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RELAC Stays as Referendum Fails to Get Needed Votes

by Karen Goff February 10, 2015 at 9:00 am 53 Comments

Lake Anne PlazaThe RELAC air-conditioning system will stay in place for 343 Lake Anne-area homes after a resident referendum to remove the deed ordering it failed to pass.

The referendum needed a two-thirds majority of voters to remove the Reston deed item mandating the lake water-cooled system in the homes.

The final tally was 156 votes for no revocation and 118 votes to remove the deed item, Reston Association Board President Ken Knueven said at a special board meeting on Monday. Nearly 80 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, he added.

A similar referendum also failed in 2008.

The homeowners in Coleson, Waterview, Wainwright, Washington Plaza, Hickory and Governour’s Square clusters are bound by the Reston deed to use the system. RELAC was touted as revolutionary in the mid-1960s, but has been met with frustration at its inefficiency by many users in recent years.

Some users have complained it is expensive, mold producing and cannot cool the top floors of some of the townhomes. Several homeowners have used a medical exemption to allowed to install, at their own expense, an additional air conditioning system.

Last summer, more than 100 homeowners signed a petition asking RA for the referendum.

John Hunter, who lives in Washington Plaza Cluster, was one of the leaders in the quest to get the referendum.

“We are not giving up,” he told the board on Monday. He also asked for information on how each cluster voted.

“This could be helpful to RELAC,” he said of the company that operates the system, adding the company is sometimes unaware of the issues.

Robert Gerstein of Wainwright Cluster resident said he does not like the concept of revisiting the RELAC issue.

“The folks were very, very diligent about getting the referendum done,” he said. “What [Hunter] seemed to imply was they were going to again canvas each of the clusters an try to have another referendum. I hope you folks consider this is an intrusion on all of us. Let’s get this over with.”

The board heard repeatedly from both sides at meetings over the last several months. Some in favor of RELAC called it an “aesthetic catastrophe” to change the system. They also praised RELAC for being very quiet and were also concerned that rates would rise among remaining customers.

Rising rates were also a concern of RELAC opponents, who said their rates had skyrocketed in recent years. Opponents also said they wanted a choice, and also pointed out that new HVAC units were much quieter than they were in the mid-1960s, when RELAC was first developed.

Homeowners who have been granted the medical exemption have said they have spent $4,000-6,000 on new HVAC systems — which must be disconnected when they sell the home.

  • mlbjunkee

    Very disappointing, but this is not the end of the fight. RELAC’s days are numbered no matter what this vote decided.

    • Happy with result

      What is that supposed to mean? This issue has been decided TWICE. If you really don’t like being bound by the restrictive covenants, move. It is simple.

      • mlbjunkee

        This issue has not been decided. RELAC doesn’t stop being a problem because of this vote. There are other cards that will be played to ensure that those of us who want off of RELAC have that choice. We should not have to move because we are locked into a poorly-functioning, expensive system. The VA SCC already dislikes RELAC and they are tired of dealing with it. The chips are stacked against….it’s just a matter of time and continued pushing.

        • Happy…

          Why did you purchase a home with the restrictive covenant?

          • mlbjunkee

            Because no one told me about it. The documentation is not real transparent about what you’re buying into and I assumed it worked fine. From what I hear from realtors though, people now know about RELAC and are intentionally steering away from homes that are bound to it, so I also get to watch my home value impacted by it. That’s OK, I’ve made it my mission to get us off of it. It may take some time, but I believe we will prevail.

          • Happy

            Sorry you didn’t do your due diligence. But that’s on you.

          • RELAC hostage

            STOP BLAMING US!

          • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

            Hostage & MLBjunkie….I have some ideas to share with you on this. RA is out of control. Over reaching and intrusive. Contact me if you want some help agitating.

          • RELAC Hostage

            Cool. Count me in 🙂

          • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

            Follow me on twitter @lc20190 and then we can direct message. I have a couple of good ideas. I

          • …not

            Nice twitter page!

          • guest

            FTB- how can you say RA is out of control?! They didn’t put the covenant in it was part of Simon’s grand plan or whoever designed the system. RA can’t selectively enforce the covenant.

          • Happy

            You bought your home with the restrictive covenant. If there was material misrepresentation about the condition of your cooling system that is another issue. Covenants are not forced on you. You agree to them when you purchase.

          • qwerty

            Exactly. I want to move to one of the communities currently on RELAC eventually, but not until this ridiculous covenant is lifted. Pretty sure as people age out of the neighborhood this will happen sooner or later.

          • RELAC hostage

            PLEASE continue to share you concerns about RELAC and NOT buying into Lake Anne. Maybe the anti-choicers will think twice. They are mainly retirement age and will eventually sell.

          • qwerty

            That’s my impression – lots of people who’ve been there forever and don’t want anything to change. I have a friend who was all set to buy in Hickory Cluster then in Waterview until she found out about RELAC. She actually broke a contract once she learned more about what RELAC entailed just because it is so unappealing to prospective buyers.

          • mlbjunkee

            There’s more than one way to skin a cat…I’m going to be organizing a boycott of RELAC by promoting other “allowable” solutions for AC and encouraging people to get the medical exemption, They can not force us to pay for RELAC. There are other options, and boycotting the system sends a strong message to RA and the VA SCC, as well as hitting RELAC’s bottom line. More to come…

          • Happy

            I’m raising my young family happily on my RELAC home. You will have to wait a long tome for me to age out.

          • qwerty

            Mazel tov. How do you rationalize denying those who are unsatisfied the simple right to choose an alternative?

          • happy

            There is a restrictive covenant I agreed to and the others who purchased their homes agreed to. Nobody is denying them a choice. Sell and move, that’s a choice.

          • qwerty

            Presumably you voted no, denying everyone bound by RELAC a choice, one that is much easier to act on (or not) than moving. Why vote that way, since nothing had to change for those of you who are ‘happy’ with RELAC. This is what I don’t understand.

          • mlbjunkee

            I agree with you. They had a choice to vote ‘Yes” and give others a choice and didn’t, so now we will pursue opportunities that could/should lead to the end of RELAC, thus eliminating the opportunity for Happy and others to make a choice. Touche’!

          • RELAC hostage

            That was our experience exactly. Our realtor and the homeowners did due diligence in informing us and giving us all the documentation. It is sold as this great geo-thermal system. Well that all sounds great. It is not and was not a transparent system. You don’t know what RELAC is until you live through one summer without AC and spend exorbitant amounts of money to stay lukewarm. Until you realize that the country club has a contract with RA or RELAC to suck millions of gallons of water off the lake to make its grass stays pretty … even though we are hot as hell and there is a drought.

      • RELAC hostage

        And where would I move to? Who is going to buy a house that has NO working AC system?

  • Dexter Scott

    Happily, residents can still hire loitering vibrants from the plaza to fan them with palm fronds.

    • qwerty

      I’m all in favor of vibrants, loitering and otherwise. They make the community so… well, so vibrant.

      • Dexter Scott

        Keep that in mind when they vibrantly attack you with a bottle.

        • RELAC Hostage

          On a hot summer night the wind blowing along with that bottle might be nice!!

  • RestonLyons

    If it doesn’t work for you, you do have a choice of selling and buying a place not tied to RELAC

    • mlbjunkee

      Except that it has lowered my property value. So, thanks anyway…

      • Happy

        How so? Its value was reflected in your purchase price. When you bought it it had the restrictive covenant attached, if you sell it will still have the covenant. The fact it has a covenant on it, does not reduce its value.

        • RELAC hostage

          Happy: see above. Do you live on Lake Anne? Do you use RELAC?

          • Happy

            Yes I do. My purchase price reflected the value of my home on the RELAC system. The houses that sell in my cluster (and they sell) reflect the value of being on the RELAC system.

          • RELAC HOSTAGE

            How do you know “houses that sell in my cluster reflect the value of being on the RELAC system” and not just a bucolic crunchy granola neighborhood? Glad YOU personally are so very happy with RELAC. Not everyone is, unfortunately.

          • hap

            The selling price of a home is based on the market. The price the market will bear reflects the totality of the circumstances, including RELAC and “bucolic crunchy granola neighborhood” (whatever that means). It is simple economics really.

    • RELAC hostage

      My house is valued at about $600K. Tell me who is going to spend $600K for a house without a working AC system that is owned and operated by a monopoly that has a 20% profit this year? Really? If you don’t live on Lake Anne and if you don’t use RELAC, please stop blaming us and keep your ill-informed comments to yourself.

      • Dexter Scott

        Maybe one of the plethora of people who bought expensive houses with RELAC in recent years could tell us why they did that. Or we could just look on Zillow and see that it is obviously untrue that people won’t pay $600K for a house that uses RELAC.

      • frank

        Well said, THANK YOU

  • Kristen

    If the system functions poorly RELAC should upgrade it so it works or let owners buy their own system. It’s unfair to tie them to a system that is old and underperforming, with the only option being to be on it or move. I am not tied to RELAC, but I feel for these owners.

  • RELAC hostage

    I would like Ken Kneuven recused from any further RA discussion on RELAC and implementation of new “laws” that will keep us from pursuing other AC options. He is a vocal supporter of RELAC and has posted multiple comments on the cluster website, most untrue and without merit. As a public citizen, yes he has that right. As an official of RA who has great influence in writing the RELAC laws: I believe this is called conflict of interest.

    • Dexter Scott

      Unless he is paid in some way by the RELAC corporation there is no conflict of interest.

      • RestonWeightWatcher

        Thank you Dexter– people have a lot to learn about conflicts. Knueven is allowed to be a vocal supporter– he still only gets one vote.

    • Happy

      There are no RELAC laws. There is a restrictive covenant that YOU agreed to when you purchased your RELAC cooled home.

    • AFreeman

      Of the houses in my cluster, a RELAC cluster, one block of 5 houses has three independent AC units.

      you can get around the covenant.

      its not hard.

    • Guest

      It actually was Lucinda Shannon who didn’t want to hold the referendum. Kneuven may have had personal opinions but I think he’s entitled to them- he had the same vote as all the other RELAC users had.

  • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

    Screw RA. Just go to any number of Doctors who will give you the medical exemption. Insomnia, menopause, anxiety, depression, mold allergies, and any number of other maladies should do the trick.

    • qwerty

      Sure, but what happens when it comes time to sell? I don’t think medical exemptions convey.

      • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

        Well, I’d just cross that bridge if and when I wanted to sell. RA inspects the properties when sold and would, I’m sure, list it as a violation. However, if the new buyer signs off knowing it is a violation and proceeds to closing, I don’t know how the Regime at RA would react. It happens often. For example,when RA lists an exterior light fixture as a violation, people just laugh at their pettiness and proceed to purchase the property. Imagine their reaction if they suddenly got 35 or 40 medical exemption applications? There are many doctors out there who will give you what you need for the ridiculous intrusion. Is Cate going to demand to see your medical records or question your exemption? I doubt it. Even for them, that would be over the top.

  • AFreeman

    If the country club wouldn’t drain the lake every summer the water would be proberly chilled. If the deed can be changed for RELAC requirement, cant the deed also be changed to deny the CC’s access?

    The club was public in the beginning, which justified the access. It aint public no more, so why should they have access?

    • mlbjunkee

      It’s actually not about the lake water. They can, and do, access water from other sources. The problem is that the system (at its best) is not designed to cool very much. Now that it’s dilapidated and the operators lack any engineering to understand how to properly run it, it will just get worse…and it was bad at the start.

    • RELAC Hostage

      I think this was investigated the last go ’round or the last drought or some one of the other very hot dry years when RELAC sucked. Hidden Creek has a contract with RA or RELAC of some sort that started way back when. If I recall, it would have been more difficult to alter that contract than … oh change the covenant to allow us a choice to get off RELAC.

      • hap

        The club has a superior property right to the water. It is not contractually based.

    • Dexter Scott

      Right then! Let’s build high-rises on the golf course, and this problem will go away. Win-win!

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