Autumn on Lake Audobon

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

URGENT -- RA Giveaway of RA Deeded Open Space in RTCN

The following is the text of an e-mail Terry Maynard, Co-Chair, Reston 20/20, sent to the RA Board of Directors and others this morning in preparation for this evening's RA Board meeting.


Message body

Dear RA Board Members--

I regret having only belatedly read this month's Board packet because the last agenda item is a proposed MOU that is a plain and simply a giveaway of RA's deeded rights to ten acres of open space in Reston Town Center North (RTCN).  While both parties would acknowledge that RA has deeded rights to 10 acres of open space in RTCN, the MOU goes on to call everything not covered by concrete as open space, meaning RA will end up with essentially NO open space in RTCN.

Let's be clear about what the open space deed, the second of two deeds transferring RTCN land, says.  Here is the language in the deed:
(c)  No building, structures or improvement shall be built or placed on the property conveyed herein, except (a) structures which may be required for storm drainage or sanitary sewage purposes, or (b) any building, structure or improvement which, in the aggregate, covers no more than ten percent (10%) of the land area of this parcel and which is intended for recreational uses; and the property shall otherwise be left in its natural state.  This covenant shall run with the land and be binding on the Grantee and its successors and assigns, for a period of ninety-nine (99) years from the date hereof.
Let's walk through the items characterized as "open space" (p. 2-3 of the draft MOU):
  • Public Recreation Center--The Hunter Mill District does not have a regional recreation center and Restonians have been fighting for years to have the County build one as it has in every other supervisorial district.  The County has agreed to build one (when remains unknown) in RTCN.  That structure and the associated parking (even if combined with parking for other functions) will take at least THREE ACRES AND MAYBE AS MUCH AS FIVE.  While a rec center will clearly be "for recreational uses," it equally clearly will not be open space "left in its natural state."
  • Central Green and Related Streetscape--The central green--whose proposed acreage is not described in the MOU, but appears now to be less than six acres--is open space by any definition, but streetscapes definitely are not.  Streetscapes are an obligatory requirement for developers to insert a few trees, benches, and potted plants along the sidewalks they are required by County code to construct.  We have a few examples already in Town Center.  Surprising as it may seem, a 20' wide sidewalk area (with or without potted plants) typically comprises 5-10% of the total land area proposed for development.  With 34 acres to be developed (out of 40), that means a loss of already required streetscape acreage of between 1.7-3.4 acres.  The notion that required streetscapes should also be double counted as open space is patently absurd.
  • Parcel 3F--This parcel is part of the existing stormwater retention pond area west of Town Center Drive at Baron Cameron Ave.  It comprises 2.3 acres and is legitimate open space.
  • Other Designated Open Spaces--TBD.  Basically, "tree save" areas--the only defined space offered--are (like streetscapes) required to meet stormwater control and other legal requirements for development (or sometimes simply undevelopable).  In essence, this is again double-counting and certainly does not make for any coherent, usable open space for Restonians.
  • Open Spaces within Land Bays--While developers are expected to provide some open space with their individual development initiatives, the size of these spaces is always limited.  In its efforts to advocate for Reston's citizens, RCA proposed that 20% of all redeveloped space be devoted to open space--in the true sense of that concept--but that goal was struck from the Reston Master Plan in the final task force voting.  No similar language appears in the Comprehensive Plan, although Reston's Planning Principle #9 states, "High quality public open spaces will be required."  The phraseology in this MOU offers no assurance than even quality, much less quantity, will meet this planning principle, much less Restonians' needs.  It is also double-counting.
  • Open Space Contribution --  So, with even all these exemptions, if the County can't find 10 acres for true open space, then it can pay off RA according to this paragraph at the rate of $65,340/acre.  Does anyone really believe that this acreage is only work $65K/acre?  This is the inverse of the stupidity of the Tetra purchase where RA paid twice as much as required for a beat up property; now we're looking to get less than half of the real long-term market value of high-density land in RTCN.  Moreover, RA won't receive this funding until "the end of the development process," which is likely to take some four decades.  And who's to say when the process has ended?  Even at an average 2% inflation rate over that four-decade timeframe, that means RA will be receiving less than $30,000/acre in 2016 dollars.  At the minimum, this MOU ought to include an inflation factor for that acreage valuation--not to mention a fair market price for the land with its high-density potential (just like Tetra).

In contrast to this apparent willingness of RA to give away its deeded rights to open space, County guidelines indicate that RTCN SHOULD HAVE MUCH MORE OPEN SPACE than the 10 acres nominally allowed.  Attached is a paper I wrote on this topic early this year based on a discussion with Ellen Graves, Cate Fulkerson, and John McBride about the land use situation in RTCN.  ((See this link.))  I'll highlight two points based on an assessment of the proposed job and residential growth in RTCN under the new Reston Master Plan:
  • There should be at least 11.3 acres of park space in RTCN according to FCPA urban guidelines.
  • There should be at least 10 athletic fields requiring 16.7 acres of space in RTCN. 
Yet this draft MOU not only proposes not meeting the expectations Restonians have of RA to provide, as the planning principles state, "high quality public open spaces," but would fail to meet even the minimalist expectations of County park guidelines.

Once again, it appears the RA Board of Directors is on the way to selling out its members rather than fighting for them.

I respectfully request this e-mail be included in the Board's official meeting records for today. 

Sincerely,
Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

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

From:  Tammi Petrine 
RE:  PRC C-020/SE 2016-HM-012 – TALL OAKS DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, LLC AND TALL OAKS COMMERCIAL CENTER LLC

Dear Fairfax County Planning Commissioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.
Tammi Petrine
Co-Chair, Reston 2020
reston2020.blogspot.com
703.390.0577

Sunday, July 10, 2016

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

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