Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Silver Line has been bringing Metro’s performance numbers down,, August 26, 2015

While the title is misleading, this is an excellent post by blogger Stephen Repetski on the deteriorating operating performance of Metrorail.  Here is Repetski's key reason for the deterioration:
In order to open the Silver Line last year, Metro has had to run more train cars longer, and the extra mileage put onto them has meant their breakdowns may affect your service more often.
That's probably true, but we believe the fact that three of the four lines with the greatest deterioration (SL, OR, BL) run through Rosslyn station on the two-track tunnel downtown is a, if not "the", key driver in this phenomenon.   As Repetsky notes, extremely cold weather last winter was also a contributor to performance deterioration--just exactly the time when potential users are seeking good rail transit service.

These graphics capture the major deterioration in performance, especially "did not operate" (DNO):



It is important to highlight that the deterioration in DNO performance and volatility in on-time performance shown above began in late 2013 or early 2014, many months before the Silver Line began operations and before extra rail cars were needed.  That speaks to extremely poor maintenance, not too much demand for cars.

In fact, if it were not for the Silver Line, total usage of the system would have declined over the last year.  And even among the limited number of SL stations open in Reston and Tysons, only Reston has exceeded usage forecasts for the first year.  We do not expect SL usage to increase until service improves and the new Phase 2 stations to Loudoun are added. 

One cannot also help but notice that, in 2011, WMATA lowered the target on-time performance from 95% to 90% (black line, top graph).  Lowering the bar is not the answer to providing reliable Metrorail service.   It is merely a justification for poorer service.

Most importantly, it shows a continuing systemic deterioration in Metrorail performance for more than 18 months.  And we still don't know the true causes and potential solutions for this increasingly dangerous situation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cloud of sequestration looms over D.C. region, Washington Post, August 23, 2015

Jonathan O'Connell, WaPo, wrote an excellent article this weekend on the Congressional federal budget axe that hangs over our region, including Fairfax County and Reston, in the name of "sequestration"--most of which will hit Defense Department spending, a major driver of local economic growth via federal employment and contracts for our county and community. 

Here are a couple of key passages from that article:
No state is more reliant on defense spending than Virginia, where it affects nearly 13 percent of the commonwealth’s economic output, tops nationwide, and provides the basis for 11 percent of jobs, third in the nation. . .
. . . office parks in Northern Virginia have emptied while defense contractors consolidated or closed locations, and developers of some new buildings have had trouble finding companies willing to sign deals.
According to the Defense Department research, things are likely to worsen over the next four years. From 2010 to 2012, Virginia experienced $9.8 billion in defense cuts, with the vast majority of losses in Northern Virginia. Direct defense spending in the state is projected to drop from $64 billion this year to under $62 billion in 2019.

Virginia’s elected leaders are sounding the alarm, with Senators Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Mark R. Warner (D) repeatedly calling for budget legislation to replace the sequester. . . .
Further sequestration is likely in the Republican-led Congress, although these Senators and Congressmen may also be looking at the 2016 election. 

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bentana Woods e-mail to RA regarding redevelopment of Tall Oaks Village Center

From: Sherri Hebert
Date: Aug 16, 2015 11:25:09 AM
Subject: Fwd: Tall Oaks Village Center
To: Director Graves , Director Thomas , Director LaRosa , Director Bitzer , Ken Knueven , Lucinda Shannon , "Michael R. Sanio" , Ray Wedell , Cate Fulkerson

Dear Community Leaders,

As the president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association and a neighbor of the Tall Oaks Village Center, I’ve been to all of the community meetings regarding the redevelopment, and conducted two surveys of the Tall Oaks community.  Because of my involvement, I have been asked by many of my neighbors to summarize for you the Tall Oaks residents’ views regarding the redevelopment project for the Tall Oaks Village Center and to ask for your continued support and leadership.

As you are well aware, decisions made regarding Tall Oaks Village Center will have a long-term impact on all future development of village centers which will either preserve the life style of Restonians or turn Reston into the next Tysons. Having a healthy mix of commercial office, retail, housing and other amenities only in the RestonTransit Station areas will leave much to be desired for the founding neighborhoods of Reston and will not make Reston a sustainable transit oriented community.

The residents of Tall Oaks and the Reston community at large has, on multiple occasions, expressed their views and desires for the seven plus acres of prime real estate at the corner of North Shore Rd and Wiehle Ave. This mostly vacant lot is in walking distance of the Wiehle-Reston metro (albeit a lengthy walk) but not walkable to Lake Anne or any othercommunity services or retail establishments (with the exception of McDonalds or Taco Bell).

In April 2015, community residents responded loudly in both numbers of attendees and views expressed at theJefferson Apartment Group (JAG) presentations. The themes at both sessionswhere:
  • More community space
  • More enough retail and community services
  • More green/open space
  • Incorporating the Assisted Living Facility
  • Too much housing (are we creating anothercluster?)
  • Parking and traffic concerns (mixed uses will allow for parking to be used at different times of the day)
  • Several of the current business owners in Tall Oaks took issue with the premise that commercial establishment would not succeed.  Many of these businesses have been successfully operating in Tall Oaks for years, even during the downturn of the village center.
Concerned residents took action bystarting a petition to ask both Fairfax County and Reston Association to listen to the residents of Tall Oaks regarding this valuable land. Shortly after these community meetings, the cluster presidents of the Tall Oaks community reached out the JAG hoping to dialogue about the proposal and to create a partnership in the design. JAG did not respond until they were confronted during a presentation to the Reston Planning and Zoning committee (P&Z) in May. Even with the strong opposition to the JAG proposal, on May 18th, JAG presented the same plan to the P&Z. In that meeting, they stated that they had spoken to the business owners currently operating in Tall Oaks about their future intentions, but the fact is they had not. I actually spoke to the someof the owners that day, and they had not been contacted by JAG. I am bringing up this point, because JAG demonstrated to me, that they will misrepresent the truth for their gain. This is a dangerous game to play especially if decisions are made without facts.

The following evening, May 19th,JAG made the same presentation to the Reston Design Review Board (DRB) with the same misrepresentations of truth they gave the P&Z.  Both groups, based on the words of the developer (completely one-sided) gave a nod that JAG was  heading in the right direction. This was extremely frustrating for the residents in attendance.

The Bentana Woods Cluster Association, as a sample population, participated in a survey regarding the retail service needs of the village center. With a 49% response rate, the  desire for eating establishments was priority one. The survey results were provided to JAG, at a June 16th meeting and are attached for your review.

On June 22nd, Fairfax County hosted an interactive community meeting to again hear the views and opinions of residents. Again, the residents filled the room to capacity to express their concerns. The sheer number of attendees indicated the seriousness of the development project. JAG presented the same proposal that many had heard in April. The same issues were surfaced.

Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks launched another survey to get reaction to two other fictitious options. The consensus was that neither option was good because they did not have enough community space, a plaza feel, parking, or retail. The options offered forced respondent to choose between additional green/open space and additional parking. Respondents, 54% to 29%, wanted the open space. The real value of the survey was in the comments where people expressed their concerns about losing the village center, traffic, and future of the community. The survey resultsare attached.

On August 6th, RestonAssociation’s Board of Directors issued a letter opposing the current redevelopment plans of JAG and the need to appreciate this land as valuable resource. Developing this land into a gem of Reston and a model for other village centers is critically important to Reston’s future. To create another housing cluster would set the wheels in motion to dissolve the uniqueness of Reston andits village centers, increase traffic and decrease the character of theneighborhood and lower the quality of life of the resident.  All of these factors would ultimately lead to a city without personality or distinction and lower property values. I am available to meet to discuss these issues or to give you greater insight to theresidents’ perspective.  I look forward to your feedback.

Sherri Hebert
1607 Park Overlook Drive, Reston, 20190

Attachment #1:

Attachment #2:

Supervisor Hudgins responds to RA letter regarding Tall Oaks Village Center

In an August 15 letter responding to a letter from RA President Ellen Graves, Supervisor Hudgins notes the long passed vitality of the Tall Oaks Village Center (which is close to her home) and describes the process for the Jefferson Apartments Group's (JAG's) redevelopment of the village center.  At no point does she address the central point in RA's letter about the need to preserve open space.  Her only affirmative statement is that she is glad to see that RA embraces that idea that Tall Oaks should remain a village center.  This could be a step in the right direction although that remains far from clear.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Time for a "Metrorail Holiday"

As the Post reports today about the latest major safety flaw in Metro’s system:  The train that derailed last week was operating on track deemed to be “black code”—to be shut down immediately until repaired—last month.   This is only the latest in a string of major failures in recent years.  The effects have ranged from deadly accidents to near daily delays and station closures, reduced ridership, deteriorating finances, demoralized employees, and more.  Metrorail is in crisis.

It is time for a “Metrorail holiday.”  Just as FDR closed the nation’s banks for a week-long “bank holiday” in 1933 to put laws and programs in place to salvage the nation’s banks and their patrons, we need the same kind of action for our most critical regional transit system.   

We have the benefit of some time, although at some risk.  In that time, the US Department of Transportation should form a number of truly independent groups expert in every facet of rail mass transit activities.  Those groups should review Metro’s performance and prepare questions on the full range of potential issues from WMATA’s Board composition to escalator failures. 

Then comes the holiday.  During a week of normally low Metro usage—possibly after Christmas or next August summer break period at the latest—Metrorail should be shut down.  WMATA and local public transit agencies should anticipate this shutdown by temporarily bulking up bus and other transit options.  There will be disruptions, but everyone should have time to prepare.

During that holiday, every person involved with Metro should be interviewed, every network and piece of equipment from telephones to rail cars should be examined, every policy and process should be reviewed, and every inch of track should be inspected.    

Each expert group should prepare a systematic analysis and submit it with a series of findings and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation.  DOT may need to prepare an overview of the results, set an overarching agenda, and provide other guidance to WMATA.  Future federal and other funding should be tied to WMATA addressing the recommendations satisfactorily.

Yes, it is that bad.  Yes, it will be disruptive.  Yes, a Metrorail holiday is absolutely necessary to make Metro a safe and reliable mass transit system.  Anything less will result in Metrorail’s continuing death spiral and growing danger to the public.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

TSA to shrink office space per employee to 173 GSF in move to Alexandria

The Washington Business Journal reported yesterday that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to move its headquarters from Pentagon City to a long vacant building in Alexandria beginning this year.  It goes on to state:
Under the agreement, the TSA will fully occupy the building by the spring of 2018 at a rental rate of $36 per square foot. That rate, per the GSA, is more than 25 percent below projected market rents. The agreement also provides the government with $50 million for tenant fit-out costs and other transition-related expenses. The utilization rate (square footage per employee) will be roughly 153 — 20 percent below the GSA's current rate.
We believe the "utilization rate" described here is what is known as "leasable space" or "RBA" in the commercial real estate market.  This is the space actually leased by a tenant.  It includes all the space occupied by employees plus a proportional share of common areas available in an office building.  So TSA has leased about 153 SF of space for each employee.  By our calculations, the actual space occupied by employees runs about 3/4s of leasable space.  That means, on average, each employee be about 116 SF.

For planning purposes, Fairfax County uses 300 gross square feet (GSF) per office employee.  Our calculation suggests that leasable space is about 88% of gross square footage.  This means that each TSA employee will occupy about 173 GSF in its new quarters, less than 58% of the County's planning value.  Other, generally private, leasees of office space have occupied even much smaller office space per worker on a GSF basis in our area in recent years as we have documented repeatedly on this blog (see index "office space"). 

Two key points arise from this analysis:
  • It is likely that in the next decade leasing of Washington area office space will run about half of what the County expects (and that doesn't count adverse market conditions) as businesses and the federal government stick more employees in less space.
  • More dangerously, over the longer term--3-4 decades--the number of office employees in key employment centers such as Tysons and Reston could be TWICE what the current County plans call for because of bad planning assumptions.  The infrastructure costs (primarily transportation) to support that level of employment will be huge and haven't been considered.
While we tire of repeating the same argument--that office space per employee is shrinking by at least half--we will continue to do so until Fairfax County at least understands and recognizes this phenomenon in its planning and zoning efforts.  

Saving Fairfax County Public Library Books

We received this notice overnight published by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations.

We ask member associations to re-transmit the information in the text box below to your members in August using your newsletters, e-mail news, or other communication method.  Your members can help save library books from early discard.

You, the Fairfax County Public Library patrons, have the opportunity to save library books from discard.  The Pohick Regional Library will close on Saturday, September 5, for renovation.  The books on the shelves at the time Pohick closes will be stored, transferred or discarded.   The Federation’s library committee advises that when a branch closes, the rate of discard is typically high.  Because the Fairfax County Public Library system has a floating collection (i.e., books may be returned to any branch where they generally stay), library patrons can “save” Pohick's books by checking them out from Pohick Regional Library and returning them to any other library branch, which should prevent their premature discard.

What most needs to be saved?  The most critical need is nonfiction (art books, architecture, literature, poetry, religion, philosophy, science, music, history, and children's nonfiction).

How much can be saved?  You can check out up to 50 total items at one time from the library. 

Please remember that the Reston Regional Library may be shut down for some significant amount of time in the not too distant future as a new library building is built.  We have the opportunity now to "play it forward"  to save Reston's public library books.

(Yes, we know it's a stupid public library policy, but we can all play the game too.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More open space in Town Center North?

We read with more than normal interest about the actions taken by RA’s Board of Directors last week regarding Town Center North, an area of about 95 acres according to the latest Reston Plan.  The most interesting fact to come out of that largely secret meeting was that about ten acres of TCN land is covered by a restrictive covenant going back to 1974.  Here is what a Board comment and resolution on the situation states:

. . . this restrictive covenant limits the use and development of this 10 acre portion of land to natural open space, none of this land was ever deeded to Reston Association or designated as Common Area of the Reston Association.  This restrictive covenant presents a title defect which may impede or hinder the redevelopment anticipated in the Fairfax County/INOVA RFP.

As such, I (Ellen)…..

Board Motion:  Move that our counsel be directed to assist Fairfax County and INOVA in working around this restrictive covenant  but only in a manner which preserves and/or enhances natural open space within Reston. 

If the RA Board were actually to garner the preservation of 10 acres of land in Town Center North (TCN) for open space purposes, that would vastly improve the current plan for a 3.5 acre “town green,” characterized as a “dog poop park” by one Reston commentator.   It would also begin to approach Reston 20/20’s long time goal of a magnet central park in TCN comprising one-quarter of its area to, in part, offset the shortage of park and other open space in Reston Town Center and provide a magnet for workers, residents, and visitors.

Ten acres of open space would also approach the County’s own Urban Park Framework requirement for TCN, repeated in the new Reston Master Plan (1 acre of public park for every 10,000 employees, 1.5 acres of public park for every 1,000 residents).  The 3.5 acre “town green” offered up in the new Reston Master Plan totally ignores these guidelines in an area that will need more than 11 acres of parks to meet FCPA guidelines, triple what is planned, much less offsetting shortage in the core of Reston Town Center.  


Alas, we suspect that the BOS has been well aware of the “title defect” the RA Board identified and acted on a week ago.   We anticipate that the BOS will strive to eliminate that portion of the zoning ordinance calling for 10 acres of open space in TCN (or at least reducing it to the 3.5 acres in the master plan and current draft agreement with INOVA) when it addresses zoning amendments in January 2016. 

Now it is up to the RA Board to make sure that Restonians don’t lose access to the 10 acres of open space current zoning for TCN says it warrants—although the specific location may change to make a more coherent park setting--at the same time preserving RA’s claim that virtually all the area of TCN that the zoning ordinance says is covered by RA’s charter.  RA should not, under any circumstances, give up precious open space there for the additional assessment fee revenues to which it is also entitled. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

County Presentation on Redevelopment Planning for Town Center North, July 29, 2015

Below is a lightly edited version of a summary of the subject meeting prepared by one of the attendees.  Apparently no local newspaper reporters attended the event because we have seen no coverage of the event in any of the Reston or County newspapers, hardcopy or online.  Worse, reporters may have attended the event, but there was too little new information provided to warrant an article.

Here is the summary: 
Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins hosted a meeting on July 29th a meeting at the new Fairfax County facility at 1801 Cameron Glen Drive to discuss the proposed future redevelopment of the Reston Town Center North (RTC North) properties and to allow those present to question the county staff and offer comments. We had a nearly packed house, despite the limited publication of the event.

The focus of the meeting was on the redevelopment of Blocks 7 and 8, of the greyed-in parcel depicted below. Blocks 7 and 8 is Fairfax County owned property where the Reston Regional Library and the Embry Rucker Shelter are currently located, along with the greenspace surrounding the buildings. We were told that the county couldn’t take on the redevelopment of the remainder of the area (Blocks 1,3,5 and 6) until an unspecified future date because it was too much to work on at the same time.

Cathy Hudgins and some of her planning staff were there to present. Andrew Miller, Project Coordinator, Public-Private Partnerships Branch, Fairfax County Dept. Public Works and Environmental Services was the first to present (copies of his presentation were not available). He stated that the redevelopment of blocks 7 and 8 would be a public-private partnership and that the Reston library, the Embry Rucker homeless shelter and other services “may” be part of the redevelopment.  He stated that the new development will be compatible with Reston’s new Comprehensive Plan.


Figure 1:  Blocks 7 & 8 are at the south end of Town Center North.

The county has issued an RFP that is solely designed to qualify potential developers. The county will create a Development RFP after the September community meeting on the redevelopment, where community input will be solicited.

Mr. Miller also described the upcoming land swap with INOVA. He showed a diagram of the current ownership map, where the parcels owned by the county, the parks authority and INOVA are broken up into odd (basically unusable) shapes. He showed that the land swap with INOVA would create contiguous spaces and allow the county and INOVA to develop the RTC North properties. Essentially the Fairfax and park authority parcels from block 2 and 4 would be titled over to IVOVA. INOVA would turn over their portion of blocks 1 and 3.  Blocks 1 and 3 would become contiguous Fairfax County land and allow for redevelopment, new cross-streets and a long greenspace in the middle of RTC North.

Andrew Miller made it clear that the selection of a developer and the design itself will be solely the decision of Fairfax County staff who will solicit comments from the public. No local organizations or Task Force will be formed to approve or be empowered to influence the decision. 

The next step will be a community meeting on Saturday September 19, 2015 - 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Lake Anne Community Center to present and listen to community input. Rob Stalzer, Deputy County executive, said that a community comment page will be set up on a Fairfax county Web site. In the meanwhile, comments and questions could be sent to him at

Patricia Harrison (representative for Fairfax Human Services System) then discussed the Community Visioning Plan – North County. In summary, her goal was to identify the type, quality and location of human services needed; and prioritize and recommend current and future facility needs. See the attached copy of her presentation.

Several questions were brought up. The most significant was asking about Fairfax County’s commitment to the library after both Mr. Miller and Ms. Harrison both stated that the library “may” be included in the redevelopment. Mr. Miller responded by stating that the County is fully committed to supporting the library.


I was disappointed that the development of Blocks 1 and 3 has been postponed, because that is where the proposed new recreation center, arts center, and other facilities are supposed to be located. Also, there was no explanation of how the redevelopment of Blocks 7 and 8 will benefit Reston. Clearly, this redevelopment helps the County, with private developers partially, or fully paying for the redevelopment and putting County property on the tax role.
I’m also wary of the county’s commitment to our library. Both speakers stated that the library “may” be included in the development.  Finally, I don’t see how the Embry Rucker center could be rebuilt on the site, since prospective tenants of and new development would be reluctant to move next to a homeless center.