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by RestonNow.com — June 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm 2 Comments

This week’s news cycle was dominated by the shocking and horrific killing of Nabra Hassanen. The community showed its support Wednesday evening with a massive and beautiful vigil at Lake Anne Plaza.

All of our coverage of the Nabra Hassanen story is available here.

In case you missed them, these were the other most-read news stories on Reston Now since last Friday:

  1. Garage Parking is Free for Jackson’s Customers… But How Does It Work?
  2. Cooper’s Hawk Plans to Hire 200 People in Next Two Months
  3. South Lakes Seniors Return to Elementary School Roots to Celebrate Graduation
  4. Reclaim Reston to County: Pump the Brakes on Density, Development
  5. Closed: Mama Wok at Tall Oaks Village Center

Feel free to discuss these topics and anything else that happened locally this week. Have a great weekend!

by Del. Ken Plum — June 22, 2017 at 11:30 am 11 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

With the conclusion of the political party primaries last week, the general election is now teed up for Nov. 7.

There were some surprises coming out of the Democratic and Republican primaries. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic primary to be the nominee for governor, even though there was discussion beforehand that polls indicated a tight race. Polling for primaries is notorious for being inaccurate because with a typically light turnout, the universe of potential voters is almost impossible to determine. Former one-term Congressman Tom Perriello has a great deal to offer and will hopefully stay on the scene for future opportunities. Although the term “establishment” was grossly overused in describing Ralph Northam, his service in the state Senate plus his active role as lieutenant governor made him well known and greatly admired throughout the state.

Justin Fairfax gained everyone’s admiration after a primary loss to Attorney General Mark Herring four years ago led to his active campaigning during the interim time, making him well known for this primary. He was also well known for his work as an attorney. If you review the areas where Ralph Northam did well and compare them with where Justin Fairfax was strongest, you create a strong statewide team that will be nearly impossible to defeat. Attorney General Mark Herring was not challenged in a primary and will be on the ballot to succeed himself in November. There is no one-term limitation with the attorney general and the lieutenant governor as there is with the governor.

The greatest surprise of the primaries may have been on the Republican side to pick a candidate for governor. Ed Gillespie who has been mentioned for years as the next Republican governor of Virginia barely got through the primary with a shockingly strong showing by Corey Stewart, who is known for his anti-immigrant work in Prince William County and for campaigning with a Confederate flag. He has the distinction of being so over the top that he was fired by the Trump campaign. Turnout was especially low in the Republican primary, and Stewart was just over a percentage point from taking out Gillespie. It will be interesting to see if the folks who voted for Stewart will vote in the general election or decide to stay home.

The Republican primary for lieutenant governor was a slugfest between two state senators, with Sen. Jill Vogel winning after a mud-slinging campaign that left neither candidate looking good.

All 100 seats for the House of Delegates are up for election this fall with a record number of contested elections. Historically, it has been difficult to recruit candidates to run for the House of Delegates, but events of the past year have brought forth more candidates than ever before. There was a record number 27 seats where the candidates were determined by the primary because there was so much interest in running. Democrats will certainly pick up seats in the House of Delegates getting closer to shifting or sharing power in that legislative body.

While I am uncontested in my race for the House of Delegates, you can still expect to see me campaigning. It is a good way to stay in touch with constituents and to increase turn-out for the statewide elections. Expect a busy fall of campaigning leading up to the fall elections in Virginia that will send a signal to the nation as to the public’s reaction to national events.

by RestonNow.com — June 21, 2017 at 11:00 am 2 Comments

There is still a week and a half left to get yourself nominated for the 2017 Best Reston Business Awards.

The Best Reston Business Awards are a chance for residents to vote on their favorite Reston establishments. But before the voting takes place, we need business owners or managers to throw their hat in the ring.

Do you have a store, restaurant, hair salon, legal practice or any other Reston-based business in the categories below? Nominate yourself for this honor using the embedded form or by clicking here.

The nomination period will run through June 30.

We’re asking businesses to nominate themselves so that we know exactly who to contact in the event that they make the finals or win in a category. If you want to be able to vote for your favorite business, reach out — via email, social media or in person — and encourage them to submit a nomination.

Note that “new business” refers to any business that has opened since Jan. 1, 2016.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 15, 2017 at 11:00 am 24 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

One of my favorite classes to teach in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University is a course I have entitled “A New Look at the Old Dominion.”

It came out of my experiences growing up in Virginia and attending public schools from elementary through graduate school and using state-approved textbooks, at least in the early years. A persistent problem I had was matching up the romanticized version of Virginia’s history with realities I read about in source materials. This problem is not unique to Virginia or its history; every state and every culture always attempts to put its best foot forward. It skews our view of events and may lead us to believe that America was at its greatest in some bygone era. The fact of the matter is that our greatness has been evolving.

Reading early Virginia textbooks could lead one to believe that slavery was good for all, until what some termed the “War of Northern Aggression,” and then there was the Lost Cause movement that restored faith that Virginia was right all along. We still hear remnants of that line of thinking as the debate on Confederate monuments is going on.

I was reminded of this background as I recently visited a new exhibition at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County. Through extensive archaeological work there is an attempt to tell “a more complete American story.” The title of the exhibition, “A Mere Distinction of Colour,” is a phrase from Madison’s writings: “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”

Despite that observation, the Father of Our Constitution was the owner of hundreds of slaves who worked his farms and did his labor allowing him time to be a statesman. He did not free his slaves at his death. Enslaved families were split up and sold to retire the debt he left behind.

Visiting Montpelier today, you can see the mansion beautifully restored, including the upstairs room where Madison probably did his writing about the Constitution. Thanks to important archaeological work, you can visit the area around the mansion where the slave quarters were located, with several reproductions having been added in recent years. A tour of Montpelier can be eye-opening for your children, to contrast the home of the owner with the quarters of the enslaved.

Nearby at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, there is an expansion of the tours to include a slave tour. The tour guide says very clearly what was denied for generations, that Jefferson fathered several children by Sally Hemings. Of the more than a hundred slaves owned by the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said “all men are created equal,” on his death only those slaves that he had fathered were freed.

The historians at Montpelier call it “a more complete American story.” It is being written way past time. While we need to acknowledge and embrace a history that is inclusive of the men and women who did the work in founding our country, acknowledging the arbitrary distinctions of the past will make us stronger as a nation.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 8, 2017 at 10:15 am 5 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The Virginia General Assembly will celebrate its 400th anniversary in a couple of years, making it the longest-running representative legislative body in this hemisphere.

Although not much has changed in the basic procedures of lawmaking with committees and structured floor debate, over the centuries there have been adaptations to the times as the Legislature has sought to best serve those it represents. Most recently, the biggest changes have been to the housing of the legislative functions.

For those interested in details, here is a summary of the major changes — past and present. The General Assembly in 2004 abandoned Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol for the first time since the Civil War to give the place a major renovation that would keep it standing and expand its size underground so as to not take away from its iconic exterior. For that renovation, the Legislature moved to the former state library, whose upstairs had been renovated to be the Governor’s Office but whose reading rooms downstairs had been left intact and became very efficiently the House of Delegates and Senate chambers for several sessions.

Meanwhile, the offices of legislators in the General Assembly Building (GAB) have been crumbling asbestos, explaining the white dust that periodically appeared on the furniture. Legislating should not be considered hazardous duty, at least in a physical sense, nor should failing plumbing and heating and cooling systems cause delays in the work of the Legislature.

For decades, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia had occupied the building before it moved to an office park in the suburbs and sold its aging building to the Commonwealth. The building is currently being demolished, and a new office building will be constructed in its place with a parking garage across the street. That will be good news for those who want to participate in the legislative process but have been prevented from doing so because they simply could not find a place to park.

The last act of legislators this past session was to pack ourselves up for a move down Richmond’s Capitol Hill to the Pocahontas Building, formerly in private hands as the State Planters Bank of Commerce and Trust Building, where we will have temporary but nice and asbestos-free offices for several years while the new building will be constructed. The Pocahontas Building was available to us as the Attorney General and his staff, who had offices there, have recently relocated to the Barbara Johns Building, formerly the Hotel Richmond and later state offices, just across the street from where the new General Assembly Building will be.

Regardless of whether you chose to follow all that, the good news is that when you come to Richmond you will be much more likely to find a convenient place to park, and you will be in a safer setting.

With our physical surroundings taken care of, now we need to go to work on bringing the legislative process up to date by making it more transparent and responsive. Maybe a significant anniversary and a change in working environment should be viewed as a time to start anew.

by RestonNow.com — June 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm 2 Comments

The nominations for the 2017 Best Reston Business Awards are now open.

The Best Reston Business Awards are a chance for residents to vote on their favorite Reston establishments. But before the voting takes place, we need business owners or managers to throw their hat in the ring.

Do you have a store, restaurant, hair salon, legal practice or any other Reston-based business in the categories below? Nominate yourself for this honor using the embedded form or by clicking here.

Nominations begin today and will run through June 30.

We’re asking businesses to nominate themselves so that we know exactly who to contact in the event that they make the finals or win in a category. If you want to be able to vote for your favorite business, reach out — via email, social media or in person — and encourage them to submit a nomination.

Note that “new business” refers to any business that has opened since Jan. 1, 2016.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 1, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

My credentials as a progressive Democrat (capital D) are well established; sometimes missed in the political back and forth of an election year might be my earnest effort to be a democratic (small d) advocate.

The outcomes of elections can be no more reflective of the public mood and aspirations than substantial participation by voters in the electoral process. That observation has been made over and over, yet elections occur with only a small fraction of eligible voters taking part.

Voting does take some time and effort. To vote one must register, but registration is active as long as you have not moved. Even though elections take place on a weekday when many people work, it should be possible to find some time between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. in order to vote. If not, absentee voting is an alternative. There has been much legislation over the years designed to suppress the vote, but I and others have spent a lifetime working to get it defeated in the courts or in the Legislature.

Although candidates spend huge amounts of money and time selling themselves to voters, there are many voters who consider themselves too ill-informed to vote. Bringing a realistic vision of a candidate to a voter is not an easy task. Candidates need to keep trying, and voters need to step up the effort to find out information on candidates for themselves. The recent growth of interest groups registering voters and informing people on the issues is a very hopeful sign. I believe it will help change the outcome of some elections, and for sure it is likely to increase participation.

Virginia has an election every year. While most states skip the odd-numbered years for elections, Virginia — along with New Jersey — will elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all members of the House of Delegates this year. That election will be on Nov. 7. But even before we get to those campaigns, there are many more primary elections in both parties this year than I can ever remember.

June 13 is a most important date when primary elections will take place. Voters do not register by political party in Virginia. To vote in the Democratic or Republican primary on June 13, you need to declare your political party at that time. You cannot vote in more than one primary.

Of course, I am voting in the Democratic primary and will be voting for current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination for governor and Justin Fairfax as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Attorney General Mark Herring will be the Democratic nominee for re-election, as he is not being challenged in the primary.

If you are voting in the Republican primary on June 13, you have a choice of three candidates for the nomination for governor, and three for lieutenant governor.

I am not being challenged in the primary but several delegate districts have primaries in Northern Virginia. To look at a sample ballot for each party, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/upcoming.htm.

However you choose to vote, do get out and vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

by RestonNow.com — May 26, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This letter was submitted by Reston resident Bruce Ramo. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Too much, too soon.

This is the crux of the community’s concern with the proposed zoning amendments, which were the subject of a community meeting with Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins on May 24.

  • Too much emphasis on promoting economic growth, without firm commitments for the infrastructure to support it.
  • Too much willingness to give legal priority to the quantitative possibilities of increased density presented by the Master Plan, without addressing the qualitative conditions of the Plan’s Vision Statement and Planning Principles.
  • Too much form over substance in engaging the public in three quick presentations rather than collaborating to develop a balanced approach for the future growth of Reston.
  • Too much hubris in assuming that the County’s evaluation and analyses of the impact of increased density, without a willingness to consider other thoughtful analyses of the impact to roads, safety, schools and recreational facilities.
  • Too much commitment to the County’s internal work plan for modifying the zoning ordinances.
  • Too much emphasis on getting it done now instead of getting it done right.

Each day, many of us pass a dangerous portion of Wiehle Avenue near Sunset Hills Road where a pedestrian bridge is slated to be built someday. The area is the gateway between the Planned Residential Community of Reston (PRC) and the Metro station area with its thousands of new apartments and townhouses.

The missing pedestrian bridge is a symbol of all that is wrong with the County’s zoning amendment and the manner in which it would facilitate growth without the infrastructure to support it.

The proposed amendment would allow even more development throughout the PRC and elsewhere, but where is the pedestrian bridge? Where are the other new or improved parks, roads, schools and paths to service the higher density? Why is the County pressing to facilitate more growth in Reston, but not balancing the growth with near-term action to make that growth safe, convenient and sustainable? Why is Supervisor Hudgins content to tell Restonians that infrastructure is not her job, as she did [Wednesday] night?

This is the essence of the community’s challenge to the proposed zoning amendment. The County’s approach simply enables far too much development too soon. Please urge the County Planning Staff and Supervisor Hudgins to step back, table the proposed zoning amendment, and work with the community on a more sensible zoning plan to support the future growth of Reston.

by Del. Ken Plum — May 25, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

For more than a half century, signs along the roadsides and ads in local newspapers featured Smokey the Bear with a message “Keep Virginia Green.” His reference was to forest fire prevention, for which he said 9 out of 10 could be prevented. Forest fires were a big concern because wood products were big business in Virginia.

A campaign continues today with a “Keep Virginia Green” theme as part of the “Keep Virginia Beautiful” effort. It has a broader meaning, as it now includes stopping littering and other actions consumers can take as part of caring for the environment in the Commonwealth.

Maybe the most meaningful effort ever taken to protect Virginia’s environment was announced last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — that he had signed an Executive Directive ordering the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of establishing regulations in Virginia that will reduce carbon emission from power plants. As the Governor explained, “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. … Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.” The current federal administration has moved to rescind actions of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and to act on climate change.

While proponents of states’ rights may applaud the shift from the federal to the state governments, wind currents from power plants and airborne pollutants do not recognize state boundaries. It is critically important that other states follow the actions of Gov. McAuliffe.

According to the press release announcing the Governor’s Executive Directive, the Commonwealth has seen an increase from just 17 megawatts of solar installed to more than 1,800 megawatts in service or under development. Revenues in the rapidly growing clean energy sector have risen from $300 million to $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2016. In the last year alone, solar installations have risen nearly 1,200 percent. The number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose 65 percent to 3,236 — twice the number of jobs supported by coal. An analysis by The Solar Foundation quoted in the release said that Virginia is now second in the Southeast and ninth in the nation for year-over-year solar growth. As of 2017, Virginia is first in the Southeast for corporate clean energy procurement.

Dominion Energy, the Commonwealth’s largest electricity producer, announced earlier that it intends to follow the federal Clean Power Plant regulations even if they are rescinded by the current administration. Older coal-powered plants are being converted to natural gas or closed. The company will be subject to any additional regulations that result from the Governor’s Executive Directive.

It is heartening to see the number of citizens who have expressed a greater interest in environmental matters as they realize the threat to current protections under the new administration. We need to thank and applaud the Governor for his action and at the same time keep the pressure on federal and state elected officials to see that our air is kept clean and safe. I am pleased that both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have recognized my efforts in this regard.

by RestonNow.com — May 22, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Reston’s population is a key factor in the County’s high-speed drive to raise the density limits in our Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance from 13 to 16 persons per acre across Reston to accommodate growth laid out in the new Reston Master Plan. It argues that Reston is at 12 persons per acre right now, including existing and approved development and we need to create more headroom for growth. Specifically, its “calculated estimate” of Reston PRC population, including approved plans but excluding affordable dwelling units, is 74,192 people.

Not even close on Reston’s current population — including the non-PRC areas of Reston.

The Past

The County was even badly wrong back in 2006 when it adjusted the zoning ordinance household factors — the average number of people living in each type of housing (single-family, townhomes, multi-family — garden and elevator). At that time it put Reston’s “calculated” PRC population at 64,227, roughly 10,000 fewer people than it calculates today.

Then reality set in.

In 2010, the US Census put Reston’s population at 58,404 in 25,304 occupied dwelling units, including such non-PRC areas as Deepwood and much of the Reston station area corridor. That’s a population density of 9.4 persons per acre of Reston PRC, nearly 40 percent below the current density limit of 13 persons per acre –hardly a driver for raising the overall population density ceiling.

The Present

The American Community Survey, the US Census’ official mid-decade estimate of population and other data, then put Reston’s population at 60,112 in 2015. Other unofficial sources tend to have even lower estimates of Reston’s population.

So why is the County claiming the much larger “population calculation” of 74,192 people in the PRC, which is most, but not all, of Reston?

The key reason is that the County includes the population of  developments that have been approved, but not yet built. In fact, many approved proposals have been on the books for a decade or more, including Colts Neck independent living (former Hunters Woods United Christian Parish now under construction), Reston Excelsior Oracle and Boston Properties Property #16 (under construction).

Spectrum Center is a major example. The Board gave final approval to this redevelopment in January 2013, but the developer — Lerner Enterprises — said then that redevelopment may not take place for many years, even decades. Indeed, the strip mall from Staples to Not Your Average Joe’s is still operating at capacity. Among other features, the redeveloped Spectrum Center is approved to include more than 1,400 dwelling units (almost 3,000 people).

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by RestonNow.com — May 19, 2017 at 1:30 pm 72 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by a group of area bicycling advocates. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Today is Bike to Work Day in the Capital Region. Cyclists will be all over the trails and roads like cicadas emerging from their hibernation.

And as the weather turns warmer and summer approaches, it seems true that many of us and our neighbors begin to head outdoors to exercise, emerging from gyms into the spring sunshine. Roads and trails begin to fill up with walkers, runners and cyclists who are enjoying the benefits of warmth and longer days.

Our region has made incredible strides in providing infrastructure to support these activities. From the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) that was recently passed, we are all fortunate citizens to have a government with the foresight to build and plan infrastructure for the future.

While riding a bike is legally allowed on all non-limited-access roads in the Commonwealth, the increase in traffic of all kinds, motor and bicycle, has led the county to seek ways to increase safety for all road users. One way in which the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) upholds the BMP is through a partnership with VDOT.

When VDOT repaves a road, in many cases the road is studied for installation of a “road diet.” A road diet is a change in the allocation of space on an existing road to increase road safety for all users. A road diet can include a center turn lane for left-turning traffic as well as bike lanes. Since the passage of the Bicycle Master Plan, over 100 miles of bike lanes and road diets have been implemented.

Road diets and the addition of bike lanes and center turn lanes serve to slow traffic through many of our streets, some of which used to be quiet neighborhood roads, but which have now become fast cut-throughs for commuters. The benefit of slowing traffic on those roads, through the re-striping during repaving, accrues to the people who live on those roads as well. People who want to walk their dogs, chat with neighbors, cross the street to pick up their mail — all of them benefit from road design that slows the traffic passing through.

Fairfax County is home to an incredibly diverse population. However, one thing that is universal is we all want our loved ones to come home safely. No one wants to get a call that their mother, husband, daughter, brother, wife, father, sister or son was killed for any reason. This universal human desire is sometimes forgotten when people take to the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle, ignoring the indisputable facts of physics. The human under the bike helmet in front of you us is 150 percent more likely to die when hit by a car at 40 mph than at 25 mph (Source: NHTSA). It’s in all of our interest to address this.

Cyclists are members of the community — we are your neighbors, your doctors, your waiters and your pharmacists. We ride bikes for transportation, exercise and recreation. Some of us do not have cars and commute solely by bike. But we are no different from you and your neighbors in our desire to get home safely. That’s all we ask.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling
Reston Bicycle Club
The Bike Lane
Green Lizard Cycling
Evolution Cycling Team

by Del. Ken Plum — May 18, 2017 at 10:15 am 11 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week, without provocation, a woman in the checkout line at a local grocery store told another customer — a Muslim woman — “I wish they didn’t let you in the country.”

In the exchange that was recorded on a camera phone, the woman to whom the remark was directed explained that she had been born in the United States. Rather than leave it at that, the first woman went on saying, “Obama’s not in office anymore; you don’t have a Muslim in there anymore. He’s gone — he may be in jail in the future.”

I realize that there are more people than I would like to acknowledge that have strong prejudices against others because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other reason. It continues to shock me when I see the ugliness of the expression of such prejudices as the recording of this event provided. As the woman to whom the remarks were directed pointed out, it’s abnormal to start a conversation like that with someone you do not know. There really is something wrong with people who are so blinded by their prejudices that they feel compelled to lash out at a person who has done them no wrong. The comments reflect a deep-seated hatred that comes out for reasons only a mental health expert could help discover.

What is particularly troubling these days is the blurring of the line between political convictions and prejudice toward individuals. In our deeply divided political landscape, too often political views become opportunities to demonize people who hold different views. Unfortunately talk radio, social media and some cable news shows tend to invite this destructive phenomenon.

In addition to the repulsiveness I feel about the hateful comments, I was also saddened that social media and news accounts described the scene as a store in Reston, Virginia. I know from a lot of personal experience the amount of effort that so many people have made over the years to ensure that Reston is an open, welcoming and inclusive community. While I understand why the store did nothing to address the situation, I wish somehow there had been a disclaimer on the video: The woman speaking does not represent the views of the people of Reston.

The situation reminds us that building community is not a one-time occurrence, a workshop, or a feel-good session. Building a community of respect and love is an ongoing process that we work at a little every day. We greet those we meet; we hug each other; we attend each other’s houses of worship; we show respect to others; we speak out against hate and prejudices; we listen to each other. We use appropriate channels to discuss political views, and whether in person or online we stick to the issues and don’t resort to personal attacks.

A display of hateful and ugly prejudice as we have just witnessed must bring us together in mutual support and respect as we want Reston and every other community to display.

by RestonNow.com — May 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm 15 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Last Wednesday evening may have seen a watershed moment in Reston’s development, as about 150 residents confronted the County’s planning staff and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins at a community meeting on the Board of Supervisors plan that, in addition to other changes, would eliminate any limit on the density of residential redevelopment in Reston Town Center under the Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance’s “high” density area category, as long as those plans were consistent with the Reston Master Plan.

Power unchecked is power abused.  That is what Reston is looking at with the Board’s Reston PRC zoning proposal.

Moreover, increasing the zoned density of any property in Virginia creates a “by right” authority for developers to build at that density. It cannot be revoked by the Board, even if experience shows the density is excessive.

High density is a gift to developers that often costs residents increased taxes (such as the new station area Transportation Service District tax), traffic congestion, school crowding, environmental deterioration; reduced livability from overtaxed open space, park facilities and libraries; and greater demands on police, fire and emergency services.

A more specific look at the implications for Reston Planned Residential Community (PRC) areas of Reston Town Center as shown in the enclosed map highlights where those changes would occur. The PRC zoning area subject to this zoning amendment proposal includes virtually all of Reston Town Center north of the toll road, and the Reston Heights — Westin Hotel — area of the Town Center station area south of the toll road.

The Reston Town Center area of the zoning code does not explicitly use the high/medium/low residential designation used in the suburban areas. Instead, the PRC land use map calls for them to be related to transit station area mixed-use. Nonetheless, the “high” density limit of 50 DU/A has been used as the upper limit in RTC. Moreover, the Reston plan that theoretically limits development generally identifies “target” residential goals for each of the districts and subdistricts within the Town Center.

Only one of these districts with an explicit “target” number of DUs proposes an overall density greater than the existing “high” density limit the Reston PRC. That’s the area immediately next to the Metro station on the north side, where the plan’s “target” residential density would lead to 88 DU/A, with 2,600 units as laid out as a target in the plan.

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by Del. Ken Plum — May 11, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Among the many institutions that seem to be under attack these days, the federal Department of Education and public schools are of great concern.

Public education predates the federal Department of Education, but the Department has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children. Left to their own devices, state and local school boards would go in many different directions that may leave quality and access more to chance than legal requirements.

I am reminded regularly by my constituents of their support for quality public schools, but last week I was reminded also of the range of controversy surrounding public education. A postcard I received in the mail had a picture of a yellow school bus on it with a caption: “The humanist machine.”

The card was from a group called Deconstructing the Coliseum whose stated purpose is “to eliminate humanist political policies, eliminate the machine (the civil government school system) that produces humanist politicians.” The text of the card goes on to explain that “The civil government is using force and coercion to advance its version of truth (humanism), under the guise of ‘public education.’ Thus, civil government schools must be abolished.”

Although this group has a Virginia address, I do not think that it would have many supporters in our community. Their ultra-conservative views are likely to get the attention of some downstate legislators.

As concerning are the views that are being espoused by the current federal Secretary of Education. As I understand her plan, public schools would be replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are held up by some as a panacea to cure ills real and concocted about public schools, but their results have been very mixed in the places where they have been opened.

The main issue for the proponents seems to be control. Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy, there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter school curriculum, standards and requirements without further supervision. There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.

Even with all their critics and those who remember wistfully how schools were when they attended, today’s public schools do an excellent job. Open to all students, they bring out the best in our children. They attempt to prepare our children for an unknown future. The school boards struggle every year with meeting needs that are greater than the resources available to them.

Whatever the perceived needs are in educating our children, there are none so great that would require the getting rid of “government schools” or replacing them with charter schools.

We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.

And we need, in this season of teacher appreciation, to thank the teachers for the exceptional work that they do.

by Del. Ken Plum — May 4, 2017 at 10:30 am 17 Comments

Last week I attended the retirement reception for the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. The Honorable William Howell of Stafford is retiring after 30 years in the House with 14 years as Speaker. His tenure is the second longest in the modern period

The Republican majority in the House wasted no time in picking his successor, who was known during the last session as the “Speaker designee.”

Speaker Howell was the 54th Speaker of the House; Edmund Pendleton was the first, serving for one year in 1776. The predecessor to the House of Delegates, the House of Burgesses, under the Royal Colony of Virginia, had speakers as well.

The role of the speaker is to allow for orderly debate by requiring all speaking to go through the speaker–hence the name. Under today’s rules, as in the past, members must be recognized by the speaker to request to speak or to ask a question and must receive permission to speak. No debate is allowed among members without going through the speaker. While it may sound cumbersome, it actually works to keep debate orderly and to prevent the chaos that could result from members shouting at each other directly.

The role of the Speaker has evolved over the years. Far from just directing debate, the speaker has tremendous other powers. For example, the speaker appoints the members of committees, assigns bills to committees and renders opinions on enforcing rules and parliamentary procedures.

Up until 1950 there had been 48 persons who had served as Speaker of the House for an average of 3.5 years each. Since 1950 there have been six speakers serving an average of eleven years each. One speaker during that period left office after two years because of a sex scandal. If he is not considered, the remaining speakers have served for an average of 13 years.

I served under the last five speakers. My observation on the office of the speaker is that it has become increasingly partisan. In 1950 Delegate E. Blackburn Moore of Frederick County who was a leading lieutenant in the Byrd Machine became speaker and served in that role for 18 years. He ruled with an iron fist. Many of the stories that are still told about abusing the role of speaker come from his era when he refused to put Republicans on committees that met. The House was referred to as “Blackie’s House,” borrowing the name of a popular restaurant of the time.

His successor was the Gentleman from Mathews, the Honorable John Warren Cooke, who was the first speaker under whom I served. He was a sharp contrast to Moore and treated all members alike regardless of political party. Since his service the office has been held by a series of nice individuals of both parties who have expanded the role to be in practice, if not name, the majority leader of the House.

With the change in individuals holding the role of speaker and with the potential change in the near future of the political party controlling the House, it is too bad that there cannot be a discussion of elevating the role of speaker to be the leader of the House and not the leader of the majority party. This kind of thing is not political nature for sure, but it would be the right thing to do and would change the outcomes of legislative sessions.

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