Reston Spring

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Now they tell us: BRT is more cost-effective than rail for TOD!

Looks like we could have saved $5 billion or more (as many of us already suspected) by building a bus rapid transit (BRT) system down the Dulles Corridor, not to mention outrageous Dulles Toll Road rate increases to come.

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) has just issued a major study that, among other things, highlights that there is little or no advantage to spending big bucks on rail if your goal is to stimulate economic development in transit-oriented development (TOD) areas.

Here's what Atlantic Cities has to say about the report:
Today, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released a report showing that bus-rapid transit can play a huge role in stimulating economic development — often leveraging more investment than rail projects do. Previous research already suggested as much, but the impact documented in the ITDP report is still eye-catching. . .
So what's the lesson here? Well, the basic takeaway is that cities seeking TOD investments should build that desire around a strong plan for government intervention first and foremost, then identify a corridor with great potential as a secondary act. The type or quality of the transit system itself need only be a third consideration; indeed, ITDP concludes that light rail, BRT, and streetcars "all led to similar TOD investment outcomes under similar conditions."
In other words, if your goal is economic development, then focusing on transit is besides the point.
But as usual the broader lesson is more complicated. The idea that TOD doesn't always require the T can be encouraging, since it frees up cities to invest in urban corridors for their own sake. But it's also concerning, because even if transit quality doesn't matter for TOD purposes, it certainly matters for mobility. Cities that see transit systems as a mere pretext for economic development are bound for some sort of disappointment, no matter the monetary gain.
There is no doubt that the Dulles Corridor has experienced HEAVY government intervention with the two new Comprehensive Plans for Tysons and the Corridor.  Moreover, the area has major potential.

Apparently, however, spending billions more to put in commuter rail will have little impact on the economic success of Tysons or the Reston as TOD areas.  BRT would probably have worked as well (as is outlined in the current Dulles Corridor Comprehensive Plan).  But of course, our Loudoun and Fairfax county governments picked the less cost-effective approach!

Click here to download the full ITDP report (161 pp).  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

No Silver Lining: Metro Growth Will Make Life Worse Before It Makes Life Better, Washington City Paper, Sept18, 2013

Kytja Weir writes an overview of the short-term minuses and the possible long-term pluses of the Silver Line in this excellent article.  Here' an extract:
. . . the Silver Line, heralded as it is, may actually make Metro worse for riders in the short-term.
Yes, the first 11.6-mile section will finally make the bustling, car-centric Tysons Corner hub of retail and jobs accessible by train. The rest of the 23-mile line should connect to Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County by 2018. In doing so, the project will expand the Metrorail system by 22 percent, in the biggest single addition to the system since it was built.
Except that the new line will also funnel more riders into the crowded downtown stations of a burdened and aging transit system that currently struggles to keep up with a backlog of repairs. The line is expanding the mouth of the bottle but not the neck. Any Metro rider during rush hour has seen the packed platforms downtown and waited in line to climb frozen escalators—now add more people.
The new line will also reduce service for some riders, because Metro is cramming another Virginia line into a tunnel under the Potomac River that literally cannot fit any more trains.
And the expansion may be coming before the rail system is actually ready. Service systemwide will likely be less reliable for years to come, because Metro won’t complete an expansion of its fleet of train cars until at least 2017.
It may also be coming too late to reform ungainly Tysons and to resuscitate Dulles Airport, which is already losing passengers to more accessible rivals.
For all this, the system’s cost per passenger will likely rise, leaving riders and taxpayers around the region to pay the bill. . . .
Click here to read the full article.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Letter: Starving Fairfax County Public Library of Funds, John Hanley, Washington Post, September 20, 2013

Regarding the Sept. 14 editorial “Pulp friction”:

Public outrage at the ill-conceived changes by the Fairfax County library system have happily caused the library’s Board of Trustees to put that “strategic plan” on hold. That time-honored resort of authorities under pressure — an ad hoc committee — has now been proposed.

But what can we expect now? The library budget declined dramatically from 2007 to 2012. With the second-richest county in the country increasing its expenditures, library spending now represents 0.7 percent of total Fairfax County expenditures. This starving of funds for the library is what is at the heart of the problem.

Only if the county Board of Supervisors takes steps to put expenditures back to where they were in 2007 will it be possible to put things right.
John Hanley, Reston

Friday, September 20, 2013

Urban Park Wasteland Coming to Reston Station Areas? Terry Maynard, Reston Parch, September 20, 2013

The following was posted on Reston Patch by Terry Maynard in his "Thinking Things Reston" blog.

The latest draft Reston transit station area Comprehensive Plan draft language  (V6, 144 pages, large PDF file) calls for two new athletic fields in the emerging transit station areas to serve a projected population of 49,000 residents, roughly 7,000 of whom will be kids.   How do you fit 7,000 kids and thousands of active adults on two athletic fields?
It continues:  Any other “urban parks, their sizes and distribution will be determined by the amount and type of new development.”   That’s it.  
Not only won’t we build parks until development is well advanced, we won’t even plan for the parks nor acquire the land until then—by which time all the space will be committed to profit-making high-rise buildings. 
It makes you wonder what Bob Simon’s Reston would look like now if, in developing his plan for our community a half-century ago, he had the same limited and vague vision of the important role of parks and recreation in community-building.   Do you suppose we would have 1,200 acres of open space and lakes with 22 athletic fields, 15 swimming pools, 55 miles of paved trails, 50 tennis courts, and the countless other community amenities we are blessed with?
Me neither. 
Worse than that, the draft Plan language is not remotely consistent with the need for athletic fields for the transit station areas identified by the County Park Authority in its March 2013 memorandum to the County planning staff which states that the three station areas should have a total of 25 athletic fields—12 diamonds, 13 rectangles.  Those 25 fields would require about 40 acres of playing space (plus parking, stands, facilities, etc.) and would mean about one field for every 200 kids or one field per 1,500 residents.  The Park Authority memorandum also cites the need for other park facilities such as multi-purpose courts, playgrounds, etc.   The needs statement is based on the County Park Authority’s “Adopted Service Level Standard” described in its 2010-2010 park system plan, “Great Parks, Great Communities.” 
So the draft Comprehensive Plan language for the station areas understates explicit County standards for athletic fields by more than an order of magnitude.  The draft Plan doesn’t even try to identify how much or how many of the other types of park facilities should be in the station areas. 
Why does the draft Plan include less than one-tenth of the athletic fields the Parks staff says we need?  It’s all about the money.  Acquiring the land for parks would be expensive and parks don’t generate tax revenue (although they tend to raise the value of nearby real estate).  
So this spring the Board of Supervisors adopted the “Urban Parks Framework” as the County policy for its emerging urban areas.  That policy calls for 1.5 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents plus one acre per 10,000 workers.   By that standard, the station areas should have at least 84 acres of parks to meet the station area’s projected residential and job growth.  In contrast, the County’s suburban standard calls for 5 acres per 1,000 residents.   By that standard, the station areas would have 246 acres of parks.  That’s a two-thirds reduction in County park space standards for Reston’s station areas.
How bad is that?  Using Trust for Public Lands data, a detailed analysis RCA provided to the County this spring noted that Reston’s station areas, viewed as a “city” with a potential population of 49,000 residents and 107,000 jobs two decades from now, would rank third from last in park acreage per 1,000 residents among the nation’s 100 largest cities using the County’s urban standard.   It would put the station area’s per capita park area at less than three-quarters that available to the residents of Manhattan Borough, the most densely populated jurisdiction in the United States
This draft Plan language doesn’t even commit the County to the 84 acres the station area deserves under the County’s urban parks policy, much less its “Adopted Service Level Standard,” much less its suburban park land standard for the rest of the County, much less the Restonians’ expectations for their well-planned community.   In short, the draft Plan language promises an urban parks wasteland in the area around the Metrorail stations.  
If this draft Plan language stands, the result will be a gross adverse impact on the citizens of Reston.  Park-starved station area residents will use RA’s facilities in large numbers.   Other Reston residents will have to fight to use the park and recreation facilities that they have paid for decades.  Moreover, RA’s costs—and your annual assessment fee—will climb steeply to build additional facilities and keep the existing ones operating to meet the huge new demand.
What the County is proposing is a massive reduction in Reston’s quality of life, including an increase in costs for Reston’s residents.  The Plan must include explicit language on the acreage within each station area that must be set aside for park and recreation development purposes consistent with the County’s park needs statement.   The allocation of at least at least 84 acres of land to specific park facilities, including close to two dozen athletic fields, out of a total of 1,683 acres in the station areas—a measly five percent of the total area—is not too much to ask. 
Even that would barely meet the new Reston open space Planning Principle #9 that states, “The transit station areas . . . should include a variety of public spaces such as a large urban central park, recreational facilities, village greens, urban plazas, pocket parks, playgrounds, and other public amenities within easy walking distance for area residents, workers, and visitors.”
To do otherwise would abandon a key Reston planning principle, take value from existing Reston residential properties, force Reston residents to absorb the use and the cost of its parks and recreation spaces by station area residents and workers, and reduce the stature of Reston as a community rich with planned open space, natural areas, parks, and recreation.

"Retrofitting Suburbia": Two Perspectives

Below is a TED video (20 minutes) of Ellen Dunham-Jones presenting the case for the wisdom and effectiveness of "retrofitting suburbia"--actually the name of her book--to a more urban form.  Below that are excerpts from a lengthy review of Dr. Dunham-Jones' book by Aaron M. Renn on his Urbanophile blog that takes a critical look at her assumptions and analysis while ultimately giving it a good recommendation.  Both are well worth a good look and read.

...Retrofitting Suburbia takes a look at a cross-section of sub-urban forms, principally commercial, and shows how they can be redeveloped. This includes a mixture of both technique and case studies. I think the case studies are particularly relevant. Because the area of suburban redevelopment is so new, it is critical to get feedback from the real world about what is working and what is not. The book provides many examples to study, in areas ranging from enclosed malls to edge cities. The authors are pretty fair in showing both the good and the bad of these. . .
The “Urban Design Solutions” portion of the title shows the thinking of the authors. In their view, suburbia as a design form is flawed in its concept. The solution is not to build better suburbs, but rather to figure out how to make our suburbs more urban. In effect, it is a new urbanist tract. They contrast the signature attributes of urban vs. suburban development (single use vs. multi-use, auto-dependent vs. multi-modal, low density vs. high density, etc.) and basically show projects that all are designed to turn the dials in a more urban way.
This is certainly one valid approach and it appears to be popular. In fact, it seems to be the orthodox strategy of the moment. It also appears to be working in some places. However, I think we need to be cautious about promoting one-size-fits-all solutions, as well as rejecting the development patterns of suburbia. As I noted in my recent posting about mid-century modern architecture, we did this once before. The previous generation decided that it was the traditional urban form that was obsolete and “unsustainable”. Their solution was to obliterate that form and replace it with something that they saw as self-evidently better: ie., urban renewal.
I think the history of failed conventional wisdom planning solutions should inspire in us a dose of humility. While I’m all for trying out the idea of urbanizing our suburbs, we have to be sure we cast a wide net, try a lots of different things, be ready to abandon our theories when they don’t work in practice, and avoid collapsing to a single “school solution” that is promoted to the exclusion of all others.
It is also clear that Dunham-Jones and Williamson mean something different by sustainability than I do. One thing that has always irked me is how ordinary English words get co-opted as terms of art with a political agenda embedded them. . .
The majority of the case studies in the book involve converting commercial sites into mixed use “town center” type developments. I like town centers. But when these new town centers are themselves 20 years old, and every suburb has multiple of them, many of which are newer and represent the next generation of design and taste, what then? My money says we’ll be right back where we started. . . .

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Commentary: A Key Win for Our Libraries, Colin Mills, Reston Patch, September 18, 2013

The following is RCA President Colin Mills blog post from the Reston Patch, September 18, 2013.  

Last week, the Library Board suspended the disastrous Beta Plan. That's great news - but there's still work to be done to protect our libraries and our librarians.

In Fairfax County, we love our libraries.  That was never more apparent than last Wednesday, when the Library Board of Trustees met to consider the “Beta Plan” proposed by library administration.  The Coutny’s citizens stood up – and showed up – to support our libraries and our librarians.  And the Board listened.

As I mentioned last month, the Beta Plan would dramatically reshape how the County’s libraries operate, mostly for the worse: with a smaller and less-credentialed staff and no dedicated positions for children’s librarians.  Combined with the shrinking of the library’s collection, driven by an aggressive book-culling program, our library system appeared headed for a dimmer future: fewer books, fewer staff, and less specialized service.

When RCA passed a resolution in August opposing the Beta Plan, the issue hadn’t yet crossed into public view.  Library staffers were well aware of the changes, and some of the public had become informed, but it wasn’t yet a big deal.  Over the next couple of weeks, though, the story exploded in the local media and among citizens. 

What really captured people’s attention was the thousands of books in perfectly good condition, tossed into dumpsters rather than being sold or given away.  A library destroying books instead of saving them?  The idea shocked and appalled a lot of book lovers, including me.

Given the attention around the issue (including an article in the Washington Post), I expected the meeting to be well-attended.  I showed up at George Mason Regional Library in Annandale at 6:30 for the 7 PM meeting, to ensure that I would get a good seat.

Turns out I should have come earlier; the parking lot was already full, and I had to circle several times before I could even find a spot!  I knew then that our citizens weren’t going to let our libraries go down without a fight.

I walked into the meeting with Tresa Schlecht, the brave woman who was the first to photograph the dumpsters full of discarded books.  “I’ll bet they’ve never had a crowd like this!” she said, and I agreed.  The crowd was so big that the meeting room couldn’t hold us all; they piped the audio out into the lobby to accommodate the overflow.

Unfortunately, policy at Library Board meetings limits the number of public speakers to 5.  Fortunately, the people who spoke, including Reston’s own Kathy Kaplan, were passionate and united in opposition to the Beta Plan.  As if to stress how personal this issue is, each speaker started by talking about her history of involvement with the library system.  Each speaker received rousing applause from the crowd.

Fortunately, the Board didn’t leave us in suspense for long.  After reading the resolution passed the previous night by the Board of Supervisors, which called for the Beta Plan to be delayed, the Library Board voted unanimously to suspend the Beta Plan indefinitely.  Board Chairman Willard Jasper formed an ad hoc committee to solicit public input and figure out a path forward that works for everyone.  He formed a separate committee to review the book-culling policies and recommend changes.  Great news for us book lovers!

My favorite part of the meeting came at the end.  The Board concludes its meetings with closing remarks by each Board member.  Each member thanked the audience for attending, talked about his or her own love of books, and stressed the importance of having a library system we can all be proud of.  The crowd applauded these remarks as well.  It was a nice kumbaya moment, and I think everyone left feeling happy.

This was a great victory for library employees and patrons alike.  We reaffirmed our commitment to quality library service.  The Board heard from the people and acted accordingly.  And we reframed the debate: instead of arguing over the Beta Plan cuts, we can talk about providing great libraries that meet the needs of the citizens going forward.

There is a caveat to all this good news.  We may have won this battle, but the war isn’t over.  The ad hoc committee will report back to the Board in November, and we need to voice our support for our libraries and librarians between now and then.  At the meeting, several Board members showed off the hundreds of emails and letters they’d received in opposition to the Beta Plan.  We need to make sure they keep hearing from us.  Email the Library Board and let them know how you feel.  And when there are public meetings on the library’s future, show up and make your voice heard.  (We’ll keep you informed of the meeting schedule as we learn it.)

We need to reach out to the Board of Supervisors as well.  The proposed cuts were a reaction to a very real budget crunch that our library system faces.  The County’s per-capita library spending has dropped by over 30% since 2007, and the library system’s share of the County budget has fallen by a third in that time. 

In his closing remarks, Chairman Jasper urged all the people who showed up at the meeting to turn out again when he testifies at the Board of Supervisors budget hearings.  He noted that at most budget hearings, the police and fire departments are well represented, but only a couple people show up to support the libraries.  We can’t let that happen again.  We need to show the Board of Supervisors that libraries are a core function of the County in our eyes.

The Beta Plan may have been a disaster in the making, but it did provide a valuable teaching moment for us all.  One Library Board member made a good analogy in her closing comments.  She compared the library system to a stoplight: We need it, but we tend to take it for granted unless it’s not there or it’s not working right. 

This crisis has been a wake-up call.  As someone who loves our libraries, I was glad to have a chance to stand up and support them.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take another book-dumping crisis for us to give our libraries the funding and support they deserve.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Agenda: RTF Meeting, September 17, 2013

Note:  This task force meeting will be at Cornerstones (formerly Reston Interfaith) in the Cardinal Bank on Sunset Hills Drive. 

                                                               RESTON MASTER PLAN SPECIAL STUDY
                                                                                      TASK FORCE 
                                                                              September 17, 2013

Task Force Meeting
Cornerstones, Inc. (formerly Reston Interfaith), 11150 Sunset Hills Road


7:00 p.m.  Public Comment Period  

7:10 p.m.  Administrative Items – Patty Nicoson, Task Force Chair

7:15 p.m.  Task Force review & vote on remaining key v5 Draft Plan text issue
  • Hotel Uses –In Land Use categories, should hotel be counted toward mix of uses (as part of non-residential component)? (new handout on this question to be distributed on Monday 9/16)
             Patty Nicoson

7:30 p.m.  Overview of revisions to Land Use, Urban Design and District
             Heidi Merkel, Department of Planning & Zoning

8:55 p.m.  Next Task Force Meetings
  • Tuesday, September 24, 2013 – Reston Community Center at Lake Anne
  • NEW MEETING DATE: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 – Location TBD

9:00 p.m.  Adjourn – Patty Nicoson

Friday, September 13, 2013

The last ditch Dulles Corridor density grab is on!

The following was posted on Terry Maynard's "Thinking Things Reston" blog on Reston Patch, September 13, 2013.

The Reston Task Force effort is nearing its end with County plans to take its draft revised Reston Comprehensive Plan language to the County Planning Commission on October 30.

. . . and the density grab is now in full swing!

The avaricious drive for more a more profitable higher density or a more office-centric use mix has come on like gangbusters in the last two RTF meetings as developers and their friends strive to squeeze every last potential square foot into the new Comprehensive Plan. 

These efforts are not about building a better Reston.  They are about corporate greed.

Let’s take a look at what’s been happening. 

First, there is “walking distance,” the distance people are willing to walk to take transit, specifically the new Silver Line.   The standard—and County policy—is that high-density can be permitted within a quarter-mile circle of the platform because that is the distance people will walk to get there, more so for residents than workers.   Many analyses show that willingness to walk drops substantially by that distance as the attached graphic shows.  (For those of us who are metrically challenged, 400 meters = 1/4 mile.)

But, oh, no, developer friends say, the “REAL” distance should be measured from the station entrances which, in the Silver Line’s case, are at least 200’ from the platform.  As the County image analysis below shows, that adds 29% to the area for higher density development.  Does anyone suppose that the people who live or work in this extra 29% will actually walk to the station entrance and expect a train to pick them up there?   There really is a logical reason to make the limit at ¼-mile from the platform.  Greed is the only rationale for extending it.

Second, why not count hotels as residential space instead of commercial space?  This is important because one of the key focuses of the task force efforts has been to bring non-residential commercial and residential space into balance.  Why?  Because that markedly increases transit use and reduces automobile trips, easing congestion growth.

So, if you move hotels from the left, non-residential side of the ledger to the right, residential side, you decrease real residential space--the places where people live--by 5-10 percentage points (roughly the amount of space hotels will occupy) and increase commercial (mostly office) development by the same amount.  As a result, instead of a 50-50 jobs-residential space balance, you end up with something like a 60-40 jobs-residential balance.  Result:  Fewer transit riders, more vehicle trips, greater congestion, more environmental damage, and a greater need for road infrastructure.

A very bad planning idea, but great for someone’s bottom line. 

Third, if that hotel ploy doesn’t work and if, as the current draft Plan language proposes, we are allowing up to 30% of proposed development space that is hotels, retail, or “certain” institutional use not to count against the mix balance, then why not also allow it not to count against density???  Voila!  We’ve just increased density by nearly a third—and it’s non-residential density at that!  Ka-ching!  Millions more in profits even if it means perpetual gridlock on Reston’s streets. 

From a Reston planning perspective, the right thing to do is to eliminate the free pass for hotels, retail, and “certain” institutional uses all together.  All of these businesses have employees who commute to work.  The space they require should count as non-residential space in County calculations. 

And since last Tuesday’s meeting, more harebrained density increase, mix unbalancing schemes have been brought up in private e-mail, telephone, and other exchanges among task force members by what can only be called the “Friends of Office Density” or FOOD. 

As FOOD, these schemes are inedible, even poisonous.  They are exactly what drove RCA to make its serious complaint about the course of the draft Comprehensive Plan at its August 10th meeting along with a wide variety of other, more complex language that would, in the County’s vernacular, “add flexibility” to the Comprehensive Plan.  As it stands now, the Plan language is so flexible there is no spine to it.  The draft language virtually guarantees that the density and mix goals laid out in Scenario G will not be achievable, much less achieved.  

We need to stop this last ditch density grab in its tracks!

Terry Maynard
RCA Representative to the Reston Task Force
RCA Board of Directors

Official Fairfax County statement on Library strategy, discards

Library Board to Conduct Public and Staff Engagement

At its Sept. 11 meeting the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees approved a motion to suspend the library’s current redirection plan and seek more public and staff engagement about future directions for the library. The library board’s motion followed a similar motion passed by the Board of Supervisors at its Sept. 10 meeting seeking delay of the current plan, also to get additional public and employee input.

Library Board Chairman Willard O. Jasper appointed two board subcommittees during the meeting. The Evaluation and Communication committee will assess the current state of the library and make recommendations on the future direction of the library based on input from stakeholders. The Floating and Weeding committee is tasked with reviewing the current discard policy.

More details will be available once a plan for public engagement is finalized.
Fairfax County is committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in all county programs, services and activities. To request this information in an alternate format, call 703-324-8380, TTY 703-324-8365.
Fairfax County Public Library
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 324
Fairfax, Virginia 22035
Media Contact: Mary Mulrenan
703-324-8319, TTY 703-324-8365, Fax 703-324-3180
Sept. 12, 2013, 06-14

You may find this statement on the County website.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

WaPo's coverage and take on the Library trustees meeting on September 11, 2013

Tom Jackman reported on the trustees meeting:

Fairfax library board suspends strategic plan pending input from public, employees

At the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, more than 200 people turned out Wednesday night to hear the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees decide to suspend consideration of a controversial "strategic plan" for the library system. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
At the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, more than 200 people turned out Wednesday night to hear the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees decide to suspend consideration of a controversial “strategic plan” for the library system. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
As an overflow crowd of more than 200 watched, the Fairfax County library’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday night voted to suspend implementing the proposed “Strategic Plan” for the library system, pending more outreach to patrons and employees who felt left out of the process of preparing for the library’s future. . .
. . .  The audience, including a group watching outside the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale’s meeting room on a hallway video monitor, applauded as the board approved (Trustees Board Chairman) Jasper’s motion to suspend consideration of the plan, which was submitted by library Director Sam Clay. Clay said he worked with branch managers and staff to devise the plan, though some disagreed with that, and Clay acknowledged he perhaps had not gotten enough public input. . .
Five members of the public spoke to the board before their vote, all urging them to put the proposed plan on hold. Kathy Kaplan of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations told the board, “Libraries are sacred space. Books are sacred vehicles that transmit our culture. You are the trustees of the library. You have a sacred trust to protect the libraries for the people of Fairfax County.” Mary Zimmerman, president of the Friends of the George Mason library and head of the group’s huge book sale for 34 years, said, “I really urge you strongly to reconsider the [strategic] plan because it will not serve the citizens of Fairfax County.”

WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak had this to say about the meeting:

In Fairfax County, protests over dumping of library books could not be hushed

The parking lot was jammed, cars snaking up along the road and into the neighborhood.
The meeting room in Annandale was packed, with a satellite location for the overflow audience.

Reducing librarians, moving to floating collection part of plan to modernize public library.
Two police officers in body armor stood guard.
This mob at George Mason Regional Library could get unruly, I guess. That’s what happens when you toss 250,000 books into trash bins.
The Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees got a much deserved earful Wednesday night from patrons outraged that the system’s road to modernization included offloading surplus books like garbage.
When one of the wealthiest counties in the nation trashes a quarter million books, that’s nothing but arrogance and laziness. Smaller libraries, veterans hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters and underfunded schools could all use those books. In fact, there are plenty of people in Fairfax who could use those unwanted tomes. . .
Besides trashing books that Fairfax libraries don’t have room for — they used to give most of those excess books to the Friends of Library groups that either sell them or donate them to needier groups — they were planning huge cuts in staff and eliminating the requirement that their librarians have masters in library science degrees.
Aha. Now we get another visual, discarding librarians like those books. . . .

Click here to read the rest of Dvorak's column.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Commentary: Turning Reston's Plans into Reality, Colin Mills, RCA, Reston Patch, September 11, 2013

The Reston Task Force will be finalizing the new Comprehensive Plan soon. But our plans will be empty without someone to implement them.

The Reston Master Plan Task Force met again last night to discuss the the Comprehensive plan prepared by County staff.  As you know, RCA had many serious concerns about the last draft, and we’re still working with the staff and the Task Force to address the issues we raised. 

We still have a ways to go on that, but within the next couple of months, we will finalize the Comp Plan language, and it will go to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for approval.  It’s been a long time (a really long time) coming, but it will be done sooner rather than later.  And once the Comp Plan is approved, we can all relax, or at least move on to something else, right?

Wrong.  Believe it or not, what we do after the plan is approved matters at least as much as what we put in the plan.  Even if we produce the very best possible Comprehensive Plan, it will be meaningless unless we have a way to implement it.  We need an entity that’s responsible for turning our visions into reality.

What do I mean by implementation?  For one thing, the “place-making” around the stations that everyone on the Task Force wants requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort with a common set of standards.  It would require cooperation between different landowners across parcels, and someone will need to make that happen.

Perhaps more important, though, is the question of financing.  The Task Force has generated a pretty long list of amenities and infrastructure that we want and need in the station areas.  That includes things like transportation (Toll Road crossings, the grid of streets, sidewalks and bike paths), recreation (parks, fields, possibly a rec center and a performing arts center), schools, and more.  If we wait for the County to build all those things, we’ll be waiting a long time.  It’s likely that some combination of developer proffers and other funding sources will be needed to build our infrastructure.

But a lot of these big-ticket items are too big to put on the shoulders of a single entity.  The Soapstone crossing, for instance, probably couldn’t be paid for by one developer’s proffer.  We’ll need to join forces.  But we need someone to coordinate that; piecemeal infrastructure can cause serious problems.  (For an example, look at the missing links in Loudoun County’s roads, thanks to development drying up during the recession.)  We need someone to prioritize our wish list, so that when money does come in, it’s spent properly.  We need someone to ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with development, so we don’t end up with more growth than we can support.  If new taxes or revenue sources are on the table, we need someone to figure out the appropriate rates and determine who will pay.

Fortunately, we have an example we can follow.  The Tysons Task Force’s implementation plan called for a separate authority to serve as “Keeper of the Vision.”  They proposed tasking that authority with exactly the sorts of issues I’ve described: managing cooperation between landowners and parcels, setting common standards and design objectives to help with “place-making,” and figuring out how to fund the collective needs that arise from development.  We could do a lot worse than to follow in Tysons’ footsteps on this one.

Unfortunately, we already know what happens when no one is responsible for implementing a plan, thanks to the Reston Metrorail Access Group.  RMAG met for two years and developed a series of transportation priorities to ensure that people were able to get to, from, and around the Wiehle Metro station.  Their report was issued in 2008; unfortunately, there was no group created to ensure that the recommendations were implemented.  The result?  The Wiehle station is set to open in a few short months, and as RCA has documented, almost none of the work RMAG called for has been done.  And Reston is going to pay for it in bigger traffic jams and difficult access to the station.

We have a chance to get it right this time.  Unlike the period following the RMAG study, the state is actually providing transportation funds (as demonstrated by all the repaving going on in and around Reston these days).  And development is going to pick up again, which means proffer money will be available.  That makes it all the more important to ensure that we’re spending our money wisely and well, so that the station areas wind up being an asset to our community, rather than a hindrance that clogs our roads and strains our infrastructure.

Who serves on this implementation authority is just as important as what the group’s charge is.  It’s important that the authority have a strong citizen presence.  We will be living the reality of the development along the corridor, and we have a crucial stake in the success of the station areas, just as much as any developer.  The citizen representatives will help the authority stay close to the ground, to make sure that the group’s work benefits the average Restonian.  They will also ensure that the authority maintains credibility and confidence with the public; we want to know that someone’s looking out for our interests as Reston grows and changes.

The new Comprehensive Plan, once it’s finalized, will be a major achievement for the County and for Reston.  But it’s vital that we don’t leave the job half-finished; along with the Plan language, we need a concrete plan for implementing our vision.  An authority along the lines of the one proposed in Tysons will help guide us as we work to make our vision a reality.  When Reston was founded, Bob Simon made sure his vision was carried out (with the help of the committed citizens of the pioneer generation).  While no one can truly replace Bob, this implementation group can follow in his footsteps and keep the vision of Reston moving forward into the 21st century.

This commentary appeared on Reston Patch.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Notes on the RTF Report Writing Sub-Group Meeting, September 4, 2013

                                                                      5 September 2013              
                                                                      R. Rogers              

Notes on the meeting of the Reston Task Force Report Writing Sub-group: 4 September

 Summary: The Reston Master Planning Report Writing Sub-group met for two hours on 4 Sept to hash out several issues for the TF meeting on 10 Sept.  The three proposals—expand the TOD areas by moving the central point from the station platform to the station entrances, count hotels as residential, and re-allocate residential at the stations (the Goudie proposal) were all nixed.  Heidi indicated the RCA call for less flexibility in the draft will probably not be possible.


The meeting was attended by John Carter, Joe Stowers, Judy Pew, Bill Penniman, Nick Bauer, Dick Rogers, and Matt Valentine from JBG. Patti Nicoson chaired and Hedi Merkel provided staff support.

In response to questions from Dick Rogers, Heidi indicated that the only “closed” issue is the square footage per office worker--that would have to be taken up with the Planning Commission.  Re the schedule, she and Patti implied there could be minor slippage from the Oct 30 date with the Planning Commission. They will look at a two week postponement.

Re the extensive Reston Association comments of 16 August, Heidi said these will be addressed in text boxes.

Heidi said a version 6 will be forthcoming but is unlikely to be available before Monday 9 Sept.

Heidi called the meeting with RCA President Mills and RCA TF Rep Maynard “fruitful”.  She stressed that there will be changes in the parks section in particular.  However, she said there was limited ability to make any changes re stiffening language as RCA had proposed.  She said Maynard contrasted the overall draft with the urban design section (which tells developers how precisely to do various design elements).  However, Heidi said that “one simply could not have a checklist that had to be met” as RCA seemed to be proposing.

Some panel members asked what the flexibility issues were.

Patti suggested that any unresolved issues could be presented in the TF report.

Station platform or entrances?  There was a long discussion on this that recited familiar arguments.  Eventually John Carter summarized the issue as of having little significance at Wiehle and RTC except on the east and west edges.  He suggested that the plan have some language that would give some flexibility to properties on the boarder lines but to keep the existing boundaries.  This won the day.

Hotels as residences.  There was little support for classifying hotels as residential.  The consensus was the keep hotels in the commercial category.

Residential balance at stations: The idea that residential units should be shifted from Town Center to the other TOD areas was quickly disposed of.  There was no strong proponent of the concept in the group.  No change.

Apparently the results of these discussions will be summarized Tuesday.

Other Issues

HM noted that the new draft will have several new paras about what is special with Reston.

John Carter again brought up his proposal that Reston be “visionary” in Fairfax County. He laid out 5 issues:
·      Get the jobs household balance right.
·      Push for Bob Simon’s “placemaking.”
·      Be more aggressive re community facilities
·      Have a recreation center at the station area.
·      Focus more on getting a university here.
·      Create “LEEDs neighborhoods” with LEEDS architecture, a tree canopy, place making” and walkability.
John said all this would “put Reston out in front.”

Judy Pew raised several issues including the need for interior sound proofing in condos, the need for urban parks and a civic center and the need for harmonious design in Town Center North.

There was a desire for the group to meet again after the 10 Sept TF mtg. Tentatively a meeting was set for 17 Sept at 7 PM. There also will be a regular TF meeting on 24 September.

There was talk of an additional TF meeting in Sept but this was left a little vague. Keep posted.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Could chain stores be stopped in Reston's urbanizing areas?

Regrettably, I think the answer is almost certainly "no," but San Francisco--easily the quirkiest city in America--is setting an example that other cities, large and small, are following.  As this article by Henry Grabar in Salon points out, it has some serious local economic advantages.  Here are some excerpts from the article: 

You might not realize, walking the streets of Nob Hill, that you are experiencing an urban economy governed by the tightest big-city regulations on “formula retail” in the country. That’s because the San Francisco’s anti-chain net, while unique among large cities, is fairly permeable: three out of four chains that apply for permission to operate in one of the city’s protected zones are approved. Sure, San Francisco is quirky and diverse, true to its reputation, and bursting with independent bookstores, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. But the city isn’t an oasis: as in any other large U.S. city, there are dozens of Starbucks and Subway shops here too.
Supporters say the 75 percent approval rate does not do justice to the system’s efficacy. Seeking authorization forces chains to make concessions to neighborhood interests, and the deterrent effect — Qdoba might not even attempt to open across from a favorite local burrito joint — is impossible to quantify. Two recent high-profile cases – the rejection of Starbucks and Chipotle earlier this year – have fueled the sense that neighborhoods wield real power. In the case of Starbucks, 453 signatures were submitted in support; 4,200 signatures in opposition.
The impact of the law has grown over time. . . .
What separates San Francisco’s political achievement from griping in Greenwich Village or Venice Beach is the employment of economic data to prop up the power of the plebiscite. That data comes largely from one firm, Civic Economics, which is responsible for more than half of the studies listed in the appendix of the San Francisco Planning Commission memo [PDF] that addresses formula retail controls. . . .
The results were striking: for every $100 spent at a chain, approximately $13 remained in the local economy, largely through wages. For every $100 spent at the local outfit, $45 would recirculate locally, thanks to wages, corporate profits, locally oriented procurement, and potential future investment in the community, ranging from sponsorship of a Little League team to opening a second branch. The cost of a book or CD might be marginally higher, but the return for the city was nearly three times better at Waterloo Records and Book People. Borders didn’t move in.
Since then, Civic Economics has performed parallel analyses for other cities, including San Francisco, and obtained similar results. “The numbers were undeniable,” Houston said. “Nobody ever offers subsidies to the local bookstores — it’s crazy to think you’re giving subsidies to these non-local restaurants.” . . .
Click here for the rest of this intriguing urban development article.  If it can be done here (so many legal and historical precedents against this kind of thing), it might very well deeply enrich Reston's prospective urban areas as well as the community in which they operate.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Library friend's efforts to stop the destruction of books

The following is the text of an e-mail sent by Tresa Schlect to Supervisor Linda Smyth following her efforts to stop the destruction of books by the FCPL TechOps group.  The e-mail notes Ms. Schlect's many efforts since last fall to prevent the destruction of books, especially children's books.  She ultimately began photographing the disposed books in the dumpster behind the TechOps facility at Chantilly Regional Library. Those photos are available here

From: Tresa schlecht <>
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2013 20:45:48 -0400
Subject: Preparatory books discards, FCPL "beta test"
Cc: John Ball <>

I am pleased that attention is being directed to the questions surrounding
the "beta test" and changes at FCPL.  I am especially pleased that you have
personally addressed the question of whether sending excessed library books
to the dump was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars or was required for
administrative efficiency.  Apparently, there are several interpretations
of the facts surrounding disposal of excessed books during the past year. 
I hope the documents and pictures I have attached and referenced will assist 
you to evaluate the facts.

I am a member of the Board of the Friends of Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library
(TY Friends), and have been for several years.  My hobby is an
interest in literacy and children's books.  As a matter of policy, TY
Friends offers library discards back to the community at a nominal
price in its booksales (prices for children's library discards begin
at 25 cents), because our community includes individuals who want
children's books but cannot pay commercial used book prices.

In October 2012, we were advised that library discards would be sent to
a central location in Chantilly (Technical Operations, or TechOps) for
disposal as part of the conversion to a floating collection, and that the
Friends could not be offered library discards until after conversion to the
floating collection was complete.  TY Friends requested information about
obtaining excessed books.

I personally visited TechOps in Chantilly to request that we be allowed to
pick up discarded books, especially children's books, before the books were
placed in the dumpster by TechOps.  I was told that my request would be
considered, but that it was unlikely that TY Friends could obtain
discarded books, as it would be unfair to let TY Friends have books
simply because we were willing to pick the books up when other Friends
groups could not.

I have attached the relevant portion of an e-mail sent to TechOps in
follow-up to that meeting.  (See below.) My e-mail shows that a request for 
discards was made, to the correct FCPL representative, in writing, on behalf 
of TY Friends, in January 2013.  The e-mail establishes that TY Friends
offered to pick the books up, at TechOps, at a time selected by TechOps for 
its administrative efficiency and convenience.  Moreover, TY offered to share 
the books with any other Friends groups, OR to use the discarded books as 
directed by FCPL.  Thus, our request for books would not have required FCPL 
personnel time, other than an e-mail to me naming the time/dates for pick-ups,
nor would it have involved any cost to the county.  TY Friends was not
granted permission to pick up discarded books at Tech Ops.

After several months went by, in April 2013, I began taking pictures of the
discards in the TechOps dumpster.  April 11, 2013, and April 27, 2013
pictures, attached, show the volume of  children's and other books, many 
in salable or usable condition, in the dumpster.

In late April 2103, a TechOps representative, and FCPL Director of
Libraries, Mr. Sam Clay, provided presentations at the Fairfax County Friends 
Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives from Friends groups
county-wide.  The TechOps representative indicated that, after
May 1, 2013, when the conversion to the floating collection was completed, it
would be possible to resume allowing Friends groups to have some library
discards, under limited circumstances.  The TechOps representative noted
that each Friends group that wanted discards would need to make a written
request to TechOps.  Friends at a particular branch could only have
access to books excessed by that branch, among other limitations.  Mr.
Clay appeared on the program following the speaker from TechOps, and
reiterated the accuracy of her presentation.

The agenda of that meeting, the date of that meeting, and the
substance of the remarks made by both FCPL speakers, is objective
information verifiable through the published agenda and minutes of the
sponsoring group.  The public record establishes that a limited amount
of discards were made available to Friends groups after, but not
before, May 1, 2013; any information currently circulating suggesting
that a wider range of discards was offered to Friends groups is
incomplete or factually inaccurate.

TY Friends did not receive any discards from TechOps in the first two
weeks after the Friends Forum, although TY Friends sent an e-mail
request for discards immediately after the meeting.  On May 16, 2013,
I again took pictures to determine whether excessed books were still
being discarded.  The pictures, which are date stamped, show a large
volume of books, most in salable or usable condition, in the dumpster.
 Additional pictures taken in late May and in August 2013 again show
usable, salable books in the dumpster.

I hope this information is of use to you.  I believe this information, in
conjunction with other objective verified information, shows that Friends
groups were not offered, and in fact, were denied, access to excessed books, 
from October 2012 to May 1, 2013, and were permitted to obtain a limited 
percentage of books excessed after May 1, 2013.

If books were offered some other charitable use other than county
Friends groups, TY Friends would like to obtain this information.  If
the TY Friends were excluded from an offer to charitable groups, we would 
like to obtain information about that.

I note that the Friends have very recently learned that county-wide
publications designed to inform the public of the programs and
booksales at each library have been discontinued.  I noted that the
George Mason Friends made a presentation at the April 2103 Friends Forum 
about the benefits to the Friends of the publications and how 
standardization of information about booksales in the publications could 
benefit individuals Friends groups.  Although Mr. Clay was in attendance, 
he provided no information about potential or planned discontinuation of 
the publication under discussion.  There is no indication that input from 
the public or any interested constituency was sought prior to the 
discontinuation of the publications.  Now, each library is to set up 
information about the programs available at that library.  This makes each  
branch responsible for the time and cost of publicizing its programs, even 
though staffing at each branch is projected to be reduced.  It also makes it 
more difficult for a member of the public to find out about programs, 
especially programs that might be offered at other branches.

The disposal of books is one thread in the administrative process leading
up to the "beta test."  Personnel issues, impact on the public, information
about, and availability of, programs at local branches, and the vision for
FCPL, are the much larger picture involved in the "beta test."  Books
have already been discarded, and cannot, without extra expense, be brought back
in if the "test" proves that the proposed system does not work as well as
anticipated.  Personnel descriptions have been changed, and the former
personnel descriptions cannot be restored without expense if the
"test" proves that the system requires adjustment.  Personnel actions
have been taken, and personnel cannot magically reappear if a "test"
shows that the original personnel are still needed.  The facts that
the actions have been taken prior to the "beta test" demonstrates that
this "test" is not a "test" in the general sense of the work, but
rather, is intended as a continuation of a process which is anticipated to move 
along without adjustment or modification.  If FCPL does not intend to adjust 
what it is doing based on what the public needs or wants, then FCPLis not a
"public" library system.

Sent:  January 3, 2013


Thank you for speaking with me the other day.

As I indicated, I am interested in obtaining discards that would otherwise be disposed of as trash, especially discards which are children's pictures books or early readers or early chapter books.  
Because I work with a variety of groups, I would be happy to use the discards in any manner directed, and would be happy to provide written documentation or contract regarding the number of books, the designation of the 501(c)(3) donor status, the method and timing of picking up the books, the method and documentation of distribution of the books, or other record-keeping as necessary.  

If the discards can be made available only if they are donated to Friends' groups for resale, I will be happy to transport the books obtained to the designated Friends group.  If the books can be made available to me only if they are used in Fairfax County, but not re-sold, I will be happy to make sure that the Fairfax County discards go to only Fairfax county purposes which do not involve resale.  If the books can be made available only for non-profit groups, I  will be happy to enter into an agreement regarding documentation that the Fairfax County discards are distributed only to non-profit groups or to designate the specific groups.  

I hope this information will assist in determining that system discards can be put to a use other simply being actually discarded.