Minutes - RCA Community Forum on Proposed RCC Facility
March 27, 2013, 7 PM
Reston Citizens Association President Colin Mills opened the forum and welcomed everyone. He stated that the goal of the forum was to provide the audience with information about Reston Community Center’s proposal for a new recreation center, and to offer the opportunity to express ideas and views about the proposal. He explained that RCC Executive Director Leila Gordon would begin by describing the proposal as it stands, and then the floor would be opened up for questions and comments. He reminded everyone that the proposal is still in the early stages, and that Leila would not have answers to all questions yet. He also reminded the audience that there would be many future opportunities to comment on the project, and said that if there was interest and need, RCA would hold another forum on the rec center in the future.
Leila thanked RCA for holding the forum, RA for providing the venue, and the crowd for attending. She urged everyone to stay involved; the planning process for this facility will not be hidden, and all meetings will be open to the public per Freedom of Information Act requirements. RCC wants to obtain community input, independent analysis, and the most current available information to provide the Board and the community with the tools to be able to make the right decisions about the future of RCC facilities.
Leila explained that RCC is pursuing a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to build a rec center because expanding RCC’s aquatics offering is a goal of the RCC Board of Governors’ current Strategic Plan. She noted that the existing natatorium at RCC Hunters Woods is already overbooked and the facility is limited in its offerings. RCC seeks to meet existing and soon to be greater demand levels for aquatics and fitness; RCC staff has data, surveys and independent analysis that reinforce the need for more public facility options for the community. Furthermore, demand will only increase with the new development to be constructed near the Silver Line Metro stations.
Leila noted that RCC wants the most cost-effective approach possible in constructing the rec center. She pointed out that the current environment provides a great opportunity because the cost of debt is at an all-time low. She stated that the cost of construction is still low, but will not remain at current levels for long. The cost of land-acquisition will increase, and potentially rapidly. RCC could wait to commence the project until revenue increases and new development broadens the tax base, but doing so would cause the cost of the project to increase.
Leila also said that RCC is committed to receiving and including community input on the project. To gauge the market conditions for new recreational offerings, the RCC Board has commissioned an update to the Market and Financial study performed by Brailsford and Dunlavey in 2009. RCC is aware of the two new 25-meter pools (one outside, one inside) recently constructed by Lifetime Fitness. RCC had sought to explore collaboration with Lifetime on a new aquatics facility, but Lifetime’s management did not follow up on RCC’s inquiries.
The RCC Board has also commissioned an independent analysis of the real estate and tax base outlook for Small District 5 by the real estate consultant RCLCO. This information will be included in the board package for the RCC Board’s April 1st meeting; the package will be available to the public.
Leila stated that the average growth in the Small District 5 tax base from 1986 to 2012 was 8.2% per year. In some years, growth was as high as 30+%. Leila believes that the development spurred by the Silver Line could lead to another growth era. RCC would like to get out in front of the growth and demand, rather than reacting to it after it has arrived.
Leila said that RCC absolutely will explore the use of proffered funds or other assets to realize new facilities. These could address offsets to RCC costs whether related to land, building or debt service. She said that locating the facility at Baron Cameron Park is an exciting possibility because it would be the first Fairfax County funding of a Reston-centered FCPA project.
Leila said that RCC will understand to the extent possible what the cost of a capital bond issue will be before putting the matter to referendum. She noted that the community will have the ultimate say on whether or not it wants to build through a bond referendum – no matter what capital facilities RCC pursues. Any referendum would be voted on only by Small District 5 residents; it would not be a County-wide referendum.
Leila stated that RCC is committed to facilities that are environmentally excellent, beautiful, and sited to enhance neighborhood and community appearance. She said that the new facility should be an asset to the surrounding community.
Leila pointed out that Baron Cameron Park is different than Brown’s Chapel in several respects. For one thing, Baron Cameron Park is larger – 68 acres – and it is zoned for active recreation. She said that RCC has no intention of eliminating or destroying the park’s existing assets, including the fields, the dog park, the community garden, or the trees. She stated that RCC will carefully plan to account for storm water management and traffic impacts, and will have policies and procedures in place that will consider parking issues and protecting neighborhoods.
Leila said that the size of the new facility is not yet certain, but it is likely to be equal or greater in size than the existing RCC Hunters Woods facility. Leila noted that the Hunters Woods facility is 50,000 square feet and is sited on a 5-acre parcel. RCC explored the option of expanding the Hunters Woods facility, but concluded that it was not feasible due to a lack of parking capacity on site. RCC uses collocated parking with Hunters Woods Shopping Center and has a fixed allotment of spaces based on its current use. Expansion would require a change to that arrangement that the current shopping center ownership is not interested in pursuing.
Leila said that the RCC Board has also asked RCLCO to conduct an Independent analysis of comparative land values in Small District 5, to provide a basis for comparison with the Baron Cameron Park site. RCLCO will analyze the comparative land values of a 5-acre parcel in proximity to Silver Line Stations, a “failing” commercial property location in a village center such as Tall Oaks, and comparable land to the property at Baron Cameron Park. Leila noted that areas such as Tall Oaks and Isaac Newton Square are currently zoned for commercial development, and would need to be rezoned in order to allow construction of a rec center.
Leila stated that the next steps in the process involve a lot of meetings, both by RCC and FCPA. She said that FCPA will have its own independent master planning process for Baron Cameron Park, and that process will begin on May 7th. Community responses to RCC’s and FCPA’s engagement will be factored into any decisions that are made. Leila said that this process is a different way of doing things compared to years past, both in Fairfax County and in Reston, but she noted that the County’s resources are limited and its needs are many. Fairfax County is always growing, and if the future growth resembles the past, there will be much more demand and competition for resources in the future.
Leila said that Reston will be beautiful as long as people care about it. The citizens’ demand for beauty will ensure that whatever RCC builds will be in keeping with the community’s standards.
Colin then opened up the floor for questions and comments. RCA Board member Dick Rogers noted that in his view, the key question about the facility is its location. He suggested the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park and the Town Center North area near the existing library and North County Government Center as alternative locations. He asked what the process was for considering other locations than Baron Cameron Park. Leila said that FCPA was interested in updating the master plan for Baron Cameron at this time. Lake Fairfax Park was already master-planned by FCPA within the last several years, and the priorities there were its active recreation features combined with a significant amount of dedicated nature and open space. Leila noted that the Town Center North area is being master-planned by the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force, and there are already a lot of public purposes being considered for that area, and many issues to be resolved. The FCPA-owned land in that area will be master-planned. Leila said that she is not averse to considering the area, but the current focus for Town Center North appears to be on expanding the existing public purposes, not on providing new ones.
RCA Board member Tammi Petrine said that her initial reaction as a citizen upon hearing of the rec center proposal was outrage. However, she said that she was more reassured after hearing Leila’s words and knowing that a bond referendum would be required. She stated that the existing RCC facilities are the only 100% self-funded facilities in Fairfax County, and asked why Reston did not have a County-funded facility. She said that she was concerned about pricing people out of Reston. Leila responded that the McLean Community Center was also 100% self-funded, as was one other facility in Fairfax County. Tammi disputed Leila’s contention, and mentioned that McLean also had a County-funded natatorium at Spring Hill. Leila replied that Lake Fairfax Park is also County-funded.
RCA Board member Terry Maynard noted that the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park would be closer to the Silver Line than the Baron Cameron site. He said that Restonians already face a significant tax burden, one that may increase if a new service tax district is implemented to pay for infrastructure in the Metro station areas, as was done in Tysons. He added that when funding a large project, the cost should be spread among the largest number of people possible. Therefore, the best option would be to get the County to fund the facility. If this was not possible, then he felt that Small District 5, which includes Reston businesses, was a better financing vehicle than Reston Association assessments, which only hit homeowners. Leila replied that the County could fund this facility, but then it would go on the bottom of the County’s lengthy list of funding requests and priorities, which could cause the project to be delayed for years. By partnering with FCPA, Leila said that Restonians would benefit from a County contribution to the project while maintaining greater control over the facility’s amenities, construction timetable, and operation. She acknowledged that there are tradeoffs involved. She also noted that contrary to speculation, Small District 5 would not and could not be used to fund infrastructure projects in Reston. She said that commercial properties in Reston have paid an increasing share of Small District 5 taxes over the years, and that their contribution is now nearly equal to that of residents. Leila agreed with Terry that Small District 5 was a better funding vehicle than RA assessments. She pointed out that this was an advantage for the current proposal compared to the Brown’s Chapel proposal, which would have been funded in part by RA assessment money.
George Kain of the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners said that he had communicated with his neighbors, and they had a common opinion: they favor expanding the recreation options in Reston, but they feel that the proposed location as Baron Cameron is a problem. He said that open space is precious, and that Baron Cameron Park should be preserved for the future construction of new or expanded schools. He felt that Lake Fairfax Park was a good option for locating the facility.
Stephen Canner complimented RCC on its outreach during this process, and urged them to take their outreach “on the road” to areas around the community. He said that he supports construction of a 50-meter pool, but in another location. He also feels that including a fitness center in the facility would be a mistake, as several privately-owned fitness facilities already exist in and around Reston. He asked if the project was to be a pool, a fitness center, a community center, or all of the above. Leila said that the goal of the new facility would be to satisfy the demand for aquatics offerings and for RCC’s existing fitness programs. The new facility would not be intended to compete with existing fitness facilities. She said that all RCC facilities were community centers by definition. She concluded that the final program for the new facility is not yet set.
Linda O’Neill read from the 2009 market study performed by Brailsford and Dunlavey, which listed a number of items that were to be included in the Brown’s Chapel facility. She said that the soccer and baseball fields at Baron Cameron Park are used regularly and should not be displaced. She asked how big the new facility would be. Leila responded that this was not yet certain, but that 1-acre and 5-acre parcel sizes were being studied. Linda asked why, if all Fairfax County residents could use the facility, they shouldn’t all pay for it. Leila replied that as at current RCC facilities, non-residents would pay higher user fees than residents.
Kim Brightwell of the Reston Masters Swim Team noted that there is a huge demand for aquatics in Reston, and not just for the Masters. She said that from a swimmer’s perspective, the pool at RCC Hunters Woods is too hot and has poor air quality, but that there were no alternatives. She noted that there are many young swimmers who use Reston pools in the summer, but that they had nowhere to go to continue swimming in the winter. She added that there was also significant demand for aquatic therapy. Leila replied that the temperature of the existing pool represents a compromise between the needs of swimmers and therapy uses, and that the compromise pleases no one. Kim noted that the South Lakes swim team has nowhere in Reston to hold its meets, and that the team could not practice together due to the lack of available space.
Tom Giddings said that Baron Cameron Park is heavily used by soccer players, dog owners, and others. He said that there are other options for indoor swimming, but that outdoor recreation space is limited and there is more demand for it. He urged that one need should not supplant another. Leila replied that RCC did not intend to supplant the existing uses of the park; rather the facility was intended to be compatible with existing uses.
John Lovaas said that he is delighted to hear that the new facility will have uses other than swimming. He noted that meeting room space in Reston is at a premium. He said that the proposed location was an issue, and felt that Town Center North was a better option.
Kay Schmid said that she lives across from Baron Cameron Park, and enjoys seeing the wildlife there. She said that even as a non-athlete, she uses the park all the time. She said that she has nothing against swimmers, but that the location of the facility should be considered. She expressed the hope that the RCLCO study of alternate locations was not just for show. She said that she is not afraid of change, but she likes the fact that her area is quiet and dark at night, and wants it to remain that way. Leila said that the RCLCO study is intended to help establish the cost of land acquisition. She said that other sites will cost more than Baron Cameron. She also said that any facility that is built anywhere will be in a location that someone will object to.
Sally R. Fish said that she had moved to Reston in 1969, and that she has been in love with Reston ever since. She said that Robert Simon had a dream when he built Reston, just like Martin Luther King. Simon’s dream was to build a community that was open to all. Sally noted that she uses the existing RCC pool for therapy, and she is satisfied with it. She said that for her, Reston is a love story, until the high-rises began to come. She said that the citizens have to watch out to ensure that our land is not taken away.
Dick Rogers asked why the facility should not be located near the center of Reston’s population, which will be in the vicinity of the Metro stations.
Merrilee Miller said that the bond referendum means that the citizens have the power to decide, and that RCC must persuade the citizens that the facility should be built. She is encouraged by this. She urged that Lake Fairfax Park be considered as an alternate location.
Linda Flickinger said that she sensed a theme in the comments: that water facilities are great, but that Baron Cameron Park is the wrong location for them.
Katie Paolangeli asked if Leila could speak to the process by which FCPA acquired Baron Cameron Park. Leila said that by her understanding, Baron Cameron had previously belonged to the School Board, but they decided not to build a school on the site. The School Board transferred the park to the Board of Supervisors, who asked FCPA to program it. FCPA added amenities to the park such as the fields and the dog park. Noting that there was significant community demand for more recreation options, FCPA asked the Board of Supervisors for ownership of the park in order to master-plan it properly. The Board of Supervisors agreed to transfer ownership to FCPA.
Nancy Larson added that Baron Cameron was originally designated as the site for one of two Reston high schools. However, neighborhood opposition caused the second high school not to be built. She said that Reston’s needs have changed over time, and RCC has adapted to meet those changing needs. Leila pointed out that this is an example of how community control of the facility is a benefit. She opined that this model may be the wave of the future for new County recreation facilities.
Freya DeCola noted that RCC’s Long Range Planning Committee is scheduled to meet on May 6th, in part to discuss the updated Brailsford and Dunlavey study. She asked why RCC had chosen the same firm that prepared the 2009 market report, and asked what the updated report will contain. Leila responded that RCC used the same firm in order to save money; as Brailsford and Dunlavey will not need to repeat the work they did previously, just update it. She said that the new report will say what has changed in the Reston market since 2009, and how that will affect demand. She said that the report will also provide an updated cost estimate by program element. She added that Brailsford and Dunalvey is also reviewing the current subsidy for Reston residents at RCC facilities and how that will affect cost recovery for the new facility. This will be compared to the existing Fairfax County model, which involves higher user fees. Perhaps the best approach is at a happy medium point where Reston patron discounts are preserved but there is a higher cost-recovery from all user fees. Leila noted that the cost estimates for program elements will not be tied to a specific location.
Carrie Sawicki said that she is concerned about the proposed site for the facility. She already dislikes the existing dog park, which brings noise, lights, traffic, and dust. She said that the existing traffic in the area surrounding the park is bad, and the Silver Line will make it worse. She stated that she is not opposed to a facility, and that she loves Reston, but is worried about its future. She asked if there is a Plan B if the bond referendum fails, and if there is a reason why only one site is being pushed for the facility. She asked why the Brown’s Chapel proposal failed. Leila said that Brown’s Chapel is a smaller site than Baron Cameron, and the proposed facility was larger. She said that the lack of a County contribution to the project was also a problem for many.
Terry Maynard asked if the bond referendum would include the specific site of the facility. Leila replied that she did not know. Terry said that the vote would probably be more positive if the facility is not located at Baron Cameron Park. He said that Restonians want a facility, but not in that location.
George Kain said that the public comments at the forum could be summarized as follows: the facility is welcome, but an alternative location would be a better solution. Leila noted that several of the proposed alternatives had similar disadvantages to the Baron Cameron site. For instance, Lake Fairfax Park is also open space, and a facility there would also affect wildlife. She noted that already-developed areas are also under consideration.
Kerri Bundy said that she and her husband selected Reston because they like wide open space. She has spoken with Loudoun County residents who told her that they like Reston but cannot afford to live there. She noted that the cost of living in Reston is high and fees and taxes add to that. She said that adding additional taxes would push more people out of Reston. Leila replied that preserving accessibility was a key goal of the RCC Board, and that they have kept the Small District 5 tax rate as low as possible for that reason. She noted that studies have indicated that facilities such as the one proposed cause surrounding property values to go up.
Doug Pew noted that the community has other recreational needs in addition to swimming. He said that the goal should be to put the facility as close as possible to the people who will use it. For this reason, he urged consideration of Town Center North. He said that locating a facility there would not require tearing down existing green space. He noted that the Town Center area is home to many seniors, who are a key patron base for existing RCC facilities, and to young people who are seeking social activities.
Michael Hasz said that he was not ruling out Baron Cameron as a site, and that he might welcome the right facility in his neighborhood. He said that for him, design is a key element, and so is cost. He said that locating the facility in a failing business area would make sense, but that building in his back yard was not necessarily a bad thing. He asked whether, if RCC does not collaborate with FCPA, if FCPA could build something on the site anyway. Leila said that it was possible.
Tammi Petrine urged the community to be creative in seeking a solution that would suit everyone’s needs.
Colin Mills thanked everyone for attendance and ended the forum at 9:15 p.m.