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RA Sustainability Chair Resigns Over Land Swap Issue

by Karen Goff November 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm 16 Comments

Diane Blust/File photoDiane Blust, chair of the Reston Sustainability Committee and a member of Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee, resigned her positions last night in the wake of the RA board’s decision to move forward with a land swap that would remove mature trees in order to build a parking garage at Lake Anne Plaza.

“There’s really no sense in continuing to try to work within a system that is so clearly out of touch with sustainable development,” she told Reston Now in an email.

Blust has been a committed environmental advisor to Reston, working for years to ensure best practices to keep Reston environmentally conscious.

The RA Board voted 6-2 Thursday night to enter into a non-binding letter of intent in which Republic Land Development would give RA a 1.1 acre parcel of land off Baron Cameron Avenue in exchange for a 0.7 acre wooded parcel adjacent to Lake Anne Plaza where Republic intends to build a 120-space public parking garage. Republic will also offer other concessions, such as money for tree care and replanting and trail improvements.

Blust said at the meeting that RA and the citizens “got here through bad management.”

“It is no secret that the environmental management was not brought into this deal until late,” she said.

While Republic was chosen by the county in August to redevelop Crescent Apartments and surrounding areas, the land swap deal was not made public until weeks later, she said.

“Alternatives were taken off table when someone agreed to put that garage on land owned by all RA member,” she told the board. “I ask  you to reject this land swap. It is in violation of RA policies on open space and natural areas. If approve it you will give up a  natural area for a drainage ditch on Baron Cameron. We’re gonna be responsible for maintenance of trees on that land. Reston will be negatively impacted by garage.”

  • Stuart Rakoff

    Sustainability clearly means more than simply trees – it needs to include all aspects of community, especially people. A vital reenergized Lake Anne is critical for Reston’s sustainability as a great place to live and work.

    • Diane Blust

      Stu – I could not agree more. In this case, we were given a very good plan in all respects except one. RA gave up much more than simply trees last night. Indeed, a big part of the problem was the rush to frame the discussion as one of trees vs. revitalization. It was never a simple tree hugger issue – if we had been talking only about a few trees, it would have been a no-brainer. Rather, the discussion was one of how to revitalize in a manner that preserves vital environmental services provided by even small ecosystems at a time when the environment on which we all depend for clean air, water, and wildlife habitat, just to mention a few things, is under stress and pressure from many sides. Had there been a real effort to find an alternative, I am confident one could have been found. I am so very pleased to see the many good aspects of this development, especially the affordable housing component. But, the precedent set last night is a bad one – I had hoped for a better outcome for all of us.

      • Fair and Balanced

        Glad to see Diane didn’t resign her seat here!!

    • John Lovaas

      Stu,
      And I thought I was the one who had been away for part of the great land swap crisis. I was only across an Ocean for a week. You must have been on an interplanetary voyage, perhaps in another galaxy?
      Diane and others who opposed the specific land swap “deal” have supported and continue to support the LADP Redevelopment proposal for Lake Anne. It is the path to the future we have been waiting for. But, the land swap deal made in secret by RA leadership in May and kept secret through mid-October posed a new question once revealed. Why would RA give away a high quality wooded lot for a parking lot when there appear to be to many observers (including engineers, architects) suitable alternatives already owned by the benefitting Condo Association and right next to the Plaza? Especially since to do so would be to violate RA’s own policies with respect to protected wooded plots and violate prohibitions on visible parking contained in the new County Comprehensive Plan for Lake Anne–the latter specifies that only underground parking or parking wrapped in other structures is permitted.
      And, why on earth would they hide it from most RA staff, their advisory committee, and some Board members in addition to the entire community.
      Deals done with such secrecy usually are handled that way for a reason.
      If RA had performed basic due diligence as steward of Reston’s natural resources during the five months it held the tentative agreement in secret, this phony crisis might have been averted altogether.
      Lots more happened while you were in space. Be glad to fill you in at your convenience, good Sir.

      • Laura Ramon

        I’d love to hear some actual facts about this purported secret- you can’t just say crap and not offer any actual evidence to support it- that would be just like lying- Oh- wait I think it is lying.

        • NotaGG3

          “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

    • Billy Smith

      How correct you are Mr. Rakoff!

  • BBurns

    How many on the current RA board are interested and concerned about the natural environment? How many on the board or in upper RA management consult RA’s environmental experts, whether paid or unpaid staff (aka volunteers) before making key decisions that cannot be reversed?

    When did disinterest and ignoring key Reston concepts and polities become the mantras of those in charge?

    And how sad for Reston that Diane Blust has resigned. A big loss for Reston. And thank you to the two board members who get it.

  • johnson

    Extremely sad. Greed is the reason for the secrecy. ignoring key Reston concepts and policies does seem to be epidemic these days. the idiots are prevailing…somehow. i don’t know how.

  • NotaGG3

    Few people are as well-informed or knowledgeable about Reston’s sustainability issues as Ms. Blust. RA, and Reston’s citizens, are the poorer for her loss. A person of good conscience cannot stay in an organization that refuses to listen to best practices advice.

  • Sean

    I admire her conviction, though it is regrettable. Diane could have continued to be a voice of conscience to the board.

    In addition to the loss of a wooded parcel, the big loss is the opportunity for RA to get fair maker value for the land. The “deal” is a raw one for RA.

  • Michael Sanio

    Diane Blust is a community champion, I am very disappointed in her resignation as the Chair of RA’s Sustainability Working Group and a very active member of RA’s EAC.

    As Stu R says “Sustainability clearly means more than simply trees – it needs to include all aspects of community, especially people.”

    Sustainability is meeting and exceeding community needs, generating long term economic benefits to all and, restoring and enhancing the natural environment.

    The Lake Anne Redevelopment project is excellent. I’m certain that the developer – Republic and RA can work together to bring the much needed revitalization to Lake Anne AND provide needed parking AND protect the natural areas.

    It’s not development OR the natural environment.

    It’s economic revitalization AND protection of the natural environment AND meeting and exceeding community needs.

    We can have it all. We need to decide that’s what we want.

    Reston is the best, it deserves the best!

  • NotaGG3

    We must preserve as much tree canopy as possible. Some was lost during the derecho, but most has been through deliberate human action. Ask the neighbors in South Lakes who live next door to a covenant violator who cut down 40 trees in a wooded yard. The neighboring front yard becomes a ditch during unusual rainfall (which we often have these days). Thursday was a very sad night for Reston.

  • Billy Smith

    I find Ms. Blust’s comments interesting and unbelievably
    arrogant. It appears that RA Board worked for compromise solutions and by in
    large achieved them; but in Ms. Blust’s world anything more than zero tree loss
    was a failure. That’s not smart growth, that’s no growth; how exactly is that supposed
    to work?

    • NotaGG3

      Latest reports show that the mangrove forests on some barrier islands protected the town of General McArthur in the Philippines from the devastation experienced by nearby areas that did not preserve their trees. There is a lesson in this for the rest of us.

    • Diane Blust

      Mr. Smith,

      Thanks for your comment. Let me clarify: we are not talking about the loss of a few trees here. We’re talking about the loss of trees on 70% of an acre of mature upland forest which is increasingly rare in Reston. (Independent arborists question if the remaining trees will survive long.) The trees provide habitat for birds and insects that are necessary to human survival… They also capture stormwater, remove carbon from the atmosphere and provide other environmental services to our community. Smart growth preserves as many natural areas as possible by utilizing mixed-used, compact development. I continue to question why a developer with the reputation for excellence enjoyed by developer selected to revitalize Lake Anne could not come up with a solution to save this small ecosystem AND provide the needed parking. Obviously, we cannot preserve all trees all the time – but to lose this stand of valuable trees when we are losing a considerable amount of canopy around Lake Anne is not acceptable.

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