Colin Mills: My Fond Farewell

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.

Our actions and advocacy could be controversial sometimes, but you know what?  I’m okay with that.  As a community, we’re better off if we’re openly discussing and debating the issues that will shape our future.  We may not always agree, but we’re much better off hashing these things out rather than having our leaders make decisions with no input from an apathetic public.  Reston has long been famous for its active and engaged citizens.  I’m glad RCA has helped perpetuate that tradition, even if it gets a little messy at times.

I’m also proud that RCA has strengthened its ties with other community organizations.  Collaborating with RA and ARCH has helped RCA achieve its goals, but more importantly, it’s helped us all better serve our constituents.  One of my proudest accomplishments with RCA is the joint forum we held about the Master Plan and Reston’s future.  It was the best-attended community meeting I have ever seen, and we did a great job bringing our citizens up to speed and helping them understand how the changes to the Master Plan will affect us as a community.   It was a fine example of what we can achieve by working together.

I’m also proud to have made the public aware of the fine work our citizen volunteers are doing, both by better publicizing the work of our Reston Accessibility Committee and through our annual Citizen of the Year Award.  In this case, I can take no credit for the work; that’s being done by the volunteers themselves.  But I have been very happy to celebrate and recognize the excellent work that they do on behalf of the community.  If I have helped make Restonians aware of RAC’s tireless efforts to make Reston’s buildings and facilities more accessible for people with disabilities, or of the volunteer efforts of super citizens like Nick Brown, Cate Fulkerson, and Kathy Kaplan, that fills me with pleasure.  It’s inspiring to volunteer in the community alongside people like them.

I’m also proud that I’m leaving RCA in excellent shape.  When the Board sits down on Monday, we’ll have a diverse group of hard-working and dedicated Restonians with different strengths, all of whom are committed to building RCA and helping Reston move forward.  The Board has several people who have the strength, capability, and vision to serve as President, and I’m sure the Board will choose one of them to lead the organization.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what RCA will accomplish under its next leader.

As for me, I promise that I will stay involved in the community.  Reston is in my blood; I love this place, and I am driven to keep serving.  I haven’t decided where my next challenge lies, but you haven’t heard the last of me (decide for yourself if that’s a promise or a threat).  I’ll be around and involved.

I’ll close out my farewell message with a lyric from one of my favorite artists, Warren Zevon:

We’ll go walkin’ hand in hand
Laughin’ fit to beat the band
With our backs turned, looking down the path

Some may have, and some may not
God, I’m thankful for what I got
With my back turned, looking down the path

I don’t know what paths I’ll be heading down in the years ahead.  But it’s summertime, and right now, walking hand-in-hand with my family and watching the fireflies along Reston’s paths sounds like just the ticket.  I’m thankful for my family, and I’m thankful to have had the privilege of serving Reston these last three years as RCA President.  Also, I’m thankful to everyone who reads this column.  If you see me out on the path, be sure to say hi.

Good news, Leslie: Dad’s coming home on time tonight.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association


Colin Mills: The Gang’s All Here

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.

What have the Gang of 5 meetings accomplished for Reston? Quite a lot, actually. We’ve discovered that we’re on the same page about a lot of community issues, and that Reston would benefit from a collaborative effort, a unified citizen voice rather than a Greek chorus of organizations with different messages. So we’ve sought out opportunities to join forces and present a united front to the community.

In addition to presenting a unified message to the community, joining forces also allows us to take advantage of each organization’s unique strengths.  There are things RCA and ARCH can do that RA can’t, and vice versa.  But by coordinating our plan and backing each other up, we’re able to do the most good for our citizens.

This approach really paid off during the Master Plan Task Force discussions.  RCA, RA and ARCH all had representatives on the Task Force, but like the other citizen representatives, we all had our own separate messages, which paled in comparison to the much more unified efforts of the developer reps. In our Gang of 5 discussions, we recognized that we shared many of the same goals regarding Reston’s planning and land use, so we decided to work together.

This resulted in a couple of joint statements to the County outlining our goals and concerns, and a joint forum at which we told Restonians how the planning process was going, and let them know what still needed to be done. The forum drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, and many more watched it at home on YouTube. That turnout showed the County that the people of Reston were paying attention, and that our message was resonating in the community.

Did we get everything we wanted in the final plan?  No. But we did get a lot of our points incorporated, and that wouldn’t have happened without a strong, united campaign by all three organizations on behalf of our constituents. And that campaign couldn’t have happened without the trust, working relationship, and open discussions that the Gang of 5 made possible.

The Master Plan campaign has been our biggest effort to date, but our collaboration has worked in other ways as well. For instance, we’ve been brainstorming about ways to better inform and engage the community on issues concerning Reston’s future. And RA and RCA are also working on reviving Reston’s Sister City relationship with Nyeri, Kenya.

None of this could have have happened if John hadn’t proposed the Gang of 5, or if Jerry, Ken, Cate, and Andy hadn’t been open to pursuing closer ties. I’m very optimistic that the collaboration will outlive our terms with our respective organizations. We’ve done a lot of good for Reston in the last couple years, and I believe all of us see the value in continuing that work.

What does the future hold for the Gang of 5?  Ideally, I’d like to see it expand to include other Reston organizations.  There are a lot of groups out there that do good work, and I think the kind of collaboration that RCA, RA, and ARCH have done would only be better if more groups were involved.

As for me, I’m assured that even after I leave RCA, I will remain an honorary Gangster and will still be welcome at the meetings.  I look forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m delighted that we’ve taken a big step toward better representing the people of Reston.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association.


Colin Mills: Springing Forward Into a More Accessible Reston

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.

There was one remaining holdup: At RAC’s suggestion, Edens had promised to add additional accessible spaces to the lot. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the paving contractor, no additional spaces were added. Ken maintained a good-faith dialog with Edens, and last month, he found that a new accessible space and access aisles had been added, replacing two regular parking spaces. Kudos to Ken for his persistence, and to Edens for keeping their word to make Hunters Woods more accessible.

The second project is at Reston Corner, the office park where RA’s headquarters is located. In 2009, RAC made a series of recommendations for the building at 12007 Sunrise Valley Drive: addition of automatic entrance doors, the addition of access aisles and curb ramps in the parking lot, and an update to the signs on the accessible parking spaces. The doors were installed, the signs were updated, and the access aisles were added; unfortunately, the contractor didn’t install curb ramps or correct the slope of the accessible spaces.  This meant that people with disabilities could now get out of their cars, but they couldn’t get safely from the accessible spaces to the sidewalk.

RAC met with representatives of Cassidy Turley, the property manager, and made a clever suggestion: add asphalt to the accessible spaces to raise them up to the level of the curb. This would both fix the slope of the spaces and allow safe access to the sidewalk without having to install curb ramps. Cassidy Turley adopted the suggestion, and last month, they revamped the spaces to make them fully accessible and compliant with ADA regulations.

When Ken drove by the lot to check out the improvements, he spotted a woman helping her mother, who uses a walker, out of the car in one of the improved spaces. He asked the woman what she thought of the new layout, and she said, “It’s so much better!” This was a perfect example of how RAC’s efforts make concrete improvements in the lives of people with disabilities.

RAC’s third project deals with Carrabba’s Restaurant on Sunset Hills Road.  Ken brought the site to RAC’s attention when he noticed that their parking lot contained only two accessible spaces. The law requires three accessible spaces for a lot that size, and given Carrabba’s popularity, RAC felt that four spaces would better reflect the need. The signs on the accessible spaces were also in need of updating.

RAC contacted the restaurant’s owner. He replaced the signs right away, but said that Carrabba’s corporate headquarters would need to address the accessible spaces.  RAC followed up with corporate, only to discover that the site’s landlord was in charge of the parking lot.  Undeterred, RAC reached out to Dwoskin, the property manager, to follow up.

Happily, Dwoskin was responsive to RAC’s outreach, and made plans to add accessible spaces. They were scheduled to complete the work early this month; the next time I go for dinner there, I will check it out myself.

All in all, not a bad haul for the past month!  (Of course, all of these successes are the result of months or even years of calls, emails, letters, meetings, and friendly but persistent effort by the RAC team.) As the warmer weather continues, RAC should have more progress to report soon.

Working with Ken Fredgren and RAC on behalf of Restonians with disabilities has been a highlight of my time with RCA.  Ken is an inspiration and a true friend, and the members of RAC are a pleasure to work with.  That’s why, even though I’m stepping off the RCA Board, I plan to continue working with RAC.  I believe in RAC’s mission, and I want to see their successes continue.

If you share my support for improving access to Reston’s buildings and facilities, I hope that you’ll become a member of RAC.  The bigger RAC grows, the more good they’ll be able to do for the community.  I hope to see you at RAC’s next meeting.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association


Colin Mills: Cast Your Vote for RCA’s Future

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.

As always, the voting process is simplicity itself: Just go to the RCA website, and there will be a link on the left side of the page labeled “Click here to VOTE”, When you click it, you’ll be taken to a page containing information about how to vote, as well as short bios of all the candidates. On that page, you’ll be able to click a link that takes you to the ballot. Verify your residency, vote for your preferred candidates, click “Done” and your vote is recorded!

As always, the elections are a team effort, and as always, I’m grateful to the Board members who have rolled up their sleeves and made it happen.

Our tech master, Gary Walker, is once again handling the nuts-and-bolts work needed to make the election happen.  He designed and tested the ballot, transferred all of the candidate information into web pages, and is in the process of getting the election information up on our website. Gary’s in a very busy time personally and professionally, but he’s coming through when we need him to put the IT side of the election together.

Our Election Committee (Gary, Tammi Petrine, John Hanley, Annmarie Swope, Joe Leighton, and George Kain) also deserve a lot of credit. They collected election information, recruited candidates, produced and distributed our call for candidates, and publicized the election. It’s a thankless job, but our Election Committee is once again proving up to the task.

Now, back to the call to action. By casting your vote, you’re expressing your support for RCA and its efforts. If you benefit from our work in some way, voting is a great way to encourage us to keep up the good work.

If you want our Reston 20/20 Committee to keep fighting to ensure a balanced and sustainable future for Reston, please cast your vote.  If you appreciate the work our Reston Accessibility Committee does to make Reston a friendlier and more accessible place for people with disabilities, please cast your vote.  If you believe that it’s important to have an independent citizen voice keeping Restonians informed and speaking up on key issues, please cast your vote.

In the next year, our community will once again consider a number of important issues that will shape our future course. The County is now looking at Phase 2 of our Master Plan revision, and we need to ensure that the changes allow for reimagining our village centers will protecting our existing neighborhoods and open space. The Silver Line will open soon (we think!), and we’ll soon be seeing the first wave of redevelopment proposals. We need to make sure that we balance the growth with protection of our roads, our environment, and our quality of life.

The future of Baron Cameron Park will be decided soon; will it include a new RCC rec center, a relocated dog park, more field capacity? RCA will be keeping Reston’s citizens informed and engaged on all those issues, as well as others that we can’t foresee yet.

Our new Board will have a powerful combination of dedicated returning members and new blood with fresh ideas to move RCA forward.  RCA will continue working together with other community organizations, taking on new challenges, and looking for ways to better serve the citizens of Reston.

To my mind, that kind of community leadership is priceless.  But right now, all it costs is a few minutes of your time to vote. Make sure to act fast: the polls open Saturday and close on June 22nd. Please go to our website, learn about the candidates, and cast your ballot.  And thanks for your support!

Colin Mills is president of the Reston Citizens Association. 


Colin Mills: Time for a Reston Memorial?

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.

But the memorial itself was what I wanted to see, so I went down to take a look. Conceptually, the layout of the Annapolis memorial is similar to the National World War II Memorial in DC, with a ring of 48 stone pillars, one for each state in the Union at the time. But Maryland’s memorial contains several additional touches that made it stand out for me.

Outside the ring of pillars is an obelisk, the memorial’s most striking feature. The seven-sided base displays the names of the various branches of the service, while the metal obelisk forms a five-pointed star. It was impressive when I saw it during the day, but I’ll bet it’s even more attractive at night, when it’s lighted.

In between pillars on the north side of the memorial are a series of granite panels displaying the names of the Marylanders who lost their lives in service during World War II. The stark simplicity of the names etched in the dark stone reminded me of the Vietnam Memorial, and provided the same sense of solemn reflection.

My favorite aspect of the memorial is a series of 20 metal plaques that provide a succinct yet surprisingly thorough overview of the war. The plaques touch on the major events and locations of the war (including the “forgotten theater” in China, Burma, and India), as well as efforts on the homefront and Maryland’s role in preparing for, supplying, and fighting the war.

The west and east sides of the memorial contained hidden gems: a pair of maps depicting the major battles in the eastern and western hemispheres.  The maps and the plaques combined to tell the story of the war well.  My daughter recently studied World War II in school; I’d like to take her to the memorial to help her put the facts she learned into context.

The center of the memorial did not contain a fountain like the D.C. memorial; instead, it housed an amphitheater that went down into the earth. This is no doubt intended primarily for presentations and ceremonies, but it’s also a good spot to sit and take in what you have seen.

I walked away feeling deeply impressed by the memorial.  It was visually striking and majestic without being overwhelming.  It was cleverly integrated into its surroundings, with the scenic views only enhancing the experience. Despite being in a fairly busy location, it still provided tranquility and a place for quiet reflection.  And best of all, it provided information and fostered a sense of connection with the events it commemorated.

After considering all the things I liked about the memorial, my next thought was: We should have something like that in Reston.

As the 50th anniversary celebrations this year have demonstrated, our New Town now has a history of its own.  Now that we are an established community, I think it’s time for us to start thinking about building monuments of our own here in Reston.

Of course we have Bronze Bob, and the 9/11 Memorial at Browns Chapel, and other lesser-known historical markers like the Dag Hammarskjold plaque by the International Center.  But I’d love to see something on a larger scale, something that could serve as a community gathering place as well as a monument, something as well-planned and well-executed as the World War II Memorial in Annapolis.

Obviously, World War II wouldn’t be a suitable subject here, since Reston didn’t exist at the time. But a similarly informative memorial about Reston’s history would be a terrific companion to the fine exhibits at the Reston Museum. Or perhaps we could commemorate a historical event with a connection to Reston.  A memorial about the civil rights movement would be most appropriate, given Reston’s history as an open community and our continued commitment to diversity. A Cold War memorial would be more unorthodox, but would also be a suitable choice, given Reston’s ties to the CIA and the defense industry and our proximity to the Nike missile site in Great Falls.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.  Is Reston ready for a large-scale memorial?  What would be an appropriate subject for such a memorial?  And where would be a suitable location for it?

Also, I highly recommend a visit to Annapolis.  It’s only an hour away, and it’s a great place to spend a day or two if you’re a fan of history, crabs, or funky little shops.  Now, if we could talk about bringing some of those funky little shops to Reston.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: Story Is Not Over For Libraries

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.

That’s why, if an issue is important to you, it’s vital to stay engaged. You can’t assume the battle is won after the big vote or the big meeting; you need to keep showing up, keep speaking out, and keep the pressure on our leaders to do the right thing.

The battle over the future of our libraries is a perfect example. Many of us were deeply upset when we learned about the proposed “Beta Plan,” which proposed dramatically reducing and de-professionalizing library staff, as well as the major culling of books in recent years. Widespread outrage over the Beta Plan and book trashing spread like wildfire over the course of last summer.

The public outcry climaxed at the Library Board of Trustees meeting last September. An overflow crowd of hundreds showed up to express their love for the libraries, and the Board voted unanimously to suspend the Beta Plan and book culling indefinitely.

That September meeting was a terrific feel-good event. Both audience members and Trustees spoke eloquently about the importance of the library system. We got exactly the result we were looking for. If you were writing a movie about the library saga, this is the scene you’d end on. Roll credits!

But that wasn’t the end of the story.  The Chairman of the Board of Trustees said as much that night; he mentioned his hope that he’d see every one of us at the County budget hearings in April, showing support for increased library funding. He noted that most years, he was the only one present to support the libraries. It’s likely no coincidence that library funding as a share of the County budget declined sharply the last few years; it’s easier to cut things that no one speaks up about. (Happily, the 2015 budget includes a modest increase in library funding, thanks to the public pressure.)

The story continued in another important way after the September library meeting. At that meeting, the Trustees created an ad hoc Communication and Evaluation Committee. That committee was charged with collecting public input, considering the future direction of the library system, and coming up with, essentially, an alternative to the Beta Plan.

That committee has been fairly quiet in the months since, but they are now planning to hold a public meeting to collect input. This meeting is coming up soon – Tuesday, June 3 at 7 p.m. – and it’s right nearby, at the Oakton Library.  To the best of our knowledge, this is the only public meeting that the committee intends to hold.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that we’ll see a repeat of the impressive turnout that occurred last September.  For too many people, the library battle is over and “won.” The library system hasn’t been in the news much in recent months, and most people have turned their attention back to other issues and to their daily.

If you care about the future of our library system, and if you think the Beta Plan is the wrong direction for the future, you need to be at this meeting. The committee needs to see the same enthusiasm and passion for our libraries that we showed last September. They need to know that Fairfax County residents expect first-class libraries, and that we want to see them properly staffed, stocked, and funded.

In life, unlike in the movies, there are no final victories.  Rather, it’s a continuing process.  If you walk away once you think you’ve “won,” you risk seeing your victory overturned behind your back.  The battle for the future of our libraries isn’t over; we still need your support.  I hope to see you at Oakton Library on June 3.  I hope that we can show that we have a lasting commitment to our libraries.

Interested in Reston’s future?  Run for the RCA Board!  The deadline for candidates to file is Friday, so click here to download the form today!

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: Giving Credit To Two of RCA’s Best

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.

Terry can be outspoken, but his passion has its roots in an abiding love for the community and a desire to see it thrive for decades to come. Terry believes strongly in responsible and well-planned development and in transparent and responsive government, and he’s not shy about speaking out when he believes our leaders are falling short in those areas.

And when Terry speaks, you know he’s got the facts and figures to back it up. His impassioned critiques are informed by his dispassionate analysis. He understands that once you’ve done the homework and know that you’re right, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak out. Terry has never been afraid to speak his mind.

Terry’s integrity, analytical capability, dedication, and abiding support for Reston’s citizens have been a tremendous boon to RCA and to Reston. We’re all much better off for his efforts.

While Terry is a widely-known figure in Reston, you may not know Dick Rogers. That’s due to a difference in styles: Dick is quiet where Terry is outspoken, and Dick often works behind the scenes while Terry has been more visible. But Dick has also been a tremendous advocate for the community’s interests, and he has been a tremendous help to RCA in his time on the Board.

Dick first became involved in RCA through Reston 2020. He was already an active member of the community, serving for more than a decade on his cluster board and having been an Associate Member of the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee. Dick has lived in Reston for a long time (almost 40 years), and he wanted to represent the community as Reston’s future was being discussed. When a spot on the RCA Board opened up, he applied, and he’s been a blessing to us ever since.

Dick is well-liked by everyone, and with good reason: he is very thoughtful and a true gentleman. He applied these qualities, as well as his analytical background, to carve out a niche as RCA’s transportation expert. He attended as many transportation-related meetings as he could, and reported back with thorough notes and observations. His dogged persistence and gentlemanly demeanor helped him find out information that no one else had.

Perhaps Dick’s finest work is the paper “Wiehle Metro Station Access: Congestion Ahead,” of which he was the principal researcher and author. Early last year, Dick began wondering if Reston was ready for the coming of the Silver Line and the transportation challenges it would bring. He wasn’t sure, so he started doing the legwork: doing research, interviewing key players, and developing findings.

Dick concluded that not enough has been done to allow Silver Line users to access the Wiehle station. His report described the problems in detail, and better yet, suggested solutions.  His report focused public attention on a key challenge to the successful implementation of the Silver Line, and sparked discussion on how to address it.

It’s unfortunate that Dick and Terry will no longer be on the RCA Board. Happily, though, neither one is leaving RCA entirely. Terry will continue as Reston 2020 co-chair, pushing for responsible and balanced planning solutions. Dick will also remain active on 2020, and he will serve as RCA’s representative on the Hunter Mill Transportation Advisory Committee. I’m delighted that RCA and Reston will still benefit from their expertise.

Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers have been two of RCA’s guiding lights for the last several years. I hope that Restonians recognize how much that they’ve done for the community, and that we give thanks for their dedication and service. This column is my small contribution toward giving them the recognition they deserve.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Turning The Page

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.

Our Reston 2020 Committee has become widely-known and well-respected as an analyst and watchdog on planning and development issues. Terry Maynard’s reports and white papers have become a go-to resource for those who want to understand the community in depth. Our Reston Accessibility Committee has continued to thrive in its mission of improving access to Reston’s facilities for people with disabilities. Their excellent work has earned commendation from Fairfax County, and it has made a real concrete difference at shopping centers, office parks, and buildings all around our community.

Our revived Citizen of the Year Award has grown into a much-loved annual event, and we’ve recognized some very deserving citizens, including Dave Edwards, Nick Brown, Cate Fulkerson, and Kathy Kaplan. We are also in the process of taking primary responsibility for our annual candidate forums, which we have long co-sponsored with John Lovaas and Reston Impact.

In short, I believe that I am leaving RCA in a very good place.

That very good place includes the state of our Board. Right now, we have the strongest Board that I have worked with in my time with RCA. Our Board is diverse in age, background, experience, and length of Reston residency, but we’re united in our strong desire to serve the people of Reston. Every one of our Board members has contributed to our success.  Our continuing Board members are ready to lead, and they have indicated that they are ready to step up. One of the reasons I feel comfortable stepping aside now is that I’m confident that the Board is ready to carry on our good work without my involvement.

Just to be clear, my time isn’t quite up yet. My term doesn’t expire until the summer, and I will continue to work hard for RCA and for Reston’s citizens until then. I will be leading our upcoming meetings and continuing to develop the projects and issues already in progress. And I will work with the incoming President and the new Board to ensure a smooth transition and make sure that RCA is positioned to keep growing into the future.

Rest assured that I’m not going away, either. I love Reston, and I intend to continue serving the community actively.  You’ll still see me at meetings (although not as often, I hope!), and I’ll still be seeking ways to help Reston address the opportunities and challenges that await us in the future. I’m currently in the process of planning my next chapter, but I look forward to sharing it with you all.

Leading RCA has been an honor and a privilege. I have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow Restonians better, both our leaders and the ordinary citizens that make our community special. And I have enjoyed sharing the news about our accomplishments and progress here in this space. Whatever the future holds for RCA and for me, I’ll always be able to look back on this time with pride, knowing that we helped make Reston a better place. I look forward to seeing you out and about in Reston.

Want to step up and help RCA write its next chapter?  Now’s the time to file your candidate form!  Click here to download the application.  Deadline for submission is May 23rd.

Colin Mills is the president of RCA. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: Enjoying Reston’s Tastiest Tradition

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). 

And best of all, my sister and I got to climb Fort Pumpkin! This was a contraption constructed out of hay bales and decorated with pumpkins, perfect for kids to burn off some energy running and climbing while Mom was finishing up the shopping. When I reached the top of the fort and looked out toward the horizon, even though I couldn’t have been more than 20 feet off the ground, I felt like I could see forever. Fort Pumpkin was my favorite thing about Halloween, even more than the candy.  (Okay, maybe tied with the candy.)

What the Reston Farmers Market lacks in whimsical hay-bale forts, it makes up for in diverse, delicious food offerings. Sometimes, I’ll walk through and pick up everything I need for lunch or dinner right there at the market.

Maybe we’ll have Gunpowder bison steaks, fresh green beans, and a salad with juicy tomatoes and goat cheese from Cherry Glen, dressed with a vinaigrette from Wisteria Gardens. Or perhaps we’ll have sandwiches, sausage from Valentines on artisan bread from Baguette Republic. If I’ve got a sweet tooth, maybe pick up something from A Bit More or Grace’s Pastries for dessert. I love one-stop shopping for my meals.

Another thing I love about farmers market shopping is being introduced to something I haven’t tried before.  For instance, last year I tried ramps for the first time after picking them up at the market. Ramps are wild leeks; they look kind of like scallions with big leaves on top. I tried them raw and cooked, and I loved their earthy, pungent, peppery flavor. I can’t wait to see what new discoveries I might run across this year.

I’m not the only one in my family who’s looking forward to the market’s opening. My wife loves to shop there, and we’re both hoping that the selection will inspire us to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet. My daughter, meanwhile, is particularly fond of the Cherry Glen goat cheese (she loves to eat it on Ritz crackers for a snack) and the black bean dip from Wisteria Gardens. If I go to the market without her and forget to pick up the black-bean dip, I know she won’t forgive me.

The market is more than just a chance to pick up tasty locally-grown food; it’s also a great social opportunity.  You never know who you might run into at the market. Prominent Restonians like Bob Simon and Ken Plum often stop by, and if you’re hoping to run into your neighbor on Saturday morning, the market is a good place to look.

The Saturday farmers farket serves a function a lot like the plazas in Bob’s original vision of Reston; it gets people out of their cars and interacting with each other.  I’m always in favor of anything that foster community conversations, and the market definitely does that.

I also love the fact that the market is held at Lake Anne.  It’s our oldest village center, and it’s still my favorite place in Reston.  The farmers market has done a great job drawing people over to Lake Anne who might not have gone otherwise. I think it’s no coincidence that Lake Anne has been on an upward swing since the market got started in 1998. And I’m also really glad to know that the market will still have a home in the revitalized and expanded Lake Anne Village Center that’s coming soon.

While you’re at the Farmers Market, it’s also worth stopping by the craft market that takes place on the plaza itself. That market features local arts and crafts. Walking through there makes me think of a Middle Eastern bazaar. It’s well worth a stroll to see what you might find.

I hope you’ll be headed out to the Lake Anne Farmers Market on Saturday morning. And if you see me there, checking out the produce or sampling the goat cheese offerings, stop by and say hello.  We’re neighbors, after all.  Bob would approve.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. His column runs weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: Get Involved In Reston’s Future By Running For RCA Board

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.

RCA and our 20/20 Committee have been on the front lines of the planning and development issues that are shaping our community. We were active participants on Phase 1 of the Master Plan Task Force, and we’ll be back again for Phase 2. We’ve done studies and issued papers on how to meet the transportation, recreation, and environmental needs of the coming development. We’ve stood up for our citizens to protect our resources, whether that means standing up for our libraries or working with Rescue Reston to save Reston National Golf Course.  And we’ve held forums to inform our citizens and listen to their opinions on issues like the Master Plan and the proposed changes at Baron Cameron Park.

If you want to represent the community on the issues that will affect our future, there’s no better place to be than RCA. We recently added some fresh voices to our Board; why not add yours too?

If planning and development isn’t your focus, don’t worry; RCA has a broader focus than that. Since 2008, our Reston Accessibility Committee has been a strong and tenacious advocate for Restonians with disabilities. Our new Reston 411 series provides quick facts to keep our citizens up to speed on what’s going on.  And we’re continuing to work hard on our community-positive traditions like the Citizen of the Year Award and our candidate forums.

If you have a community issue that you believe needs more attention, we’re always open to expanding our portfolio to better serve our citizens.  Join us and lead the way. And we’ve planning to make a big push on improving our communications and fundraising in the next year; if you’re skilled in those areas, we would love to have you on board.

Naturally, you’ll want to know about the candidacy requirements. In order to run for a seat on the RCA Board, you must be at least 16 years old, and you must live in Small Tax District 5 (the tax district that funds the Reston Community Center). That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lived in Reston for 30 days or 30 years, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, what political party you belong to (RCA is non-partisan), or whether you’re younger or older (as long as you’re at least 16). If you want to improve Reston’s quality of life, and you have the drive to get involved, you can throw your hat in the ring.

There are five seats up for election this year:  North Point DirectorLake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center Director, South Lakes DirectorHunters Woods Director, and At-Large Director. How do you know which district you’re in? It depends on where you vote in state and federal elections. I’ve got a handy chart below:

North Point: If you vote in North Point, Stuart, or Aldrin Precincts (at Aldrin or Armstrong)

Lake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center:  If you vote in Reston I, Reston II, Reston III, or Cameron Glen Precinct (at Lake Anne or Forest Edge)

South Lakes: If you vote in Sunrise Valley, South Lakes, or Terraset Precinct

Hunters Woods: If you vote in Dogwood Precinct, Hunter Woods Precinct, or Glade Precinct (at RCC Hunters Woods)

In order to run for a District Director seat, you must live in that district.  To run for At-Large Director, you may live anywhere in Small Tax District 5. All Directors serve 3-year terms (this is a change that we’ve made this year to bring RCA in line with other Reston organizations like RA and RCC).

If you’d like to learn more about RCA and what we’ve been doing, you can read some of my past columns on Reston Now, or you can check out the RCA website. The candidate filing period opens on April 28 (next Monday) and closes on May 23, so don’t delay if you want to run. The candidate form will be up on our website once the filing period opens.

Once you’ve filed as a candidate, then it’s time to start campaigning. Thanks to the online voting system we implemented in 2012, it will be easier than ever for your supporters to cast votes.

If you love Reston and want to be involved during this exciting time, consider running for the RCA Board.  There’s a lot going on, and we need our citizens to be involved. I hope you’ll take this chance to help shape Reston’s future.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: ResTown Hall Meeting on Baron Cameron Park

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.

From there, Terry focused on the plan elements that have generated the most discussion to date: the fields, the proposed recreation center option, the dog park, and the potential impact on traffic.  In each of these areas, he explained the key aspects of the draft plan and the concerns that have been raised.

On the field issue, Terry showed that the plan would actually provide fewer fields than are at the park currently, particularly if part of the land is devoted to a rec center, which is an option in the plan. The Park Authority plans to increase the capacity of the fields by adding artificial turf and lights. Terry showed that with fewer fields, total rectangular field capacity at Baron Cameron would only increase by 20 to 40 percent … and if the rec center is built, it might not increase at all.

Terry briefly discussed the rec center option. As currently envisioned, the Park Authority would supply the land, but would not build the facility (RCC is exploring building a rec center there).Terry expressed Reston 2020’s position that Town Center North would make more sense for a rec center, as that’s where the residents will be.

Baron Cameron Park Plan with new dog park location and indoor rec center/Credit: FCPA Terry noted that the draft plan roughly doubles the number of parking spaces and adds a new north entrance along Wiehle. He noted the pluses (reduces the problem of park users parking in surrounding neighborhoods, improved access to the park) and minuses (added congestion on Wiehle, access challenges for the neighborhood next door). He also noted that the new spaces might be tempting for commuters, who might park there and ride the bus to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

The dog park has become one of the most controversial aspects at Baron Cameron. Terry did a good job explaining both sides, both the dog owners who treasure it as a recreational and social venue and the neighbors who have complained about the noise it generates. He laid out possible options: keeping the dog park as is, moving it to the interior of the park (a plan option), or moving it to another location, such as Lake Fairfax Park.

After that, we broke into small groups for discussion.  My table contained a nice cross-section of the community.  Some of our folks lived across the street from the park; others lived on the other side of town. Some had been Restonians for decades; others were relative newcomers. Some had followed the process closely; others came primarily to learn.

Given the diversity of perspectives around the table, it’s no surprise that we had a lively discussion.  We had some good questions and some creative ideas.  When the other tables reported back to the larger group, it was clear that they’d also had great discussions. There was no invective, no shouting; just thoughtful citizens sharing their views and raising honest questions. It was exactly the kind of forum we hoped to create.

After the tables had shared their feedback, we gave every audience member a few sticky dots to identify the points that mattered most to them. When we totaled up the dots, it was clear what the community likes and doesn’t like about the plan.

The respondents liked the increased field capacity, the addition of trails and fitness stations, the retention of the existing gardens, and the planned multi-use courts. They didn’t like the amount of added parking, the potential added traffic on Wiehle, and the insufficient space dedicated to group social activities  They expressed strong opposition to a rec center at Baron Cameron.  And they mentioned some things to add, like bike storage, a circumferential trail, and a Memorial Garden.

If one concern predominated, it was that the plan tries to do too much in too little space. Unfortunately, we’re likely to hear this concern more often as Reston grows. We’re an active community; kids and adults alike are involved in running, biking, sports leagues, and other recreational activities. The demand for recreational amenities is going to rise — sharply — as Reston’s population increases.

But the available space for those amenities is likely to shrink.  Meeting increased demand for recreation in a limited space, and with limited financial resources, will be a major challenge for our leaders to meet in the coming years.  We’ll need to be smart in identifying our priorities, and creative in finding and implementing solutions.

What’s next? We’re compiling the feedback from the meeting into a community response, which we will submit to the Park Authority. We will highlight the most important issues that the community identified, along with recommendations based on them.  ut we will also include all the feedback we received, to ensure that everyone’s voice is represented in our report.

I believe our inaugural ResTown Hall Meeting was a success. I look forward to this being the first of many such meetings. I hope to see you at the next one.  And whether you attended this one or not, I hope you’ll share your comments with the Park Authority at [email protected] (deadline for public comments is April 27).  In order to make the best decisions for our community, the Park Authority needs to hear from our citizens.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: A Stroll Through Spring

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.

As you probably know, over the past month I have been running for a seat on the Reston Association Board. The campaign is now over, but as of this writing, we don’t know who has won. As a result, I’m not sure whether I will be continuing with RCA.  (If elected to RA, the time commitment will require me to step down from RCA.)

The past month, dividing my time between the campaign and RCA and my family and my job, has been a busy and fairly stressful time. I couldn’t have survived it without the help of my RCA colleagues, who have stepped in to pick up the slack for my lesser involvement. They’ve made sure that RCA has kept humming along and remained just as productive as ever.

If I am not elected to RA, I will happily return to RCA and work on keeping our projects moving forward. But if I do wind up moving on to RA, I have every confidence that my smart and hard-working colleagues will keep RCA going and serving the community well in my absence.

As I await news on my future, I look forward to having some time to enjoy the season. Getting off the campaign trail will free up some more of my time for taking walks along our pathways and enjoying our natural beauty, the trees and flowers in full bloom.

Nature and the environment are essential to Restonians, a fact that was reinforced during my campaign. One of the concerns I heard most frequently from the people I spoke with was balancing development with preserving our natural resources and open space.  Striking that balance will be one of the key challenges that all of us — RCA, RA, and everyone who’s interested in Reston’s future — will need to face in the coming years.

With the revised Master Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors, it’s clear that growth — significant growth — is coming to Reston. There are going to be a lot of new buildings and a lot of new people in our community over the next several decades. Whether that winds up being a positive or a negative for Reston depends on whether we find the balance, particularly in areas like the environment.

It’s true that some parts of Reston, especially around the Silver Line stations, are going to be denser and more urban than anything we’ve been used to before. But there are ways to grow and develop without becoming a concrete jungle. It’s possible to make natural areas a key component of even our most urban neighborhoods. It’s possible to plan with the goal of creating harmony between nature and development. It’s possible to design buildings that are environmentally sensitive, that conserve our resources.

In order to do that, though, it’s going to take careful collaboration between all of Reston’s stakeholders and a shared commitment to those principles.  It will require thoughtful consideration of our priorities, and a clear vision about the elements that are most essential to Reston’s sense of itself.  This will not the easiest or cheapest way to develop.  But it allows us to grow for the future while ensuring that the things we love about Reston will be preserved. I look forward to helping us work toward that goal, whether I’m with RCA or RA or any other organization.

I hope you don’t mind that this week’s column wandered a bit more than usual.  Something about the warmth of springtime encourages this sort of rambling walk. I have no doubt that you’ll be hearing more from me and from RCA on the issues I’ve discussed, and more. I look forward to seeing what happens as spring continues to unfold.  And if you see me out on the pathways enjoying the splendor of the season, be sure and say hi.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now. 


Colin Mills: Information, Please

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.

Each paper in the Reston 411 series is only one page long, designed to be read in just a few minutes.  You can read one on the Metro on your way to work, or while waiting for an appointment. If you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, you’ve got time to read a Reston 411 paper. You’ve got time to learn what’s going on and why it matters.

And if something really catches your eye and you want to learn more about an issue, each paper will include links to sources where you can go for more information. Those links might lead you to official websites with details or data on the matter and hand. Or they might lead to one of RCA’s long analytical reports. The Reston 411 series allows you to tailor your reading to your time and interest. You can just read the paper and get the quick facts you need to be conversant, or you have the resources to really study an issue and become an expert. The choice is yours.

Since the Baron Cameron Park Master Plan and the related discussion of a possible new RCC rec center are in the news, our first entry in the Reston 411 series deals with Small District 5, the Reston-based tax district that funds RCC. As we’ve talked to Restonians about the rec center proposal, we’ve discovered that a number of people don’t know about Small District 5, don’t realize they’re paying the tax, or don’t understand why they’re paying it. That’s why we decided to start here.

This paper will answer questions like: What exactly is Small District 5? Why does it exist? When was it created?  How much are you paying as a result of it? How does the Small District 5 tax relate to your Fairfax County property tax? When you finish reading the paper, you’ll have these facts and more.

Why is this important?  Because as Reston continues to grow and develop, we’re going to face tough questions about how to use our limited resources to fund our community’s needs and wants. As a citizen, you’re going to be asked to weigh in on those decisions, either when they come up for a vote or by giving input to our County Supervisor on the community’s priorities. It’s more important than ever to understand how we fund the amenities we enjoy today and where the money comes from, so that you know what can be done and can form an educated opinion on how our resources should best be used for the good of our community.

Future installments in the Reston 411 series may include an explanation of the services that Fairfax County provides for Reston, a primer on the Soapstone Connector, and what changes Reston’s newly amended Master Plan might bring to our community. In each case, the goal will be to provide you with the facts and figures you need to be an informed citizen and an informed voter.

With the change coming to Reston in the years and decades ahead, our elected leaders will need to hear from the citizens about the issues and priorities that matter to us.  In order to contribute to the discussion, our citizens need to be educated about the issues we face. The Reston 411 series is designed to help busy citizens learn about the community in a simple, straightforward, easy-to-digest manner.

We at RCA hope that the Reston 411 series will be a valuable community service.  Assuming that the papers prove to be a hit, we plan to provide them on a regular basis. It’s just another way that RCA plans to help Restonians become better informed and more involved.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: RCA Wants Your Thoughts on Baron Cameron Plan

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.

Baron Cameron Park has a bit of an interesting history.  The site was original owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, which intended to use the site to construct a middle and/or high school for Reston.  In the mid-1970s, with no school yet built on the site, the school system allowed the Fairfax County Park Authority to build and manage some temporary recreation facilities on the site.

Over time, these facilities included athletic fields, a community garden, a playground, and an off-leash dog park.  In 2006, with no school ever having been built on the site, FCPS turned Baron Cameron over to the Board of Supervisors, which in turn transferred it to the Park Authority in 2011.

Historically, no one’s paid that much attention to Baron Cameron.  But interest in the park has increased dramatically in the last year or so.  The news that RCC was considering the park as a possible site for its proposed indoor rec center generated a great deal of public discussion.  More recently, some of the park’s neighbors filed a lawsuit to shut down the dog park due to the noise.

With public attention focused on the park, the Park Authority has come up with a draft Master Plan, which it will formally present at a public meeting on Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at Aldrin Elementary.  The draft plan includes a number of changes to the park: adding artificial turf and lights to the fields, increasing parking, adding a picnic pavilion and restrooms, expanding the community garden, including multi-use courts, and building a trail network that connects to Brown’s Chapel Park next door.

There are also plan alternatives, which would allow construction of an indoor rec center and relocation of the dog area to an interior part of the park.

I encourage everyone to attend the Park Authority’s meeting if you can.  But I also hope you’ll come out to the ResTown Hall Meeting on the April 7 to learn more, make your voice heard, and talk with your neighbors about the plan and what you think.

Our meeting will begin with a recap of what’s in the plan, for those who couldn’t attend the Park Authority’s presentation.  But we’ll also provide additional information.  We’ll attempt to put the proposed changes at Baron Cameron in the larger context of Reston’s coming redevelopment.  We’ll also discuss any issues that were raised by the public at the Park Authority meeting, and fill you in on the research and analysis Reston 2020 has done on the rec center and the athletic field situation in Reston.

But the main purpose of our meeting is to listen to you, Reston’s citizens.  So after providing this background information, we’ll break into small groups to talk in detail about the plan.  Each group will have a chance to talk about the strengths of the Baron Cameron Plan, any concerns about it, suggested additions to the plan, and any questions that might arise.

After the small groups have had the chance to provide their feedback, we’ll report out and try to identify the most important comments, suggestions, and concerns that the community shares about the plan.  Reston 2020 will then take the contributions received at the meeting, consolidate it, and present it to the Park Authority as a community response to the draft Master Plan.

Why is this meeting so important?  Because the proposed changes to Baron Cameron are significant, and time is of the essence.  After the Park Authority’s meeting on the 27th, there is a 30-day window for public comment on the plan.  Once that window is closed, the Park Authority Board will be able to approve the draft plan, and then it will be locked into place.  Once approved, the Master Plan will guide the Park Authority’s vision for the park for the next decade.

So if there are things you think should be added to or removed from the plan, now is the time to speak up.  By consolidating the citizens’ comments and thoughts into a single community response, Reston 2020’s document will speak with a louder and clearer message than a bunch of individual comments.  The document should give the Park Authority something to consider carefully, if the citizens believe that changes are needed.

I look forward to seeing all of you at the ResTown Hall Meeting on April 7.  If you want to learn more about what the Baron Cameron plan means for Reston, or if you want to speak out about anything you want to see preserved or changed in the plan, you’ll never have a better opportunity.  This is your community; make sure that your voice is heard.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


Colin Mills: Reflections on RCA’s Citizen Of The Year Ceremony

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.

RCA’s Terry Maynard, who nominated Kathy for the award, began with an excerpt from a letter Kathy wrote last summer, discussing a book of poetry she found at the library and expressing her fear that it would be thrown away, like thousands of other County library books in recent years. For Kathy, the fate of our libraries isn’t an abstract concern. It’s personal.

Terry then walked the audience through all that Kathy did, from reading thousands of pages about the County’s library plans, to writing letters to County officials opposing the library cuts, to reaching out to librarians and library friends groups, to meeting with County supervisors, to gathering over 2,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the library system to re-evaluate its Strategic Plan.

Clearly, it took a lot of people coming together to convince the Library Board and the Board of Supervisors to stop the Beta Plan and the destruction of books. But as Terry’s speech made clear, there may be no single person who did more than Kathy Kaplan.

Kathy’s library efforts were the focus of the ceremony, but she has contributed much more to Reston than that. The next two speakers celebrated some of Kathy’s other good works in the community.

ARCH President Jerry Volloy gave a very emotional speech about Kathy’s contribution to the 9/11 memorial at Brown’s Chapel Park.  He described how, as RA CEO, he led an effort to create a memorial to that awful day (two Restonians lost their lives in the attacks).  He explained that they created a row of trees and bushes to create a memorial garden, and how the bronze plaques sculpted by Kathy provided the perfect complement to the natural beauty on display.

He noted that one of the plaques included an image of a caterpillar and a butterfly, to symbolize the renewal of life. Kathy is an artist as well as an activist, and Jerry’s tribute was a fitting celebration of that side of her.

After Jerry spoke, up stepped Connie Hartke, who is on the boards of both RCA and Rescue Reston, the group fighting to save the Reston National Golf Course. Connie described how nervous she was when she first became active with Rescue Reston a year ago, because she wasn’t up-to-speed on community issues. Kathy helped her get informed, and provided invaluable research and information to Rescue Reston. Connie noted that two of the community’s most valuable assets are the Freedom of Information Act and Kathy, who knows how to use it.

Kathy Kaplan (left) and RCA president Colin Mills/Credit: RCARCA’s Tammi Petrine spoke next. She noted that not only does Kathy read those long and boring documents most of us can’t be bothered with — she understands them!  A valuable skill, indeed. Tammi updated the audience on the ongoing threats to the library system, including a resumption of the book culling and further budget cuts. She urged everyone to stay involved and continue to support our libraries and our librarians.

When Kathy spoke, she emphasized the importance of libraries in her life.  She grew up in a town where the nearest library was 10 miles away, and she walked there if she had to in order to get her fill of books. (She described “The Summer of L. Frank Baum,” when she read all the Oz books. When she moved to Reston in 1983, she treasured our library; even though it was tiny, she took home a giant stack of books every time she went.

Kathy noted that the real heroes of last year are the librarians, some of whom were in attendance to celebrate her award. She praised them for having the courage to stand up and comment at meetings, and to write letters in their own names, even at the risk of retribution. She herself, she said, just “caused as much trouble as possible.”

Those of us who know Kathy know how good she is at causing trouble.  And thank goodness for that; a healthy community needs citizens who aren’t afraid to make noise. We need the Kathy Kaplans of the world, people who are willing to slog through official records and speak out when they see something wrong. Engaged citizens like Kathy keep our officials honest, and make sure that our institutions keep the best interests of the people at heart.

Thanks to Terry for a thoughtful nomination. Thanks, as always, to Leila Gordon and RCC for hosting the event and displaying the award plaque. And a special thanks to Harris Teeter at the Spectrum and Wegmans in Fairfax for their contributions to the food for our reception. And congratulations to Kathy Kaplan, a quiet woman who knows how to make noise, and who might just have saved our library system.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.


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