Reston Spring

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Draws Creative People? Quality of Place, Richard Florida, UrbanLand, October 11, 2012

Patty Nicoson, Chairman of the Reston Task Force, shared this article with members of the task force.  It provides a tilt on the "quality of life" concept called "quality of place."  From this person's perspective, quality of place is a prerequisite for quality of life.

Here are some excerpts:
Why do people—especially talented Creative Class people, who have lots of choices—opt to locate in certain places? What draws them to some places and not to others? Economists and social scientists have paid a great deal of attention to the location decisions of companies, but they have virtually ignored how people, especially creative people, make the same choices. . .
Place itself, I began to realize, was the key factor. So much so, that I coined a term—quality of place—to sum it up. I use the term in contrast with the more traditional concept of quality of life to cover the unique set of characteristics that define a place and make it attractive. Over time, my colleagues and I have come to refer to these characteristics as Territorial Assets, the fourth T of economic development after Technology, Talent, and Tolerance (what I have elsewhere called the 3Ts of Economic Growth).
Generally, one can think of quality of place as cutting across three key dimensions:
  • What’s there: the combination of the built environment and the natural environment; a stimulating, appealing setting for the pursuit of creative lives.
  • Who’s there: diverse people of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations, interacting and providing clear cues that this is a community where anyone can fit in and make a life.
  • What’s going on: the vibrancy of the street life, café culture, arts, and music; the visible presence of people engaging in outdoor activities—altogether a lot of active, exciting, creative goings-ons. . . .
Click here for the rest of this interesting article.  

Video: Fun, Beauty, Fantasy: Reston's Public Art

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Look at Commuting Using the Latest Census Data, Aaron M. Renn, The NewGeography, September 25, 2012

In an article in the New Geography blog, Aaron Renn looks at workers' use of public transit in the nation's major metropolitan areas using the latest US Census data.  For advocates of public transit and smart growth, it does not offer particularly reassuring results:  Only in New York does transit usage exceed 15% (31.1%) and only three metro areas have seen public transit growth grow by more than one percent over the last decade.  The relative good news is that the Washington metro area ranks second to New York in worker transit use at 14.8% and second in transit use growth (behind NY) over the decade at 3.6%.

Of note, biking and walking remain largely irrelevant in understanding commuting patterns.  Only seven of the top 51 metro areas show biking with more than a one percent role, led by Portland at 2.3%, and Washington isn't even on the top ten list.  Walking's share is larger with leader New York showing a 6.3% share and Washington standing at ninth with a 3.2% share.  Quite frankly, it is easier and safer to walk, especially for older workers.  

In some small way, the study reinforces the impression created by the recent GMU CRA study suggesting there will be few shifts in commuting shares over the next three decades.  It also suggests that the French may have found a way to make that change more quickly by making transit free

Friday, October 26, 2012

RA Assessment of Impact of Golf Course Re-Development, October 5, 2012

What Really Happens When a City Makes Its Transit System Free?, Atlantic Cities, October 26, 2012

Something to think about. . . It probably wouldn't work in the WDC metro area--too much demand and too little capacity, especially in Metrorail.  It might work locally with a hugely expanded Fairfax Connector.  Then again, this article is about France.  Nonetheless, while we frequently get the argument that transit users should pay the full costs of transit (an eminently logical if narrowly focused perspective given the various benefits of getting autos off of roads), this article provides a real counterpoint by describing an effort to move precisely in the opposite direction. 

Here are some excerpts to entice you to read the full article here.

When Jean-Francois Mayet became mayor of Châteauroux in 2001, the town’s transit system was descending into irrelevance. Each of Châteauroux’s 49,000 inhabitants took the bus, on average, 21 times per year, well below the 38 per annum average for small French cities.
Mayet, a member of France’s socialist party, did what few mayors confronted with a struggling mass transit system would do: he made the whole thing free.
Ever since, the otherwise ordinary French town has become a canary in the coal mine of transportation policy, closely watched by the dozens of other municipalities in various stages of free transit experiments. . .
. . . But Châteauroux didn’t just test the viability of eliminating fares as a social experiment; it used free rides to save its mass transit system. In 2002, ridership had already increased 81 percent.
There were growing pains: the number of slashed or tagged seats grew from a dozen in 2001 to 118 in 2002. Drivers complained that passengers treated the bus like a personal car, expecting to be dropped off at their doorsteps.
But overall, the project has been considered a success. . .
. . . as it turns out, the change nearly paid for itself. . . By slightly increasing the transit tax on big local businesses while eliminating the costs of printing, ticket-punching technology and the human infrastructure of ticket sales, the city turned a profit on the transit system in ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’07. Since ’08, returns have not been as positive, though the report attributes that to a shift in control from the city to the region. . . .
One of Châteauroux’s imitators also released a report this year: Aubagne, a metro area of 100,000 spread around 12 towns to the west of Marseille. This being France, the city’s mayor teamed up with a philosopher to write a book on the experiment, entitled, in part, Liberté, égalité, gratuité.
Aubagne has had a free transit system since 2009, when the city raised the transport tax on large businesses from .6 to 1.8 percent. In terms of persons served, it is one of the largest free-transit projects in the world. Since transit fares were abolished in 2009, ridership has increased 170 percent – a gain in three years that is already approaching the eleven-year mark from Châteauroux. The authors told TerraEco that 99 percent of residents are happy with the new policy. Traffic congestion is down 10 percent [PDF, French].

Thursday, October 25, 2012

GMU Forecast of Sequestration Impact on Fairfax County, October 23, 2012

On October 23, GMU Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) Director Stephen Fuller briefed the Fairfax County Economic Advisory Commission on the potential impact of sequestration on the county.  He forecast that Fairfax County would lose $4.6 billion in federal spending as a result of sequestration of about $1 trillion in federal spending.  This would cost Fairfax 8.4% of its projected gross county product for 2013, some $8.7 billion, and would translate in to the loss of 87,000 jobs or 13.4% of the county's total workforce.   

In reporting on the meeting, the Washington Post noted the broad impact of the potential cuts:
. . . In his presentation to the commission, Fuller called sequestration a “poison pill” and warned that if Congress doesn’t reach a deal to avoid the reductions, they will drive the nation into an economic recession. In Fairfax, he said, the effects would be felt by everyone — shopping centers, hair salons, landlords, restaurants — in ways that few are even considering.
“It will show up everywhere,” he said. “A lot of workers don’t even know” that their jobs are dependent on federal spending. . . .
 Click here to see the entire Fuller presentation.

FBI investigating troubled Dulles Rail board, Washington Examiner, October 24, 2012

By Liz Essley
The FBI is investigating the embattled authority overseeing construction of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project, The Washington Examiner has learned.
Federal investigators have spent months looking into contracts worth millions of dollars that were awarded by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to companies that employ friends and relatives of authority officials, sources familiar with the investigation said.
In addition to the FBI probe, an inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation is preparing to issue a separate report on its investigation of the authority that is expected detail the agency's history of nepotism, The Examiner has learned. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Message to Reston Task Force Members from Department of Planning & Zoning re Next RTF Meeting, October 19, 2012

Members of the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force received the following e-mail message this afternoon from Heidi Merkel, the Department of Planning and Zoning senior staff officer who is coordinating the work of the task force. 

Dear Task Force members,

Staff has received a lot of feedback regarding Scenario G since the Task Force meeting on October 9th.  There is not enough time prior to next week's Task Force meeting for us to synthesize everything we've heard and bring back new information regarding Scenario G.  We will be prepared to talk further about Scenario G at the Task Force's November 13th meeting. 

Therefore, at next week's meeting, we will present information about the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning Staff report re: Jobs:Housing ratios and the draft George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis updated forecast.  Chairman Patty Nicoson will also talk about drafting the Task Force report. 

Thank you. 
Heidi Merkel

As Colin Mills, RCA's President, reflected in his Reston Patch blog post this week, the discussion of Scenario G at the last RTF meeting generated a lot of controversy.  Ms. Merkel presented a modified draft scenario--Draft Scenario G--reflecting some lower densities and a slight shift of mixes to more residential use that the previous mainline scenario, Scenario E.  The reduction of density and shift in mix was driven by FC Department of Transportation analysis that showed that, if achieved, the density/mix in Scenario E would cause absolute traffic gridlock at two critical intersections, even with the best efforts to mitigate those situations.   Such a situation would not be received well by state transportation officials who must review major changes in traffic planning.   

So the task force will be discussing the jobs/housing balance, itself a thorny issue, and listen to GMU's latest forecast for Reston TOD area growth.  Based on a presentation by GMU's Dr. Lisa Sturtevant in January, we anticipate that this forecast will suggest much slower growth that GMU earlier forecast for the task force.  

The next meeting will be on October 23 at 7PM at RCC--Lake Anne. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Commentary: Reston National in Retreat or Stalling, John Lovaas, Reston Connection, October 17, 2012

Suddenly, Reston National Golf Club’s corporate masters have pulled back from the Oct. 24 hearing they demanded as a matter of urgency before the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals. Lawyers for Northwestern Mutual Insurance sought the hearing hoping to overturn a ruling by a Fairfax County zoning official that barred the Golf Club from turning some or all of its 166 green acres into condominiums or other residential development without going through lengthy Fairfax County processes to change the approved use of the land. Reston National took the position that Reston’s original, wide open zoning already permits residential development on that land. The zoning administrator disagreed.
Why the sudden change by the corporates? My suspicion is that they are taking a course of action often used by developers or a friendly supervisor when a proposal has caused considerable upset in the community. The idea is to delay for a few months, trusting that the intensity of the upset will dissipate. With luck, folks in the community will barely notice it when the deed is finally done. . . .
Click here for the rest of John Lovaas' commentary.

Master Plan Task Force Update, Part 2, Colin Mills, President, RCA, October 17, 2012

As promised, today I’m offering the second half of my update on the progress of the Reston Master Plan Task Force, and the issues that arose over the course of last week’s meeting.  Last week, I wrote in this space about the slow progress of the Task Force, and the impact those delays will have on development in Reston.  This week, I want to talk about the growing divergence in vision between Task Force members, and what that might mean for the process.

The Task Force is composed of representatives of both development interests and community organizations, which is as it should be.  You need the opinions and expertise of both developers and residents to come up with a workable plan.  But there's an inherent tension in the interests of both groups, and that tension was on display at the meeting.

Last week, I mentioned that the planning staff was working on its latest land-use scenario, which they call Scenario G.  It was necessary to revise the land-use plan because FCDOT ran its transportation analysis on the last scenario, and the analysis yielded a traffic disaster.  Several of Reston's major intersections would see dramatically worse congestion, and two in particular - the intersection of Reston Parkway and Sunrise Valley, and the intersection of Wiehle and Sunset Hills - were so bad that FCDOT and the planning staff couldn't mitigate the impact adequately.  The transportation analysis must ultimately be submitted to VDOT for review and comment, and it’s hard to imagine them looking favorably on the level of gridlock that was forecast.

The new development plan will (we hope) reduce the traffic problems.  Scenario G involves a modest reduction in overall development compared to the last one, with a higher percentage of residential development.  (A better balance of residential space to office space is better for traffic, since the traffic flow for residential and office tends to go in opposite directions.)  The draft scenario also allows for variable amounts of development closest to the stations, which would allow some parcels to develop to higher densities while still limiting the overall development intensity.

When the planning staff presented the new scenario, it drew protests from the developer-associated members of the Task Force.  They argued that the lower levels of development would inhibit the planning of "great" development projects, and would prevent the "place-making" that is a key goal of transit-oriented development.  They protested that the planning staff was letting the traffic analysis drive the development, which they considered backward.  They also argued that focusing on density numbers and floor-area ratios missed the point: what we should be striving for is high-quality development, not slavish adherence to a set of numbers.

Several of the non-developer-allied members (including RCA's representative, Terry Maynard) countered that the best interests of the community should not be sacrificed on the altar of "great" development projects.  If a great-looking development project would snarl the traffic on our streets, they argued, it's not a great project.  They also said that the density numbers do matter; this process is the community's best chance to have a say on the development that occurs in Reston, and we need to have limits in place to protect Reston from over-development.

In my view, both sides have valid points.  The developers are right that the numbers don't tell the whole story.  A 2.0 FAR building that covers an entire parcel looks far different than a 2.0 FAR building that covers one-fourth of the same parcel.  And low-density projects can be harmful to the community if they’re poorly designed and planned.  Design excellence matters, and we want to encourage quality architecture.  We also want to encourage the construction of community amenities, like parks and recreational centers, close to the stations.  If we set the density numbers too low or add too many restrictions, then the parcels might not develop at all, and we'll miss out on the chance to maximize our investment in the Silver Line.

But the community representatives, to my mind, make even more compelling points.  The development around the stations should serve the community, not the other way around.  And we need to ensure that the new development doesn't create a "virtual wall" that makes it virtually impossible to get from north to south Reston.  If we can't get anywhere on our roads, then we're damaging our community.  The entire purpose of running the transportation analysis is to ensure that we'll have the infrastructure to support the density we're adding.  If we ignore the traffic impacts in the name of "great" development, then we're not doing our jobs as a task force.

The developers on the Task Force argued that we’ll need to “think of traffic in a different way” in the future.  It wasn’t clear whether they meant that people will be less car-dependent in the future, or that we’ll all just have to accept more traffic as the price of progress.  While it’s true that more urbanized areas tend to be less car-centered than Reston is today, it’s hard to see that as a viable future for us.  Fairfax County isn’t Manhattan; we just aren’t designed to allow most people to avoid using their cars regularly.  And if we’re supposed to just get used to more traffic, there comes a point when we’re so overwhelmed that the road network breaks down.  And is that really progress?

The Task Force is scheduled to meet next Tuesday (October 23rd), and at that meeting, the planning staff will present its latest draft of Scenario G.  Given the developer pushback at the last meeting, it’s entirely possible that this draft will feature higher densities and a lower percentage of residential development.  If so, the community representatives will not welcome the proposal with open arms.  And we’ll find ourselves stuck in neutral again.  In the long term, this disagreement may further delay the work of the Task Force.  It's not an easy balance for the planning staff, and I don't envy them as they try to balance competing interests.

Regardless of which side you're on, this debate matters.  This plan will shape the face of Reston for decades to come.  The County has posted information about Scenario G on the Special Study website.  I urge you to review it and become familiar with the plan.

And if you have an opinion, contact the members of the Task Force and make your voice heard.  We generally see the same faces at the meetings, and we know what they think.  I'd like to know what you think.  If you have any thoughts to share, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Friday, October 12, 2012

GMU Report Flawed, Would Lead Region Down Unsustainable Path, Press Release, Coalition for Smarter Growth, October 11, 2012

The Coalition for Smarter Growth issued the following press release in response to the publication yesterday of a study by GMU's Center for Regional Analysis indicating virtually no change in transportation modes and huge growth over the next 30 years. 

OCTOBER 11, 2012

CONTACT: Stewart Schwartz
(703) 599-6437


GMU Report Flawed; Would Lead Region Down Unsustainable Path

Using funding from developers with significant interests in land in outer suburban locations, researchers at George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis have issued a new report arguing for massive investment in highway infrastructure. Experts at the Coalition for Smarter Growth disagree.

"The GMU report is based on flawed and outdated assumptions and would lead our region down an unsustainable development path," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG).

"The report ignores the fundamental shifts in real estate demand, changing demographics and market demand. The GMU view would also leave behind Prince George's and older parts of eastern Fairfax and eastern Prince William counties," said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for CSG.

"While dressed up with an acknowledgment of transit, the report is focused on justifying a wasteful expansion of highways which would fuel more spread-out development and yet more traffic," said Schwartz. "This includes real estate mogul and 2030 Group backer Til Hazel's primary goal of an outer beltway in Virginia."

"Our region's elected leaders have committed to a sustainable vision plan in 'Region Forward,' a plan that emphasizes the critical importance of transit and transit-oriented communities to improve access to jobs and housing, reduce pollution, and address congestion," said Cort. "The GMU report seems to be an effort to undermine the region's focus on these more sustainable investments."

"We reject this effort by the 2030 Group through the GMU report, and by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance whose forum yesterday was intended to promote massive new spending on roads and sprawl," said Schwartz. "We share the goal of an economically competitive region and we are certain that this will require a primary focus on transit and efficient transit-oriented communities."

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has identified the following flaws in the GMU analysis:

1) Ignores fundamental changes in the residential real estate market:
The report relies on population projections which continue to include old assumptions about growth in the region's outer suburbs and still don't fully reflect the dramatic long-term shift in real estate demand.

Demand for housing with long commutes has collapsed and may never recover given high gas prices, the ever-smaller percentage of households with children, and the strong demand of millennials, retiring baby boomers and empty nesters to live in walkable, urban and transit-oriented communities. (See Christopher Leinberger, Walk the Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.)

2) Uses old regional activity centers data:

The report uses the old regional "activity centers" data, instead of the most up-to-date activity centers, which means it omits and ignores many of Prince George's County's Metro stations, Fairfax's Route 1 corridor and a number of other older commercial corridors which are planned to be efficient transit-focused centers. This omission biases the report toward sprawling auto-dependent areas.

3) Fails to acknowledge the failure of highway expansion to fix congestion:

Transportation experts have acknowledged that highway expansion in metropolitan areas typically fails and that the new capacity induces more auto-dependent development leading to a return of congestion in as little as five years.

4) Fails to fully account for the benefits of transit and transit-oriented communities:

The report fails to acknowledge the critical importance of transit to manage peak hour commuting. By offering a high-capacity commuting alternative, transit offers tens of thousands of Washington area residents an alternative to driving in traffic. The report also fails to note that mixed-use transit-oriented communities not only shift many trips to transit, but they also maximize walking and biking trips and shorten many car trips.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading nonprofit organization addressing where and how the Washington region grows, partnering with communities in planning for the future, and offering solutions to the interconnected challenges of housing, transportation, energy and the environment. We ensure that transportation and development decisions accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas. The Coalition's website is


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Master Plan Task Force Update, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, October 10, 2012

On Tuesday night, I attended the latest meeting of the Reston Master Plan Task Force.  I have attended every one of the meetings I could during the almost three years that the process has run to date.  However, I understand that a lot of folks aren't able to attend the meetings.  So this week and next, I'm going to fill you in on the latest news with the Task Force. This week, I'll focus on the current schedule for the Task Force's efforts.  Next week, I'll explain the showdown that's likely looming when the final plan recommendations are prepared.  This showdown will have major ramifications for the future of our community, so it's worth paying attention and getting involved.

Last night, we received an update on the schedule for Phase 1 of the Master Plan Special Study, which covers the area along the Dulles Toll Road and around the planned Silver Line stations.  Currently, the Fairfax County planning staff is attempting to finalize the proposed levels of development, so that the County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) can perform necessary tests on the traffic impacts of the proposed development.

The planning staff is preparing its latest land-use scenario (more on this next week).  Once the scenario is finalized and approved by the Task Force, FCDOT will begin its analysis.  The bad news: FCDOT reports that their analysis will take 5 months.  And because the transportation analysis is necessary in order for VDOT to review and comment on the impact of the development plan (which is required by state law), the final recommendations of the Task Force cannot be submitted until the analysis is complete.

While the traffic analysis is underway, the Task Force will work on drafting the Comprehensive Plan language that will be submitted, as well as preparing a report that will detail the Task Force process and describe any differences between the visions of the planning staff and the Task Force.  The goal will be to have all of this material ready for submission to the Planning Commission by the time VDOT has reviewed the traffic analysis and provided its comments.

So what's the bottom line?  In the best case, assuming no major delays in preparing the land use scenario and no hitches in drafting the Comprehensive Plan language and the Task Force report, we can expect this to go before the Planning Commission next August, and to the Board of Supervisors for approval next September or October.  That's roughly the same time that the Wiehle Avenue station on the Silver Line will open for business.

This timeline is, to say the least, disappointing.  The whole point of splitting the Master Plan Special Study into two phases is so that Phase 1 would be completed before the Silver Line got here, so that we'd establish the ground rules for development before the Metro-related proposals started coming in.

But as we've seen in the case of the notorious 23-story office tower, Metro-related development plans are already rolling in.  And by voting to approve a tower that violates the Task Force's planning principles, Supervisor Hudgins has indicated that she won't follow the Task Force proposal until it's approved by the Board of Supervisors.  Now we know that it's going to be at least a year before that proposal is in place.  That means another year of uncertainty in Reston's planning, which is frustrating for developers and the community alike.

I'm not blaming planning staff or the FCDOT for the schedule; the planners are working diligently, and the transportation analysis will take as long as it takes.  But the Task Force's deliberations have always been, well, deliberate.  Now we're seeing the price of that slow progress.

The good news is that the County is planning to start Phase 2 of the study before Phase 1 is complete, which I suggested in this space back in May.  As we've seen with projects like the redevelopment of Fairway Apartments and the furor over Reston National, the Silver Line is spurring redevelopment proposals outside the borders of the Task Force's study area.  The sooner we can produce new development ground rules that cover all of Reston, the better.

I hate to close out on a down note, but you'll note that I said that final approval of the Task Force's proposal on Phase 1 will take a year in the best case.  On Tuesday night, I saw reason to doubt the probability of the best-case scenario.  I'll explain why - and why you should pay attention - next week.

30-Year Study Finds the Car Will Still Rule the DC Area, Fairfax News, October 11, 2012

By James Hood
 Think you’ll be taking the train to work soon? Don’t count on it. A study conducted by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis finds that in 30 years, cars will still be the main way of getting to and from work in Northern Virginia and the D.C. area.
The study, headed by George Mason University Senior Fellow John McClain, looked at economic growth projections and tried to square them with likely modes of transportation. The findings won’t do much to encourage those who are counting on mass transit to ease congestion in the region. . .
. . .  For all economic activity in the region, the share of GRP enabled by auto travel goes from 74.3% in 2007 to 73.1% in 2040, and economic activity supported by transit changes only very slightly from 22.3% to 22.2%. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.

Click here for the full GMU CRA report.   

In fact, GMU forecasts the region will grow by 331% and Fairfax County will grow by about the same, 323%, over the 2010 to 2040 timeframe.  That's more than a quadrupling of the region's and the county's gross regional product.

Until we have had a chance to read the full report, we'll limit our comment to one point:   The findings indicate that the state and county will have to find ways to finance additional road improvements to accommodate the anticipated growth in traffic.

. . . and that's a lot of road!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Letter: Gov. McDonnell to MWAA Board Chairman Curto on MWAA Issues & Cutting Metro Construction Costs, October 9, 2012

Gov McDonnell ltr to MWAA re MWAA Issues & Cutting Construction Costs

Letter Regarding "Non-standard" Terms in Phase 1 Silver Line Construction Contract, June 14, 2007

The following June 2007 letter from Fairfax County resident and attorney William Coleman to then-County Board Chairman Gerry Connolly highlights a series of what are euphemistically characterized as "non-standard" terms in the contract with Bechtel and Dulles Transit Partners (DTP) to build Phase 1 of what has become called the Silver Line.  Quoting from Mr. Coleman's overview of the contract, these key non-standard terms include:
  • Inappropriate secrecy provisions
  • Award of the construction contract before final design approval, without right to bid competitively the approved final design without penalty
  • A supposed "fixed-price" portion of the contract which is not a "fixed price," instead by its written terms adjusting automatically to price changes of major construction items, e.g.--steel and concrete
  • Uncompetitive procurement procedures for future sub-contractor "allowance" work
  • Award of utility relocation work under a separate contract and without a fixed-price
  • Loose conditions to control "differing site condition" costs
  • "Concurrent non-project activities" which are expected to be designed and built as part of the Project but have an unclear relationship to the proposed contract
  • Provisions allowing the contract to cause the conditions for its own Change Orders and Delays Claims that would increase cost to the taxpayer.
The letter (below) provides additional detail on each of these points.

Two vital questions arise:
  • What assurances does the tax- and toll-paying public have that MWAA will not include similar provisions in its contract for Phase 2 construction of the Silver Line?
  • Why, in the face of this information, did the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors subsequently agree in secret to the so-called "funding partners" that sticks toll road users with over half the cost of the line's construction and three-quarters of any price increases?
Ltr re Phase 1 Design-Build Contract Non-Standard Terms and Conditions

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Owners Postpone Golf Course Zoning Appeal, Reston Patch, October 9, 2012

By Karen Goff
The fight for the future of Reston National Golf Course will continue into 2013 as the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing scheduled for Oct. 24 has been deferred until January.
The hearing was deferred at the request of the golf course owner, RN Golf Management. . . .
Click here for the details.  

You Pay the Toll. Where Should That Money Go? Room for Debate, New York Times, October 8, 2012

Yesterday the New York Times published an excellent column in its "Room for Debate" series, this one on using tolls from roads to fund other projects.  The backgrounder specifically cites Dulles Toll Road tolls being used to pay for more than half of Metrorail construction costs.  An example it doesn't cite is the New York Port Authority using tolls from the bridges to Manhattan to re-build the World Trade Center--not even a transportation project.  

Below we reproduce the short backgrounder on the topic from the NYT.  For the views from a variety of economic, transportation, civic, and political experts, please click on this link to the article

A toll booth.

It’s usually some consolation when you hand over a $5 bill at the toll booth or slow down for E-ZPass: At least the money will go toward keeping this road drivable. But in some cases, that’s no longer a safe assumption. In Northern Virginia, drivers on the Dulles Toll Road are paying more than half the cost of an expansion of the Metro train system. In Ohio, the director of the turnpike authority says its revenue should be used for other projects.
Should revenue from toll roads be spent on other transportation priorities, like public transit?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Commentary: The Spirit of Civic Activism in Reston, Colin Mills, President, RCA, October 3, 2012

It's a busy time at RCA these days.  I think I've started most of my posts in the last couple of months with some version of that statement, but it's true.  There are a lot of hot issues in Reston right now, and we've been active and engaged on the ones within our sphere of influence.

Every once in a while, though, I begin to despair that RCA - and I - can only do so much.  During busy times like this, it seems like I can never attend all of the meetings I should attend, and RCA can't address all the issues we should address.  We have a dedicated and hard-working organization, but we are all only human.  And I worry about who will address some of these issues if RCA doesn't.

But when I do attend meetings, I'm encouraged and reassured by all the citizen activists that I meet.  As I've discussed previously, Reston was settled by a group of pioneers who believed that citizenship is an active duty, and that if you want to see change in the community, you need to make it happen, not wait for someone else to do it.  This spirit of service is not shared everywhere, and Reston is widely known for it.

When I had breakfast with Tom Davis the other week, he mentioned that Reston has a county-wide reputation for its civic activism and involvement, and added that Reston is considered "a high-maintenance area" by local leaders because of its involved citizens.  Speaking as a Restonian, I'm proud of that reputation, and I intend to see that it continues into the future.

Happily, I can report that citizen involvement in Reston is alive and well.  I've attended a couple of events this week that drove home to me what an active, committed bunch Restonians are.
Last Saturday, I attended and spoke at the rally organized by Rescue Reston to protect Reston National Golf Course against the threat of redevelopment. Rescue Reston itself is a success story for civic involvement.  When word spread through the community in July that Reston National's owners were applying to have the golf course declared to be developable, the surrounding residents jumped to action.  In the space of a couple short months, Rescue Reston has raised money for legal counsel, run an awareness campaign to alert Restonians to the issue, and developed an action plan to help Reston protect its open space.  It's a testament to what a group of dedicated people on a mission can accomplish.

The turnout at the rally was tremendous; we had several hundred folks in attendance, many of them sporting Rescue Reston's bright yellow-green shirts.  A lot of attendees were people whose homes border Reston National, but I spotted a number of folks who don't live anywhere near the golf course.  That's an encouraging sign. It shows that Restonians understand that this issue doesn't just affect the homeowners around the course; the principle of Reston's open space and the zoning laws that protect it affect all Restonians.

I was also encouraged by the speakers at the rally who affirmed the importance of open space.  In addition to me and Rescue Reston executive director John Pinkman, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins expressed her support for the preservation of the golf course, and her optimism that the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) will uphold the decision that the golf course must remain open space.  Richard Chew spoke on behalf of the Reston Association; he affirmed that RA stands with Rescue Reston on this, and that RA has also retained legal counsel to pursue the issue in court if necessary.

It's great to speak in front of a group of fired-up citizens; their passion and enthusiasm spurs me to keep up the fight.  And it's inspiring to see that so many Restonians take our founding principles seriously, and are willing to stand up and fight for them.

The event I attended on Wednesday morning was very different in tone and subject matter.  RCA's Reston Accessibility Committee held its community forum, entitled "Accessibility: A Call to Action."  The forum was designed to educate the public about the state building code changes and General Assembly bill that were recommended by the HJR 648 Work Group to make Virginia's building codes and laws more disability-friendly.

HJR 648 was a bill sponsored by Reston's own Del. Ken Plum. It established a working group that included representatives of the disability rights community (RAC among them), the building development industry, and local zoning officials.  The group proposed a total of 7 amendments to Virginia's statewide building code, and one bill that would provide tax credits for businesses that made improvements to make their property more accessible to people with disabilities.  The building code changes are now being reviewed by the Department of Housing and Community Development Board, and the bill will be considered in the next General Assembly session.

I had the honor of moderating this forum, but the stars were our panel of experts.  Del. Plum described the challenges that the tax-credit bill will face in the General Assembly, and encouraged us to build coalitions around common interests to help the bill pass.  RAC's hard-working chairman, Ken Fredgren, and one of his work group colleagues, Director Matt Barkley of the Disability Services Planning & Development of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, explained the building code changes and told the audience what they could do to help get the changes approved.  After they spoke, the three panelists took questions from the audience.

The audience was rather different from the crowd at the rally, but they are also activists.  Many of them either have disabilities or have relatives or friends who do.  Theirs is often a quieter sort of activism, but no less vital.  For them, it's a struggle just to have the ability to go where they want and participate in the same activities the rest of us take for granted.  They're tenacious and determined, and their spirit inspires me.

Some of the most moving moments at the forum revolved around the stories these folks had to tell.  One man explained that he has to arrange to visit friends and relatives at restaurants; he isn't able to visit their homes, either because of the entrance stairs or because the doorways are too narrow for his wheelchair.  A woman described the fact that her son, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, had to move out of Reston - out of Virginia entirely, in fact - because he couldn't find a house that could accommodate his condition.  For someone like me, with no disabilities, these stories are shocking; for many of the people in the audience, they're a fact of life.

Ken noted that, to his knowledge, RAC is the only organization in Virginia doing what they do, reaching out to property owners and managers and encouraging them to make their facilities ADA-compliant.  He'd like to see RAC's model spread to surrounding communities, and elsewhere in the state.  I'd like to see that as well.  But it seems fitting to me that Reston, with its tradition of activism, is a pioneer in this form of citizen involvement.

Two different events, two different subjects, two different goals.  But the Recue Reston rally and the Accessibility forum, in my view, shared one common thread: engaged citizens getting involved in the community.  The people at both of these events don't just passively reside in Reston and watch things happen; they get active and make the changes they want to see in the community.

Both of these events left me feeling energized.  I have great ambitions for growing RCA, taking on more issues, and expanding the scope of our influence.  Despite this, I know that no matter how much we grow, RCA will never be able to address all of Reston's issues, or solve all of Reston's problems.  But because we have such active, dedicated, passionate citizens, I'm confident that we'll be able to address all these issues and solve these problems together.
For those of you out there who missed the rally and the Accessibility forum, you may be wondering what you can do to become active and get involved.  I'm happy to report that you can.

If you're concerned about Reston National and the open space issue, our next big target is the BZA hearing on October 24th.  Rescue Reston wants to flood the room with a neon-clad army of supporters, and you can be one.  If you want to have your say, you can submit a written statement or sign up to speak at the hearing.  Contact me or John Pinkman, and we'll provide you with the details.

If you're interested in accessibility and supporting the building code changes, there are three things you can do.  First, as I said, the Department of Housing and Community Development Board is currently reviewing the proposed building code changes, and will be voting on them in the coming months.  You can write or email the Board in support of the changes.  Second, the Virginia House and Senate Finance Committees will consider the tax-credit bill when the General Assembly recovenes in January.  You can write, call, or email the members of those committees and urge them to pass the bill.  Finally, you can contact the County Board of Supervisors and ask them to recommend the tax credit bill be included in the County's legislative package.  If you contact me or Ken Fredgren, we'll provide you with the contact information for those boards and committees.

One of Reston's great strengths is its sense of community, which was built on the foundation of civic involvement and activism.  That spirit makes us a special place, and I'm inspired by the citizen activists I see every day to keep that spirit alive.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Advisory panel backs toll rate hike on Dulles Toll Road, Fairfax Times, October 5, 2012

by Kali Schumitz
 An advisory committee is recommending a series of toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that will provide funding for the new Silver Line.
The Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee endorsed a 50-cent toll rate increase in January 2013, to $1.75 at the main plaza and $1 at the ramps. The committee also recommended a rate of $2.50 at the main plaza in 2014, keeping the ramp toll at $1, and a rate of $3 at the main plaza and $1.50 at the ramps in 2015.
The committee also asked that the 2015 toll rates be re-examined at a later date, before they go into effect. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article. 

The DCAC's endorsement undercuts the RCA Reston 2020 recommendation for a slower rate of toll growth over the next three years.  The slower growth rate would have been in line with RCA's goal of having toll road users pay only 25% of the cost of the line vice the current plan for them to pay 54% and 75% of any cost increases.

Robert Clarke Brown's Letter to DOT Secretary LaHood, October 2, 2012

Robert Clarke Brown, who is leaving the MWAA Board this month, wrote an extensive letter to US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticizing his involvement with MWAA's effort to build the Silver Line.   He criticizes LaHood's interference with the independence of the MWAA Board by virtue of his encroachment on its authorities by appointing an Accountability Officer, involving himself in local governmental issues, and pursuing needless investigations.  He characterizes these activities as distracting from the core issue:  the "fundamentally flawed plan of finance."  He criticizes LaHood for failing to provide leadership and, along with Virginia, for failing to provide adequate funding for the construction project. 

MWAA Brown Letter to Secy LaHood 10-2-2012

Rescue Reston, RA Ramp Up Golf Course Efforts, Reston Connection, October 4, 2012

Groups organize community response, retain legal counsel.

By Alex McVeigh
 Donna Robuck and her husband Robert have lived in a house that overlooks the 10th hole at the Reston National Golf Course for the past 14 years. She can still recall: “I walked in the house, walked straight through to the balcony, and me and my husband thought, ‘this is it. This is the perfect house,’” she said. “The very next day my mother-in-law called and asked what the kitchen looked like, and I had no idea.”
Since then, she described living in their house as a dream, but in recent months that dream has been threatened.
“We cannot stand the thought of someone taking away the golf course away from us,” she said. “My husband and I have sunk a lot of money into our town home and we’re waiting for the Metro to come, which will be in walking distance, and hopefully I can retire early. If that dream gets messed up, it destroys our life.”
THE ROBUCKS’ DREAM is in danger due to the Reston National Golf Course owners’ appeal with Fairfax County’s Board of Zoning Appeals to get residential development rights for the 166-acre course. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Dulles Toll Road Case, Fairfax News, October 2, 2012

Is the Dulles Toll Road toll a toll? Or a tax? And who has jurisdiction to make the decision?
Those are among the questions being pondered by a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in D.C., which today heard arguments from the group called “No Toll Increase.” The group has challenged the legality of using a portion of the tolls collected on the busy commuter highway to fund construction and operation of the Metro Silver Line.
The group’s attorney, Bob Sincar, argued before the panel that, under Virginia law, proceeds from tolls can only be used to fund construction and maintenance of the roads and bridges on which the toll is collected. He also argued that since the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which owns the toll road and is building the Silver Line, is not an elected body it does not have the authority to impose a tax. . . .
Click here to read the rest of this article.  

The case is being heard in federal appeals court after having been dismissed by the federal district court. 

Event: Accessibility: A Call to Action, 9AM, RA HQ, October 3, 2012

The Reston Accessibility Committee, another RCA committee, is a co-sponsor of this event tomorrow.  We at Reston 2020 believe you will find the event worthwhile.  The following details are from the Reston Patch.

Accessibility: A Call to Action

Light refreshments will be served. Learn how pending proposed accessibility updates to the Virginia building code and a proposed General Assembly bill can improve accessibility for Restonians with disabilities, and how, together, we can help advocate for their success. Your ideas can help! Presentations: Delegate Ken Plum (VA 36th District) Matthew Barkley,  Director, Disability Services Planning and Development, Fairfax County Department of Family Services Ken Fredgren, Chairman, Reston Accessibility Committee of Reston Citizens Association RSVP: Jan Pohl, Reston Interfaith E-mail: Phone: 571-323-1412 Fax: 571-323-9554 Your response will enable us to plan appropriately for the event. Please tell us about any reasonable ADA accommodations that would be helpful to your participation. For general information other than to RSVP Ken Fredgren,

Letter: Chamber: Blame State for Metro Toll Hikes, Ashburn Patch, October 2, 2012

Loudoun Chamber president Tony Howard makes the case for additional state transportation funding and cooperation in the General Assembly.

 Last month, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority held several public hearings to gather public input on the proposal to raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for Virginia‘s share of the Dulles Rail Project. 
Though these toll hikes are planned to fund Virginia’s share of the project, MWAA was the one vilified by the opponents of this project.
On Oct. 17, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors will stage a public hearing on the proposal to create two special tax districts in eastern Loudoun to pay for the County’s share of the project.
No doubt the loyal opposition will again be out in force to oppose these tax districts and the completion of the Dulles Rail Project that is favored by 80 percent of Loudoun residents.
But even amongst the majority of Loudoun residents who favor Dulles Rail and other transportation investments, there are valid questions and even strong resentment over the state of Virginia’s transportation program.
The toll rate plan and proposed tax districts represent a new reality in Virginia, one in which the Commonwealth neglects its responsibility to fund transportation improvements and local governments are forced to raise the money needed to build new road and rail capacity.
But this is a reality that Virginians need not accept. . . .
Click here for the rest of this letter by Loudoun Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard.  

Since it is rare (maybe unprecedented) that we find ourselves even generally aligned with any of the local CoC's on area development matters, we thought it useful to highlight the concerns expressed here by the Loudoun CoC, which are similar to our own. 

Indeed, we believe that, other than Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the Commonwealth of Virginia has the most to gain--or lose by permitting tolls to climb--with the building of the Silver Line.  The development that will come with arrival of rail will help fill all their treasuries from the associated taxes of so many types, but it will be substantially reduced if workers and residents go elsewhere because of high tolls. 

All three are ducking their investment responsibilities to make the Silver Line succeed and dumping it on the backs of the Dulles Toll Road users.   Indeed, the secret deal cut in 2009 among the Loudoun Board (different composition than at present), the Fairfax Board (almost the identical composition), and MWAA that forces toll road users to pick up well over half of the cost of construction--and three-quarters of any additional costs--was one of the most grossly inequitable in northern Virginia history. 

We believe that toll road users should pay no more than one-quarter of the Metrorail construction costs in line with the 2004 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  MWAA and the local counties should step up to pay the difference--about 54% instead of 25% agreed to in their secret deal--barring additional state or federal funding.  The state should also substantially increase its contribution in line with its support for other large transportation infrastructure projects in southern Virginia and the tax gains that can be anticipated.  And the federal government, whose approval of a $900 million grant got this project started, needs to add to its limited funding effort as well, even if it is only a TIFIA loan. 

Letter: Tolls for Fairfax County Parkway? Reston Patch, September 29, 2012

Tolls on parkway will not only cost motorists, it will drive them to side roads.

Fairfax County has a serious and immediate transportation funding crisis.  It is looking for ways to cover a $3 billion gap in meeting $8.1 billion in transportation needs over the next decade.  As part of that effort, the County is sponsoring an ongoing “Dialogue on Transportation” that involves a series of public meetings and a survey of county residents.

Part of the dialogue—and the survey—is looking at a laundry list of tax alternatives to help fund the gap.  As presented, none would achieve the aim done alone.  All told, some 20 different tax alternatives are laid on the table.

Without doubt, the singularly most preposterous proposal presented is the tolling of the Fairfax County Parkway.  As presented, the County could establish a $2.00 toll for entering the Parkway.  It estimates that the toll would cost the average county household $89.50 per year, which means the average household would use the Parkway 44-3/4 times per year.

Talk about meaningless information.  A regular user of the road, such as a Reston or Herndon commuter headed north or south, would spend about $900 per year to use the road.  Others, say in Clifton or Tysons, might not use it at all.   In short, once again our County leaders are looking at making a small share of the county citizens pay a sizable portion ($350 million over the decade) just as they did (only secretly) in agreeing to the current grossly inequitable funding arrangements for the Dulles Toll Road.

From a Reston or Herndon perspective, the tolling of the Parkway would mean the diversion of traffic to other north-south routes through these communities in addition to the diversions caused by hikes in tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.  In Reston, one could expect additional traffic on Reston Parkway and maybe even Wiehle.   In Herndon, its Parkway would probably also see additional traffic at least as far south as the Dulles Toll Road.

Based on the County DOT’s recent brief to the Reston Task Force this month, one can expect a more than four minute delay on Reston Parkway at Sunrise Valley Drive at the peak of the evening rush in 2030 based on the most recent task force development proposal—a level of service even county staff acknowledges is unacceptable.  Now think of adding diverted Fairfax County Parkway traffic to that flow.

As part of the County’s dialogue, there will be a public meeting at the North County Government Center on October 3 at 7 p.m.  As laid out in the county’s meeting schedule, there are a number of other meetings you can attend if that one is inconvenient.   I strongly recommend that the citizens of Reston and Herndon attend one of these meetings, first, to learn about the problem and the possible solutions and, second, to voice your disapproval of the ridiculous proposal to toll the Fairfax County Parkway.

We do have a transportation funding crisis and there are a number of reasonable alternatives for meeting that fiscal challenge.  Tolling the Fairfax Parkway is, however, a very bad idea that needs to be nipped in the bud.   You need to make sure your voice is heard on the matter.

Terry Maynard
The author is a member of the Reston Citizens Association Board of Directors and its  Reston2020 Committee.

Residents Irked at Lack of Lake Anne Plan, Reston Patch, October 2, 2012

County has few details to offer for redevelopment of Reston's historic village center at Monday meeting.

Lake Anne residents have been here before. Many of them sat through the 2005 charrette to discuss Lake Anne's future. Lots of them took part in the 2009 plan adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that featured goals for the revitalization of Reston's original village center.
They listened to consultants recommend in 2011 that Lake Anne become a dining destination and looked towards the future earlier this year when the county opened up a request for proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of Crescent Apartments.
So when representatives of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization showed attendees of Monday's community meeting a timeline for Crescent redevelopment that stretched into 2016 and beyond, it was too much for some of them to take.
"I have been to 10 or 12 meetings," said Linda Fuller, owner of Lake Anne Florist and Wine Shop. "Why are we doing this again? Are we going to sit here at Lake Anne while Reston Station, Fairway, and Parc Reston are redeveloped? How does Lake Anne Village Center take advantage of Reston Station if we have nothing to offer? I have been on the plaza for 38 years. I am not gonna sit here again and listen to something I have heard before."
With that, Fuller left the room. She was soon joined by another neighbor.
"I am wondering why you called this meeting," the woman said. "We have told you 15 times what we want for Lake Anne. This is [expletive]." . . .
Click here for the rest of this article on Fairfax County's nearly decade-long continuing fiasco in planning the renewal of the Lake Anne area.