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In Civil Suit, Three Herndon Town Council Candidates Allege Council Member Took Part in Malicious Prosecution

Herndon Town Councilmember Grace Wolf Cunningham is facing a civil suit filed by a trio of candidates, including two current councilmembers, who allege Cunningham, also a council candidate, engaged in malicious prosecution over the summer.

The Sept. 24 suit, filed by Cesar del Aguila, Sheila Olem and Signe Friedrichs, alleges that Cunningham filed three complaints with the Virginia Department of Elections claiming the candidates violated state campaign ad law based on “personal, vindictive reasons.”

Cunningham filed the complaints following a meeting by Dranesville Magisterial District Democratic Committee, which met in late June to recommend six candidates to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee for endorsement. Cunningham was the only candidate who was not recommended by the committee, according to the complaint.

All three complaints were unanimously dismissed by the Virginia State Board of Elections on Sept. 20. Four days after the decision, which took about a minute-and-a-half to reach, the candidates filed the civil suit against Cunningham.

In an email to Reston Now, Cunningham, who has served on the Town Council since 2010, said there was not much to comment on because the matter is ongoing litigation. A motion by her attorney to dismiss the case was denied earlier today.

John Farrell, the plaintiff’s attorney, said a decision on the case is pending and subpoenas to six of Cunningham’s “allies,” including Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, have been delivered.

“We believe this was a concerted effort and that there are documents that she sent them that prove that she was filing her case for malicious reasons,” Farrell said.

The first complaint against Friedrichs stated a grip card that said “Herndon’s Future is Happening Now: Let’s plan it together” contained no identification about the campaign committee that paid for the card. The second complaint against del Aguila did not form a campaign committee and did not file any campaign finance disclosure reports. TThe final complaint against Olem challenges a grip card that stated “Moving Forward Herndon.”

The state’s elections board found all of Cunningham’s complaints were unfounded.

Del Aguila, Olem and Friedrichs are seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 punitive damages. Olem and Friedrichs are current councilmembers.

The complaint filed by the trio goes on to say that Cunningham sought to damage the other candidates’ electoral prospects by “subjecting them to unfounded allegations of campaign advertisement violations, and by forcing them to defend themselves at a public hearing before the Virginia State Board of Elections.”

That process damaged the candidates public standing and threatened their electoral prospects, according to the complaint. It also states that Cunningham was willful, wanton, and malicious, in the sense of acting with ill will, malevolence, grudge, spite, wicked intention, and a conscious disregard for Plaintiffs’ rights.”

Descriptions of the dismissed complaints filed by Cunningham are below and were obtained by Reston Now:

“Cesar Del Aguila is a candidate for Town Council in the Town of Herndon and running in the Nov 6th General Election. His affiliates have been doorknocking and handing out his campaign literature that is allegedly paid for and authorized by “Friends of Cesar” – there is no campaign committee of that name in the entire state,

Cesar Del Aguila has violated campaign finance reporting requirements that he form a campaign committee nor has he filed any of the required campaign finance disclosure reports.

Signe Friedrichs is a candidate for Town Council and up for election in the Nov 6th General Election in the Town of Herndon. Residents are being doorknocked and handed her campaign literature that does not have any disclaimers as to who paid and authorized this piece of printed campaign literature.

No identification of whose campaign committee paid for and authorized this palm card [by Signe for Herndon]”.

Photo via Virginia Department of Elections

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Friday Morning Notes

Chinchillas, hedgehogs and hermit crabs — Having these pets could be legal soon. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is looking into changing the definition of commonly accepted pets. The change was spurred by a 12-year-old desire to legally own a hedgehog. [WTOP]

Firing off on a firefighter — A 50-year-old woman who was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance attacked a firefighter and caused several minor injuries. She was charged with assault on a firefighter. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Feedback sought on Fairfax County Parkway improvements — Local and state officials are working on a longterm plan to improve the parkway and Franconia-Springfield Parkway. An online survey is available through Nov. 19. [Virginia Department of Transportation]

Photo by Richard Knapp

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Summer Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Campaign by Local Police Targets Problem Intersections

Pedestrian and bicyclist safety is on the radar of local police at the Reston District Station, particularly as the area becomes more urbanized.

In response to an increase in accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians during the summer, local police officers launched a public safety campaign. Although the campaign was focused on educating the public instead of enforcing violations, local police offered tips about safety, including obeying traffic signals and using traffic laws, to more than 1,000 residents.

The public safety campaign ran from June 4 through the end of the summer following the death of a 71-year-old pedestrian who was hit by a car in May. Police officers met with hundreds of residents to promote pedestrian safety and distribute literature in order to reduce accidents.

Accidents between pedestrians and cars have become more frequent, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

FCPD’s first priority was areas where pedestrian and car accidents have happened in the past. Other areas that were targeted have heavy traffic and pedestrian crosswalks, Sgt. Aaron Pfeiff told Reston Now.

“The public was very appreciative of the officer’s efforts and it was noticed that more pedestrians and bicyclist were obeying traffic signals and using crosswalks,” Pfeiff said.

Pfeiff identified the following intersections where officers focused their efforts:

  • Georgetown Pike/Walker Rd
  • Bluemont Way/Library St
  • Reston Pkwy/New Dominion Dr
  • Sunset Hills Rd/Michael Faraday Dr
  • Sunset Hills Rd/Isaac Newton Dr
  • Sunset Hills Rd/Whiele Ave
  • Parcher Ave/Centreville Rd
  • Coppermine Rd/Thomas Jefferson Dr
  • Hunter Mill Rd/Hunter Station
  • Sunrise Valley Dr/Cross School Rd

Photo via FCPD

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County Board Approves Lake Anne Fellowship House Redevelopment

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved the redevelopment of Lake Anne Fellowship House, a 240-unit project that offers affordable housing for seniors.

County officials and the development team called the approval, granted on Tuesday (Oct. 16), a win for seniors seeking affordable housing in Reston. For years, community partners and Fellowship Square Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and maintains the current buildings, have contemplated ways to replace the aging buildings with a new facility.

All affordable units, currently distributed between two aging buildings built in the 1970s, will be replaced with a new 240-unit building along North Shore Drive near the intersection with Village Road. The eight-story apartment building is 200,000 square feet and includes a garage. The plan also adds 36 market-rate townhouses to the west side of the property that will help finance the construction of senior housing.

Lake Anne’s current tenants will stay in their apartment during the two-year construction of the new building. After residents move, the old buildings will be torn down and converted into townhouses.

“The residents are excited and they are looking forward to a brand-new facility,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, adding that the addition of townhouses “brings in another neighbor to the community to coalesce with this current group of citizens and those that will come in the future.”

The project is led by Fellowship Square Foundation and the Community Preservation and Development Corp., a nonprofit real estate developer. The development team navigated through many difficult issues to bring the project to fruition, including preserving the number of affordable units and maintaining housing for all current tenants, according to Lynne Strobel, representative of Fellowship Square Foundation. A previous partnership with Novus Residences failed to gain traction in 2004.

The need for the project intensified recently as subsidies from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development expired or will expire within the next five years, Strobel said. The current buildings were also becoming difficult and costly to maintain, she said.

The units offer different levels of affordability, with the first tier beginning at 50 percent of the area median income or about $41,050 per person. The plan also includes eight publicly-accessible parks and transportation improvements. The development team plans to dedicate land for the future alignment of Village Road, which will include a new northbound lane, an eight-foot-wide raised median and 10-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road.

Michael Scheurer, a Fellowship Square Foundation board member, said the redevelopment effort was complicated, difficult and serves as a growing number of aging residents in Reston in need of affordable housing opportunities. The foundation has another 220-unit affordable senior housing project that is undergoing renovations.

“You can see that we have a longterm and substantial investment in the community,” Scheurer said.

Photos via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Thursday Morning Notes

If you want a promotion — If you’re interested in learning how to land a promotion, you can attend this event tonight as part of a young professionals series open to members and guests. [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]

Did someone say indoor inflatables — Reston Community Center is offering a drop-in program with indoor inflatables and oversized toys on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10-11:30 a.m. Parents must supervise their kids (and unfortunately, the equipment is only game for the little ones). [Reston Community Center]

County schools host digital citizenship week  — “This week is Digital Citizenship Week in our county schools and it’s important for parents/guardians to help children become safe, ethical, responsible and respectful digital citizens.” [Fairfax County Government]

Photo by Kit Allgaier

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T-Mobile Installation on Waterford Square Condominium Flatly Rejected Again

Reston Association’s Design Review Board unanimously shot down T-Mobile’s plans to install cell phone equipment on the roof of Waterford Square Condominiums Tuesday night — noting that the company’s tweaked plans did little to address residents’ concerns about the equipment’s incompatibility with the building.

T-Mobile proposed to install cell phone equipment on the building, igniting vehement opposition from residents’ who argued the equipment was extremely visible, damaged the building’s character and posed possible health concerns.

Richard Newlon, the DRB’s chair, said T-Mobile’s plan, which was similar to plans rejected by the board in April, did little to address the panel’s concerns about the visibility of the equipment. Panels are around 12 feet high and 10 feet wide.

“It was clear in April that this kind of design is not going to get approved by this board and it’s the same design,” Newlon said. “It’s almost embarrassing to be sitting here saying the same thing again and I don’t want to be… six months from now… saying the same thing again.”

DRB members also worried that installing cell phone equipment on a residential building could lead to similar proposals by other service providers. The redevelopment of Lake Anne Fellowship House prompted T-Mobile to remove its equipment from the rooftop and scout for other locations in Reston.

More than 25 people, including condominium residents and neighbors of the building, opposed the plan on Tuesday. Some noted that their stance was not indicative of mere opposition to change, adding that residents of the condominium were exploring the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof.

“We’re not trying to live in the past,” one resident, who lived in the building for roughly 20 years, said.

Ed Donahue, T-Mobile’s legal representative, said the company had attempted to strike a compromise by scaling back the structure from the edge of the roof and installing plastic, brick-like screening for the equipment. Donahue also noted that possible health concerns and zoning were outside of the DRB’s purview.

“We are in full compliance of the federal guidelines as we are on the thousands of sites in Virginia,” Donahue said, comparing T-Mobile’s plans to a similar installation at the Heron House.

Other DRB members said that T-Mobile failed to convince the board how the cell phone equipment and towers would be compatible with the architectural integrity of the building.

“I still see that it’s visible and it does detract from the architecture and the roofline,” said Grace Peters, a DRB member.

The equipment by other companies displaced by development at the Lake Anne Fellowship House have not yet proposed plans for reinstallation to other sites.

Photo via handout/Reston Association

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In Herndon House Fire, Glitchy Laptop Causes Nearly $94,000 in Damages

A glitchy laptop caught fire on Monday and caused $93,750 in damages to a Herndon home, according to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

The fire happened on Monday (Oct. 15) just before 1 p.m. on the 13100 block of Weather Vane Way in Herndon. Fire and rescue crews extinguished the fire, which started in a bedroom on the second floor of the two-story, single-family home. Damages were limited to the bedroom and no one was injured, according to the department.

One adult was home at the time of the fire. When she smelled smoke and heard crackling noises, she discovered a fire on the top of the bedroom’s bed.

Fire department officials said the fire was “accidental in nature.” Three adults were displaced because of the incident. Red Cross assistance was declined.

Photos via Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department

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New Members Appointed to Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors appointed three members to Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors Tuesday (Oct. 16).

Incumbents Lisa Sechrest-Ehrhardt and William G. Bouie were appointed to the board alongside newcomer Richard Stillson. Sechrest-Ehrhardt had the most votes in this year’s preference poll with 1,426 votes. Stillson had 1,221 votes while Bouie had 1,194 votes. Other candidates were Gerald Zavala (1,036 votes) and April Tan (755 votes).

Three-year terms for the newly-appointed members begin on Nov. 5. Zavala, who unsuccessfully ran for a board seat, will leave the board after serving for six years, including four as treasurer.

RCC offered the following background information about the new members:

William G. Bouie has served on the RCC Board since 2003, and served as the Board Chair from 2006 until 2008. He is also the current chair of the Fairfax County Park Authority Board, and vice chair of the Board of Directors for Public Art Reston. He has served in formal and informal roles in many other community organizations, including the Wolf Trap Associates Board of Directors, Reston Hospital Board of Trustees, Reston Little League, Reston Youth Baseball, Reston’s YMCA Board of Management, Friends of Reston and the United States Olympic Committee’s Project Gold, among others.

Lisa Sechrest-Ehrhardt has served on the RCC Board since 2012. She is a professional social worker and diversity trainer. In addition to her experience as a former RCC employee, Lisa and her family have participated in numerous RCC programs as patrons. Her experiences as an educator and communicator have focused on celebrating diversity and engaging community members of all backgrounds.

Richard Stillson is a 46-year Reston resident and longtime International Monetary Fund staffer. He was the first president of the advocacy group Reston 2020 and was former chair of Reston Association’s Lakes Committee. He has been active at RCC as an instructor of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) courses.

RCC is governed by a nine-member board that is appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors after residents and businesses of Small District 5 note their preferences in an annual poll. The board is responsible for key oversight functions, including strategic planning, community relations, fiduciary oversight and policy administration.

Logo via Reston Community Center

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Cycling on — New Trail Cycling Studio, which is scheduled to open soon, is hosting an open house for visitors to take a sneak peek at progress on Oct. 27. [New Trail Cycling Studio]

Feedback sought on Metro parking and fare changes — Metro is considering increase fares for peak service by about $1. The change is intended to “respond to market trends and improve the customer experience,” especially when it comes to covering the “extraordinary” costs of providing rush-hour service and staffing to support large-scale regional events. [Washington Metropolitan Area Authority]

A local project that changed Greater Washington — This article posits that Reston Town Center is a project that changed the area and continues to “rack up accolades” as a model for national development. [Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Former sheriff’s deputy arrested — A former Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office Deputy was charged with carnal knowledge of an inmate and one count of sexual battery. The inmate said she was sexually assaulted by the deputy in December 2016 or January 2017. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Decision on ‘Midline’ Delayed to November Again

The Fairfax County Planning Commission delayed a decision on the Midline, a 1.8-million-square-foot mixed-use project, for the second time.

The project by JBG Smith, EYA and Chevy Chase Land Co. aims to create a 17.5-acre development east of Wiehle-Avenue and south of Sunset Hills Road with four blocks of development.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said the county is still working with the development team to ensure the development has a sufficient number of workforce and affordable dwelling units, as well as a suitable mix of assisted living and multi-family units.

“The applicant is making progress on this,” Carter said at an Oct. 11 Planning Commission meeting. The development team is meeting the county “halfway” on its requirements for a balanced mix of affordable housing and appropriate services for residents of assisted-living units and multi-family units.

Block A would include one building with 127 independent units and a 33-bed assisted living facility. The second building would include a 325-unit multi-family building and around 103,870 square feet of other uses. Block B would include a 225-unit multi-family building and around 260,000 square feet of office space. The 14-story office building is the tallest in the development.  The plan for blocks C and D is more flexible, with a mix of multi-family units and townhouses proposed. Overall, the residential portion of the development would serve up to 1,500 residents.

A decision was deferred to Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. The case, which was previously deferred in late September to Oct. 11, has not yet been docketed for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Photo via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Antsy about antennas — T-Mobile is trying once again to put cell phone equipment on top of the Waterford Square condominium building. Plans were rejected earlier this year, but a second shot is planned will be proposed to Reston Association’s Design Review Board tonight. [Reston Association]

Meet MeSpoke — This company based in Reston offers a digital community for retail shopping. Users download the app and create a billboard, which curates photos of clothing ensembles from the user’s favorite brands. [WTOP]

Meeting on transit station guidelines tonight — A meeting about draft guidelines for Reston’s Transit Station Areas is set for today at 6 p.m. in Reston Association headquarters. Guidelines are intended to implement Reston’s comprehensive plan, which was amended in 2014. [Reston Association]

Woodfield to replace office building — The company wants to tear down the small office building at 1941 Roland Clarke Place in order to build a larger, 308-unit apartment building. [Washington Business Journal]

Farmers Market returns to Reston Town Center — The market will be on from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the pavilion. [Reston Town Center]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Bestselling Author Armistead Maupin Coming to CenterStage

Armistead Maupin, an LGBTQ artist and a bestselling author best known for his six-volume Tales of the City series, is coming to Reston Community Center on Sunday (Oct. 21). Maupin is scheduled to speak at CenterStage on at 7 p.m.

Tickets, which are $20 for Reston residents and $30 for all others, can be purchased online.

Maupin, who was born in the District in 1944, grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina and served with the River Patrol Force in Vietnam.

He worked as a newspaper reporter in Charleston, South Carolina, after which he was assigned to the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press in 1971. He has written nine novels. One of his novels, The Night Listener, became a feature film starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette, according to his website.

RCC issued the following information about Maupin and his work:

Launched in 1976 as a groundbreaking serial in the San Francisco Chronicle, Armistead Maupin’s iconic Tales of the City series has since blazed its own trail through popular culture – from a sequence of globally best-selling novels, to a Peabody Award-winning television miniseries starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney. His new book is a memoir titled Logical Family, which grew out of his critically acclaimed one-man show of the same name and can be purchased prior to and after the performance.

Maupin now lives in San Francisco with his husband.

Photo via Reston Community Center

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Monday Morning Notes

Where’d the money go — A report by the Office of Inspector General has found that Metro failed to properly track millions of dollars in spending. [WTOP]

Reston resident, others challenge local Airbnb regulations — “One month into Fairfax County’s new regulations on short-term lodging, a group of local citizens are suing to have the regulations voided. On July 31, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Short-Term Lodging (STL) Zoning Ordinance Amendment aimed at regulating home-sharing inside Fairfax, most commonly carried out through the websites Airbnb and VRBO.” [Tysons Reporter]

Make the call — County officials urge residents to make the call by stopping domestic violence. The event was in recognition of domestic violence awareness month. [The Connection]

Photo by Chip McCrea

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Months-long CEO Vacancy at Reston Association Remains

Reston Association’s top leadership position of CEO remains unfilled following the previous CEO’s departure from the organization in late February.

Since former CEO Cate Fulkerson left her position in late February and transitioned into a special advisor role, RA’s Board of Directors has not yet found a permanent replacement. In a note to RA’s members, board president Andy Sigle said the board is working with human resources to expand the search for CEO and voted last month to hire an executive search firm to assist with the hiring process.

Larry Butler, RA’s senior direct of land use and planning, took over as acting CEO in mid-April after Robert Wood, the acting CEO at the time, stepped down to take another position at a non-profit organization in the District.

Since beginning the process of selecting a new CEO “in earnest” in May, Sigle indicated that no candidates advanced during a second round of interviews with the board in August. The board voted on candidates for the first round of interviews, which were held in June and July. Candidates were interviewed by an internal board search committee with RA’s senior leadership team and selected board members.

Here’s more from Sigle’s note to members:

Members can rest assured that the board is seeking a CEO who can work cooperatively and collaboratively in establishing short and long-term goals and priorities for the association. The CEO leads the effort to develop biennial budgets, so it is vitally important to the future of Reston that resources allotted in those budgets are used wisely. The board plays a fiduciary role in making sure your assessment dollars are spent in a way that aligns with the association’s Strategic Plan and focuses on the quality of life issues that make Reston a special place to live, work and play.

While there are an array of traits and qualifications we are seeking in the next CEO, the ability to lead and manage ranks near or at the top. Integrity, ethical conduct and the proven know-how to foster a climate that attracts, retains and motivates a diverse staff are important skills in leading any community organization, especially one as large and intricate as Reston Association.

Making the tough calls isn’t always fun, but it is a necessary requirement in overseeing a staff with over 100 employees working in a broad range of jobs that all focus on RA’s mission statement. The CEO position is a member-facing, rollup-your-sleeves job that requires the ability to smartly navigate through internal issues and also external policy matters involving Fairfax County and private businesses. Financial stewardship and extensive knowledge of customer service are at the forefront of what the board and RA members expect from a CEO.

While we wind through the process of hiring a new CEO, the board wants to express its thanks to the RA staff for stepping up to make sure that “the trains continue to run on time” in the interim. The importance of selecting the right person to lead RA can’t be overemphasized enough, so we continue to appreciate the patience shown by staff and members as we do our due diligence.

While board members come and go with each annual election, the CEO should bring a sense of stability and vision to the organization that will hopefully last for years. We will keep you posted on our progress and promptly introduce you to our new CEO when they are onboard.

Photo via Reston Association

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