Reston, VA

Colin Mills/File photoAfter three years as President of the Reston Citizens Association, having written weekly about community issues for Reston Patch and Reston Now since August 2011, this is my final column.

RCA is in the process of counting and verifying the results from our recent election. When the Board sits down to meet next Monday, someone else will be sworn in as president, and my three years in charge will officially come to an end.

Now that I’ve reached the end of the road with RCA, I have mixed emotions. On some level, I’m sorry to be stepping down; it’s still a very exciting time in Reston, between the Silver Line’s (finally scheduled) opening, the further revisions to the Master Plan, the question of how we’ll meet our community’s transportation, recreational, and environmental needs as we redevelop and grow in the future. I feel that RCA will have a key role to play in those community conversations, and I’m sorry I won’t be there to guide the organization on those issues.

On the other hand, I also feel more than a little relieved.  The schedule of meetings, emails, and other ancillary duties is tough on someone with a family.  I’m really excited about getting to spend more time with my wonderful wife Jennifer and my amazing daughter, Leslie.  And I also look forward to having the chance to tackle something new.  I’m the kind of guy who likes to look ahead to the next challenge, the next hill to climb, and now I’ll have a chance to do just that.

I’m proud of all that RCA has accomplished in the last 3 years under my leadership.  When I took over as president, I wanted RCA to have a much stronger voice on Reston’s political and social issues.  We succeeded.  In the last three years, RCA has informed and advocated for our citizens on a wide variety of issues, from the funding of the Silver Line to the rewriting of our Master Plan to the funding and administration of County libraries to the re-planning of Baron Cameron Park.  Our Reston 2020 Committee has become a widely-recognized authority on planning, development, and transportation issues.  We held forums, wrote articles, performed analysis, and spoke up in hearings on behalf of Restonians.

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Colin Mills/File photoLast night, I attended one of my favorite meetings. I got together with RCA Vice President John Hanley, RA President Ken Knueven and CEO Cate Fulkerson, and ARCH President Jerry Volloy. We had a couple drinks and talked about the hot issues in Reston, what we’re each working on, and how we can help each other out.  We laughed a lot and teased each other a fair bit, but we left feeling like we understood each other and the community a little better.

This is the Gang of 5. We’ve been gathering, in various configurations and at various times, for the last two years. Meeting with the Gang has been one of the highlights of my RCA presidency, and I believe it’s been a great benefit to our organizations and to Reston as a whole.

Our meetings are very informal. There’s no agenda, no one takes minutes, and Robert’s Rules of Order definitely don’t apply. It’s a chance for us to let our hair down, say what’s on our minds, smooth out any bumps in the road, and find ways to better serve our constituents.

One of my goals when I became RCA president three years ago was to strengthen our relationship with other Reston organizations. We’re all serving the community and we share many of the same broad objectives; why shouldn’t we work together more? If we don’t, we risk duplicating efforts or, worse, fighting where we could collaborate. We may not agree on everything, but I suspected we might agree on a lot if we sat down and talked things out.

This wasn’t the first effort to bring Reston organizations together. About 10 years ago, the leaders of many Reston groups formed the Coalition of Reston Organizational Leadership (COROL), to share information about what everyone was working on.  But that effort faded quickly, and since then, our organizations had largely been stuck in their silos. Too often, we didn’t talk to each other, we didn’t really trust each other, and we spent too much time guarding our own turf instead of looking for ways to help each other.

The “Gang of 5” concept was John Hanley’s idea. John is a great raconteur, and he believes that big things can happen in casual meetings. So he proposed a get-together with Jerry, Ken, and then-RA VP Andy Sigle.  Happily, they were all on board.  We met at the now-closed Greenberry’s Coffee, and spoke about our organizations, our projects, and our goals for the community. The relationship bloomed from there. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoWith the RCA election in full swing (vote now!) and my time as President winding down, I’ve been trying to fill you in on what we’re doing before I depart. It occurs to me that I haven’t talked about the Reston Accessibility Committee lately. 

Happily, Ken Fredgren and his committee are still working hard to make Reston’s commercial buildings and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. This week, I’ll bring you up to date on some of their most recent projects.

When I last discussed RAC’s work, I shared the success of a major effort by Ken and other advocates to make Virginia’s building codes friendlier for people with disabilities. This was a major, multi-year effort, and I’m thrilled that it came to fruition. But I know the completion of that effort was also something of a relief for RAC’s chair. He no longer needs to travel back and forth to Richmond, and he’s able to focus his efforts back home in Reston.  That renewed focus is reaping significant benefits for the community.

Because most RAC projects deal with outdoor facilities (parking lots, sidewalks, and the like), construction tends to take place in the warmer months. This can make winter a somewhat frustrating time for RAC, as progress slows down considerably. The bright side is that come springtime, there’s often a surge as several projects move forward almost simultaneously. I will report on three projects in this installment, but there’s more good work in progress.

Two of RAC’s recent successes are actually updates on long-standing projects. One of them, Hunters Woods Village Center, is actually up for a third go-round. In 2009, RAC worked with the then-owners to add accessible parking spaces and access aisles, curb cuts, and crosswalks. When Edens & Avant purchased the center in 2012 and planned to redesign the parking lot, RAC engaged them to ensure that the existing improvements would be preserved. Not only were the improvements retained, but the accessible spaces were moved closer to the buildings, making them even more convenient. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoIt’s election season again! No, I’m not talking about the seemingly endless parade of Congressional and gubernatorial primaries. I’m talking about the RCA elections.

The RCA elections open on Saturday, and I’m once again encouraging you all to take a few minutes to cast your vote. You can help determine who will be standing up for Reston’s citizens on issues from the future of our libraries to the revisions to our Master Plan to ensuring that the Silver Line is built in a way that doesn’t overburden Toll Road users.

This is a particularly important year to cast your vote. As I’ve noted before, I’m stepping down as president, and longtime Board members Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers are retiring to focus on planning and transportation issues. RCA will have a new president and a number of new Board members (including the three new Board members we added in February). There’s new blood and the possibility of a new direction for RCA; casting your vote will give you a voice in shaping that new direction.

For the third year in a row, we’re holding our voting online to make it as easy as possible to cast your vote.  You can vote from the comfort of your home or office, or at the Starbucks, whenever it’s convenient for you: on your lunch hour, in the morning before work, or in the middle of the night.

We’ve made an additional change this year to make it easier for you to vote. For as long as I’ve been on the Board, the RCA has held its elections in July. This is because we used to hold the vote at the Reston Festival.  Now that the Festival is defunct and we’ve gone to online voting, we realize that July is a tough time for people to vote: a lot of folks are on vacation, and those that aren’t might not be paying close attention to community issues in the dead of summer. By moving the elections back to June, before school lets out and before vacations start, we’re hoping to see a jump in turnout.

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Colin Mills/File photoA couple of weeks ago, I took a day trip over to Annapolis. As much as I love Reston, I do escape its borders from time to time!

Annapolis is a lovely town, and I enjoyed the boutique shops along Main Street, the top-notch seafood and Key lime pie at a good old-fashioned crab shack, the museums and historic buildings, and the beautiful views along the Bay. But an unscheduled stop at the World War II Memorial proved the highlight of my trip, and got me thinking about the idea of creating something like that in Reston.

Driving down Ritchie Highway, I saw a small sign indicating a World War II Memorial and scenic overlook.  Being both a history buff and a fan of scenic views, I figured it might be worth a few minutes of my time.  Little did I know just how breathtaking and thought-provoking the memorial would turn out to be.

The memorial is built into the side of a hill, so you have no idea what you’re about to experience when you approach from the parking lot. The first thing you encounter is the overlook, a pavilion that provides gorgeous views of the Severn River, the Naval Academy, and parts of downtown Annapolis. I stood there for a few minutes, enjoying the beautiful weather and the sense of calm that overtook me.  Even though the memorial is between two busy highways, it’s surprisingly peaceful and well-protected by the trees and hedges that surround it. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoReal life doesn’t work like it does in the movies. We all know this is true for a lot of reasons. But one in particular is especially challenging: Storylines don’t resolve into neat and tidy endings.  That’s one of the aspects of movies that we love, and it’s easy to see why. The leading man proposes to his beloved, or the underdog wins the big game, or the hero finally defeats the villain, and then… roll credits.  Story over.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked the same way? Alas, life insists that we keep going, even after the “happy ending.” Can the romantic couple deal with the day-to-day nature of married life? Will the lovable underdog play well again next season, under the burden of higher expectations? Can the hero help the city rebuild after the climactic battle, or defeat the next bad guy that shows up? Movies rarely address those questions, but they’re what real life is all about.

This challenge is particularly acute in politics, especially at the more local levels. Most people don’t follow the ins and outs of local and state politics; there’s too much else going on in their lives. They generally start paying attention when something big happens, something that’s perceived as a real benefit or a real threat.

When those potential threats or benefits arise, it’s easy to get people paying attention. Those moments are tremendous and inspiring. But they only right before a big event: a crucial vote, an important hearing, a major decision.

The good news is that when people show up and make their voices heard, our elected officials tend to listen.  The problem is that once that key vote or hearing occurs, most people treat it like the climax of a movie.  That’s it; story’s over. Time to roll the credits and go home.

But politics is all about the long struggle. Getting hundreds of people in a room for one meeting is impressive, but politicians know that a few months later, most of those people won’t remain engaged, and may not even remember the issue. That’s why delays are so common in the political process; citizens have short attention spans, and often, even widespread grassroots outrage fades away given enough time. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoLast week, I announced that I will not be running again for the RCA Board. I’m not the only one stepping down this year, however. Two other RCA stalwarts, Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers, are also retiring at the end of this term.

This week, I’d like to pay tribute to Terry and Dick. They have both served Reston well in their time with RCA, and I’m glad to count them as trusted colleagues and as friends.  I will greatly miss working with them both.

Dick and Terry have a lot in common. They have served with RCA for quite a while (Terry joined the Board in late 2009, Dick in early 2010). Both are retired CIA analysts, and they brought that analytical skill to their work with RCA. Both are most interested in planning and transportation. But although they’re similar in background, they have different approaches and have contributed to RCA in different ways.

If you’ve followed the planning for Reston’s future — whether it’s the Silver Line, the Master Plan revisions, or the RCC rec center proposal — you’ve probably heard Terry Maynard’s name. He has been quoted more often than anyone else on the RCA Board, and with good reason. Over the years, Terry has become one of Reston’s preeminent experts on development issues.

Terry’s analytical reports, full of charts and footnotes, are legendary. If you think I’m verbose, you should take a look at one of Terry’s reports, which can run 100 pages or more. But they are lengthy for a reason.  Most people don’t have the expertise or the inclination to dive into spreadsheets full of numbers and figures and dig out the real story, but Terry does. Whether he’s examining the accuracy of Toll Road revenue forecasts, quantifying the impact of development on Reston’s traffic and recreational facilities, or raising unanswered questions about the rec center, you can count on Terry to provide a rigorous, reasonable analysis.

In addition to his reports, Terry has taken on a leadership role on planning issues. He has been the co-chair of RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee, serving as a community watchdog on key development-related matters.  He also served with distinction as RCA’s primary representative on the Reston Master Plan Task Force, standing up for Reston’s citizens to protect our founding principles and quality of life. While the final Master Plan recommendations weren’t quite as Terry wanted, his staunch advocacy and thoughtful analysis made the final plan better for Restonians. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoAll good things must come to an end. After losing my election for the Reston Association board earlier this month, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the future holds for me, including my future with RCA.

With our elections just around the corner and the candidate filing period now open, I felt that I owed it to the RCA and to potential candidates to make a decision about my plans.  And after long and careful thought, I announced to the Board at last week’s meeting that I have made the difficult decision not to run for re-election to RCA.

Many factors have gone into this decision. One of the driving factors is the needs of my family. My new wife and my daughter have been very supportive of my work with RCA, but they need and deserve more of my time than I’ve been able to give them.

But perhaps the deciding factor is my belief that it’s time for me to do something different. I have served the community actively for almost a decade, and I have been with RCA for almost all of that time, including the last 3 years as president. I have learned a lot and grown a lot in that time, and now it’s time for me to start a new chapter in my life.

I’m proud of everything that RCA has accomplished under my leadership.  We have raised RCA’s profile tremendously, and made ourselves part of the community conversation again. We have been a strong voice for Reston’s citizens on issues like the Master Plan, transportation, open space, parks and recreation, our library system, and many more. We have forged strong relationship with fellow community organizations like RA, ARCH, Rescue Reston, and others. We have renewed our focus on keeping the citizens informed (one of RCA’s original missions) by hosting and co-sponsoring community forums, producing analytical reports, and starting the new Reston 411 series of quick facts.

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Colin Mills/File photoThe candidate filing period for the RCA Board is now open!  If you’d like to join us, click here to learn more about the election and download the candidate application.

In the middle of a rainy and dreary week like this, it’s only natural to think ahead toward the weekend. I’m very excited about this weekend. Not just because warmth and sunshine are scheduled to make a reappearance, but also because one of my favorite Reston traditions is getting started again: the Reston Farmers Market opens for the season on Saturday, and I can’t wait to go. There’s not a lot that can get me out of the house on Saturday morning, but this is well worth the trip.

It’s hard to believe that the Farmers Market has been around for 16 years; it doesn’t seem like that long. But the market, under the able supervision of my good friend John Lovaas, has grown into a Reston institution, a place for the community to come together and enjoy local produce, meats, and more.

Farmers markets and Reston go way back. I remember the Reston Farmers Market on Baron Cameron when I was a kid, across from the Pet-A-Pet Farm (today’s Reston Zoo). My family used to stop in there from time to time to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables; the sweet summer corn was especially delicious.

The best time of year to visit the farmers market, hands down, was Halloween. We always picked out our pumpkins there, trundling the little red wagons among the rows of beautiful gourds. We went into the back of the store to fill our gallon jug with apple cider (so sweet and delicious; we drank it in the fall and I dreamed about it the rest of the year).  Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoThis is an important and exciting time for Reston. As we celebrate our community’s 50th anniversary and our founder’s 100th birthday, we’ve been looking back at our past and ahead to our future. And as we look ahead, it’s clear that major change is in store for our community.

The Silver Line will soon be open, and that will trigger major redevelopment that will bring great opportunities and great challenges for Reston.

Our original village center, Lake Anne, is about to begin a major revitalization. Our other village centers may have redevelopment awaiting them as well. We’re going to see thousands of new residents and new jobs in the coming decades, which will bring new vitality, but also new demands on our infrastructure. We’re going to need roads, schools, fields, parks, and open spaces for those new Restonians, and we’ll need to provide them with limited resources and without damaging the quality of life for existing Restonians.

There’s a lot going on! And it’s a great time to be involved. There’s no better evidence of that then the large field of candidates (myself included) who ran in the recent Reston Association election. If you’re interested in all the change in Reston and want to be involved, I’d encourage you to get involved in planning our community’s future by running for the RCA Board.

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Colin Mills/File photoFrom the beginning, one of the Reston Citizens Association’s key missions has been keeping the citizens informed about what’s going on in the community and serving as the voice of the citizens on key issues.

In keeping with that mission, last week we had our first “ResTown Hall Meeting.”  Our goal was to inform and to listen to Restonians on a subject that is essential to Reston’s recreational future: the draft master plan for Baron Cameron Park developed by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Based on the attendance, it was clear that the community cares about the future of Baron Cameron. We had strong turnout in spite of cold and rainy weather and the NCAA men’s basketball championship taking place that night. Not only that, the attendees came from all parts of Reston, not just the neighborhoods closest to the park.

We opened with a presentation by RCA’s Terry Maynard.  Terry summarized the changes and upgrades proposed in the draft master plan.  He placed the plan in the context of Reston’s planned growth, explaining Baron Cameron’s location relative to the coming Metro stations (not very close) and the Lake Anne redevelopment (quite close). He also described the other park facilities in and near Reston. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoThere’s just something about this time of year.  As the days get longer and temperatures start to creep upward from the winter (an unusually long and cold one this year), my mind and body both feel the urge to wander. I don’t know if it’s the shoots of green and flashes of floral color, or if it’s the arrival of baseball’s Opening Day, but I always feel drawn to head outside and celebrate spring at this time of year.

I wrote about the glories of spring at this time last year, and I’ve always enjoyed this season of renewal and rebirth. Last year, I mentioned that RCA was undergoing a rebirth of its own, branching out into new areas and winning community praise for our analysis and advocacy. I’m happy to say that the past year has been a very busy and productive one for us.

We’ve been active on issues from the Master Plan to the proposed RCC rec center to our libraries and more.  We’ve done a great job getting involved in the community conversation on key issues.  We’ve strengthened our relationships with other organizations.

I’m happy to report that RCA is poised for another renewal as we head into this spring.  Our recently-seated new Board members have brought fresh perspectives and new energy to RCA.  We’ve rolled out our Reston 411 series to help our citizens get up to speed on key issues (the first installment is now up on our website). We’re preparing for Reston 2020’s upcoming “ResTown Hall Meeting” on the Baron Cameron Park master plan (happening on Monday, April 7th at 7 PM at Aldrin Elementary). And we’ve had some recent developments on the Reston-Nyeri Sister City project that I hope to share with you soon.

In short, it’s an exciting time to be involved in RCA, and I’m proud of all the great work we’re doing. The fact that we’re making progress on so many fronts gives me confidence that RCA will remain strong with or without me. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoIf you read this column on a regular basis, chances are you like to keep up with Reston community issues. You’re probably better versed on what’s going on than most Restonians. And that’s great; the more citizens that we have who pay attention to what’s happening, the better off we are.

But for a lot of folks, especially in today’s time-pressed and overscheduled society, keeping up with community issues can be a challenge. Between jobs and families and household chores and other duties, something has to give.  Even those who do make an effort to keep up with local issues can’t follow it all. It’s hard to find the time to attend community board meetings, read official documents, and form informed opinions.

This led us at RCA to ask: How can we help?  What can we do to keep our citizens informed in a way that’s quick and easy to follow for time-pressed people?  We produce a lot of information about issues that matter to our community, but not everyone has the time or inclination to read Terry Maynard’s latest 100-page analytical report, or do a deep dive on our website to learn the history of an issue.

That’s why we’re rolling out a new series of white papers entitled “Reston 411.” These papers will contain key facts and figures to help you make informed and educated decisions about local issues that affect Reston’s quality of life or relate to our founding principles. They’re designed as public service announcements in paper form.  It’s an easy way to get up to speed about what’s happening now in our community.

Each paper will focus on a key issue.  Some issues might be dealt with in a single paper; more complicated issues (the Silver Line, for instance) will rate a series of several papers, each one dealing with a particular aspect of the issue.  We plan to tie the series to issues that are active right now in the community, so that you’re learning facts and information you can use right away. Read More

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Colin Mills/File photoAccording to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the “Year of the Horse.”  But in Reston, it seems like it’s shaping up to be the “Year of the Master Plan.”

In February, the Board of Supervisors approved changes to Reston’s Master Plan to allow for mixed-use development around the Silver Line Metro stations.  And now, the County Park Authority is preparing a Master Plan for Baron Cameron Park.

RCA and our Reston 2020 Committee is very interested in what happens at Baron Cameron, particularly in light of the projected athletic field shortage in Reston when the aforementioned mixed-use development is built. But more importantly, we’re interested in hearing what the community has to say.

That’s why Reston 2020 is holding a “ResTown Hall Meeting” on the Baron Cameron plan on April 7. This is your chance to speak out about the proposed changes to Baron Cameron: what you like, what you don’t like, what you think should be added, and what unanswered questions you have.

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Colin Mills/File photoWhen RCA revived the Citizen of the Year award in 2008, we intended to spotlight the terrific work done by community volunteers who too often go unrecognized. This year’s selection, Kathy Kaplan, definitely falls in that tradition.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who complimented me on our choice. I told them that Kathy deserves the credit —  she’s the one who’s been working for the community for decades. But nonetheless, I was glad to give Kathy some well-deserved accolades at our ceremony Monday night.

Kathy reminds me of our 2011 Citizen of the Year, Nick Brown. Both are modest folks who prefer to work behind the scenes, avoiding the spotlight. I was glad we turned the spotlight on Nick then, just as I’m glad we gave Kathy recognition this time around.

In my opening remarks, I noted that Kathy shows what individual citizens can accomplish through hard work and a dedication to the community’s best interests. If it hadn’t been for her love of libraries and her willingness to pore through long and complicated government documents, we might never have heard of the Beta Plan, the book culling, or the budget cuts to our County library system. It’s easy to believe that individuals are powerless against big institutions; Kathy showed that it’s not true. Read More

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