Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Friday, January 29, 2016

Exposed Sewer Lines Near Audubon ‘Health Hazard Waiting to Happen’, RestonNow, January 29, 2016

RestonNow's Karen Goff provides an excellent over view of the RA Board discussion of the eroded ravine near South Lakes High School, including exposed sewer lines, and the initiative Reston Association is taking to correct the problem. 

Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
Erosion has contributed to the exposure of eight sewer line in the hillside leading from South Lakes Drive to Lake Audubon. If significant action is not taken, Reston could face serious environmental and public health situation.
That was the takeaway from a long discussion at Reston Association’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday, where the board passed several motions to commit money to study the issue and continue pressing Fairfax County officials to act on the issue.
“This is a health health hazard waiting to happen,” said RA land use attorney John McBride, who warned that recent events in Flint, Mich., where a money-saving effort to change the water supply resulted in dangerous lead contamination. . . .
At issue is stormwater runoff that starts at South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School, goes under South Lakes Drive and then through a steep drainage ditch running between Wakerobin Drive and Cedar Cover Cluster, emptying into Lake Audubon.
Years of runoff have contributed to significant erosion, which has left eight sewer pipes exposed, said Charles Smith of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. . . .
For the rest of this article, click here. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Big Money is Talking in Tysons. Will the County buy it?

In a new Washington Business Journal article headlined, "Cash vs. affordable units: This Tysons development case is worth watching," Michael Neibauer describes how Reston-based developer Renaissance Centro is seeking to sell its way out of providing workforce housing at affordable prices while building a huge luxury condominium complex called The Arbor.  Here is the gritty part of this article:
 The project's website describes The Arbor, with its large units ringed with terraces, as supporting an "active, urban lifestyle indicative of the newly urban Tysons." The site design includes pedestrian paths winding around the building and connecting with Lerner Enterprises' Tysons II expansion.
Fairfax County's comprehensive plan for Tysons, also known as the Tysons Plan, places a premium on workforce housing — those units affordable to households with incomes ranging from 60 percent to 120 percent of the area median income. For providing workforce dwelling units, or WDUs, developers can achieve a 20 percent bonus density.
Renaissance Centro, the contract purchaser of Block D, has offered two options to reach the density it proposes for The Arbor. The decision, according to the list of proffers, is theirs, not the county's.
One option is to provide 20 percent of the units as WDUs, though if those units don't sell in relatively short order, Renaissance Centro would have the option to flip them to market-rate. The difference between the for-sale WDU price and the market-rate price would be contributed to the county.
The second option is simply a cash contribution to a new Tysons Affordable Housing Trust Fund, generally equal to 1.5 percent of the sales prices of all units at The Arbor, plus 1 percent of the net base sales price paid in installments. But the Tysons Plan is wary of cash in lieu of affordable housing, noting explicitly it is "not desired."
Staff does not believe, per the report, "that bonus intensity or height should be granted to the applicant for the provision of workforce dwellings when no actual workforce dwelling units are being provided in the building."
So it's up to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors just how serious they are about keeping some affordable housing in Tysons or whether they will settle for money to address their budget problem, which is a problem of too much spending, not a problem of too little revenue.   

It's an excellent article.  Click here to read the rest

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Reverse Ridership Declines, Metro Pins Hopes On Development Around Stations, WAMU, January 19, 2016

Martin DiCaro, WAMU's transportation reporter, wrote an excellent article on Metrorail's hopes that development around its stations will increase ridership, citing Reston's Wiehle Station area as an example.  The "hope" is based on a transportation study done by the University of Maryland showing that jobs and residences near Metro contribute to its ridership base.  We would put two caveats on that result:
  • Jobs and new residences must be created.  In the current national political climate of reduced federal spending, it is not at all clear when (or if) the Washington area's growth--well behind national averages--will increase.
  • Metro must be safe and reliable.  We hope the new general manager can make that happen, but we don't expect any significant improvements in the near term with rail car deliveries slow and the need to improve the safety of railway's infrastructure.  
Here is how DiCaro's article begins:

Will future real estate development guarantee a return of Metro’s lost riders?

The problems plaguing the second-busiest subway system in America are well-documented: an economic downturn and federal budget sequestration led to fewer rides; the reduction of a pre-tax transit benefit, provided by more than 5,000 employers, from $255 to $130 per month also contributed to the decline; and for the first time last year the transit authority admitted that consistently unreliable service — some could describe it as terrible — has alienated commuters.

Since its peak in 2008, when Metrorail recorded 750,000 trips on the average weekday, ridership is down 5 percent.
But Metro’s leaders believe riders will return, pointing to development either underway or planned within close proximity — defined as a half-mile walking distance — of rail stations across the region. Moreover, while overall ridership is down, more people are using the core stations in downtown D.C., as any regular rider can attest during a typical rush hour of packed platforms and crowded trains.

To help Metro determine how to set fares, researchers at the University of Maryland developed a new ridership model that analyzes how the location of jobs and homes will impact the system’s already strained capacity.

Click here for the rest of this article.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Deja Vu All Over Again: What happens in Annandale also happens in Reston.

The following is a re-post of post on the Annandale VA blog concerning the Board of Supervisors' consideration of a redevelopment proposal managed with little (or no) public input that involves, among other things, throwing homeless people out of an existing shelter.  It is hard to see the difference between the way this deal is proceeding and the way the Board is proceeding with the Reston Town Center North PPP, planning for the Embry Rucker Shelter, the Reston Regional Library, issues with the deeds surrounding the RTCN land, etc.  The problem of the lack of transparency in Board activities and intentions and the lack of real public outreach (which includes listening and considering public concerns) appears to be systemic among the Supervisors.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Board of Supervisors defers decision on Bailey's Crossroads land swap

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors deferred a decision on the Southeast Quadrant land swap in Bailey’s Crossroads until Feb. 2.The delay will provide time for the board to review last-minute information on some “contractual tweaks,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross at the Jan. 12 BoS session.

The real estate exchange would spur revitalization of a blighted area along Columbia Pike, and Gross said she’s been working on plans to redevelop the Southeast Quadrant since 2002.

In general,  the deal calls for Fairfax County to swap land with AvalonBay and purchase the Landmark property next to Radley Acura. If the land swap is approved, AvalonBay would build a 375-unit apartment building on the site of the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, which would be relocated.

A new road would connect Seminary Road with Columbia Pike, and the county would build a new East County Government Center.

Several residents who spoke at the BoS hearing urged the supervisors to reject the land swap. Residents said they support revitalization in the Southeast Quadrant but raised concerns about the relocation of the homeless shelter, the lack of time for public feedback, the lack of transparency, and questioned the need for a new county office building.   (Emphasis added.)

Debbie Smith, chair of the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC), asked the supervisors to delay a decision on the land swap “until the community is given a reasonable amount of time to review it.” She said residents only had two business days to examine the land swap since a community meeting last week and still don’t have information on a lot of the details.

Smith called on the county to consider alternative sites for an East County office building, noting that Bailey’s Crossroads has an office vacancy rate of 47 percent and that BoS Chair Sharon Bulova has formed a working group to explore ways to repurpose vacant office buildings. She suggested the county look at the vacant building at 5600 Columbia Pike, where a proposal for an apartment building fell through.

Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, said there’s no reason for VDOT to spend $7 million in road improvements without a traffic analysis showing a new road is needed, there’s no proof that the county needs a new office building, and the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until a permanent location is found.

County officials are negotiating for a temporary site for the shelter until they can find a suitable location for a permanent site that also includes transitional housing for the homeless.

The county has not announced the site of the temporary shelter, pending a final agreement with the landowner, but local residents believe it is on the property of the First Christian Church at 6165 Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners.

Denise Patton told the supervisors she welcomes revitalization but “it’s the nature and quality of the revitalization that is the issue for me.” She questioned why the county wants to build a new office building when Bailey’s Crossroads has such a high office vacancy rate.

Ravenwood Park resident Carol Turner called the land swap “a bad deal for residents and the homeless.” If the new county office building includes a homeless shelter, it might be worth doing, she said. “Otherwise, it’s worthless."

Turner asked Gross if she is going to recuse herself from a decision on the land swap because John Thillman, who had contributed to Gross’ re-election campaigns, is a principal in Landmark Atlantic, which owns the office building the county wants to purchase.

Thillman “doesn’t have any ownership interest in the property we are talking about,” Gross responded.

Al Cobb, who also lives in Ravenwood Park, raised objections to locating a homeless shelter so close to his neighborhood and asked the board to delay a decision until the community is given more information and more time to comment.

Homeless advocate Esther Armstead spoke about the need for housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels and said the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until there is a permanent site for it.

Lake Barcroft resident Larry Golfer said the current deal on the table won’t create the vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community envisioned in the comprehensive plan for Bailey’s Crossroads approved approved by the BoS in 2010.

Jon Clark of Annandale, a member of the MDC board, said “public involvement in this process has not been up to the standards Fairfax County has expressed it would like to maintain.”

Only two people who spoke at the hearing urged the BoS to approve the land swap.

Martin Howell, a representative of AvalonBay, said the land swap agreement is the culmination of three years of work by AvalonBay, county staff, and the former property owner, the Weissberg Corp. He said the proposal calls for an $86 million investment in the community, which would generate $5 million in fees and taxes to the country for the construction of the project and $1 million a year in property taxes.

“This is the worst stretch of road in Fairfax County,” and it’s a blighted area that needs to be developed, said Bill Lecos of Lake Barcroft. “We’ve talked about Bailey’s Crossroads for 10 years. This is the type of redevelopment we’re looking for,” he said. If the project goes forward, this property will be assessed at over $100 million. “One must look at the return on investment. This is an extraordinary opportunity.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

How FAR will the Board of Supervisors go? Terry Maynard, Reston 20/20 Committee

This is a re-post from RestonNow, January 11, 2016.

The newly re-elected County Board of Supervisors is at it again:  They are proposing a “Priority 1” zoning ordinance amendment (ZOA) that would allow development density in a number of areas in the County to increase to a floor-area-ratio (FAR) of 5.0 plus a 0.5 bonus density for meeting key County priorities.  The ZOA includes all of Reston’s Metro station areas (TSAs) and Lake Anne, a Commercial Revitalization Area (CRA).  

In fact, the ZOA proposal covers an entire alphabet soup of about 20 urbanizing and redeveloping “Selective Areas” across the county:  TSAs, CRAs, CRDs, CBCs, PDCs, and PRMs.  Together, the County calls all these “Selective Areas” and the ZOA makes no distinction among them.  That’s a potential half billion gross square feet (GSF) of new development and redevelopment added to the County’s current roughly one billion GSF of total existing development of all kinds.  And the “Selective Areas” cover only about five percent of the county’s total 400 square mile area.   If you are interested to learn about this proposed ZOA, there are opportunities for you to hear more and provide your comments as early as this Wednesday, January 13th.

Here is the key language in the draft ZOA calling for FAR 5.0:

Amend Sect. 6-208, Bulk Regulations, by revising Par. 3 and adding a new Par. 4 to read as follows:
3. Maximum floor area ratio:  2.5.  However, the Board may approve an increase up to 5.0 (emphasis added) only when, in the discretion of the Board, the proposed development is implementing the site specific density/intensity and other recommendations in the adopted comprehensive plan for developments located in a Commercial Revitalization District, Community Business Center, Commercial Revitalization Area and/or Transit Station Area. (Advertised range for maximum FAR is 2.5 to 5.5 for areas within the Selective Areas)

While the draft language proposes to limit such approved density to the limits “in the adopted comprehensive plan,” experience has shown that this kind of seeming constraint has frequently been ignored in specific applications, for example, through such seemingly routine legal maneuvers as a “density swaps.”  The Comprehensive Plan—a legislated guide to development, not a legal constraint—is routinely ignored when it comes to fulfilling its own quality of life standards.  In short, this ZOA opens the door for very high-density development that substantially exceeds the major increases that the Board has already approved in the County’s Comprehensive Plan for these “Selective Areas,” including Reston.

So what does FAR 5.0 look like?  To start with, no existing buildings or areas with that density exist in the County, although some such buildings will soon be coming to Tysons.  The most densely planned structure in Reston now is the Akridge office building, the 23-story office building approved at a FAR of 4.06 to replace the current Town Center Office Building, including five levels of parking and first-floor retail (see photo). 

Rendering of approved Akridge office building at FAR 4.06
Also, Boston Properties has developed a conceptual plan for its property near the north side of the Reston Town Center station (see photo).  The plan calls for a FAR 4 density, probably with a FAR 0.5 bonus density, when it is built.  The entire area in that image is also planned for FAR 4 development under the Reston Master Plan precisely because it is located so close to the Metro station.

Boston Properties concept for development near the RTC Metro station.

The most densely developed TSA in Virginia is the core area around the Rosslyn Metro station.  Overall, that core station area has a density of FAR 3.6 (see photo).  Its two tallest buildings, twin 390’ 31-story structures—one office, one residential—directly above the station, are FAR 10. 

The Rosslyn Metro station core area is the densest station area in Virginia.
The County argues that this ZOA is necessary as an implementation tool to make allowable the development that has been included in recent area Comprehensive Plan changes, such as the Reston Master Plan.  In fact, no areas outside Tysons have any plan proposing developing buildings or areas to FAR 5.0, and Tysons has the necessary zoning authority to do so.  In fact, the background section of the ZOA proposal acknowledges this:

“Staff’s recommendation for 5.0 FAR is specifically based on the increased intensity levels that have been adopted for certain geographic areas within the Selective Areas.  Staff also believes the 5.0 maximum FAR recommendation will accommodate the current development intensity scenarios envisioned by existing comprehensive plan recommendations, but will also accommodate any future comprehensive plan changes that would specify up to a 5.0 FAR for a specific geographic area.  For example, certain areas of the Reston TSAs are currently planned for up to 3.5 FAR (note: Wiehle station area), allowing up to 4.5 FAR (note: Reston Town Center station) if certain features are included with the application.  At this time, there is no zoning district available to achieve a 4.5 FAR (outside of the Tysons PTC District.)”  

So the County proposal is explicitly trying to address a problem that doesn’t exist and almost certainly won’t for at least a decade or more even under the most enthusiastic of County growth scenarios.   Right now, office vacancies are running above 17% and the housing market has been stagnant for at least two years with a small average price decrease in the last year, according to the Economic Development Authority and the County’s Economic Indicators.  
Nonetheless, the foreseeable consequences of FAR 5.0 development are huge, and many consequences are not foreseeable so far in the future. 

Certainly one of the most obvious impacts of increased density would be greater traffic congestion.  In the case of Reston’s planning task force, the County’s transportation staff examined the traffic impact using a forecast generated by MWCOG (Round 8.0), the regional inter-governmental planning group.   It foresees Reston Town Center densities of FAR 3.0-4.0 north of the Dulles Toll Road (DTR) and FAR 1.5-3.0 south of the DTR in 2030.  Nowhere does that forecast suggest that FAR 5.0 densities would be approached in Reston.  The study showed that half of the 16 intersections along the DTR crossings in Reston would have a failing Level of Service (LOS) grades of “F,” including four of the six along Reston Parkway, in the evening peak rush period (see graphic).  

 An “F” grade means the intersection is “Oversaturated; Vehicles wait through multiple signal cycles.”  More concretely, it means at least an 80-second delay at each intersection, and, in the case of Reston intersections crossing the DTR, waits of 3-4 minutes at multiple intersections on the same street.  While not an expert on how traffic increases with density increases, it’s reasonable to expect that such delays would easily double if a FAR 5.0 were allowed in Reston Town Center—with similar consequences in the other “Selective Areas.”

Meeting current County standards for schools and parks would also be virtually impossible with a FAR 5.0 in Reston’s 2-1/2 TSAs (half of Herndon-Monroe TSA being in Herndon) with the County’s coffers as empty as they are expected to be.  To meet that development level, Fairfax County Public Schools would have to build 3-5 elementary schools, one intermediate school, and a high school—presumably some of which would be located in the TSAs—to serve the expected 25,000-39,000 students (part of the 59,000-93,000 residents in these FAR 5.0 TSAs).  The County Park Authority would also have to provide 100-150 acres of parks and dozens of athletics fields to meet the needs of the residents and workers in these areas to meet park goals in the Comprehensive Plan (see Appendices 2 & 3).

The Park Authority has abandoned any pretense of meeting the Comprehensive Plan’s Urban Park Framework park acreage goals or the Park Facility Service Level Standards for Reston’s TSAs even in the current Reston Master Plan.   And the single new elementary school proposed in the current Reston plan is proposed to be located less than ¼ mile from an existing one (Dogwood) south of the DTR and more than a mile from where it will be needed north of the Wiehle Metro station. 

In short, experience shows the ZOA would create more quality of life of problems across the County than the County could or would address.  So why should Reston residents expect the Board of Supervisors would try to meet its own legislated community service standards for Reston or any other “Selective Area” under a zoning ordinance offering developers the opportunity for an even more profitable density of FAR 5.0 and the County greater potential property tax revenues?  The record so far has been one of consistent County failure to meet its quality of life standards for our communities in redevelopment, including Reston.

That said, Restonians and other County residents will have a chance to listen to more about this proposed ZOA as well as ask questions at two meetings within the next two weeks.

The first meeting is sponsored by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations (FCFCA).  It is holding a workshop on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, at 7:30PM to 9:30PM at the Providence Community Center, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031.  After an opening introduction providing context to the proposal, a panel of citizens will discuss the impact on their communities followed by an open forum in which people may ask questions, offer suggestions, etc. 

The second meeting is the official Fairfax County “public input” session at 7:30PM, Wednesday, January 20, 2016.  The meeting will be held at the Board Auditorium in the Fairfax County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, Virginia.  This is not a public hearing.  It is an informal input session.

I strongly recommend that you attend one or both of these meetings to learn more about this important planning and development issue.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Privacy of Your Voting Data . . . or Not

Last week, the New York Times had an article, "Millions of Voter Records Posted, and Some Fear Hacker Field Day," highlighting the theft and publishing of 191,000,000 (that's "million") individual voter records from across the country.  The article highlights some of the same concerns expressed by Restonians reflected in the RA Board's vote to prevent the release of recent voter data to a Reston requester.  

Here's what it says about the theft and publication: 
 First and last names. Recent addresses and phone numbers. Party affiliation. Voting history and demographics.
A database of this information from 191 million voter records was posted online over the last week, the latest example of voter data becoming freely available, alarming privacy experts who say the information can be used for phishing attacks, identity theft and extortion. The information is no longer publicly accessible.
It is not known who built the database, where all the data came from, and whether its disclosure resulted from an inadvertent release or from hacks. The disclosure was discovered by an information technology specialist, Chris Vickery, and the findings were published on . . .
The article goes on to highlight that almost all the data is freely available under law: 
Indeed, nearly all of the data that was released was already publicly available. But having it compiled in one place makes it particularly valuable.
As a result of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, state governments are each required to maintain a single, “interactive computerized” voter registration list with “name and registration information.” It leaves what that “registration information” consists of to the discretion of the states. But as big data increasingly plays a large role in politics and business, the presence of the publicly available information raises questions of privacy and security. . . .

So the intent of the law is to make it easier to encourage people to vote in national elections, an intent that could be abused by misuse of the available data based on some further analysis that voters (or voters of a particular stripe) are more or less inclined to buy something.  Whether it is particularly useful for cyber-criminal activities is actually less evident.

The article also highlights how important the availability of this data is to campaigns. 
Access to data is, of course, a necessity for modern campaigns. Voter databases vary from state to state — there is no federal agency overseeing voter data or registration — making it a messy field to navigate. It is this discombobulated system that makes companies like NationBuilder and NGP VAN, a software company that manages such data for Democrats, invaluable to campaigns.
"From our perspective, it is extremely important for campaigns to be able to know who can vote for them, and be able to do legitimate outreach and engagement,” said Jim Gilliam, the founder and chief executive of NationBuilder. “That’s the point of the democratic process: that you can talk to voters.”
But even without the streamlined databases of NationBuilder, such voter data is publicly available on a state-by-state basis.
So every state, even Virginia, makes this information available to the public and some states have a few protections to prevent its misuse.  As the article highlights: 
For example, in Pennsylvania, it costs $20 to download the whole voter file — which includes names, addresses, birth dates, gender and party — in a spreadsheet format. North Carolina offers free access to an online database of voters. Wisconsin makes its voter file available online, with privacy restrictions that leave out such information as dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and it charges $25, and $5 per 1,000 voter records.
Each state also has a varying set of rules and verification requirements to try to ensure the data is used solely for a political purpose. Anyone can search North Carolina’s free online voter database, for example, but in New Hampshire, people have to verify they are with a political party or committee before purchasing the voter file from the secretary of state. Many states and jurisdictions, from Alaska to the District of Columbia to Florida, allow for “unrestricted” use of the data, according to a database kept by NationBuilder.
In Virginia, in particular, the Fairfax County Office of Elections reports that the following information may be made available upon request “at a reasonable cost.”   Among the categories of people who may obtain this information are “Members of the public seeking to promote voter participation and registration by means of a communication or mailing without intimidation or pressure exerted on the recipient.”  This is very much what Mr. Flashman has said he is trying to accomplish in his request to RA.   
In contrast, a qualified person asking for official county, state, or federal election information could ask for and receive the following under Virginia law, among other categories of information:
  • List of Those Who Voted (LTWV) – a list of those persons who voted in a primary, special or general election in a specified jurisdiction, legislative, election district or statewide.”  
  • Vote History List (VHL) – a list of those persons who voted in a primary, special or general election in a specified jurisdiction, legislative, election district or statewide over a four year time period.” 
In both cases, the requester would receive, “(the) full name, residence address, mailing address, gender, date of birth, registration date, date last registration form received, registration status, locality, precinct, voting districts, voter identification number, election date, election type, and whether the voter voted in-person or absentee.”  In response to the vote history list, the requester’s response would additionally be organized chronologically by election.

Mr. Flashman’s request for the addresses of RA members who voted in the Tetra referendum seeks much less information by far than the state allows for similar voting record requests as this table shows:

Data type                                    Virginia                              Reston Assn.
 Name                                               Yes                                        No
 Residential Address                        Yes                                      Yes
 Mailing Address                               Yes                                         No
Gender                                              Yes                                         No
Date of Birth                                      Yes                                         No
Registration Date                              Yes                                         No
Date Registration Received              Yes                                         No
Registration Status                           Yes                                         No
Locality                                              Yes                                         No
Precinct                                             Yes                                         No
Voting District                                    Yes                                         No
Voter Identification No.                      Yes                                         No
Election Date                                     Yes                                     Known
Election Type                                     Yes                                     Known
In-person/Absentee Vote                    Yes                                         No

This brief comparison suggests that Mr. Flashman's request is exceptionally modest in terms of gaining access to the addresses of those who voted in the Tetra referendum.  There is no apparent reason why it should be denied unless that data is expressly deniable by the Virginia POAA.  To the contrary, it appears that the Virginia POAA requires that it be released as RA determined a year ago.   Indeed, Mr. Flashman has appealed to the Virginia state ombudsman for a legal determination of his right to access the data he has requested from RA. 

If the RA denial stands, Mr. Flashman could easily turn to county officials and request the much more complete voter data compiled by the County on all voters in Reston--most likely by its ZIP codes—under Virginia state law.  Moreover, it would result in acquiring data on at least hundreds of people who did not vote in the RA referendum and a number of people who aren't even members of RA (such as those in Town Center).  

It seems clear to us that RA should--on both legal and ethical grounds--provide Mr. Flashman the data he requested.  Not to provide this limited information undercuts the very goal RA tries to encourage:  That all dues paying RA members should vote in RA Board and other elections and referenda.  If the candidates or groups that wish to participate in such elections don't have that data, they will almost certainly be less able to effectively present their positions and priorities to likely Reston voters.  In turn and as a result of their limited access to candidates or issues, likely RA voters may be less inclined to participate in an RA election or referendum.