said the average expected revenue is approximately $38,000 per year per carrier. The monopole can support up to 4 carriers (AT&T to be the first), so presumably revenue to RA could be over $150,000 per year. Should this proposal pass through the Reston Association Design Review Board, a zoning application will be filed with Fairfax County.

The following is a list of important meetings that should be attended if you wish to make your opinion heard. If you can’t attend, send an email, or both. It counts!

Monday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Reston Planning and Zoning Committee
North County Government Center (map), Community Room
12000 Bowman Towne Drive, Reston
The agenda can be viewed here. The P&Z committee reports to Supervisor Hudgins. Attending this meeting or emailing will let her know how you feel about the project. Parking note – carpool if you can. Due to construction, parking is very limited. Email is huntermill@fairfaxcounty.gov and suggested subject line is Hunter Woods Park Monopole – Reston.

Thursday, May 29, 6 p.m.
Reston Association Board Meeting
Conference Center, 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston
Must sign in to be allowed 3 minutes (sometimes the limit is 2 minutes; prepare for the shorter time) during the public comment session. Five minutes if you represent a group such as a Cluster, PTA, etc. You should also email your concerns to BoardOfDirectors@reston.org with a cc to cate@reston.org (CEO Cate Fulkerson). Subject line should be Hunter Woods Park Monopole.

Tuesday, June 17, 7-9 pm
Design Review Board Meeting
Conference Center, 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston
Milestone Communications will present their plan for DRB approval
At the May 12 information meeting, we were told that if the proposal does not pass DRB approval, it would not move forward. To be guaranteed a chance to speak you must register as an Affected Party.*  To do so, contact Margo Collins, Reston Association Covenants Advisor, at margo@reston.org or (703) 435-7994 to submit a statement of your concerns. The statement must include your name and Reston address and may be submitted directly to Ms. Collins via email. Individuals are given three minutes; group representatives are given five. Emails should also be sent to margo@reston.orgwith subject of Hunter Woods Park Monopole.

This information is provided as a community service. Please feel free to contact me.

Connie Hartke
Director, Hunters Woods District
Reston Citizens Association
571-205-8874

Why costs often creep on public-works projects, Washington Post, May 14, 2014

WaPo's Antonio Olivo and Katherine Shaver have written an excellent article on the escalating prices of public works projects that everyone, including state legislators and county supervisors should take to heart.  And the rest of us should remember this article and its lessons every time a new proposal--for a bridge, an indoor tennis facility, an aquatics center, etc..--is offered up that sounds too good to be true.  It almost certainly will be, and you can count on actual construction costs and even operating costs to double these initial estimates.

But let's take a look at what Olivo and Shaver have to say:
What do Metrorail’s Silver Line, the Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington County and the Intercounty Connector in Maryland have in common?
They have turned out to cost far more than initially projected. And, as often happens in such cases, the public is outraged over the bill.

The script — most recently playing out in Arlington County after officials revealed that the price tag for the streetcar is $100 million more than first estimated — is fairly common.
With fanfare, officials unveil plans for a new subway line, bridge or other infrastructure improvement that, they promise, will make life easier or generate new tax revenue without breaking the budget.
Then, months or years later, they’ll sheepishly admit that the project will stretch the budget a little. And local residents revolt. . . .
To get a project up and running, public officials may lowball a cost estimate at the outset, then ask for forgiveness and patience later, said William Ibbs, a professor of construction management at the University of California at Berkeley who has worked as an adviser on transportation projects worldwide, including Boston’s “Big Dig” highway-tunnel project, which was $12 billion over budget when it was finished nine years behind schedule in 2007.
That’s particularly the case during an economic downturn, when local officials hope to create jobs and contractors are especially eager to get work.
“I’m not saying they’re committing fraud, but let’s say they’re overly optimistic,” Ibbs said about public officials whose initial cost estimates are on the low end of likely. “They’ll get the work going and then the public will be reluctant to cancel a project because they’ve spent all this money so far.” . . .
Once a project gets approval, planners and engineers dive deeper into its feasibility with a more-refined analysis that takes into account planned stops along a transit route or overall soil conditions, said Whit Blanton, an Orlando-based transportation planner. 
Construction delays and increases in a project’s scope can also lead to cost creep, said John D. Porcari, a former Maryland transportation secretary who recently served as deputy U.S. transportation secretary. On a $2.5 billion project, inflation alone can add $60 million to $70 million for each year construction doesn’t occur, he said.
Delays stem most often from permitting problems, changes to a project’s design and shifts in political administrations, when newly arrived public officials want more time to review a project, Porcari said. The costs of major expenses such as labor, construction materials and real estate also are difficult to pin down until much of a project’s design has been completed. . . .
And there is much more.

We believe the line of explanatory analysis done by UC(B) Professor Ibbs above is the primary source of this under-estimating phenomenon.

For the record, let us note these price escalations on planned projects here in Reston:
  • The Soapstone Extension:   The bridge across the Dulles Corridor from Soapstone Drive to Sunset Hills was forceast in the RMAG report in early  2008 included $32MM for the bridge and $10MM for the roadway links for a total of $42MM.  A few weeks ago, the county's feasibility study put the design and construction costs now at $50MM-$60MM.  However, with the necessary land acquisition costs, the total cost of the project has now ballooned to $100MM-$150MM.   We anticipate the cost will reach at least $200MM before construction is completed sometime next decade.
  • The RCC Aquatic Center:  RCC has had its consultant Brailsford & Dunlavey estimate construction (& operating) costs for a new Reston aquatic center on three different occasions with 6 different designs/capabilities, so it is virtually impossible to show a specific total cost escalation from mid-2009 to its latest update in November 2013.  Nonetheless, taking the cost of design and construction (not land) on a gross square feet (GSF) basis, the trend for the earliest options most like the latest November 2013 option show the following:
    Reston Recreation Center Estimated Construction Costs
    2009-2013
In short, there has been a 35% increase in forecast construction costs per square foot over four years--and the project hasn't even reached the engineering feasibility stage yet.  The likely cost (not counting land) could easily double the latest forecast levels with an 85-90 thousand square foot aquatic center cost reach $70-80 million.  The experience of Arlington County with its planned Long Bridge aquatic center, now on hold because of escalating costs, is a cautionary tale.  The forecast cost for the 115,000 GSF facility  in mid-2013 was $62 million ($539 per GSF), a number that shot up to $82 million ($713 per GSF) when the bids came in late last year--and operating costs escalated even more.
All this is a lesson for wary taxpayers and it may be possible that public officials may also learn from this lesson.  We certainly hope so.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Will the bankruptcy of the US Highway Trust Program affect the Silver Line's TIFIA financing?

The short answer:  We don't know for sure, but it certainly looks like it will.  Implication:  If no new funds are found for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) by August, TIFIA financing will not be available and future tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could explode as earlier forecast, including increases as soon as next year.

A few weeks ago, all the area politicians were ecstatic that the Department of Transportation had approved the joint application of MWAA, Loudoun, and Fairfax counties for a TIFIA loan totalling about $1.9 billion for the construction of the Silver Line.  The loan would substantially reduce by about one-third the grotesque forecast growth in Dulles Toll Road tolls to more than $18 per one-way trip by mid-century (about $7.75 in 2013 dollars--more than double the current toll).  Moreover, all the parties were gleeful that the loan would preclude the need for any toll increases before 2019 because TIFIA's loan terms permit deferring payments for five years. 

Unfortunately, reality has intervened as TIFIA's funding source, the HTF, is expected to be insolvent in August.  Here's how DOT's summary of TIFIA describes its funding:
(TIFIA is) Funded by contract authority and reimbursed from the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund, to remain available until expended. Funds are subject to the overall Federal-aid obligation limitation.
The Highway Account is the account specifically expected to go belly up this summer in light of declining gasoline tax revenues, which have been eroding for years.

Business Insider takes a look at what our completely dysfunctional US Congress might do to address the issue.  As these excerpts suggest, it is not optimistic:
The fundamental problem is that gasoline taxes alone are no longer enough to finance the Highway Trust Fund, due to declining fuel use across the U.S. However, neither the White House nor Congress wants to raise those taxes, and there is a disagreement about how to fill the fund without them.
Simply put, spending on transportation and infrastructure now exceeds gas taxes taken in. During recent testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Joseph Kile, the assistant director for microeconomic studies at the congressional budget office, laid out two politically painful potential solutions — either cut spending in the fund's two accounts by 30% and 65%, or raise the gas tax by 10 to 15 cents per gallon.
In an election year, both options are non-starters. The gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993. Though increasing these tariffs seems like the most logical solution to most analysts, it won't have a chance before the midterm elections. Kile said Congress could also shift money from the rest of the federal budget to the Highway Trust Fund, which seems like the most politically palatable option.
When he issued his dire warnings Wednesday, Obama advocated for his solution to the fund fiasco — a four-year, $302 billion transportation and infrastructure plan. Warning the "cupboard will be bare," he urged Congress to act on his plan — but that too seems unlikely. Obama's plan would require about half the cost to be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes and through other changes Republicans have long resisted. . . .

And just Monday, Bond Buyer reports that Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat from California, has introduced a new Transportation Bill.
The draft transportation bill released Monday night by a Senate committee calls for $242.4 billion of federal funding for highway projects over six years and would authorize $1 billion a year for the popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit enhancement program.  (Emphasis added.  Also note that the $1B to be authorized works as a reserve and leverages about ten times a much in TIFIA loans or about $10B.)
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plans to vote Thursday on the highway bill, which keeps federal funding for highways through fiscal 2020 at fiscal 2014 levels plus inflation. The committee is expected to approve the bill this week. . . .
Then the bill must pass the full Senate and, oh yes, the Republican-controlled House before President Obama may sign it into law.  So we are a long way from filling the pot that TIFIA draws from. 

In a recent discussion among regional Congressional officials in a meeting led by Senator Tim Kaine, Kaine seemed to agree that Silver Line TIFIA financing would not be forthcoming absent an infusion of funds into the Highway Trust Fund.  According to an observer, there was great uncertainty as to whether Congress would be able to find a solution to the problem.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Did you know that the Reston Master Plan Phase 2 study--covering the rest of Reston--has started?

Neither did we until today when we put several pieces of information together from various County sources. 

In her regular e-blast late this afternoon, Supervisor Hudgins noted in the last news item:  "Phase 2 Reston Master Plan is the topic for this month's Channel 16 cable show, "Connecting with Supervisor Hudgins".  This edition features County Planners Faheem Darab and Richard Lambert along with Phase 1 chairman Patty Nicoson.  Check the website for broadcast times and the link for video on demand."

We scrambled through through several County webpages to the specific Channel 16 video, which is a 26-minute discussion led by Hudgins with Nicoson, Darab, and Lambert. 

We also discovered that the DPZ website for the Reston Master Plan effort has been changed to address Phase 2.  Phase 1 has been assigned to the digital dustbin of history.  

Our first surprise in reading about Phase 2 was its goals:
The primary goals for Phase II of the Study are create a new Reston land use map and to evaluate and provide Comprehensive Plan guidance for the following types of places within Reston: (1) Residential neighborhoods (2) Village Centers (3) Commercial area north of Baron Cameron Avenue (adjacent to Reston Town Center), (4) five Convenience centers, and (6) communities outside but on the periphery of Reston. These goals are to be accomplished within a timeline of a little over a year starting from April 2014.
April 2014?  The study has already been going on since last month apparently.  

More importantly, the Phase 1 task force was told repeatedly by County staff that Phase 2 would focus only on re-thinking the village centers with a view to seeing them redevelop as mixed-use development more in line with Simon's original vision rather than the strip malls they have become.  Now it appears that the entire Reston community's future is open for re-examination, kind of a whole body exploratory surgery.  

Even Supervisor Hudgins in the video mentioned above asks her discussants if the community should be fearful of Phase 2 which hits so close to home.  Their obvious answer: No.  (Lesson:  Never ask a question you don't know the answer to.)  They just want to apply County-wide policies to Reston, "tweaking" them as appropriate to the community Richard Lambert explains.  That certainly sounds to us like the County is trying to eliminate more of the specialness of Reston, but we will wait to see.  The "about" page on the RMP P2 effort provides slightly more information. 

And, as explained in the latter half of the video, a whole new process will be applied to the second phase of the Reston planning process.  Unlike the 25-person task force where people representing all points of view in the community sat through 200-plus meetings over 4-1/2 years, there will be just six opportunities (apparently no real "task force"--UPDATE:  An e-mail this morning from DPZ confirms this:  "Phase II has been structured such that a Task Force will not be employed.") for the public to learn and contribute to the re-planning of Reston.  And it will all be over in a year. 
Then, the County Planning staff drafts the new master plan.  It is reviewed with the community in two public meetings:
  • A public meeting on the Village Centers
  • A public meeting on all the other parts of the plan (including neighborhoods, possibly yours).
Then there will be the two opportunities for public input at the County level:
  • A Planning Commission hearing
  • The Board of Supervisors hearing.
That's it.  The fate of your, my, and everyone else's neighborhood will be decided without any discussion among the key stakeholders in the community, including the residents, the landowners, the retail sector that is the cornerstone of most of the P2 study area, the community organizations (starting with RA, RCA, & ARCH), or any other legitimate stakeholder in our community's future.  Instead, the County staff, the Planning Commission, and the Board will take notes--and then do what they want.  

It's all part of the new "Fairfax Forward" approach to amending the County's Comprehensive Plan that guides our development and redevelopment.  It is pretty much intended to further limit community participation in an already highly politicized development planning process for the sake of expediency.  It's definitely NOT about developing a plan appropriate for Reston--or any other community in Fairfax County.   

In the strongest possible way, we urge you to attend the June 7th Open House and express your concerns both about Reston and this disenfranchising planning process.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boston Properties didn't get the word: They want to TAKE park space in Town Center.

Important Update:  The BP proposal will not be discussed at Monday's Reston P&Z Committee hearing as noted below.  The next opportunity for your public input will be at the County Planning Commission hearing on June 11 at 8:15PM.  The following from the Hunter Mill Highlights newsletter provides the relevant information:

Block 4 LLC and Reston Town Center Property LLC (Affiliates of Boston Properties) have filed development Plan Amendment (DPA 85-C-088-07), Proffered Condition Amendment (PCA 85-C-088-09), and Planned Residential Community (PRC 85-C-088-03) plan to develop what is currently a surface parking lot and redevelop a portion of the existing low-rise office and retail in the Town Center Urban Core with a mix of residential, office and retail/restaurant located at Fairfax County Tax Map as 17-1 ((16) Parcels 1 and 4, and 17-1 ((16)) Parcel 5A.  The Planning Commission public hearing is scheduled for June 11, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.
To sign up to speak at this public hearing, please follow these instructions on the Fairfax County website.  

The minutes of the last Reston Planning and Zoning (RP&Z) Committee, March 31, 2014, describe a presentation by Boston Properties (BP) to the RP&Z to build a high-rise residential structure on the current surface parking lot in the northeast corner of Town Center.  As part of that development, BP wants to take 60' linear feet--one-third--of the adjoining President's Park, land it had previously committed to sustaining as park space.  And, oh yes, why not add 1,000 parking spaces in this so-called transit-oriented development. 

BP is making a fool of County decision makers who say they want transit-oriented development (TOD), but are unwilling to limit parking growth or ensure adequate park or other open space, and the community in which it operates by acting as if it answers to no one but its shareholders. 

Here is the area we're talking about:


Here are the minutes of the March 31, 2014, including the BP presentation discussion.  There were a number of questions by members of the RP&Z on the park taking and other development issues that are inconsistent with the plan for the development of Reston's station areas.  The section on pp. 2-4 highlighted by a box text include the BP discussion.




The whole BP presentation and Q&A point out unequivocally that BP cares nothing about the community its properties are in; only about the profits those properties might make.  Moreover, it can not be trusted to keep its word about a matter as straightforward as setting aside land for parks in urbanizing areas.  

More generally, BP's actions raise a legitimate question about whether the County can trust developers to honor their commitments in proffers to preserve park land for public use.  From BP's example, it appears that we can not.  Moreover, it points strongly to the need of the County to use more stringent measures to acquire public ownership of needed park land, including the use of eminent domain, rather than trusting development companies to meet public needs.  

While no RP&Z recommendation has yet been made on this project, the Reston community must step up and express its concern, if not outrage, as this proposal.  The next opportunity to do so will be at next Monday's RP&Z meeting, 7:30PM, Monday, May 19, 2014, at the North County Government Center Community Room.

For earlier reporting on this proposal, please read these news articles presented in chronological order:
Not surprisingly, none of these articles mention the taking of Reston urban park land to build high-rise buildings.  Do you suppose that BP really didn't want the public to know about their plan until they had to go through the re-zoning approval process???


When will the Silver Line start operations? How safe will it be? And how much more will it cost--and who?

On April 23, MWAA's Silver Line project team certified that Phase 1 of the project to Wiehle was "substantially complete" although it still had a "punch list" of 50 items--plus sub-items--of work to complete before it would turn over the line to WMATA for further testing, training, and ultimately operations.  The April 24th announcement meant that DTP, led by Bechtel, met its basic contractual commitment to the line's construction and would not face $25,000 a day penalties to begin the next day.  Moreover, the announcement did not mean what "substantial completion" should have meant--the immediate turnover of the project to WMATA for its 90-day testing and training period.  That 90-day clock doesn't start until the "punch list" is satisfied.  Tick, tock.

Yesterday, more than two weeks following MWAA's announcement, Metro's public relations staff held a teleconference to lay out MWAA's progress in addressing DTP's continuing construction failures.  (And why Metro is plugging for MWAA is a bafflement.)  Following the press conference, RestonNow (Karen Goff) reported:
A Metro official says the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is making progress on pre-operational fixes to the Silver Line, however he still cannot pinpoint an opening date for the first phase of the $5.6 billion rail extension.
“We are tracking to be able to provide service sometime this summer,” Rob Troup, Metro Deputy General Manager of Operations said Monday in a media conference call. “A lot depends on progress MWAA makes in resolving issues. I can’t tell you an operational readiness date, but I am encouraged by the progress.”
Troup said that MWAA is “at the more than the halfway point for the pre-ORD items.”
On the other hand, Washington Business Journal (Michael Neibauer) reported:
Metro still hopes to launch service on the Silver Line by late summer, but it doesn't yet have control of the rail line and a new issue that popped up this weekend has been deemed a “concern” by the transit agency.
Rob Troup, Metro's deputy general manager for operations, told reporters on Monday that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and its Silver Line contractor, Dulles Transit Partners, have knocked out more than half of the punch list items that must be cleared before Metro can take ownership of the 11.7-mile, $3 billion rail line.
But a new issue involving what Troup described as a “bobbing track circuit” threatens to slow (not derail) the work. It’s not a safety issue, Troup emphasized, but rather an issue of reliability — as Silver Line trains approach the Orange Line boundary, “the track circuit will go to a false occupancy” and trains will “go into a braking profile.” The last thing Metro wants is for Silver Line trains to halt every time they approach the East Falls Church station on the Orange Line.
RestonNow follows up:
The April 23 agreement called for adding four blocking capacitors to address the (bobbing track circuit) issue. The fixes fared well in testing, but over the weekend one failed, said Troup. He said this is also a reliability issue and not a safety issue, and after operational readiness this will also have a system upgrade.
Our read:  MWAA and DTP have fixed the easy shortcomings in Silver Line construction, but still haven't fixed the more challenging failures, including the "bobbing track circuit" despite what they thought were repairs.  Moreover, as was previously announced, they will not have the RTU problem repaired for another year, meaning additional acquisition ($1.8 million) and operational expenses (who knows how much?) generated by requiring "eyes on the rail" to make sure trains are where they should be.

And, if all of this is to lead to Silver Line operations by "sometime this summer," MWAA and DTP need to have all their repair and replacement work done by the end of June (about 7 weeks from now).  Then, WMATA can have its full 90-day period to test the line and train its operators before the end of September--and the end of summer by its most extended definition.  Given the remarkably pathetic history of delays and failures in this project, WMATA should take as much time as required to make sure system reliability and safety are assured before launching into operations, complete with a photo op attended by every ear-to-ear grinning politician who ever said "Silver Line."

Should you feel safe riding the Silver Line?

An observation:  MWAA and Metro both state the longstanding (and continuing) RTU problem and the newly discussed (but apparently also longstanding) bobbing track circuit problem--both of which deal with detecting the presence or absence of a train at a particular point--are reliability issues, not safety issues.  We wonder how many reliability issues--especially ones tied to knowing where Metrorail trains are on the Silver Line--it takes to become a safety issue.  If Metro doesn't know where the trains are, how can MWAA or Metro assure anyone that the trains are safe to ride?

And we will once again point out that the fatal 2009 Metrorail Red Line accident--the worst accident in Metro history--was the direct result of the failure of an automated device to sense the presence of a train and the obstructed view of the train operator who could not react quickly enough to stop.  In light of this deadly history, the continuing official assertions of the multiple "reliability issues" without full explanation of why they aren't--individually or together--a "safety issue" is utter nonsense that, apparently, we are suppose to accept on face value.  We don't. 


. . .  And please show me the money!

Missing in total from Monday's Metro media seance was any--and we mean "any"--information or discussion about how much all these repairs would cost and who would end up paying for them.  The construction contingency fund, which started at nearly $462 million at the project's outset, has dwindled to $23 million through February 2014, according to the Project Manager's report to the MWAA Dulles Corridor Committee.   We have a hard time believing there is any money left in that fund in mid-May as DTP and MWAA try to salvage this rail construction project.

So how much more will it cost?  We don't know, but we'd be hardpressed to not believe we are talking tens of millions of dollars more, possibly as much as $100 million.  And, since MWAA let pass the opportunity to penalize DTP $25,000 per day, that is at least $1.6 million the project will have to absorb by the end of June when we might hope the "punch list" is fully satisfied--more if it takes longer. 

And the grossly unfair part of all this is that, under the illogical and inequitable "funding partners agreement" among MWAA, Loudoun, and Fairfax governments, Dulles Toll Road users will end up paying 75% of the added costs unless some other arrangement has been reached.  But, of course, all parties to the "funding partners agreement" as well as WMATA have not said a word about who will pay the extra costs.

As much as we have believed--and fought--the dominant role played by DTR users in funding the construction of the Metrorail line, we find the idea that they may need to pay for the massive failures of the project builders (DTP) and their project managers (MWAA) to meet their contractual commitments grotesque.  

All we wonder at this point is whether MWAA will be able to keep its commitment to no new toll hikes through 2018 given the recent awarding of low-cost federal TIFIA financing once the final bill for building Phase 1 of the Silver Line comes in.

. . . and then there will be Phase 2.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Comment on FCPA Chairman's RestonNow Op-Ed re County Parks, May 8, 2014

Today I commented at length on FCPA Chairman Bill Bouie's op-ed posted on Monday responding to my earlier op-ed an the poor future prospect for Reston (and Tysons) parks.  Since the comment stand on its own, I am posting it below.  For those who have not read them:
Here is the text of my comment this morning:

In this op-ed that Mr. Bouie says is to “challenge the myths and misrepresentations presented by Terry Maynard in his recent editorial," he fails absolutely. In fact, he does not identify a single fact, finding, or implication from my earlier op-ed that is inaccurate, much less a myth or misrepresentation. He doesn’t even try. He actually couldn’t because the information in my op-ed (excluding the Manhattan data) comes from official county documents. Instead, he first resorts to an ad hominem personal attack that is outrageous and erroneous, and then changes the topic.

Mr. Bouie’s Manhattan data is an updated version of the same information I used. The only pertinent differences it shows are that NYC has increased Manhattan’s parkland by 0.7% (102 acres) and added five athletic fields in the last couple of years. It begs the question of whether FCPA has accomplished the same for Fairfax County in general over the last couple of years. I know it hasn’t added any public parkland or athletic fields to either of its prospective major urban areas, Tysons and Reston.

Looking backward and county-wide as his op-ed does, I would agree with Mr. Bouie that Fairfax County’s parks as a whole now ranks reasonably well on their extent and availability based on the same Trust for Public Land data I used in my op-ed. Using TPL’s methodology and Mr. Bouie’s data puts Fairfax County’s “park accessibility score”—it’s ultimate measure of park quality—at 33rd among the Top 100 cities in the country in 2010. I would also add roughly another 16,000 acres of regional, state, & federal parkland to that total, which would bring the overall public park accessibility score ranking up to 14th.

Comparing that current countywide picture with the future planned for Tysons and Reston’s urban areas promises a dismal future for future urban residents. Mr. Bouie’s table shows that we now have 21.9 acres per 1,000 residents of county parks county-wide covering 9.5% of the county land with 2.4 athletic fields per 10,000 residents. Looking forward, the table below (see attached image) shows how poorly the Tysons and Reston urban areas will be served if they achieve their planned densities and the county actually meets its urban parks standards. In both Tysons and Reston, that long-term goal would achieve about 1.7 acres of parks for 1,000 residents using the county’s mix of residential and employment categories. That is less than one-tenth of what the FCPA already has for the whole county. It’s also about two-thirds (5.7% in Reston, 7.3% in Tysons) the share of land now devoted to parks in the county as a whole. And it offers fewer athletic fields per 10,000 people than the already overcrowded county park system does.


And, as Mr. Bouie notes, the newly approved Comprehensive Plan for Reston’s urban areas actually calls for reliance on nearby parks, RA’s common areas, and more to fill the County’s obligation for parks to urban taxpayers. As Mr. Bouie notes, the Plan calls for “a total of 12 athletic fields to serve the future growth in the TSA through 2040-2050, with three fields to be located in the TSAs (one field per TSA) and the remainder to be provided through a combination of expanded capacity of existing fields that serve Reston and the provision of new fields that serve Reston.” The second half of that sentence means in suburban Reston—or beyond. He follows up: “Other opportunities to meet the full range of community recreation needs will be explored in concert with the various park providers that serve Reston.” That obtuse sentence means either RA or proffers from developers beyond the existing regional W&OD trail park through the station areas.

In fact, the notion that 12 athletic fields meets the County standard is simply wrong (although it is what FCPA has been using without any official approval). Appendix 3 of the FC Parks & Recreation Plan establishes “countywide” park facility service level standards in both the section title and in the lead-in sentence (pp. 21-22) to its table showing those standards that would mean Reston’s urban areas are entitled to have more than 30 athletic fields based on their prospective urban population growth. Tysons’ field requirement would be even larger.