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Op-Ed: It’s Time to Revoke Covenant 15

by RestonNow.com — January 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm 16 Comments

Hickory ClusterThis is an Op-Ed by Hickory Cluster resident Blake Travis. Something on your mind? Share your thoughts by sending a letter to [email protected]. Reston Now reserves the right to edit submissions.

In the next few days, 343 homeowners in Reston will receive a ballot to vote on whether to revoke Covenant 15 (Section VI.2(b)(15)) of the Reston Association Deed, which states that:

 In any residential Cluster in which central air-conditioning service is available to the Lot line, no individual air-conditioning units of any type shall be permitted. This covenant may only be amended or revoked by at least a two-thirds vote of the Category A Members of all residential Clusters on the service.

This covenant prevents homeowners in several Reston clusters from installing an individual air conditioning unit (unless they have a medical exemption) to cool their home. Instead, they are bound to the nearly 50-year old air-conditioning system operated by Reston RELAC (Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning Corporation).

This system has had many well-publicized problems over the years and regularly increased rates, leading to growing base of dissatisfied customers who would prefer to have other options for cooling their homes.

There are a number of arguments that have been presented for why Covenant 15 should remain in the RA Deed. Two of the leading arguments I’ve heard are that Reston RELAC will have to raise rates if they lose customers (something RELAC claimed in a recent letter to customers) and that individual air conditioning units are loud and unsightly and will detract from our community. I do not believe these arguments carry much weight, for a number of reasons.

First, Reston RELAC can not raise rates on its customers without the permission of the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC), although they can be lowered at any time. Second, Reston RELAC would have to demonstrate to the SCC why their financial survival depends on raising rates. In its 2013 report to the SCC, RLEAC reported a net income (profit) of $155,560 on a gross revenue of $541,184 — a net profit of margin of 28.7 percent.

This is far higher than the cross-industry average of 8-9 percent, as well as the averages for high-profit sectors like banking, oil and gas, and computer software. In short, it would be difficult for them to validate raising rates because they lost a portion of their customer base, especially if some of it was attributable to their poor performance.

Lastly, Reston RELAC has a monopoly and no real financial incentive to lower rates or improve service. Simple economic theory would prescribe that they would need to price more competitively and deliver better service in order to compete against other home cooling alternatives.

Some Reston RELAC supporters have said that individual air conditioning units would create noise and would be visually unappealing in our communities, therefore Covenant 15 should remain in place to protect the appeal of our neighborhoods. Many of these supporters refer to air conditioning units that they experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, which were loud and inefficient. However, today’s modern air conditioning units are extremely quiet (many operate at less than 66 db), are extremely energy efficient and have a small footprint. They could be easily hidden on a patio and difficult to hear over street traffic, flight traffic, natural sounds or from a short distance.

Considering noise from fans, dehumidifiers and in-room air conditioners that Reston RELAC recommends as supplements to their system, an individual air conditioning unit could possibly be even more quiet.

While Reston RELAC has had its faults and there are many who are happy with their service, this vote is not about whether or not Reston RELAC continues. This vote is about the ability for these homeowners to have a choice in the service they use to cool their homes — just like every other homeowner in Reston. A vote of ‘Yes” is a vote for choice.

Photo: Hickory Cluster homes/file photo

  • John Hunter

    Another thing for folks to realize…if you have a medical exemption to get off, and the referendum does not pass, then when you go to sell your home you will have to have RELAC reinstalled or do like some folks are doing and just sell the house with no AC if the buyers want to try the Medical exemption route.

  • Adam Petersen

    Since most homes on RELAC have flat roofs the AC unit can be installed on the roof. The unit will not be seen or heard.

    Even if your choice would be RELAC please allow your friends, neighbors, and fellow Restonians the ability to have their choice. It would be selfish and inconsiderate to not allow others the freedom to choose cause you like RELAC.

    • AB

      You forget that by allowing you the choice, I lose my choice to live in a quiet neighborhood, which is what I chose when I purchased. You had the choice before you purchased. I received documentation about the system (as did everyone else) before the purchase of the home. I chose this and now it’s possibly being taken away.

      P.S. I don’t have a flat roof.

      • mlbjunkee

        You’re under the assumption that AC units are noisy. They are extremely quiet and will be hard to hear over other urban noise. If you really want complete peace and quiet, it is probably not a good idea to live in a high-density urban community.

        • AB

          I’m not under any assumption. As noted above, I have recently experienced it in Reston at North Point. One of the reasons I CHOSE to move to the Lake Anne area are because of the RELAC. As noted above, I assumed you received documentation referencing RELAC before you chose to purchase. So, you DID have a choice.

          • Dennis McDermitt

            Yes, AB, and the Reston Deed also gives people subject to the air conditioning covenant the CHOICE to hold a referendum that revokes the covenant. Did you miss that part when you received the documentation?

          • mlbjunkee

            I doubt they are that loud, but most of the AC units in North Point are upwards of 20 years old. The new modern ones that everyone will install are super quiet, so noise shouldn’t even be a point of discussion.

      • Adam Petersen

        My entire life except the last two years I have lived in neighborhoods with exterior AC units and never was bothered by the noise. How is it that the vast majority of the US Population lives in neighborhoods with exterior AC units? I go on long walks daily and go through many neighborhoods with exterior units and never hear them. Honestly when was the last time you heard a loud AC unit? The new units are are so quiet now. You currently live with cooling units with compressors INSIDE your house. Does the compressor on your refrigerator bother you when it is cooling your refrigerator? When was the last time you thought gee that refrigerator is loud I sure wish there was RELAC for refrigerators?

        Rules, guidelines, laws, and bylaws are changed all the time because there is a reason and a time for change. It is time for change. Stop holding on to old ideas. Is your only argument that the documentation says what we have to do so we must follow it, or because you think that new AC units MIGHT be loud? Yes I did receive the same documents but those documents did not inform me of all the negative aspects. It’s an old outdated system that makes peoples lives uncomfortable and it can easily be fixed by voting yes. So are you saying that all these people should continue to suffer higher expenses, uncomfortable living conditions, and potential sickness from mold so you might not hear an AC unit kick on. I guarantee that the road noise from the surrounding roads is louder than modern AC units. Please be considerate and allow people the ability to choose.

        • AB

          Imagine you moved to Reston because you appreciate their
          view on keeping trees. You appreciated the coverage, the nature, the shade, the
          wildlife, etc. You moved here because it was unique compared to surrounding
          neighborhoods (Ashburn, Sterling) that just cut down all of the trees. Now
          imagine that a small group decided they no longer wanted the shade… they
          wanted sun so they petitioned to have that wording removed from the covenant.
          Then they started cutting down their trees, your neighbors and you were also
          then forced to cut down your trees. How would that be? I guess I’m trying to
          say that if you wanted to live in a treeless neighborhood, why didn’t you
          purchase a home in a treeless neighborhood?

          As it is now, I can hear people whispering outside as well as the footsteps of people who have no business being in my or my neighbor’s backyard. Things I would never have heard at North Point when the units were running.

          • Dennis McDermitt

            The Reston Deed gives people who are subject to this covenant the right to bring it to a referendum. The “small group” you refer to is approximately one-third of the group subject to the covenant. People should be able to cool their homes effectively without paying 8-10 times the cost of an individual A/C unit.

        • AB

          Why is your choice more important than mine especially since you knew
          about this in the covenant if you read the documents you were given?
          Technically, you had the choice before your purchased, as did I. One of
          the reasons I did purchase where I did was because of RELAC.
          There are plenty of places for you to live with A/C units outside but I
          don’t have many options.

          I am telling you .. they ARE noisy.
          Maybe you have just become accustomed to the noise? Maybe you don’t
          open your windows? I lived at North Point and would hear them going on
          and off ALL day and night. The buildings were redone in the early 2000s
          so the units can’t be that old and I was on the top floor away from
          units. It drove me crazy. Now, after making a conscious decision to be
          in a quiet neighborhood just over a year ago, I’m facing the possibility
          of the noise again. I’m also facing the possibility of incurring huge
          costs to install one myself if RELAC goes under. Sitting out back with
          friends and family won’t be the same.

      • cosmic93

        Funny, I live in a VERY quiet neighborhood of townhomes with no RELAC. Everyone has an outdoor unit and we can’t hear a thing from them. Your argument is therefore invalid.

    • Waterview Cluster resident

      Are there covenants that allow or dis-allow roof units? That’s an interesting option that we had not considered.

    • Vote NO

      Coleson cluster and Hickory Cluster are flat roofs. The rest of RELAC neighborhoods are regular roofs.

  • Waterview Cluster resident

    Thank you for your thoughtful, objective, factual editorial. An abundance of inaccurate and emotion-based information has been spread regarding RELAC and Covenant 15. We are RELAC users and plan to vote yes to choice.

  • Vote NO

    The vote is rigged to pass. RA requires a quorum of 30% of eligible homeowners and of that 30%, 66% is required to pass. By my rough calculations, that means roughly 70 households will decide for the rest of us 340.

    Individual units are noisy, certainly noisier than RELAC. Aggregate units all over the neighborhood and it does get louder.

    Will RA and our clusters allow us to put our new units on roofs or in front of our homes? I doubt it, so our small back yards will be dominated by compressors. And once enough people go off of RELAC, it will kill the system and everyone will have to shell out $5-10K for units and retrofitting.

    Voting NO, even though the free from 15 cabal has it sewn up anyhow.

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